Sunday, February 27, 2011

Carolina Winds Blowing In From The Caribbean: Part 2 The Birth of An Island Town

Today I will finish my series on the Charleston:Barbados Connection. There is a wealth of information available online regarding the topic and if you are interested in more details I would encourage you to visit a couple of internet sites such as the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor site or this link to the connection on the Discover South Carolina page. You may also want to take a visit to Charlestowne Landing sometime when you have the opportunity. And of course, I highly recommend Charleston! Charleston! The History of A Southern City, my favorite collection of Charleston History.

Back in the mid-1600's Englands King Charles II established the Carolina Charter after learning from explorers who had come down from the Jamestown Settlement into the areas now occupied by North and South Carolina about an area blessed with abundant natural resources and beauty. King Charles II awarded eight aristocrats who had been very loyal to the Crown with the Carolina Charter. The eight, known as The Lord's Proprietors, included among others a noble gentleman by the name of Sir John Colleton who was a wealthy planter from Barbados. During this time, Barbados was a wildly successful English Colony whose economy was based almost entirely upon the sugar trade. The Lord's Proprietors looked to their newly acquired interest in The Carolina's as a potentially very profitable venture, and chose to base their initial plans for their new holdings on the Colony of Barbados with it's system of plantations supported by slave labor driving an economy based upon a single cash crop.
Consequently in 1670 the boat carrying the original Charlestonians sailed into the body of water now known as Charleston Harbor and continued up the river that we refer to as The Ashley eventually choosing a bluff overlooking the river, Albermarle Point, as their landing spot. This is the area that we know as Historic Charlestowne Landing. This initial European Settlement was comprised almost entirely of free men from Barbados accompanied by Barbadian Slaves from West Africa and indentured slaves from England and Barbados. This is the reason why history has mingled Barbados and Charleston to the degree that many historians characterize Barbados as the mother land of South Carolina and certainly Charleston.

It is tempting, but nearly impossible to identify the single most obvious connection of Charleston to Barbados. One could argue that it is the "single house" which is designed after the single room width gabled homes in Barbados that were oriented to catch the sea breezes in order to cool the home. Yet another would point to the "rainbow" of "Charleston Colors" adorning homes and businesses today in and around the Holy City of Charleston.
Still yet others would say that the most stark reminder are the names of some of those original wealthy Barbadians, the Draytons and the Middletons to name a few still today are prominent family names throughout the Lowcountry.

For me though, it is the Gullah Culture, the arts and dialect that captured my interest when I moved to Charleston four years ago. The Gullah dialect is a direct descendant to the Bajan dialect of Barbados. I still remember hearing this Charleston version of spoken language shortly after moving to Charleston back in 2007. I distinctly recall trying to characterize the language style, it was sort of Jamaican sounding, but different still. I was conscious of having to listen very closely in order to follow conversations and interactions. Understanding the historical significance of the connections between Barbados and Charleston helps me to fully appreciate the rather odd sounding words and expressions which still to this day fascinate me. You can hear the influence all over the Lowcountry but it seems to be most prominent directly around Charleston. I think what intrigues me most is to know that the dialect has been passed down through 4 or 5 generations and that the person I am talking to is a direct descendant of one of those early settlers.

Once again, I am reminded of my purpose for writing this blog, to share with others who may have a pioneer spirit within them like me just what life is like here in the Lowcountry. It is often hard to put to words the culture, the history and the nuances of life in the land of palm trees, but I will continue to try and hit the mark. In the meantime have a great Sunday and enjoy todays history post.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Good Day For A Walk Among The Camelias

This morning is one of those beautiful Lowcountry Saturday Mornings and oh how I wish I was at the leisure to take the day and do nothing but "hang-out" with it, but the need to renew my license and work for a living requires that I attend a day long CE session. See, the livin' isn't always so EEEEEZZZZZZYYYY. Oh well, I guess the weather isn't going to be that great anyway, just 68 and Sunny, as sarcasm drips from every pore of my soul. Well as a consolation, I thought I would share some photos that I took this week at Charlestowne Landing of the beautiful Camelias adorning the historic property. Enjoy with me! Have a great Saturday.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Carolina Winds Blowing In From The Caribean: Part 1 Charlestowne Landing

When I think of the Caribbean I picture lush flowering tropical foliage, palm trees, water, warm breezes, pastel colored buildings, and life that is slow and easy. Throw in an ample supply of mopeds on narrow streets, sultry summer afternoon thundershowers, and umbrella drinks to complete the picture and you have another day in paradise.

This description of a seaside village in the Carribean also comes to life with a walk along the Battery or up and down the streets of the "Walled City" of Charleston. You can see the Caribbean influence in the government, the architecture and colors of homes and buildings, the arts and music and of course the dialect and language.

