1969 – Welcome to Brand-New Summerville High (a guest essay by Anthony Proveaux)

Editor’s Note: Anthony Proveaux, a musician, photographer and writer based in Eugene, Oregon, has shared with me this coming-of-age essay about the social stresses of being a high school freshman in the small Southern town of Summerville, South Carolina, in a time of social upheaval. Enjoy!

Change comes slow to small southern towns like Summerville South Carolina, where I
was born and raised. But in the late 1960s, the times they were a-changin’ fast in our little slice of Mayberry. There, like in most places across America, we sat in front of
our new color TVs and watched a world that was changing too fast for the times. The
nightly newscast regularly broadcast images of unrest across the nation, followed by
stories of flower-power and love-ins, in places like Haight Ashbury and Piedmont Park
in Atlanta. It was hard to tell if the country was coming apart or coming together.

Among youths, there was a definite sense of change in the air. Everywhere, hair was
getting longer, and music was getting louder. Down at the local Tastee-Freez, the new
sounds of Hendrix and Cream could be heard blasting from many of the 8-track
players in the muscle-cars that cruised the loop. And in school, long hair was starting
to challenge the dress-codes. Those were heady days for an impressionable young teen
like myself, and like kids everywhere, I was totally swept up in the current of events.

Of course, the elephant in America’s living room at the time, and source of much of the nation’s angst, was the very real war going on in Vietnam. Our town, like so many other places across the country, had patriotically sent their sons “over there,” but sadly, an increasing number of them weren’t coming home. But I was too young to worry about the dreaded draft notice yet, and I couldn’t make much sense of it anyway.

In the late 60s I was in the thick of the terrible-teens and still learning to navigate the
awkward world of post-puberty ‘boy’s life’. Over the course of a few short years, I’d evolved from science-fair kid with a crew cut, to a mop top teen, tie-dying t-shirts on
the back porch. And the most challenging part of the teenage gauntlet lay just ahead,
as I was about to become part of that great social experiment called high school.

In the fall of 1969, I was a fifteen-year-old freshman at the newly opened Summerville
High. Walking those shiny hallways in the new modern buildings, passing the juniors and seniors that I had mostly only seen in my big sister’s yearbooks, was like entering a brave-new-world. It was also downright intimidating, but I was determined to fit in.

portrait of the artist as a 9th grader

I’d always been a good student with good grades, but by high school my studies had
turned more towards girls, music, and teen trends (in that order). To get girls to
notice you at that age, though, you had to be more than just a bright kid. You had to
either be somebody, and/or be cool. Unfortunately, I was neither. Being a shy kid
from a working-class family, I was three or four rungs down on the social ladder, and
about as cool as a glass of day-old water. I definitely had some branding work to do.

So, in that ninth-grade year I began walking around Summerville High with a copy of
Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in my back pocket, making sure the
title was showing, of course. It was a book I could barely get through. The writing was
way over my head, and I’d never even been properly buzzed on beer, much less done
“drugs.” But the paperback sure had a cool cover, with that psychedelic sugar cube,
and what an awesome title (the K in cool really meant something back then).

That little stunt only succeeded in making me look even more nerdy than I was. I
quickly realized that if I wanted to be cool, I needed to hang out with the cool kids. In
Summerville that meant teens like the Folly Beach surfers, guys that played in bands,
and the college-bound students from the prominent families around town. At the new high school, I noticed that during lunch time the “in-crowd” hung out in the breezeway down by the cafeteria. So, I gradually started lurking around on the fringes of the group, half-hoping I wouldn’t be noticed, but desperately hoping that I would.

Of course, that group of cool guys and classy young ladies had no use for a gangly
ninth grader, hanging around trying to infiltrate their hip little social clutch. No one
was particularly rude to me. Genteel Summerville had good manners, and those with social status were always graciously “stuck-up.” So, I was politely, but totally ignored, save for a few “wtf are you doing here kid” looks from some of the jocksters.

However, there was one dude who noticed me lurking and actually tried to bring
me into the conversation a few times. His name was Rusty Moore, a quick witted
red-headed junior whom almost everyone seemed to like, except perhaps some of the local rednecks.

