Worth resharing–Wofford College Women (before we were cool)

Main Building

Old Main, Wofford campus.

Wofford College.  All you Yankees, heathen and sportscasters need to learn to pronounce it  correctly.  It’s WAWH-ferd.  Not Woof-ferd.

I matriculated there in the fall of 1977 and graduated in May of 1981, having been recruited by my father’s cousin-by-marriage, Dr. Elton Hendricks, then Director of Admissions. Elton is a physicist and a Methodist minister and he went on to a long career as president of Methodist University.

Wofford had been a men’s school since its inception in 1854.  The first class of women living on campus entered in the fall of 1976, so I was in an early wave of the invasion of the women.  To look at the college now you would never know that it was not always coeducational.

We XX’s were a true minority; truthfully, not welcomed by everyone.  That first week all fell uncomfortably silent when “we” walked into the dining hall. You cringed inwardly while walking proudly.  Yes, you were afraid the frat boys and jocks would begin to hiss and boo.  And yes, fraternities openly discouraged brothers and pledges from dating Wofford women.

Thankfully it didn’t take long before I felt like I was one of the guys.  Yes, I was a member of the Association of Wofford Women.  We really didn’t, you know, do anything.  It seemed the association was mostly for show.  We existed.  We joined.  ‘Cause we could.  Solidarity and all.

Spartanburg General Nursing School photo

Shirley Senn’s nursing school photo

My son is a sophomore at the University of South Carolina.  He had looked at Wofford as early as between his freshman and sophomore year of high school.  He knew it wasn’t for him, but we filled out an application to Wofford and an ivy-league school more or less for grins (but never hit the final “submit” button to either school).  He also considered Presbyterian College, where he would have been a legacy to his grandfather, Jack P. Holmes.

Little did he know that if he had chosen Wofford, he would have been a legacy to me and to his maternal grandmother Shirley Senn Holmes.

Yes, Shirley and her sister Marietta “Mary” Senn Harper attended classes on campus at Wofford during their years as R.N. students at Spartanburg General Hospital’s School of Nursing.

Spartanburg General School of Nursing photo

Mary Senn’s nursing school photo

This is not one of my witty, insightful or funny blogs.  It is pure history for my son’s benefit and that of my Holmes and Harper cousins who might not know that Shirley and Mary attended classes at Wofford way before it was cool to do so.

I’m re-sharing Wofford historian Phillip Stone’s blog From the Archives for their benefit.  It deals with women at Wofford before women really “arrived.”  Click on the link and it will open in a new window, so don’t freak.

The Women Before There Were Women

Also, I’ll tell you that I’ve recently been interviewed for an article in Wofford Today magazine about the early years of co-eds at Wofford.  I’ll let you know when it comes out.

Meanwhile intaminatus fulget honoribus.  I think.

Wofford College logo

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Yes, I am a pirate.

OK, so if I'm not a pirate, at least I've got a tugboat named after me.

It’s safe to say I’ve been aware of Jimmy Buffett since high school—from his initial hit, “Come Monday.”  I can even remember being in Mrs. Keith Oakes’ English literature class my senior year.  Someone had a guitar there for some official reason and between classes,  class clown Mark Burke picked it up and began to play and sing “Margaritaville. “

That’s all well and good, enjoying those two radio hits in the 70’s, but like many now-middle-aged, college educated middle-class men and women, there was a time when I was called to Buffett, surely as I received a call from the Lord to come down front while heads were bowed and the pianist quietly played “Just As I Am” .   It was, I remember, some ten years after that alter call, in a car with some college friends on the way to Florida, mingled with some Fleetwood Mac, Kenny Rogers and even David Allen Coe.

Mother, Mother Ocean, I have heard you call.

There was an intense period of immersion that followed my conversion to Parrotthead:  Son of a Son of a Sailor, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, A1A, Living and Dying in ¾ Time, Havana Daydreamin’ and A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean.  I listened to them over and over and over and memorized every line.  I played them on the old turntable and was careful to run, jump and pick up the needle so my parents wouldn’t hear me play “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” or any parts on the live album You Had to Be There where there was cursing .  The irony is that nowadays my mother loves her some JB and you can bet she and my daddy knew, knew we played “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” when we thought they couldn’t hear.

Known for sculpting his own genre and elevating it to cult status as well as for  his diversified marketing genius, Jimmy Buffett never enjoyed a lot of Top Forty airplay.  It’s just as well.  He’s done more to influence other musicians and keep his fans boogieing than just about any other public figure I can think of.

