Category Archives: Special People I’ve Known

Happy Birthday, Uncle Larry!

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Uncle Larry circa 1978

I’d like to invite everyone to celebrate the birthday of a great man with me today. My Uncle Larry turns 60!

Uncle Larry is my favorite uncle and I’d say that even if he were not technically my only uncle. In a life that’s had more change than I would like, Uncle Larry has been a North Star; a guiding constant and a reminder that some things and some people really can be counted on in this life.

Uncle Larry is my Aunt Cathy’s husband. He married in to the family 33 years ago and the fact that he’s been able to put up with Aunt Cathy all these years and still maintain his sanity is a credit to his fortitude. (My aunt reads this blog and I dearly love poking at her! She’s precious to me as well.) When I say he’s been a constant, I have difficulty remembering a time when he wasn’t around. He and Cathy started dating in my earliest hazy memories. What I do remember is Uncle Larry was literally larger than life to me.

Most of the guys in my family run around 5’10” or so. Nick, my little brother, topped that, but before him, Uncle Larry was the only 6’2″ person I knew. To me, he was also Hercules strong. One of his favorite things to do when he came to see Aunt Cathy was to pick me up over his head. I was a chunky little monkey so the fact he could scoop me up and touch me to the ceiling was awesome in itself. I remember going to the SC Upper State Fair every September with Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry’s niece, Gina — who, incidentally, was the first girl I ever walked down the aisle! I loved being with Uncle Larry and if Aunt Cathy didn’t object, he was pretty much willing to take me anywhere.

That IS a Mako Shark Corvette; That is NOT my Aunt Cathy

Uncle Larry has always had a need for speed and for him, speed has always meant one word — Corvette. Before he and Cathy married, he would buy a new Corvette every two years. The first one I remember he had was a limited edition 1968 Mako Shark II with a 427 big block in Midnight Blue. That was a seriously awesome car.

Knowing how much Uncle Larry loves Corvettes, I offer this as proof of how much more he loves my Aunt Cathy. Most of his Corvettes were special orders from Keith Whitaker Chevrolet in Greenville. He had a car on order when he asked Aunt Cathy to marry him. When she accepted, he canceled the order. That was late in 1977 and the car on order was a Silver Anniversary Edition 1978 Limited Edition Corvette. That car is worth just south of $1 million dollars today. For years — even today — if Cathy and Larry had a spat or a little dust-up, my daddy — Cathy’s brother — would remind Larry, “I told you to keep the car.”

Uncle Larry traded THIS . . .

Uncle Larry hasn’t been just a good time charlie all these years either. One of my clearest memories involving him was on Aunt Cathy’s birthday when I was about 5, I think. Mama and Daddy’s troubles had begun escalating and things came to a head at Granny and Papa Wham’s the night we celebrated Cathy’s birthday. We’d eaten and I was playing with my Legos in the living room when Daddy and Papa got into a heated — and loud — argument. When I walked in to see what was going on, Uncle Larry knelt down and asked me if I would like to “drive” his car to the Snack Bar for an ice cream. Does a one-legged duck swim in a circle? Of COURSE! So he sat me on his lap and I drove — with a little help — to the edge of town and we ate ice cream and “drove” back.

. . . for THIS. Right choice? Probably 🙂

When we got back, Daddy was gone and Mama was red-eyed. It was a few years down the road before I realized Uncle Larry — who had been through similar circumstances — was trying to preserve my innocence for just a little longer.

Of course, when it comes to driving for real, I never would have gotten my license if Uncle Larry hadn’t taught me how to drive a car. I didn’t see Daddy enough at the time and Mama was terrified of the thought of me driving, so Uncle Larry shouldered the load. Of course, learning to drive in a ’78 Camaro with a Corvette engine and transmission was a little tricky in places. I didn’t quite understand the concept of “ease on the gas” as much as I should so I left a few black marks around town in my early attempts. I remember being 14 with no sign of a permit, much less a license, driving down I-385 with Uncle Larry. We passed a highway patrol car and I asked Uncle Larry what to do if the cop turned around. He smiled and said, “Put your foot on the floor!”

Uncle Larry couldn’t afford a ticket because he was a truck driver. He went to work on the dock at the Roadway terminal in Greenville when he was 18. He started driving a few years later and now at 60, he’s the #1 tenured driver in South Carolina. When I was little, I used to think every Roadway truck I saw was Uncle Larry. It took Mama and Cathy forever to get me to understand that Roadway had lots of trucks and Uncle Larry drove up north mostly.

Uncle Larry and Aunt Cathy at Zach's Wedding.

The real measure of a man is how he treats others. I don’t know of a single person or animal my Uncle Larry has ever mistreated. He especially loved my Granny Wham. When Papa passed and Granny became unable to live alone, Uncle Larry told Cathy to sell their house and move to Fountain Inn to live with Granny so she wouldn’t have to leave her home of so many memories and years. By that time, he wasn’t going on long hauls anymore so every morning on his way home, he’d stop by the Hardees on the exit to Fountain Inn and get Granny Wham a biscuit for breakfast. Cathy said Granny would stand at the kitchen window waiting for him to arrive and he and Granny would eat breakfast together before Uncle Larry went to bed.

Happy 60th Birthday, Uncle Larry! You wear it well.