An examination of the history of Charleston suggests that the connection between the Caribbean and the Lowcountry is not merely a coincidence or an image created by designers and those in the tourism industry. As most of the readers of this blog can tell I am a bit of a history novice, in other words, I am intrigued by the past but can't call myself a historian since I just don't seem to have the recall ability for it. But I do believe that in order to fully appreciate contemporary times we must have an understanding of where those before us have stood. In that vain, to fully appreciate the wonderful place where I live, Charleston, it is helpful to re-visit the roots of modern day Chucktown. A great place to start is the Historic Charlestowne Landing Site located near present-day Charleston on a small peninsula secluded and surrounded by marshland. It is the location where the first European settlement in the Carolina Province was established in 1670.

There is a wealth of history available in Charleston, the city is a living museum of history. Charlestowne Landing has not been a location that I have ever taken any of our "vacation land" guests to explore. In a city of romantic history with such great historic Civil and Revolutionary War Venues there is a lot to choose from when planning a day of history for our guests. I guess at first glance Charlestowne Landing just isn't quite as sexy as a boat tour of Fort Sumter or a carriage ride past a house where George Washington once slept. After visiting Charlestowne Landing on on my own, boy was I ever wrong. After a day of meandering the grounds of this historic site I do have a much better understanding of why it's not accidental that Charleston has a Caribbean Flair A quick review of the history books, including my favorite Charleston! Charleston! The History Of A Southern City by Walter J. Fraser provides a superb explaination for the Caribbean Influence here in the Lowcountry. And that explaination, which we will fully examine in a future blog, has it's genesis at the site of Charlestowne Landing.

I couldn't have been anymore surprised with Charlestowne Landing, in a word, WOW! What a facility, located just an oyster shells throw from the exit off of I-26 you are virtually transported back hundreds of years as you pass through the park entrance on a lane that winds through a wonderland of South Carolina Lowcountry forest and marsh.

The physical plant of the park is modern, re-built in 2006 and the experience is so interactive that you forget that it is historic. Some of the highlights that most impressed me were the twelve-room museum of living history in the main park building, complete with a digital archaeological dig site that permits you to "get your hands dirty" and dig into the past a little bit. I strongly suggest the MP3 audio tour option for exploring the acres of history, it's like having a private guide, only better because you can browse the park grounds at your leisure. And believe me, there is a lot to browse.

The park is really multi-faceted, through clever design and integration, a visit to the park includes a zoo experience with the rather impressive natural habitat zoo complete with puma, bear, shore birds, elk and bison. Also, the grounds are home to one of the most distinctive plantation style homes of Charleston, the Legare-Waring house, with it's 1000 foot live oak alley of trees leading up to the entrance the beautiful home has the distinction of being one of Charlestons premier sites for weddings and formal gatherings.

But the un-mistakable focus of Charlestowne Landing's historic significance is being the site of the European Settlement that became present day Charleston, South Carolina. And after spending the better part of the day, not only exploring history, but actually re-walking the steps of those European, Barbadian and West African settlers, I now understand the culture and Caribbean Influence that helped to make Charleston such a wonderful place to live and visit, but for now, I will have to promise you that in Part 2 of this series.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tommy's Bridge

Today was a beautiful sunny and warm Spring day in Summerville, South Carolina and I played golf at The Summerville Country Club's Miler Golf Course in the noon blitz. It was a round that I will remember for quite some time, not because of the nice weather and not because of anything related to my golf game, but because it was the first blitz that I have played in since the death of a regular blitz golfer, Tommy Scruggs. Now Tommy had been sick for a couple of months and had been absent from the golf course during his illness, but up until his death I think several of us expected to show up at the first tee one day to find Tommy serving in his usual capacity as starter and ranger, or possibly to have him drive up to us on a really hot and humid day with a cooler full of ice to refresh us. But the news last Thursday that Tommy had lost his battle with that bitch of a disease, cancer, changed all of those hopes and expectations.

Tommy was a true Southern Gentleman, one of the first persons that I met on the golf course shortly after moving to Summerville from West Virginia. The first time that I ever played the Miler Course, Tommy was the ranger. Not only did he give me thorough directions on how to proceed around the course, at a couple of times throughout my round he showed up on his golf cart to check in on me. The second time back to the course a couple of weeks later he remembered my name and shortly after greeting me at the first tee, he invited me to come out and "join up with the blitz." Now I was just a fee player at this semi-private golf club and I had no idea what he was inviting me to do, so I asked him about the blitz. And he told me, in his trademark aw shucks fashion, that it was "just a bunch of us old guys that get together every weekday around noon and play golf." Well I took Tommy up on his invitation and was I ever glad that I did.