Last week I read a blog by a blogger called Preacher Mike.  Mike lists his top ten and ties them into his Christian belief system.  Inspired,  I have come up with my Top Ten List of Jimmy Buffett songs:

10. Incommunicado (Coconut Telegraph)  With a tip of his hat to Travis McGee and a palpable moment of silence for John Wayne, JB captures the essence of times when we all need to retreat into ourselves, go away and just be non-communicative.  This song actually inspired my visit to Cedar Key, a sleepy Gulf hamlet way off the beaten path—where I enjoyed the local delicacy, smoked mullet—and, as always, it’s not a waste of time “taking the long way home.”

9. The Wino and I Know (Living and Dying in 3/4 Time)  I’m on the right track with this obscure JB song because when I posted a few lines from it on Facebook yesterday, people I’d never thought of as Parrottheads answered my post with more great lines from the song.  Distilled down to its meaning, the song illustrates that there are intangibles in life that can be grasped and appreciated by children, drunks and even songwriters. And I hope one day to make it to Café du Monde for coffee and beignets.

"God bless Johnny Cash"

"I got a Carribean soul I can barely control/And some Texas hidden here in my heart."

8.  There’s Something So Feminine About a Mandolin (Havana Daydreamin’) –  I strongly considered the title song for this list.  Strongly.  But this song paints such a vivid picture–a pasture in central Texas, a graceful young woman bent over her instrument, the high lonesome sound of the mandolin.  It reminds me of the time I saw a young bartender, a fit brunette in hiking shorts, finish her shift and pick up a guitar to belt out songs by the potbellied stove in Luchenbach Texas.  This tune’s  message is of simplicity, feminine grace and of the things we love that we hope to pass on to our children.  “When I get older and I have a daughter/I’ll teach her to sing/And play her my songs/And I’ll tell her some stories I can barely remember.”

7. Migration (A1A) How many of us have gone introspective, “Looking back in the background/Tryin’ to figure out how I ever got here”? There is the bashing of Yankee tourists in “mobile homes that cover the Keys/I hate those bastards so much,” somewhat of an ecologist’s rallying-cry for sending them back up north towards Disney and preserving the keys habitat and vibe.  This song also deserves to be on my list because it contains the very definition of JB’s public persona “I’ve got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and some Texas hidden here in my heart.”

6.  He Went to Paris (A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean)  Simply epic JB.  A human life well-lived is full of ups and downs. Yes, you can boogie your ass off until you die.  In fact, it’s the only way to consider living.   “Some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic but I had a good life all the way.”

5.  Tie:  If the Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me (Last Mango in Paris) and  Coast of Marseilles (Son of a Son of a Sailor)  They’re essentially the same song, odes to love and loss.   “Would you be remembering me, I asked that question time and again?” I’m pretty damn sure the answer is yes, and yes, the phone isn’t ringing, so I know it’s you. We move on, but there are wistful times of remembrance for all of us.

4.  Captain and the Kid (Down to Earth) I sure wish I could get the chance to climb on my grandfather’s knee again and talk of things he did.  This song captures the essence of a child’s relationship with a grandparent.  Someone who wows them, fills them with wonder.  My Papa Julian sat in front porch swing and blew smokes rings for our amusement, made up silly songs and told stories that would never pass inspection by the politically correct.  In my head I have rearranged Mr. JB’s lyrics to fit my papa: ” I never used to miss the chance/To climb upon his knee/And listen to the many tales/Of life in Enoree.”

3.    A Pirate Looks at Forty (A1A) I’ve heard my teen-aged son say this was his favorite JB song and I understand why.  “Mother, Mother Ocean/I have heard you call.” The ocean draws Homo sapiens to her just like moths are drawn to a flame.  The hypnotic crash of the waves, the sure and steady rhythm of the changing tides—embody the circadian rhythm of life,  life which is full of adventure and uncertainty.  Even if we were born two hundred years too late, there is a pirate in each and every one of us.

2.   Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season (A1A)   Every now and again, we in the landlocked upstate of South Carolina experience what I call a squalls out on the gulfstream day, a day where it is overcast and not too hot with a balmy breeze.  There is some kind of front coming through, a low that’s just right—you can feel it in your inner barometer.  ” It’s time to close the shutters; It’s time to go inside.”   You have to confess, you could use some rest, and this is the perfect day to do it.

1. Cowboy in the Jungle (Son of a Son of a Sailor)  “I don’t want to live on that kind of island/I don’t want to swim in a roped off sea.” Buffett is really for everyone.  Everyone has a longing to chuck it all and go sailing, to end up somewhere when the money runs out and live in the moment.  It’s almost Christ-like to think of giving up worldliness and know that some way, somehow, your daily needs will be met and your life will be richer.  What JB offers Parrottheads is a slice of redemption, the idea of escape from daily pressures that sets our spirits free.