Rusty even gave me a comeback line once. After some snobby kid cut-me-down about
this hideous paisley shirt I was wearing, Rusty leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Tell him his belt looks like it’s made out of beer can pop-tops” (my antagonist was wearing one of those ‘60s belts made with metal rings). Unfortunately, I totally blew the delivery of the comeback line and just further embarrassed myself. It was a pretty pathetic stab at a touché, but I really appreciated the encouragement from Rusty.

I only lasted a week or so with, hanging with those hipsters. I was way out of my class,
and in Summerville class was still taken seriously. Social relations were generally
amiable in our town. But everyone had their place, from the old family names, on
down to the black folks that lived in clapboard shacks in the segregated checkerboard
neighborhoods around town. Our family was somewhere below the middle of the
social line. My father was a shade too dark for proper Summerville, and he managed a
gas station. There was never any talk of us kids going to college. I was definitely
bumping my head on the class-ceiling, trying to break into those trendy social circles.

Fortunately, a family with several rambunctious and attractive teenage daughters
moved in right across the street, and it wasn’t long before cool dudes were hanging around the neighborhood. My big sister and I soon found our own little tribe, hanging out with those girls and their boyfriends, and other early Summerville “heads” – and oh, the long, strange trippy times we had.

A few years later, when I’d just turned seventeen, my sister and I followed her boyfriend out to California where we hitch-hiked, hopped trains, and bummed around for about a year. Now that was a real education. In the early 1970s, the highways were filled with on-the-road youths of every color and class, out to “Look for America.” I stayed on the west coast, went to college and finally settled down in Oregon as a musician, photographer, and writer (I made my folks real proud – ha-ha).

I never lived in Summerville again, but still have fond memories of growing up there.
Navigating through the perils of high school sticks with us all, and that early incident
of trying to climb my way up the social ladder, always stayed with me for some reason.

I also never got to know Rusty Moore, the kid who threw me a lifeline when I tried to
swim-with-the-sharks. He was a few grades above me, and I left Summerville early on. He’d certainly never remember that insignificant event anyway, but it made an impression on me. So, a shout out to Rusty Moore for a brief moment of mentoring.

by Anthony Proveaux

Here’s a video modern-day Anthony (on harmonica) making music during the quarantine.

And a couple of his photographs.

courtesy of Anthony Proveaux and Eugene Magazine

Back Roads in the Age of the Internet

One of the benefits of retirement is that “dicing time” becomes less thinly sliced, its passage vaguer, elapsing as it did before that infernal invention the clock transliterated the overhead sun into 12:00 P.M.  Because I no longer have workday pressures that dictate how I spend my hours – no essays to grade, no lessons to plan, no report cards to crank out – I can take my own sweet time. 

For example, on road trips, rather than enduring a regimented slab of interstate stretching forth with its green mile markers clicking past tick-tock like, you can opt for the back roads, which, if you’re driving from Athens, Georgia, to Folly Beach, South Carolina, means you motor through mostly farmland – cornfields, peach orchards, but also tiny towns in various stages of civic decay.

Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, you can run across something truly remarkable, as my wife Caroline and I did outside of the tiny town of Wrens, Georgia.

What caught Caroline’s eye


We had dropped Brooks off at Camp Illahee[1] and spent a couple of nights outside of Athens with our friends Jim and Laura. Both they and our friend Ballard, whom we met tending bar at Five & Ten, suggested we take the backroads home. 

The route we chose took us through Thomson, Georgia, the birthplace of Blues legend Blind Willie McTell, whom I had discovered on a compilation LP called The Story of the Blues, a gift I received for my nineteenth birthday. So Blind Willie and I go way back.

I mentioned to Caroline that Blind Willie had been born in Thomson, so for a moment she abandoned her post as navigator and googled “Blind Willie.” She reported that there was a statue of Blind Willie in Statesboro but also that he was buried about eight or so miles outside of Thomson in Jones Grove Baptist Church Cemetery. So, as upright Protestants used to say – what the hay – we decided to take a side pilgrimage to pay our respects to Blind Willie. As Bob Dylan put it in one of his greatest compositions: “No one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.”


I’ve visited Oscar Wilde’s and Jim Morrison’s graves at The Père Lachaise in Paris, both graves bedecked with flowers, notes, and in Wilde’s case, lipstick-like kisses imprinted on the stone obelisk that marks his resting place.