In no time at all, I was also a fairly regular Miler blitz participant and consequently I have met and developed some great "golf course friends" all because of the hospitality of a man named Tommy Scruggs. Tommy was a likeable guy who told me one day about growing up in Mississippi and how he came about ending up in Summerville. He smiled that smile telling me about his "wild days" and some of the trouble he used to get into. Tommy was always sure to strike up a conversation with both of my sons when I would take them with me to the golf course, and I always enjoyed telling them about Tommy's Bridge.

Now there are probably thousands of noteworthy bridges on various golf courses around the world. In fact two of the most famous golf course bridges are known to golfers world-wide. St. Andrews in Scotland has the Swilcan Bridge, and Augusta National is home to the Hogan Bridge.

These functional landmarks are almost universally recognized by just about anybody who plays the game. Well, Miler has a noteworthy bridge as well, maybe not as world renowned as the two aforementioned bridges, but famous in a local sense just the same. The eighteenth hole at Miler is a fairly short par five hole with a large lake at the end of the landing area off of the tee that happens to also serve as the elbow of a nearly ninety-degree dog leg. There is a small wooden bridge that leads from the landing zone to the approach side of the eighteenth fairway. The hole demands a fairly precise drive in order to place one in the position of hitting their second shot cleanly across the lake, hit the ball too long off of the tee and you are in the lake, hit the ball too short off of the tee and you are forced to lay up short of the lake on your second shot leaving a tough third shot up the hill to the elevated green. There is one other option to laying up on your second shot, and as legend has it, this option was exercised quite liberally by one Tommy Scruggs. The little bridge has come to be called Tommy's Bridge because of the propensity for Tommy to hit an accurate and low second shot that would skip a couple of times on the bermuda grass fairway before riding over the hazard on the wooden bridge. One of the first times I played in the blitz one of the golfers in my group equaled the task and was reminded by another golfer that he owed Tommy a one-dollar toll for using his bridge. At the end of one of my rounds after skipping a shot across the bridge I met up with Tommy in the club house and handed him a dollar bill, he just smiled his trademark smile and said, "you used my bridge huh?"

Through the years I have had several old golfing buddies change their memberships to that great golf course in the sky. Tommy isn't the first, and sadly he won't be the last. He seemed like a guy who didn't know a stranger and I can't imagine him having any enemies. I am sure that every time I play the 18th hole at Miler I will think of Tommy Scruggs. And I will be ever grateful that he invited me to "join up with a bunch of old guys and get together and play some golf."

Sure Signs of Spring In The Lowcountry

Aside from the transition from long khaki's to shorts in my son's Northwood Academy Uniform and the constant presence of a baseball bat bag on the floor just inside of our front door there are some tangible signs that spring has indeed sprung in the Lowcountry.

Yesterday morning as I was enjoying my morning commute home from Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital along the Ashley River Road I realized that Spring had sprung litterally over night in the form of a pink explosion of bloom on the redbud trees lining the entrance to Magnolia Gardens. I am truly blessed not only to be traveling home against the traffic heading into Charleston every morning, but equally fortunate that my commute home from work takes me past the historic plantations atMagnolia Gardens, Drayton Hall and Middleton Place. All of this, along with the fact that the two-lane highway meanders beneath a canopy of two-hundred year old live oak trees complete with an ample supply of spanish moss and beside remnants of Civil War Era earthen breastworks that served to protect the plantations from the ravages of the war as well as providing a spot for the ambush of Federal troops as they traversed the thoroughfare out of Charleston guarantees a fairly relaxing experience for me to decompress on the drive home after a busy night at the hospital.

My suspicion that Spring had arrived was reinforced when I awoke yesterday around noon to a beautiful but breezy 79 degree day. The opportunity to do some cleanup and gardening in the backyard provided a perfect seque into a warm evening on the back patio. I did take some time off from my domestic duties to snap a few pictures around town for you to enjoy. Wherever you are I hope that you enjoy these first few glimpses of what God has in store for us as another Winter gives way to the hope and renewal of Spring.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

One of My Favorite Views In A City That Is All About The Views

Everybody has a favorite quote or line from a movie or song. It's true, "and the livin' is EEEEEEZZZZZZYYYY" has become a humorous quote for me on Facebook and has even developed into a sort of Persona. I have to agree, the phrase does fit my life quite well since arriving in the Lowcountry during the Summer of 2007. If not a true Persona, at least a glimpse into the psyche that creates the state of mind by which I approach life. Or, maybe, I just love the song, Summertime from Porgy and Bess. I will let you decide, a guy has to have some secrets, right?

The southern lifestyle is often portrayed in music, art, and theatre as a stereotypical blend of slow and lazy. From my perspective, neither stereotype fits, at least not exactly. The livin' is easy here, but that doesn't mean that it is effortless. If you have ever spent a day on a sandy Carolina Beach you have gotten a taste of the state of mind that I am referring to. Well for those of us who are "living the dream" year round and just not for a week or two each summer, it is a little different. We still have jobs to go to, homes to maintain and gardens to plow. Even still, there is definitely a sort of peaceful relaxation that permeates your life when you live here in the Lowcountry.