When Granny finally had to go to the nursing home because her medical needs were too great to tend at home, Larry would ride down to see her in Laurens just about every weekend. While Granny was in Martha Franks, the Greenville Roadway terminal closed and Larry was transferred to Columbia. Rather than move and upset things, he would drive 100 miles to Columbia from Fountain Inn three or four times a week to pick up his truck and run his route. Every time, either coming or going, he would stop in Laurens to check on Granny Wham. I’ve known a lot of men in my life. I’ve known my share of scoundrels and saintsalike. In all that time, I’ve been privileged to know few men of integrity to match my Uncle Larry and none — famous, infamous, or unknown — who would surpass him.

He is one of my childhood and adult heroes.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Larry! Love you!

And love to all of you as well! Keep your feet clean until next time.

Rest In Peace, Mr. DuPree . . . and thank you.

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Seventy years ago today, the Empire of Japan launched a successful sneak attack on the US Naval Station at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Most of us know the bare facts of the attack. Most of us have heard of the USS Arizona and how she blew up at anchor from a well-placed bomb. Slightly over 2,400 servicemen and civilians were killed that day and the moment FDR had waited for — and some say helped orchestrate through intentional inaction — had arrived, America was entering World War II. We were over two years late to the party, but once we got the blood out of our eyes from Pearl Harbor, we made a big entrance.

As a young boy, I sat on a Coca-Cola crate in the back room of the Napa Auto Parts store where Papa Wham was the sole employee and listened as a group of older men lounging around on similar crates played checkers, told fish tales, and exchanged updates about their lives. These were members of America’s “Greatest Generation” who had grown up during the REAL Great Depression and who had marched off to battle in World War II. If I were quiet enough — difficult for me even then — so that the men forgot I was listening, I could get quite an education on some topics.

If, in between customers, Papa came back to the gathering ; however, to hear Mr. John regaling the crowd with a memory of a certain “ladies’ home” he once visited in France right after “The War,” Papa would clear his throat and the men would remember my presence and Mr. John, red-faced, would probably ask me if I would go across the street and get him a Coke and some crackers, which I was always glad to do. I was rather older and Mr. John had already answered the final muster before it occurred to me that I was being kindly “gotten rid of.”  One of the men who frequented those back room gatherings, though he seldom stayed very long, was Mr. Andrew Dupree — universally known, for reasons unknown to me — as “Gump.” To me, he was Mr. Gump, unless Granny Wham were around, in which case, Papa had instructed me to say, “Mr. Dupree.”

The men who gathered in Papa’s back room often reminisced about their service during the war. If the story was deemed mostly harmless, I would be allowed to stay and listen. Most often, however, I would be asked to go on a Coke and crackers run. One time, however, Papa was asked to let me stay for the story and that is why I heard Mr. Dupree’s eyewitness recollection of December 7, 1941.

Gump was a young sailor in the navy stationed at Pearl Harbor the day the Japanese attacked.

Papa Wham had placed his hand on my shoulder as soon as Gump said, “Today’s ‘boom-boom’ day, boys” in his usual low, sad voice, “been a long time now.” The hand on my shoulder was my cue to go to the cash drawer, get a fiver and go to Alverson’s Drug Store for Cokes. This time though, Gump looked at Papa and I remember him saying, “Frank, let Shannon stay if you would. We’re getting old and someone needs to remember this.” I remember Papa nodded slowly then sat down on the crate next to me and whispered in my ear, “Don’t tell your grandmother, okay?” I nodded and turned to hear Gump tell this story.

Please remember I was 8 years old at most and my memory is very good, but not perfect.

It was Sunday, as you all know, and I was on my way to chapel walking along the shore next to Battleship Row. Mother had worried that I would take up a bad lifestyle in the navy and made me promise her to always go to church whenever I could. We had all heard rumors about a possible attack, but that’s all we figured they were. I was just glad to be in Hawaii. None of us figured we’d stay out of the war forever, but we all thought when it got started for us, it’d be over in Europe.

So I had left the barracks about ten minutes before when I heard the first planes. I didn’t even look up because planes were always coming and going from the airfields around the islands. The first explosion knocked me over and that’s when the screaming and yelling started. I rolled over and looked up and saw the meatballs on the planes. The klaxon was sounding general quarters for the entire island. I wasn’t assigned to a ship because I hadn’t been there long enough. A marine sergeant grabbed my arm and pointed towards an AA machine gun. He and I jumped in with a couple other guys and started shooting at anything we could.

I was scared shitless and was looking around everywhere. That’s when I saw some torpedo planes making runs at the battleships. You could see the fish in the water headed towards the ships. Everywhere up and down the harbor crews were trying to get the ships moving and trying to fight back at the same time. Didn’t do much good though. One of the torpedo planes strafed us after he made his run. We all ducked down but one guy took one of those bullets square in the chest. He exploded all over the rest of us. I had blood and pieces on me. Two of the other guys had some cuts from shrapnel. I just froze, but that old sergeant started slapping all of us around — we were a bunch of kids and God only knows how long he’d been in service — and yelling at us to get with it. He pushed the dead guy over to the side and got us all back up manning the gun.

That’s when the entire world seemed to blow up and go silent at the same time. We all flew against the sides of the dugout and it kind of stunned us all, even the sergeant. When I stood up, I saw a big ball of fire where one of the ships had been. I found out later it was the Arizona. I couldn’t hear. I put my hand to my ear and came away with blood. Found out later my eardrums had blown out from the shockwave.