Not surprisingly, McTell’s grave is not as rich in gifts bestowed. There were no flowers, only a sprinkling of pocket change that wouldn’t cover the cost of a Coca Cola, a mini bottle, and a guitar pick. 

Rather than backtracking to return to our original route, we improvised, GPS-ing out a more southerly passage. As I was tooling along, Caroline let out a “Whoa, what was that!” 

“We ought to turn around,” she suggested. “We need to check it out.” Which we did.

Now you can check it out. Southern Gothic Deluxe.

After ten or so minutes taking in this remarkable outdoor installation, we continued to Allendale, the county seat of the poorest county in South Carolina. Not to put too fine a point on it, Allendale is the po-dunk equivalent of a Blade Runner hellscape, a stalled freight train of shuttered businesses lining the highway in succession, not to mention human habitations in various stages of collapse.

abandoned motel, image courtesy of ABC news
image courtesy of ABC News

At any rate, we arrived at the kennel to pick up KitKat, who, was beyond ecstatic to see us, and headed back to Folly, which, of course, offers its own offbeat pleasures.

I’ll leave you with a snippet of Dylans'”Blind Willie McTell

Seen them big plantations burning
Hear the cracking of the whips
Smell that sweet magnolia blooming
See the ghost of the slavery ship
I can hear them tribes moaning
Hear the undertakers bell
Nobody can sing the blues like blind Wille McTell

[1] What a gorgeous-sounding word, Cherokee for “heavenly world.”

Sam Cooke, Shreveport, and “A Change Is Gonna Come”

Sam Cooke’s plaintive, moving civil rights ballad “A Change Is Gonna Come” was born in 1963 of discrimination after he and his wife were turned away from a segregated Holiday Inn at Shreveport, Louisiana. Incensed when the desk clerk lied and claimed no vacancies, Sam made a scene in the lobby, vociferously protesting, and while driving off, he and his entourage honked horns and lobbed insults like Molotovs as their taillights disappeared into the night. 

When Sam and company arrived at the Black hotel downtown, the police were waiting. However, the arrests created abysmal p.r. north of the Mason-Dixon line after the NY Times and UPI caught wind and publicized the discriminatory arrest of an affable fellow (at least he sounded affable on his records) who only wanted a place to sleep after twisting the night away. In 2019, Shreveport’s mayor apologized to the Cooke family and awarded Sam a key to the city – a mere fifty-six years after Cooke’s death at thirty-three. Nothing like a posthumous award to salve the wounds of a no-longer-sentient being.

According to Peter Guralnick’s biography Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” also spurred Sam to compose “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Sam, the story goes, felt chagrined that a White fellow had written such a moving civil rights song. In fact, Sam admired “Blowin’ in the Wind” so much that he included it in his live performances not long after its release. 

Of course, the songs are much different. In “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Dylan asks in third person a series of questions that ponder “how long” it’s going to take to end discrimination. “A Change Is Gonna Come,” on the other hand, is deeply personal, written in first person, and cites incidents of hurtful slights and expresses existential despair. However, despite the dirge-like tone of the song, the narrator feels certain that eventually “a change is gonna come” and justice will prevail, so the overall effect is hopeful rather than depressing.

Well, despite the election of Obama and the proliferation of people of color in national advertising, we’re not quite there yet, and it seems that many in the South have recently become emboldened to unfurl and wave their inner Stars-and-Bars, not to mention Republican-led state legislatures’ ongoing successful attempts to make voting more difficult for African Americans. 

In fact, to me, 2021 feels an awful lot like 1961, though at least now, Sam would have no trouble checking into a Holiday Inn – though he might turn up his nose at one – and Confederate statues are coming down as opposed to being erected. 

Sickroom Notes from a Whiny, Wounded Epicurean

painting by H. James Hoff

Sickroom Notes from a Whiny, Wounded Epicurean[1]

Perhaps boasting non-stop about my superhuman immune system for the last thirty years wasn’t all that judicious. Oh, you should have heard my cock-a-doodle-doing![2].

My immune system makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look like Denver Pyle.