OK, back to task here, speaking of music, art and theatre and "the livin' is easy." As mentioned earlier, the origin of my catch phrase is the song Summertime from the Opera Porgy and Bess. The musical score composed by George and Ira Gershwin set to music the poetry by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy. Heyward resided on Church Street in the years prior to writing the novel and based the fictional "catfish row" upon the actual "cabbage row" of homes located on a specific block of Church Street. I think it is quite appropriate and not by accident that my catch phrase for life since moving to this wonderful part of the world was born on what has become my favorite streetscape in Charleston. Often when I walk downtown I end up on the corner of Market Street and Church Street staring down the street toward St. Philips Church. Seems I never grow tired of that scene. Most of the guests who come to visit in "vacationland" have experienced the view with me, and I always announce, "of all the views in Charleston, this is my favorite."

DuBose Heyward developed quite an affinity for the Holy City, and in particular the neigborhood near St. Philips. Heyward is buried on Church Street in the St. Philips Cemetary and spent the last years and days of his life as a playwright at the historic Dock Street Theatre, located on the corner of Church and Meeting Streets.

Talk about easy living, one of my favorite summertime, when the livin' is easy, beverages is Planter's Punch. Wouldn't you know it, Planter's Punch was introduced to Charleston at the historic Planter's Hotel, that was located on the site and within the shell of the building that now houses The Dock Street Theatre.

The wrought iron balcony on the current theatre building was original to the facade of the Planter's Hotel which fell into a state of dis-repair after the Civil War and the earthquake of 1886. The Dock Street Theatre just recently re-opened in 2010 after a 19 million dollar renovation project and is now home to Charleston Stage. Quality theatre has a rich tradition and is abundant in Charleston, yet another reason why, the livin' is easy in the Lowcountry.

So, the next time you have the opportunity to visit Historic Charleston, check the schedule at the Dock Street Theatre, or at least plan a walk down Church Street to "Catfish Row", who knows you just might discover some EEEEEEZZZZZZZZYY Livin' of your own.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Great Saturday in Vacationland!

I am taking the day off from any "serious" blogging today, but in between a little garden time in the kitchen garden and a trip to the golf club thought I would stop off and enjoy a couple of my favorite blogs and share them with you. I read the Charleston City Paper review of Charleston Stage's Production of The Putnam County Spelling Bee with interest since my wife and I are headed to the Dock Street Theatre tomorrow afternoon to attend the play.

In the meantime, Joan over at Charleston Daily Photo chronicled her birthday visit to Husk for a grand birthday dinner celebration at one of Charleston's newest dining spots.

Have a great Saturday, enjoy!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Valentines Day For Dummies

Well THE weekend is finally here, and all of you cupid fans out there probably have already made your big plans for Valentines Day. Now, if you are a purist, you will probably quip me by saying, Valentines Day is not until Monday, but many of us will take advantage of the weekend that immediately precedes the big day of love and choose from a plethora of options to entice our sweetie(s).

In the Lowcountry there is never a shortage of parties and events on the weekend, and Valentines Day Weekend is certainly on par. For my Lowcountry Friends, I will do my level best to give you some ideas, for my friends elsewhere, it's not to late, come on down and enjoy the romance of Charleston.

If money is no object, try The Woodlands Inn, one of only six hotels in the world who have won 5-star Diamond Hotel Awards for both food and lodging located here in Summerville. Or if you prefer the seaside to the pines, The Sanctuary at Kiawah awaits the "well-healed" lover.

Choosing a dining option in Charleston is alot like going to a Nascar Race and trying to pick out a beer drinker, no matter which one you choose, it's probably gonna be right. In perusing the Post and Courier's weekly social magazine, Charleston Scene's Love Issue some righteous choices caught my eye. 82Queen is offering Valentine Specials that include Lobster and Roasted Corn Cakes or Coffee Seared Filet of Beef with Sunday Brunch times as well as dinner times.

J. Paulz is providing a four-course Valentines Dinner Menu with an Amuse Bouche to get things off to a good start and a "liquid shot of love" to compliment the fourth course of Banannas Foster or Chocolate Mouse.

If you and your sweetie are not looking for dining options but are interested in a more active way to celebrate your love for one another, an abundance of action packed and interactive offerings abound this weekend. The inaugural Go Red! Heart Run is kicking it's heels up over in Mount Pleasant at the Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina Pavillion. Or if you are not content with running with your sweetie, you can always learn to fly a helicopter at Charleston Helicopter. (50% off coupon on an introductory lesson in Charleston Scene)

Maybe breakfast in bed is the order of the day for your Valentine. Charleston Cooks is holding a Breakfast In Bed cooking class Saturday morning at their downtown location.