The attack seemed to last forever. Planes were everywhere, bullets were everywhere. I saw several guys get shot down by strafers when they tried to run across the parade grounds. We couldn’t breathe from all the smoke and oil in the air. You couldn’t believe the smell. The smell was ungodly. Burning diesel oil, hot metal, burning skin. The burning skin was the worst. If you’ve ever singed your arm hair, multiply that about a million times.

We stayed hunkered down in that dugout and shot back until we ran out of ammo. Once it was all over, the sergeant told us — we could hear just a little by then — to get back to our units. I got back to the barracks and it was still in one piece. We had muster to see who was still with us and who wasn’t accounted for. We were kinda lucky and kinda not.

Once things started getting better organized, I was sent out with about six other guys in a small motor boat to search the harbor waters for survivors. We found a few, but mostly, we found parts. The whole time we still had that smell hanging over the water. I think didn’t sleep or eat for two days. Just went around trying to put out fires, help find people, stuff like that . . . it was bad, fellas. It was real bad.

Gump’s voice caught a bit and Papa told me to “go get Gump a Coke.” I could hear the story of parts and gore, but Papa would spare Gump the indignity of a child seeing him shed tears. It was okay for the other men to watch, I guess. They had stories too. They understood.

Mr. Dupree served with distinction in the Pacific Theater. I wish I could say his horror at Pearl Harbor was the worst thing to happen in his life, but that would be a lie. Gump’s life was filled with horror and tragedy even after he came home. When Papa and Granny built their home on Weathers Circle, Mr. and Mrs. Dupree lived across the street from them in a small, tidy white house. They had a son, Jack, who was about my daddy’s age, and had just had a baby. One of the neighborhood whispers was that Mrs. Dupree was “nervous” which was code back then for any mental illness from mild depression to schizophrenia.

One night, Papa answered a frantic knock on the door to find Gump standing in his nightclothes covered in blood. He said Gump told him — rather calmly — to please call an ambulance, that his wife had “hurt herself.” As it turned out, his wife had taken a pistol and killed the baby in the crib, shot Jack where he lay in his bed, then shot Gump before putting the gun to her own head. I think she left a note saying she “wanted them all to be together forever” or something like that.

Gump survived; so did Jack. I can’t imagine the psychological scars they both carried. By the time I knew him, Gump lived in a small mobile home in a grove of trees off McCarter Road between Fountain Inn and Greenpond. Jack had moved away by then. I don’t know if Gump had any grandchildren. I just know he loved fishing. He fished every day except Sunday. Rain or cold didn’t stop him. Looking back, I imagine that’s the way he coped with all he had been through.

Mr. Dupree died May 7, 1983. I am certain of the date because it’s also my little brother Nick’s birthdate. Papa and Granny went to the funeral before they came to the hospital.  He dearly loved my mama; it upset him as much as it did Papa and Granny Wham when Mama and Daddy divorced. I know Gump never really got over the war or his wife’s suicide because the last December 7th before he died, he gave Mama a new purse with a letter in it. I’ve never read it, but it begins “Dear Lawana, Today is ‘boom-boom’ day.”

Mama said Gump was explaining some more things. That’s all she said.

Love y’all. Remember those who have fallen.

Go Rest High on that Mountain, Papa John

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Papa John on Mama's wedding day.

I’ve found it exceptionally difficult to look out the window all day today and see such a beautiful cerulean sky with the Sun shining warm and high.

Five years ago on this day, rain fell so hard and so long that it made a rivulet beneath the funeral tent where I stood giving Papa John’s eulogy. It rained so hard the canvas of the tent sounded almost like a ten roof. I couldn’t see the highway only twenty yards away.

When the time came to leave, Budge and I drove out of the cemetery and I couldn’t think of the words or tune of a single hymn or gospel song. All I could think about were the words to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s signature song . . . “The Sky Is Crying.”

As unbelievable as it was to me, my Papa John – Mama’s father – was gone and it seemed as if Nature herself was taking part in our grief.

It’s taken me five years to write one word about Papa’s death because all these years later, that wound is no less open, raw and putrescent than it was the day Papa John passed away.

I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time with Papa John as I did Granny and Papa Wham for a variety of reasons I will not discuss here. However, of all my close ancestors, I share more traits and characteristics with Papa John than I do any other relative. Some people who read this might not like that. The person writing this doesn’t really care if they do or not.

My Papa John was special. He faced down more calamity and disaster; overcame more ill will and hard breaks; and fought off more despair and personal demons than any man I’ve ever known. Whenever I think of Papa, I think of the quote some attribute to Rabelais “What cannot be remedied must be endured“. My Papa John endured where others would have fainted, if not fled in terror at what was happening to them. Death alone could stop him and even then, he didn’t go without a fight.

Papa was a Pentecostal preacher. He was never happier than when he was at the front of our little white church playing his guitar or delivering a sermon. When he wasn’t preaching, he was busy doing the Lord’s work and when he wasn’t doing the Lord’s work, he was working in textile plants all over Laurens and Simpsonville, SC.

Papa worked hard, but he never had anything to show for it. I’ve seen him give the coat off his back to someone who needed it more than he did. He was big-hearted and generous and kind and the world hated him for it. He was slandered and lied about and run through the petty small town rumor mill over and over — because he was good to people.