I haven’t been ill since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

An airborne virus does a one-eighty when it sees me bopping down the boulevard, etc. 

And it’s true that in my thirty-four years at Porter-Gaud, I maybe missed ten or so days in total, most often because of laryngitis.[3]

Well, comeuppance has arrived, taken off his mask, and sneezed in my face. For the last four days, when it comes to coughing fits, I’ve been giving tubercular John Keats and DH Lawrence a run for their money. Although doubly vaccinated, I drove the day before yesterday for a Covid test, which unsurprisingly was negative. Afterwards, I retreated to bed, ministered to by nurse Caroline, who throughout my malady has plied me with chicken broth, hot tea, and good advice, like not going the Singer/Soapbox Open Mic the previous Monday[4]

Let’s face it: a summer cold isn’t exactly kidney stones or a case of the shingles (not to mention bone cancer), so the source of this whine festival lies not so much in physical discomfort but in the boredom I’ve experienced, borderline ennui. I felt so drained Wednesday afternoon, I couldn’t read anything longer than a tweet, and scrolling down my feed is disheartening, with all that talk of the decline of democracy coming from the likes of Steve Schmidt and Bill Kristol. And I have two books I’m rarin’ to read, Peter Guralnick’s Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing and James McBride’s The Good Lord Bird, which until today lay on my bedside table like a couple of concrete blocks, heavy, cumbersome. Petite misère but for a second or two, misery nonetheless.

But, hey, I must be on the mend because I’m sitting at my desk and taking this opportunity to roll my right foot over a frozen water bottle to combat a king hell case of plantar fasciitis I’ve developed walking to and from bars on Folly Beach in flip flops.

Like they, say, there’s no fool like an aged, wounded epicurean.

still from WF Murnau’s film The Last Laugh

[1] No one can accuse me of click-baiting with that title.

[2] And no doubt you have if you know me personally.

[3] I also took a couple of personal days along the way, one to see the third game of the ’91 World Series, another to see the Stones in Columbia, and several during my late wife’s last week.

Missing school is a drag. It’s more work to miss than to trudge through (and I never got close enough to students infect, I’d like to think).

[4] I’d made a solemn promise to Kelly West I’d be there for her debut poem, and who would break a solemn vow because of what at that time was merely a scratchy throat?

Amnesia Comes A-Calling

Exactly five years ago an ambulance carted me off the MUSC emergency room after I bonked my head on the floor, lost consciousness, and came to suffering from a strange case of amnesia.

The bedroom smoke detector had gone off, and I leapt to my feet before my blood could be pumped into my brain. My late wife Judy described my falling “as straight-backed like a tree – timber!”  When I regained consciousness, the first thing I said was, “Judy, why are you bald?”

She looked surprised. “I have cancer. Don’t you remember?”

“What kind of cancer?”


“Lymphoma! What type of lymphoma?”


“Oh no!”[1]

I [forgive me] absent-mindedly wandered to my study and got on the computer as Judy awakened our neighbor Jim who waited with us – I think – until the ambulance arrived.

When I got to the hospital, physicians began quizzing me. “Who’s running for President?”

Although it was July and Hillary and Trump had secured the nominations, I catalogued who had run against them in the primaries as if those contests hadn’t been settled. The last six months had been erased from my memory.

So, they wheeled me down to run tests, and over the course of a couple of hours, my memory slowly returned.

Before releasing me, a doctor asked, “Now, how far back can you remember?” 

I recited the first couplet of The Canterbury Tales.

“WHAN that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote . . . “

So, memorizing the first twenty lines did have some practical utility after all!

[1] It’s strange that I hadn’t forgotten the types of lymphoma, which I had learned after Judy’s diagnosis.

The Devil’s Workshop

“An idle mind is the devil’s workshop” – English Proverb

Some weirdness going down on the back side of the Edge of America.

Freud is about to leap from the second story, and Jung is whispering, “Jump, jump, jump.”

We have a madwoman in the attic, and a saint on the roof, Ophelia and St. Joan.

“Her sin is her lifelessness.”

Master Will and the Dalai Lama engaged in a staring contest.

All these people that you mentioned
Yes, I know them, they are quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good, don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them from Desolation Row

Bob Dylan, “Desolation Row”