If you are more of a traditionalist, and you are a man with a heart beat, you know that lingerie for the love of your life is the ticket. A trip down to King Street to Bits of Lace is probably a good stroke most days, not just Valentines Day. Or, maybe you're looking for tradition but not necessarily the steamy version on display at Bits of Lace, well there are many great local chocalatiers waiting to satisfy your sweeties sweet tooth. I like Savannah's Candy Kitchen on Market St. or Charleston Sweet Gourmet in the South Windermere Center. Of course, Caviar and Bananas stands out as a great one stop shop for everything gourmet, a little time in this oasis of delight and you can be the chef at home and skip the middle man altogether in your quest for being the sweetest sweetheart to your sweetie.

Hope that helps, or at least gets you on track. What do I plan to do for my wife? We are participating in a Valentines Night Out with our Sunday School Class at The Sweetwater Cafe in Summerville, and I have a little gift picked out and wrapped for her. No it's not from Bits of Lace, but I think she will like it just the same.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Guerin's Drug Store, As Old Time Down South As It Gets

I suppose that deep inside each of us is a yearning for Americana, a quest for the simpler times. Maybe it is a song that takes us back or a Norman Rockwell Print that reminds us of bygone days. For me, I have a "time travel" moment every time I walk or drive past Guerin's Pharmacy located on the square in Historic Downtown Summerville, South Carolina.

It stands to reason that a pharmacist would be attracted to an old style corner Apothecary, but I surmise the allure that this living museum possesses is steeped in something much stronger than just my professional affiliation.
Yes it is true, that at one time this quixotic pharmacy student at West Virginia University envisioned himself as the independent owner of a thriving corner drug store in some quaint little hamlet of the Mountain State. However, that wasn't in the stars, and after relocating to the mecca of American History, Charleston, I realize that the source of my interest in the old time drug store is spawned by the general wonder and amazement of how different life was for our great-grandparents.
I have to admit, though, there probably is a little bit more of an interest in the history of this particular landmark than most for me, at least that would explain the fatuousness that I experienced while recently exploring the living museum that is Guerin's Pharmacy.

Amidst the original millwork cases housing the various sundries and over-the-counter remedies are years of untold stories of customers stopping by for relief from one type of ailment or another and visiting with friends and neighbors, maybe enjoying a coke float or piece of candy, while Doc prepared their medication behind the solid cherry apothecary front. The front complete with a mirrored background and stained glass sidelights serves as the focal point of the shoppe. Although, it is difficult to define just what is the focal point of the interior of Guerin's Pharmacy, there is just too much to see. How about the refrigerated Whitman's Candy Case, the Kodak Display Case, maybe the antique scales or possibly the original 1920's soda fountain.

On the morning that I stopped by and spoke with the Pharmacist/Owner Barbara Dunning, she told me that Guerin's serves many third-generation customers, and that is not hard to imagine knowing that Guerin's Pharmacy has it roots going back to the Civil War when a druggist from Downtown Charleston relocated to safer confines up in Summerville. Barbara smiled when she told stories about grandchildren and great-grandchildren of former customers stopping by now after school for ice cream or a hotdog.

Speaking of hot dogs, not that I want this to become another hotdog blog, Guerin's fountain does offer a pretty righteous hotdog with "chilli", and Barbara, not knowing about my standing as a hotdog "sauce" aficionado did say that their "chilli" is her mothers recipe and is NOT made with beans. The absence of beans on top of the hotdog made me smile, now if I can just convince her to call it hotdog sauce and not chilli. I have to admit, the aroma of the hotdog "chilli" was the first thing I noticed when I opened the front doors of this living and breathing slice of Americana called Guerin's Pharmacy.

The exterior of Guerin's is just as reminiscent of days gone by as the interior. It's location on Summerville's historic Hutchinson Square embodies the romantic heritage of days gone by in the South. In fact, a couple of years ago, prior to the Summer Olympics, one of the major oil companies was attempting to bolster their image by filming commercials for the Olympics that tugged at the heartstrings of American Consumers yearning for simpler times. One of the commercials that aired was filmed on location here in Summerville. The image of the little girl featured in the commercial gazing at a globe that transforms into a birds eye view of the United States. As the camera continues to zoom in the little girl is shown walking down a street right out of the 1940's holding her father's hand, well that street was the very street where Guerin's Pharmacy is located, adjacent to Hutchinson Square in Historic Summerville, South Carolina, and I get to enjoy that view every single day.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Cooper River Bridge Run

It seems the City of Charleston, South Carolina has won just about every major travel industry and vacation destination award known to man in the past year. To quote my wife, we live in a magical place, and she is absolutely correct. A visit to Charleston is a true cosmopolitan experience with big-city style shopping, five-star restaurants, haute art galleries, broadway quality theatre and romantic carriage rides past water-front Victorian Mansions from the Revolutionary War Era. Not to mention some of the nicest beaches in the Carolinas within minutes of downtown.