Throughout all the false accusations and tribulations in his life, my Papa never lifted a finger against anyone. He didn’t have to. God had Papa’s back. Oh, I know a lot of you reading this, especially members of my own family probably don’t believe that, but again, ask me if I care. You weren’t there. You don’t know as much as you think you do. What I know is everyone — man and woman, kin and stranger alike — who mistreated my Papa John either had to come to him to apologize on bended knee or else died in horrible, Old Testament ways. One wagging tongue silenced itself with a blast from a 12 gauge shotgun. Another died choking while drowning on his own blood. A family member who spoke too harshly about things which weren’t her business one too many times died of a horrible wasting lung cancer . . . and never smoked a day in her life.

Believe what you want to.

From the time I was 13 until I was 35 and he passed, Papa had MULTIPLE strokes and heart attacks. I was with him the night he had his first stroke in our church parking lot. I was 13 and didn’t know what the change in his voice meant and neither did he. The ailments took his body, but Papa never succumbed to the slightest bit of dementia. Until he lapsed into his final coma, he was as sharp as the kitchen knives he used to keep to cut radiator hoses.

For years before he passed away, his left hand and arm were completely useless. He drove his car with a steering knob. His left leg was halt and somewhat withered. He walked anyway.He never stopped. He endured.

I could fill a book with my papa’s life, but most people — even many who knew him — wouldn’t believe parts of it. He was a mystery to most people. I don’t have space or time to talk about cars and restaurants and the Harakin Pine Woods. I could make an entry about Papa in this blog every day for the rest of my life and the half wouldn’t be told.

Papa John didn’t measure success in dollars and cents. That confused lots of people. People might not have known how to take Papa, but they knew who to turn to for help. He never stopped his ministry. When he could no longer stand in a pulpit, he’d sit in a Waffle House at 3:00 AM talking to a stranger about God over a cup of coffee. Five years later, Mama and I are still finding out about lives he touched that we knew nothing about.

Here’s what matters though and here’s what you need to take away from this post about my grandfather. He didn’t have a bank account. He never owned a house. His only possessions were his bible, a few clothes, and a hand-me-down Ford Fairmont. The day he died, he had one $5 bill in his wallet. As I said at his funeral, according to our vision of “The American Dream” he had NOTHING to show for his life. Some people might have looked at him as a complete failure.

I’ll tell you what he did have though — in the middle of a driving rainstorm that would turn to sleet later that day — he had more people at his funeral than the Fletcher’s Mortuary tent could hold, but the people came anyway and stood in that driving rain to pay a last visit to a man who had a heart no one could measure.

THAT is what you need to know about Papa John. That and the fact that I loved him more than breath and since his death nothing has been the same and never will be. Men like Papa John leave a hole too big to ever fill on this side of the Jordan River.

Rest on the mountain for a little while, Papa, and look for me . . . I’m trying.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

 

Happy Birthday, Cuz

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Today is my oldest first cousin’s 27th birthday. Zach is approaching 30.

Of the four grandsons, Zach is and always has been the sweetest and kindest. I’m not saying this just because he’s my cousin and I love him dearly, but he was truly an angelic child. Just look at the picture. All kidding aside, though, I’ve never met anyone within my family or without with the level of innate compassion, concern, and just downright decency Zach has always exhibited.

My theory is he used up all his angst getting here. He did give Aunt Cathy fits while she was carrying him. It seems like she was in the hospital more than she was at home for those nine months. He was perfect once he got here though. Ten fingers and ten toes and a precious smile that didn’t look a bit gassy. I hate to admit this now, but I completely resented his arrival. Understand that I was the ONLY grandchild on BOTH sides of my family for 12 years. I had Granny and Papa Wham all to myself AND I had Aunt Cathy and Uncle Larry all to myself.

Then Nick was born and not even five years later, Zach came along. I was losing market share at an unacceptably steep rate. It was hard to stay jealous of the little twerp though. He was white headed and cooed on command. He was just a great baby. The great baby grew into a wonderful school aged boy and the boy became a fascinating man. He wasn’t always perfect, but he was close. I was an utter hellion in high school and my little brother, Nick, raised his good and honest share of Cain as well.

Not Zach.

About the closest Zach ever came to being “wild” was during his freshman and sophomore years of high school. He was a living doll by then with white, straight hair, a nice tan, and a dazzling – no braces needed – smile. Well the girls just wanted to sop him up with a biscuit. ALL the girls. Black girls, white girls, Latinas, freshmen, upperclassmen, goths and cheerleaders. He was a pick for them all and for just a little while, it went to his head. I still remember Aunt Cathy calling me distraught and near tears because Zach had LIED to her about something to do with a party. Now I remember it being very minor, but at the same time . . . this was ZACH! He didn’t lie to his mama!

That phase didn’t last very long though. By the time he graduated high school and went off to Clemson University, he’d settled down completely. He did average in college and he never really gave any clue what his plans were. I don’t think any of us had any idea what he had in mind.

We sure never figured on him going into the ministry!

He did, though. Like I said, Zach was never a wild child in even the broadest sense, but during college, he got involved in a group of Christians unlike any he’d ever met (unlike any I’D ever met to be honest) and his life took on a completely new direction. It was like watching a diamond get a final cut and shine.

I knew he was serious when he announced right before Granny Wham passed away that he was moving to Gainesville, Florida to take a position as a youth / college minister at a progressive church he’d heard about down there in U of F land. Zach is as big a mama’s boy as me and he followed the Lord’s call to Florida because that’s where he was meant to be. I remember Aunt Cathy crying a little, but it’s like she said, “It’s hard to cry over a son who’s following the Lord.”