I’ve asked my son Nolan to write up his own JB top ten list, so stay tuned for his list and maybe his comments.  And check out Precher Mike at :  http://preachermike.com/2011/04/19/top-10-jimmy-buffett-songs-caribbean-soul

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Hearing Bea Laugh

We lost a family treasure this week. 

Aunt Bea passed away peacefully at the home of her daughter and son-in on Monday.   She was ninety-six years old. 

Bea had many names.  Her given name was Lydia.  She was called Lottie Bell by many, which was  shortened to Bea.  Unable to pronounce her name, her first grand-daughter began to call her Mudgie.  It stuck.  All three of her grandchildren called her Mudgie. 

I have a theory that the number of nicknames one has seems to be directly proportionate to how much one is loved. 

Bea was a feature of my childhood.  She lived with her mother–my Granny Cooper–on the mill hill in Enoree.  They had their own home, a four room mill house near the Enoree School.  But they could likely as not be found at Nanny and Papa’s old big house–one of the biggest houses on the mill hill.   Papa was entitled to the big house because he was the night superintendent at the mill.

But there were curious things about Bea. 

Mind you, I am looking at things through the eyes of a very naive little girl growing up in the Sixties.  Nothing bad had ever happened or ever would. 

Aunt Bea had no husband.  I suppose at various times my innocent mind partitioned her off as a widow or even a spinster, never mind how she came to have a daughter and grandchildren.   So it was a shocker to find out that Bea had been married and divorced.  Nobody we knew of in Enoree except scandalous Aunt Jennny had been divorced.  People whispered about folks who got divorces.  It just wasn’t done.  There certainly was plenty to whisper about Jenny, but Bea was just Bea.  No whispering required.

A second curious thing about Bea was that she didn’t drive.  She walked to work, walked to Nanny and Papa’s.  Wherever else she needed to go, there were always relatives and friends to take her.  A good many women in the Sixties did not drive.  Nanny didn’t, but I remember Papa Claude teaching her…or trying to, and she eventually got a driver’s license.  I don’t know if Bea ever did.  

Bea and Papa Claude shared a special friendship, even after Nanny died.  Bea was his sister by marriage but also by the heart.  Papa liked puzzles and trickery of all kinds, but he was a master of practical jokes.  One time he got a mail-order motion activated recording that he hid under the toilet for Bea.  it said something like, “I SSSEEEEEE  YOUUUUUUUUUU,”  in a man’s deep voice.  My little old Papa giggled for days about that.

If Papa Claude giggled, Bea laughed.  Not a loud, crazy laugh, not a dainty little laugh.  A just right laugh.  She laughed a lot.   Shortly after mama got the call about her death, in the quiet of her home with her mind turned to a simple task, mama heard Bea’s laughter. 

Bea stayed healthy and vibrant well into her senior years.  I reckon all of that walking all over the mill hill kept her slender and strong.  She worked long days in the cotton mill into her seventies. 

Keep on laughing Bea/Lottie Belle/Mudgie.  We’ll see you again someday over yonder.

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This ain’t the Low Country

It happens all the time. 

You meet someone somewhere–at a convention, a vacation, a meeting, a resort, even on line or while conducting business on the telephone.  They ask, “Where are you from?”

Any more, I sort of hate to say South Carolina.  Because inevitably, there is a squeal of pleasure, “Oh, we LOVE South Carolina,” and they go on to prattle on about Charleston or Hilton Head or Pawley’s Island or Beaufort.   About seafood and beaches and live oaks and palmetto trees and golf courses. 

I have to grit my teeth and politely say, “We’re from the Upstate.”  You know, near Greenville?

The Upstate, it seems, is invisible to the world.

We have our own topography, red clay and hills, lush and green and punctuated by cow pastures, chicken farms, hay fields and deer leases.  Flowing with brown silty rivers and creeks with the occasional rocky shoal. 

We have industry and farming and our own regional accents.  We have a rich history of Piedmont blues musicians and textile league baseball.  We are dotted with former cotton mill towns and historic sites from the Revolutionary War.  We have miles and miles of beautiful lake shores, campgrounds and state parks.  We are covered with liberal arts colleges and state universities.

Aside from the expected–a local variation of barbeque sauce–we have a regional cuisine.  It is pinto beans and cornbread, fatback and fried chicken.  Peaches in the summer and collard greens in the winter.  It is potatoes instead of rice.  And a squash is a yellow crookneck, not a zucchini and not one of those Yankee things that looks like some kind of little pumpkin.

We have a sense of self, an identity, a pride.

We are the Upstate.

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