With all of that, who needs another excuse to come and visit Charleston in the Spring? Well, at the risk of piling it on, the Cooper River Bridge Run is an event that you have to see and participate in at least once in your lifetime. The event held annually around the first weekend of April is a world class 10K race across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge , one of the most masterfully designed and spectacular bridges in North America. Imagine the exhillaration of being one of 40,000 runners/walkers cresting the apex of the span high above the beautiful Charleston Harbor looking down on the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier at Patriots Point on one side of the harbor and a modern Carnival Cruise Ship on the other side. Off in the distance the many church spires of the Holy City of Charleston and tucked amidst the steeples and buildings, your destination, the finish line at Marion Square.

Don't expect that you are gonna win the race, you can't win the race, at
least it's not likely. The Kenyans usually take care of that. Last year was my first experience with the event participating as a walker. I can tell you, the experience was one I will never forget.

The event field is reportedly the 3rd largest in the nation, but it is not just the sheer number of participants that make it such a memorable experience, it is the atmosphere, the location and the entertainment. No other race in America can have such a festive finishing mile compared to the Bridge Run. As you turn the corner and head down King Street, past legendary watering spots and eateries there are jam bands playing from the rooftops.

This years race will have a new attraction that will help to make a great event even more over the top. Carnival Cruise Lines has gotten into the action this year and is sponsoring a contest to choose a lucky couple to be joined in holy matrimony at the post-race party in Marion Square. Can you imagine tying the knot with 40,000+ close friends who just completed a world class 10K race with you. Talk about "running away" to get married. The lucky newlyweds will embark on a Carnival Cruise from Charleston after their post-race nuptials. Now is that uniquely Charleston or what? That's the kind of place Charleston is, once again, as my wife says, "we do indeed live in a magical place". To those of us who are lucky enough to call the Lowcountry our home, the Cooper River Bridge Run weekend is one of the best weekends of the year, and that says alot when you live in "Vacation Land" where "the livin' is EEEEEZZZZZZYYY."

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Captain of The Whole Shindig

Kids say the darndest things. No, no, today's post isn't referring to an old Art Linkletter Radio Show or a Bill Cosby sitcom inspired by the former, no my two sons (not to be confused with the 1960's television show My Three Sons) provide the inspiration for todays prose.

My two progeny, are predictably smart, somewhat articulate, handsome and resourceful. Through the years my oldest son, has provided me with some real zingers, including his signature witticism, "well it's two for one, half dozen of the other." All of that advanced education and he still doesn't understand that 2 does not equal 6. My yougest son is responsible for the fairly random comment that inspired todays blog.

Recently, my sons and I spent a week at our hunting camp in the mountains of West Virginia. Shortly after arriving at the cabin for our first nights stay, we built a fire in the great stone fireplace that serves as the focal point of the one room cabin. The temperature outside of the cabin was hovering in the low 20's and the thermometer on the inside indicated a balmy 36 degrees. This probably explains why it was "shortly" after arriving at the cabin that we felt the need to build a fire. While the junior members of the hunting party unloaded our cache of hunting clothes, weapons and ammunition the noble patriarch (that would be me) carefully stacked kindling in the fireplace and before you could say "there is another dead mouse in that mouse trap," the cabin was being warmed by a crackling fire in the fireplace. With the truck unloaded and all of our provisions safely stowed, we settled into some comfortable chairs in front of the fire. It was really chilly in the cabin, consequently, all three of us ended up standing on the huge concrete hearth in front of the warm fire sharing an awkwardly quiet moment when all of a sudden Noah spoke up and pointed down at the large hearth and said, "you know, back in the day, that is where they slept." I replied, "where who slept?" Noah, matter-of-factly looked at me like I was clueless and said, "you know, the captain of the whole shindig slept here in front, and all of his grunts slept behind him, in order of rank." Well, JD and I simultaneously bent over laughing, where in the world had he heard this phrase? Well, it made sense, I am quite sure that back in the day, the captain of the whole shindig did sleep closest to the fire, and that night, I slept closest to the fire, being the captain of our little shindig, however, the grunts slept the night away while I was up every 2 hours throwing logs on the fire to keep the cabin warm.