As it turns out, a ministry wasn’t all my little cousin found in Gainesville. All through his growing up, Zach had his pick of any girl he wanted. Problem is, at least for them, is he never seemed to find “the right one.” He was always good and kind to the girls he dated, but several of them shed tears when they realized they weren’t going to land this perfect husband.

All of them except Ashley, that it.

I knew he was completely serious about marrying her when he brought her to Christmas morning to be vetted by Daddy, Nick, and me. None of the three of us are famous for holding our opinions and if he was prepared to introduce her to us . . . well, she must really be special. Turns out she was.

I hate weddings about as much as I hate leaving South Carolina. But this was Zach and he and Ash were special enough for Budge and me to drive all the way to Gainesville and back one beautiful April day to see them walk down the aisle. She was beautiful in white . . . and one of the only brides I’ve ever been willing to put money on her credentials to wear that pure color. Zach was handsome, but most of all, they were happy.

Still are. Now we’re just waiting on the beautiful babies to come along. So get cracking, you two! It’s been over a year now and I’m not getting any younger!

Happy Birthday, Cuz. We love you tons and I am unashamedly and overwhelmingly proud of you!

Deuce Part Deux — Laura-Lou Got Married

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Laura and her mama, Connie.

So for several years, Laura (Deuce), Budge, and I pretty much hung together non-stop. Laura had many other friends from the school district and Starbucks. She even kept in touch with a good many of her high school friends who moved away from Ware Shoals. She has one high school girlfriend named Shaye Hall whom I am quite ready to meet and ask a question or two about a certain New Kids on the Block concert, but that is a story for another time.

We were together a great deal, but not exclusively. We would usually eat together on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the week and at least once, if not twice on the weekends. We also had long stretches when we didn’t get to see much of Deuce. She’s a pretty amazing actress (but what else can you expect from Drew Barrymore’s bestie?) and a member of the Laurens County Community Theater.

Some members of the LCCT. Laura is the cow.

For about a month each fall and spring, we’d be lucky to see her once a week because she’d have to sandwich rehearsals between two jobs. The shows have always been worth it. Her portrayal of Olene Whiffer is especially memorable. Think Steel Magnolias meets Gypsy Rose and you’ll have a pretty fair picture of Ms. Whiffer.

The last four years, we’ve also had the ritual of sitting with Laura while she was dead panicked about having a job at the school district, which has been her main source of income and benefits. With all the cutbacks since the bottom fell out of the economy in 2008, she’s never been sure if her job was next on the chopping block or not. So far though, she’s always managed to have a spot. It probably doesn’t hurt that the superintendent and the high school principal — as well as most everyone else in District 56 — loves her almost as much as we do.

The Gang from Starbucks

Work kept us apart, the theater kept us apart, and football season kept us apart. Once Laura started working at the high school, she took over the Spirit Club. As a “perk” of this office, she got to be at EVERY football game, fair weather or foul, home or away, heat or cold. When I was still at Bell Street, I’d come to a few games as well, but I never made the trek to Union or York. For the record, Union, SC is impossible to get straight to. It’s one of those “you-can’t-get-there-from-here” places.

But I digress.

One issue which never kept us apart, however, was Laura’s dating life. Without putting too fine a point on it, she didn’t have much of one. Now you might ask, as I did when I didn’t know her as well as I do now, how such a beautiful, classy, and outgoing young woman could NOT have three dates per weekend. The answer lies in which Laura shows up for the evening — Ware Shoals Laura or Simpsonville Laura.

See, Simpsonville Laura went to etiquette classes and knows which utensil to start eating with at the most swanky restaurants and receptions. Simpsonville Laura is demure, very sweet, kind, and forgiving. Simpsonville Laura drinks Blue Moon with an orange wedge on the lip of the glass.

This is Simpsonville Laura dangerously close to morphing into Ware Shoals Laura.

Ware Shoals Laura shoots tequila. Not often, but she does. Ware Shoals Laura is the slightly less refined and considerably more dangerous alter ego of Simpsonville Laura. Ware Shoals Laura also went to etiquette classes but she mostly remembers which knife on the table is sharpest and will cut a heart out best. The funny thing is, you could be sitting next to Simpsonville Laura one minute and someone — often me — would say something stupid and when you’d look over, you’d be sitting next to Ware Shoals Laura.

Simpsonville Laura has always loved men with dark handsome looks; Ware Shoals Laura has always loved men with barbecue sauce, Texas Pete, and a side of green beans. Not every guy, not even most guys, had what it takes to deal with sporadic outbreaks of Ware Shoals Laura. Thom didn’t, Eric didn’t, some guy from Greenwood who ate one dinner with us at Wasabi’s didn’t, and poor Pete (Pete the Dude, not Pete the Cat. That’s another story) CERTAINLY didn’t. He’s still got a few things to learn about himself I do believe.

But one did, and that’s where the buckeye comes in.

Laura and Mr. Dick, giver of the sacred buckeye.

Now why in the name of all that’s holy a MICHIGAN WOLVERINE fan would have a BUCKEYE in her possession was somewhat lost on me until I heard the story. Laura’s grandfather, Mr. Dick, had given Laura a genuine buckeye when she was but a wee lass and told her it was because she was greatly loved and very special and when she finally met a boy she loved as much as Mr. Dick loved her, a boy as special to her as she was to Mr. Dick, she should give him the buckeye and he’d be hers forever.

