Heathcliff (after Cathy’s death) by Clare Leighton from The Victorian Web
To say my late father, my namesake, did not love his fellow man is an understatement; in fact, he held most of them in bitter contempt. To complicate matters, he also had it in for the Old Testament god Yahweh, although he didn’t believe in him. On occasion, Daddy would wax evangelic, touting his atheism, which could be embarrassing, especially at Homer’s Barbershop, not exactly a hotbed of radical rhetoric.
So, in my early youth, rather than attending church on Sunday mornings, we watched religious dramas on our Zenith black-and-white TV, the one that occasionally required a hand slap on the side to restore reception.
Along with the Sunday morning show, Look Up and Live, my father also enjoyed hating Lamp Unto My Feet, another of its ilk, an ecumenical program that staged dramas fraught with moral conundrums. In the last five minutes of each broadcast, theologians analyzed the implications of the characters’ actions in light of various religious traditions. Not surprisingly, brotherly love was a recurring theme, whether the characters were Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish.
I remember one rainy Sabbath my father shushing my brother David and me as he watched Lamp Unto My Feet. He identified with the protagonist of this this particular episode, a righteous loner who kept to himself because he couldn’t tolerate the hypocrisy of his neighbors. When one neighbor found himself in serious trouble, rather than lending a helping hand, the protagonist turned his back on him. My father considered the protagonist’s behavior reasonable. Sometimes solitude is best society. Que sera, sera.
The theologians, not surprisingly, disagreed. In their estimation, the protagonist lacked brotherly love, which sent the old man into an eloquent tirade against mealy-mouthed moral blandishments.
Now that I think about it, my father didn’t have any close friends that I can remember. In fact, he rarely socialized at all, except with Junior Locklair and Lowdnes Bailey, who shared his love for aviation and, like him, owned aircraft they kept at Summerville’s airport. My mother, on the other hand, possessed friends galore, friends from childhood, friends from the neighborhood, friends from work, friends of all ages, young and old. They often dropped in at our house; my father’s friends seldom did.
Unfortunately, it was my father’s contempt for the bourgeoise, not my mother’s open heartedness, that rubbed off on me. After all, my formative years took place in the 60s, an era of iconoclasm, rebellion, mockery. Jealousy, I’m sorry to say, fueled much of my dyspepsia. I couldn’t understand why dullards enjoyed more popularity in high school than red-headed, acne-ridden, sarcastic 120 pound me. How could the seniors vote Soupy Sales wittiest when Oscar Wilde was in the class?
The system seemed unfair, rigged, as poor losers are wont to say.
I packed this negative attitude in my suitcase with my bellbottoms as I headed off to the University of South Carolina, where I naively thought I’d encounter a more intellectual climate than Summerville offered. I was mistaken.
In my freshman and sophomore years, I cultivated a very small group of close friends. I rarely trooped en masse with my dormmates to Cornell Arms or the Russell House for meals, which was their custom. In other words, I never felt a sense of community in college – not in the dorms or with the school at large. In fact, in my four years at USC, I never attended a single football game.
It wasn’t until my thirties after I became a teacher at Porter-Gaud School that I learned the advantages that community can offer, especially in times of woe. Retirement and the pandemic have separated me from my Porter-Gaud pals. However, in my ripe old age, I’ve also found a sense of community at Folly Beach, that strange wave-pounded strip of sand south of Charleston, a mecca for misbehavior, a popular bachelor and bachelorette party destination, a place John Bunyan would abhor.
Most afternoons, I find myself at Chico Feo, where my wife Caroline and I are celebrities. As the bartenders see us approach on foot from afar, they reach into the cooler to fetch a Founders All-Day IPA and a “party water” (aka a White Claw). I can swap surfer stories with the young dudes; talk Slim Harpo with John, a badass harp player who fronts the revolving Sunday blues combo; discuss art with Tommy, the muralist who has brightened the bathroom door with a Lichtenstein-like rendering; enjoy the camaraderie of performers at Monday night’s open mic; shoot-the-shit with any number of people I hold in esteem rather than contempt.
I’m talking about Brotherly and Sisterly love, which beats the hell out of pulling a Heathcliff, ego-tripping in isolation, dining on resentments as bitter as the cud of vile, seeking shadows rather than sunshine, humming dirges instead of digging on Toots Hibbert.
 I don’t mean to imply my father lacked compassion. In the mid-60s, he once welcomed into our home an abused African American boy, much to the chagrin of our all-white South Carolina subdivision.