It's interesting how truly great quotes will often be applied over and over again in different situations, to the degree that they sometimes become a cliche. A good quote just finds a way to "work itself into" conversations, just like grains of sand find there way into your swimming trunk pockets when you swim in the ocean or the way seeds from a blackberry find it's way between your teeth. I recently used the "captain of the whole shindig" quote at work. I have this co-worker who is preparing to retire at the end of the month. We will call him Alfred to protect his identity, after all that is Ricks first name and nobody will know who I am talking about if I refer to him as Albert. He, Albert, is a great guy and I have really enjoyed working with him. I have especially enjoyed our early morning coffee and skull sessions on days when he is arriving for his work day and I am finishing mine. He is a unique man, sort of a renaissance man in fact. At times almost jovial and at other times, a bit of a curmudgeon, but always a gentleman. Albert's antics are nearly legendary around the pharmacy, in fact one of the more humorous stories I have heard about Albert is the time that due to an illness he had been fighting off for weeks, he slumped over in his chair and fell to the floor one day at work. Now that is certainly not the funny part, the humor comes in hearing Albert tell the story, adopting his best, I get no respect around here, Rodney Dangerfield alter-ego, he tells how the technician he was working with stepped over top of him on her way out the door to make a delivery. Seems she thought Albert was just bending over to pick up his pencil off of the floor. Yet another humorous anecdote involves Albert and his infamous letter writing talents. In an effort to provide the employees an opportunity to share ideas or ask questions, the CEO of the hospital sponsors a "Dear Dave" program whereby the employee can send a letter or question to the CEO and then receive a reply. Well as legend reflects, Albert has written over a thousand letters to the CEO.

Albert has logged many miles in the hospital pharmacy and I respect him immensely. It is due to this level of respect that Albert is catered to around the department. He has his very own comfortable reclining work chair and when he arrives for work, whoever is sitting in Albert's chair vacates the chair on his behalf. In fact, on mornings when he is coming to work, out of honor for his senior status, I fix him a fresh pot of coffee, plug in his Ipod docking station and prepare his workstation for him. It just seems like the right thing to do. Albert is always willing to offer advice and guidance and that precisely is the reason I have labeled him as the captain of the whole shindig. Of course Alberts humble demeanor required him to brush the label off like it was some kind of a joke but to me, his actions and experience justifies the title. I wish Albert well in his retirement, although I will miss our morning coffee. Good Luck Mr. Rick, God Bless.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day: Musings and Memories

To a young lad growing up in the mountains of West By God Virginia, Groundhog Day was a holiday that I always looked forward to. The eternal hope of spring in the midst of grey skies and snow piles mixed with cinders and highway grime was almost therapeutic. Ah, the anticipation of an early spring predicted by the likes of a rodent chased out of his den by some dude dressed in a tuxedo and top hat. I must admit, since I moved south some of the excitement associated with Groundhog Day has gone away, I mean really, the forecast for Groundhog Day in Charleston SC today is Partly Sunny and 70. Hmmm, I think I can handle six more weeks of this dreadful winter weather. I suppose everything is relative as they say, and having said that, I too am looking forward to Spring in the Lowcountry and all that goes with it: azaleas, green bermuda fairways and greens, pine pollen. Well, ok, maybe not pine pollen and the yellow film that covers everything for weeks, but Spring in the Lowcountry is "all that".

Even still, memories from Groundhog Days in the past are sweet. For a period of years, I was fortunate enough to be a member of a select fraternity. A group of friends that gathered annually over Groundhog Weekend to frolic in as perfect of a mountain playground as you have ever witnessed, Thorn Creek in Pendleton County, West Virginia. I regret that I don't have any pictures of this mountain-side log cabin and it's perfect meadow overlooking a large pond fed by mountain springs, I would so like to share this vision with you. Thorn Creek is a small native trout stream that ultimately feeds into the South Branch of the Potomac River as it flows through Franklin, West Virginia. The little stream lends it's name to Thorn Creek Road off of US Route 220. From the time you exit the highway to drive up Thorn Creek Road, you recognize that you are on a different type of time schedule as you drive past a quaint little piece of property known as McCoys Mill. To get to the log cabin that served as the headquarters for the annual gathering of "groundhogs" you had to turn off of Thorn Creek Road and cross the stream and head up a dirt road that leads into the pine trees and hardwood forest above the stream. When I say "cross the creek", I mean literally, you had to "cross" the creek, not on a bridge, but by driving through the water, and the adventure begins.

The activities for the four-day weekend were various and depended upon the weather, but regardless of the weather always consisted of a couple of rounds of golf on one of the finest make-shift cow pasture golf courses known to man, the Thorn Creek Country Club. Another popular activity was just sitting in the hot tub. Before you conjure up images of a bunch of guys sitting around in a hot tub together, let me explain. The hot tub was built for one, an ingenuous creation consisting of an outdoor stone fireplace and chimney built around and under an old claw foot iron bath tub. The tub filled with clear water from the mountain spring was heated by the fire in the fireplace, the seat of the tub was equipped with a large piece of cedar wood to keep your bottom from burning if the fire got too hot.