Deuce kept that buckeye a long time and might have kept it forever if it hadn’t been for the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Now this particular group of which Laura is but a junior member is worthy of a blog all their own, but for the sake of time I will summarize. The Ya-Ya’s are a group of young ladies and older women who regularly visit one another, but once a year, they have a Ya-Ya convention at the Beach. It was during one of these annual maritime rendezvous when one of the top ranking Ya-Ya’s mentioned she had a son she wanted Laura to meet.

Some of the Ya-Ya's in the Caribbean.

His name was Cameron Hall and his mother, Elaine, introduced the two of them later that summer. The rest, as the old story goes, is history.

Budge and I knew Laura was going out regularly with Cameron and I figured he had to be at least a decent guy because he was willing to drive up an hour and some change one way from Columbia every time they went on a date. I didn’t know HOW well they were getting along until Laura, Budge, and I were on the way to supper one evening last summer and she ended a cell phone call with “I Love You!” I automatically asked her how her daddy was doing because Mr. Ray Davis was the ONLY person Budge or I EVER heard Laura say “I love you” to on the phone. She was quiet for a minute then said, “Um, That wasn’t Daddy, that was Cameron.”

Wow. This was SERIOUS.

It was so serious she introduced him to Budge and I, which was something she’d only done on one other occasion and only because she wanted some good excuses to dump the Greenwood guy from Wasabi’s. It was SO serious that the night we went to meet Cameron and Laura for dinner at TGI Friday’s in Greenville, I not only traded my normal T-shirt and basketball shorts for khakis and a collared polo, I also wore BIG BOY SHOES instead of my neon colored Crocs.  Laura noticed immediately and later told Cameron that was a fairly big deal.

The minute I saw him I didn’t like him. He was handsome in just the slightly rough way I knew Deuce loved. He was a football fan and he liked USC and . . . well, he was just about as perfect a match as is possible in this fallen world of ours. I didn’t like him because I knew he was probably the one who was going to break up the band. Once I saw him look at Laura though, I had to get over it. He loved her and the way he looked at her proved it. What’s more, he’s a good and gentle man. Hardworking and kind and he treats Deuce as if the Sun and stars spun around her hair on a halo.

This Christmas, after a little more than a year together, Laura gave Cameron Mr. Dick’s buckeye.

The shoals that give Ware Shoals its name.

I started waiting for the inevitable call.

It came this past May after the Ware Shoals Catfish Feastival (and NO that is not a misspelling). Cameron had gotten Big Momma’s 100-year-old diamond ring from Connie, Laura’s mama, and had it reset for her. He, with some timely help from young Jacob, gave her the ring on the rocks of the shoals in sight of the house where Laura grew up near the middle of town she loves like no other place on Earth. My Deuce was getting married.

Cam's beard wasn't that grey when he and Deuce started dating. Just saying.

So, just a tiny bit more than one month ago today, I dusted off my wedding manual, checked over the procedure for properly endorsing a marriage license, and sat going over the vows and ceremony as Budge drove following Laura, Cameron, and Jake, Cameron’s son, down to the Isle Of Palms near Charleston. There, in a simple white dress and Cam in nice khaki slacks repeated after me in cargoes and purple Crocs their vows and “I do’s.” I made it through almost the entire ceremony without crying, but my voice caught just a bit during the prayer.

Last week, they moved in to their new house together in Laurens, SC and tomorrow night we’re gathering in Ware Shoals for a swanky reception. Hopefully, Cameron will let me borrow Deuce back long enough to show me which fork to use.

It hurts a little knowing I won’t get to see Deuce as much as we did, but I look forward to seeing what kind of beautiful love grows from that small brown seed from the Aesculus glabra 

It’s common name is The American Buckeye.

Love y’all!

Deuce, Part I — An Unlikely Alliance

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Um, Laura's the big one.

My first day as a librarian at Bell St. Middle School in Laurens District 56, I met Laura. She was in charge of teacher IDs and email passwords so at lunch on the first day of the new teacher orientation, I fell in with the rest of the newbies and trooped down to the IT Department’s basement outpost in what was then the District Office to have my ID made and get a login for the computer network.

Now, when I am nervous, I talk very fast. Think of an auctioneer and double his speed. When I am excited, I also talk very fast. This was my first day as a school librarian AND I was in a new district, I was extremely nervous while being incredibly excited. Think of an auctioneer with Tourette’s Syndrome, Asperger’s Autism and severe ADHD standing in a nest of fire ants with his hair ablaze and you’ll have a close approximation of what Laura received that hot August day.

While,  in line I noticed a Michigan poster on the wall with a photo of Laura and another girl (later I found out it was Ho-Hum Amy) in front of “The Big House” in Ann Arbor. I also saw a photo of an ankle with a crescent moon tattooed on it. In my nervously excited state, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet taking in everything around me and checking it off against info in my head. I was last in line to get my stuff so as soon as Laura spoke to me, I started talking.

According to Laura, the conversation went somewhat thusly (with my part approximating how she says I answered her):

Laura: “Hi. What can I do for you?”