No matter what adventures the day provided one thing that was for sure, the beer was cold and the food was good. In fact, the gourmet meals were AMAZING. Pairs of atendees were pre-assigned a meal and the competition to see who could provide the most excellent dining experience was fierce. We ate just the kinds of food you would expect to eat while camping. Breakfasts included delicacies such as Eggs Benedict and Salmon from Nova Scotia while suppers consisted of filet mignon, elk steaks, Oysters Rockefeller or huge pans of 8 inch thick lasagna.

Those gatherings didn't really have anything to do with Groundhog Day, we just took advantage of the holiday's spot on the calendar, a time of the year when we were in need of a break from cabin fever, and our wives were ready for a break from us. I will never forget those good times or the great bunch of guys who shared in the fun. Unfortunately those retreats don't occur anymore, a couple of the guys have left us for a better place and the rest of us are left with lots of great memories.

By the way, did the groundhog see his shadow? I'll let you break the news to our friends up north that they have six more weeks of winter regardless.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Guest Blog From A Fellow West Virginian Turned Southerner: Reflections Of A Word Called Friendship

I am a novice writer, in fact, many who visit my blog who have a serious command over the rules of grammar probably cringe whenever they view my cacophony of fragmented and run-on sentences, my improper use of punctuation and my misspelled words. I admire bloggers who have an obvious stronger literary talent than mine. One such fellow blogger is an old friend from West Virginia who now lives in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. I first met Bob D. on the golf course at the Elks Club in Elkins, WV. I have been a fan of his blog and facebook posts for quite some time now. When I asked Bob to "guest-blog" on From The Land Of Palm Trees he was hesitant at first, claiming that he didn't have any good ideas for writing at the moment. I reminded Bob that coming up with something shouldn't be too hard for a man who had introduced the "bag phone" to the land of CB Radios, referring back to Bob's time with Cellular One back in Elkins during the early 90's. At any rate, today I turn it over to my friend Bob, Enjoy!

A Guest Appearance By Bob Darden

As I step forward into this new media type, called blogging, I have already had many different thoughts cross my mind in regard to what I might write about on my next venture, and almost immediately my thoughts were taken back to Elkins, West Virginia and the many friendships that we left behind.

As a native, born and raised in Elkins, and having lived there for 47 years prior to leaving, Elkins will always be home. The natural beauty of the mountains, the nurtured friendships from attending school there, and then returning after being married in London, England, this quiet little city in the heart of the Tygart Valley soon appeared like it would be our home place forever, and this was the advent of probably our most cherished and lasting friendships.

Barbara and I have always been very fortunate by being blessed and surrounded by very special friends. In looking back after being away for almost 15 years, the biggest, single factor that we miss the most, is all the friendships that we left behind us.

I very much recall the time that Barb and I had to weigh all the variables that we were being faced with in regard to possibly leaving Elkins. As if it were only yesterday, I recall sitting around the evening dinner table with our children, in a discussion that must of lasted at least several hours. The one, single theme that seemed to be the absolute biggest obstacle in our children's point of view was, but Dad, what about our friends ?

As difficult as it seemed at the time, Barb and I tried to assure them that good friends, true friends, will always be lasting friends. But as very young teenagers at the time, I am sure they probably found it very difficult to really believe whatever we were trying to tell them at the time.

So now, here we are almost 15 years down stream, both Christopher and Alicia, more commonly known as Chris and Ali, would probably agree with Barbara and I in saying, yes, most of those wonderful friends that we left behind are still wonderful friends today. As we all get just a little bit 'longer in the tooth,' for whatever reason, these lasting friendships seem to become more special every day.

So, as I reflect about friendships, I would be remiss if I did not comment about my new found conduit to family and friends all over the world, Facebook.

It was really interesting how this all occurred. Almost a year ago, my EHS Class of 1964 was preparing for our 45th Reunion. (Damn, are we really that old.) One of our classmates had started a web site to generate excitement for the upcoming reunion. Shortly after the weekend reunion, I heard from several friends that rather than keep the existing web page, that had some expense involved, we were going to generate our own page on Facebook. Hum . . . .

Up to that time, I really thought that social networking sites were only for the young folks, but once hearing of the name of our new page, I could not wait to check it out. The rest is history. Not only have I been able to keep in touch and network with many of our classmates, I have unlocked and rediscovered past business associates, US Navy buddys, relatives and friends from years gone by. It has truely become a pastime that brings happy smiles to me on a daily basis.

So, in closing, many of you here on Facebook are some of our nearest and dearest friends. The fact that you may take time to read this, probably means you're just a bit more than a fb friend. What ever the case, to each of you, wherever you may be, remember 'friendship' is a special thing . . . and if you're a friend of mine, that makes you, 'really special.'

Special regards,
Bob D ~