Me: “Hi-my-name-is-Shannon-ShannonWham-W-h-a-m-Wham-just-like-George-Michael’s-old-singing-group-Wham!-before-he-got-weird. Is-that-you-outside-the-BigHouseinMichigan? DidyougotoMichigan?Are-you-a-Michigan-fan-it’s-hard-to-tell-’cause-you-have-a-USCposterontheotherwall-soIthoughtyoumighthave-goneto-USC-but-I-need-to-get-my-idandlogin-Imthenewlibrarian-over-atBellStreet-do-you-have-a-tattoo-is-that-the-tattoo-in-that-picture-ofyourankleisthatyourankle-you-have-a-nice-office-it’sgoodandcooldownhere-it’ssohottoday-that’sareallyprettyplantwhatisit-oh-you-already-got-myidandloginbutI-didn’t-tell-you-my-social-didyou-lookitup-wowyou’refast-well,Igottagoeatlunch-thenextsession-startsinthirtyminutes-thanksalot-itwasnicetomeetyou!

And I left.

She never looked at me after her initial greeting, but over a year later I found out as soon as I left, she went back to where the IT guys ate lunch and announced, “The new librarian over at Bell Street is certifiably insane. I mean, he SERIOUSLY needs medicated,” and she proceeded to recap my entire spiel.

Little did she know how right she was . . .

Among her other multitudinous talents, Laura's a very accomplished actress.

I didn’t see much of her that first year. Of course, the year pretty much passed in a blur anyway. I emailed her when one of my little monsters forgot his or her password so she could fix them up a new one and we’d chat a bit here and there but with no premonitions of what was to come.

The next year started off pretty much the same way. I’d call if I needed something IT-ish and every now and then she’d stop by to drop off something. Laura is a wildly engaging person and she’s hysterically funny to talk to when she gets going. That fall, I found out she loves college football and is a die-hard Michigan fan. As the fates would have it, Appalachian State scored a monumental, historic upset over Michigan in the opening game of the college football season so I downloaded the App State fight song and sent it to her as her ration of crap about that fiasco. Then right after Christmas, I blew a disc out in my back and was laid up and out of work for most of January. She emailed me a time or two while I was out of commission and she was one of the first to call me up and welcome me back once my discs finally healed.

Still, at this juncture, she was a colleague from work who had some similar interests to me and I never dreamed she’d be anything else. Then I called her the Monday afternoon after spring break. The day had just ended and I was feeling spring feverish and blithering on like I do when I’m nervous or excited.  I didn’t know it at the time, but Laura has something in common with my Budge — they are both “Stuffers.” Anything bad that happens to them gets shoved in a huge mental trunk and stuffed away to be dealt with a some indeterminate time in the future. She wasn’t answering like she usually did and that’s when I caught a note in her voice that told me something was very, very wrong.

Since she is such a proficient “stuffer,” anyone would have difficulty discerning anything out of the ordinary was amiss in her voice, but — as I said — I just caught a hint of something not right. Now Laura also has in common with Budge being a VERY private person. Neither one of them “do their business out in the street,” so just casually asking “what’s wrong” wasn’t very likely to get any sort of accurate answer. I suppose I’ll never know why I asked or why she answered. I just know the Lord truly does work in utterly mysterious ways to bring extremely special people into our lives when it’s time.

Turns out her spring break had been HIDEOUS — absolutely hellish. She told me all about it in an hour-long conversation. Out of respect for her privacy, I won’t divulge details but suffice it to say it involved loved ones dying, betrayal, car problems, unexpectedly moving houses . . . just think of the worst week you could have then double it and you’ll get close to Laura’s spring break. She was living in a commercial for Murphy’s Law. I was blown away by how wounded she was and I just wanted to be some comfort, so I think I said something profound like, “Wow. I am so sorry. Can I do anything? If I can help, let me know.” That’s what we Southerners do. “If I can help, let me know” is right up the list with “Bless her heart!”

Two of my favorite people in the world: Budge and Laura, Ace and Deuce.

I talked to her off and on that year but I really got to know her well over the summer when I was volunteering as an IT tech at the DO. The group of us would eat lunch almost daily at El Jalisco,  a hole in the wall Mexican restaurant in Clinton. At the end of the summer, she was moving again and asked if I could help out, so one hot, muggy Saturday afternoon, we moved her from Ware Shoals to Simpsonville.

That next day was the first time I mentioned to Budge we should take Laura out to eat. She had just started working a second job as a barista at Starbucks and hardly ever had time or money for herself. She was making it on her own though. Laura is tough and proud that way. Anyway, Budge was glad for a chance to meet this “Laura” I had been fretting about so we took her to Anita’s Mexican Restaurant. Within a month, Anita’s on Tuesday was a weekly ritual.

As we hung out more and more, I realized Laura was my lost baby sister. She and Budge were like twin sisters and became best of friends. For the next few years, we were inseparable. We’d eat out or I’d cook two or three times a week; Dana and I would take supper to her at Starbucks; we’d go to movies; we even did a few holidays together . . . Laura and Budge used to joke that we were Mormons. Budge was Ace and Laura was Deuce — my two sisterwives.

I have never met a stranger, but a plethora of quirks hinders me making close friends. I haven’t had a friend anywhere as close as Laura since college or before. She could even deal with me during a meltdown. Mama, Budge, and Laura are the only people who can calm me down once I go off the deep end. It helped Budge out more than anyone could understand knowing Laura could help when I was spiraling. She’s one of two people Budge can call and say, “He’s having a bad day,” and Laura would know exactly what was going on and how to help. It gave Budge someone to lean on and another pair of hands when I became more than one handful.

For example, last summer Budge went to Hawaii with Ki-Ki for four weeks. I don’t do well when Budge isn’t around, so Laura called every day to make sure I was out of bed. She even forced me to go out so I didn’t sit in the house like a cabbage while Budge was gone.

So over the last few years, Laura has gone from a casual acquaintance to an adopted sister. For my part, it would have suited me just fine for things to rock and roll on forever and for a good long time, it looked like that’s how it was going to be.

I liked it. I was content. The three of us could take on the world.

However, I didn’t know about the buckeye . . .

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

Coo coo ca choo, Mr. Brady!

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Mr. Brady circa 1989. He taught me Algebra II and Calculus. Finest math teacher ever.

Fate, if you believe in it, is an odd and capricious thing.

If Larry Brady had been able to fold proper paper airplanes, I would never have learned calculus in high school, so I would have been forced to take it in college — most likely with a thickly accented professor — and failed it miserably thereby not finishing my degree and likely dooming myself to a life of more misery and failure than I already have endured.

I guess one could safely say I owe a lot to Mr. Brady.

Budge and I were talking about math last night. Why, I don’t know. It’s one of those strange conversations married people have. Anyway, Budge HATES math. I blame Dad. Patience is not one of Dad’s cardinal virtues. He scarred her for life when he tried helping her with her algebra homework.

So we were talking about different kinds of math and Budge mentioned that she didn’t understand trigonometry. In about 15 minutes, I’d explained to her what it was, who used it, and why. I also gave her a rundown on mnemonics for the main trig functions. She wanted to know why it was so easy for me to learn and remember all this when she’d had such an impossible time with her high school math classes.

I answered her, “That’s easy; you never had Mr. Brady for a math teacher.”

As he explained to us in class in one of the precious few moments we managed to bump him slightly off topic, had Mr. Brady managed to conquer paper airplane origami at North Carolina State University, he would have pursued a degree and career as an aeronautic engineer. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get the hang of folding the paper the way this particular professor wanted it folded so he changed his major to mathematics and ended up, somehow, as a teacher. I’m not certain on the mechanism of fate, but I do know that fortuitous alignment of the stars resulted in a generation of math students at Laurens District 55 High School being blessed without measure by putting one of the most gifted instructors to every pick up a blue Marks-A-Lot overhead pen into the classroom.

Lest anyone reading this think Mr. Brady was so memorable because he was easy, happy-go-lucky, loosey-goosey, and tried being our friend, PLEASE get a grip. Mr. Brady had a dry sense of humor, genuinely enjoyed teaching, and loved three things above all else — basketball, math, and his two daughters, one of whom was my classmate.

He was friendly, but he was a teacher first. He was one of the most organized human beings I ever met — at least in the classroom. Most of all though, he was decidedly NOT an easy teacher. Earning Cs in his class was honorable, Bs were a sign of hard work, and As — well, As in Mr. Brady’s class were the Maltese Falcons of the LDHS55 math department.

What made Mr. Brady unique was his ability to teach any concept, no matter how abstract or outrageous, to anyone. I am convinced, within two semesters, he could teach a lab rat to play “Ode to Joy” on a miniature grand piano. He knew no less than five ways to do any problem. If, by chance, a brain-dead stoner in one of his classes couldn’t “get it” using one of those five ways, Mr. Brady didn’t get mad or frustrated — he made up a sixth way on the spot, just like he made up all his classroom examples — on the spot. Now, in case that doesn’t impress you, try making up a problem involving L’Hopital’s Rule on the spur of the moment to get an answer that is neat and easy to use as a teaching example.

He was amazing.

Lest anyone think Mr. Brady was one of those Ivory Tower Birds who could only teach the cream of the crop, be advised that he taught EVERYTHING in the math department. Remedial Mathematics to AP Calculus, he taught them all with the same passion and expertise. He was one of the minuscule fraction of teachers who could — and would — teach all students well and without complaint.

We spend a lifetime trying to forget some teachers. Others, we remember, but for all the wrong reasons. We recall many personalities, but precious little of the subject matter they once imparted to us. Mr. Brady wasn’t like that at all. I suppose the best way to finally impress upon you the man’s ability as an educator is to reveal that I made a 3 on the AP Calculus “AB” Exam at the end of his class. I can’t remember how many of us passed with a 3 or better, but it was a typically phenomenal ratio for his calculus classes. He taught me so well and so thoroughly that I still maintain some knowledge of calculus today — 21 years later — having never found a reason to use it.

The man was good. He was a teacher par excellance and I hope that, wherever he is today and whatever he’s doing (he’s retired, but that’s all I know), he’s reaping a generous reward for making two otherwise unbearable years a little brighter for me.

Good on ya’, Mr. Brady, wherever you are!

Love y’all and don’t remember to wash your feet.

Author’s Update September 6, 2006: When I first published this entry on my blog, I sent a copy to Mr. Brady’s daughter, Sally, to pass on to her dad since I didn’t know where he was living or any of his contact information. Sally wrote me back telling me how much she appreciated the tribute, but that she would be unable to pass it on to her father. Unbeknown to me, and to my great and lasting sorrow, Mr. Larry Brady — finest math teacher ever to pace the classroom — passed away in January of 2006 after a series of strokes. I had no idea.  Resquiescat In Pace, Mr. Brady, and thank you so much.