The Not-So-Good-Humor Man

illustration by Emily Wood

When I was a child, I grew up across the street from Mr. Fagylalt, a Central European immigrant who owned and operated an ice cream truck.[1]  In the summers, he circumnavigated our neighborhood, his truck tinkling repetitive music that lured nickel-and-dime-toting children to the edges of their yards. Back then, even in the heavy humidity of a South Carolina August, we mostly played outside.

I doubt that Mr. Fagylalt could make it today with children ensconced in their rooms playing Mortal Kombat or OD-ing on TikTok videos. I know I would have stayed inside if I had owned Madden NFL 2020 instead of the electric football game we played with. Most of the vibrating plastic players merely rambled around and around in circles. With an open field in front of him, a running back would suddenly hang a hard right and run out of bounds. You passed the ball by putting a felt oval in the quarterback’s hand, pulling his arm back, and catapulting the felt in hopes of hitting the receiver. It was so boring I rarely found anyone willing to play it with me.

Anyway, in those days, people called mobile ice cream vendors “good humor men, ” and, sure enough, Mr. Fagylalt was always in a good mood when I talked to him, or rather, when he talked to me. However, now when I think of Mr. Fagylalt, the adjectives “dirty” and “old” have supplanted  “good” and “humor” as modifiers. Let’s put it this way: although Mr. Fagylalt never attempted to molest me in any physical way, he did infuse my vocabulary with a host of Anglo-Saxon vulgarities, words that no one used (at least in front of us) in our house. He didn’t define the words; I picked up their meanings in context from the same old stories he told over and over.[2]

Stories delivered in an accent as thick as Porkolt.[3] One of his favorites featured a mutt named Champ and our neighbors the Foxes, who lived on the corner of Lenwood and Dogwood. The Foxes kept a meticulous yard with neatly trimmed shrubbery and manicured grass. They took great pride in their yard’s appearance, seemingly removing fallen pine needles on a daily basis. One day Champ got into some ice cream chemicals stored in the Fagylalt carport. He ended up slurping down the found treasure and urinating on the Foxes’ chain link fence. “Oh, zat, dog,” Mr. Fagylalt would say in an aside and launch into a side story about the time he saw Champ mount such-and-such a bitch, vividly describing the apparatus involved in the procreative act. Eventually, he’d return to the main plot, to wit: Mr. Fox mistook the brownish urine staining his fence for rust until a rainstorm washed it away. At the end of these too-oft-told tales, Mr. Fagylalt laughed and laughed. I hated every minute but was too timidly polite not to stand there for at least one retelling. I don’t remember if I faked laughed myself, but I doubt it.

Luckily, Mr. Fagylalt and I had a falling out. One summer, when the Fagylalts vacated their house for several weeks, some friends and I entered his ice cream truck, which was unlocked. When inside, I just looked around to see what it was like in there and discovered to my delight that the truck’s music was produced just the way a jack-in-the-box produces music –  with a crank that propels a rubber mechanism that goes around and around plucking out notes. 

Unfortunately, others at various times also got inside the truck and engaged in a bit of vandalism. When the Fagylalts returned and made inquiries, someone noted that he or she had seen a red-headed boy over there, so Mrs. Fagylalt told my mother, who ended up taking my word for what had happened. I also think my parents (and others in the neighborhood) were hip to Mr. Fagylalt’s off-color ramblings.

When I left for college at eighteen, the Fagylalts still lived there. I remember bumming a ride home one Friday for a weekend in Summerville.  Upon arrival, as I walked across our lawn with a sack of dirty clothes slung over my back, a swarm of kids on banana bikes were popping wheelies in our yard. As I shouted “hey” to my nine-year-old brother Fleming, he yanked back on the handlebars too hard and landed on the ground on his rear end.

“If you keep that up, you gonna break your coccyx,” I warned.

He looked up at me with a puzzled expression. 

“Sounds like you’ve been talking to Mr. Fagylalt.”

[1] Even though this man and his wife must be long dead by now – they were older than my parents – I’m going to obscure his identity in the very unlikely event that one of his offspring were to happen upon this post.  Just for fun, though, see if you can guess his country of origin, as I sprinkle hints throughout the post. Hint #1: his native language is not Indo-European in origin.

[2] In James Joyce’s short story “An Encounter,” the young narrator runs across a Mr. Fagylalt-like man whose stories also orbit in circles: “He began to speak on the subject of chastising boys. His mind, as if magnetized again by his speech, seemed to circle slowly round and round its new centre. He said that when boys were that kind they ought to be whipped and well whipped. When a boy was rough and unruly there was nothing would do him any good but a good sound whipping.”

[3] A meat and vegetable stew popular in Székesfehérvár.

The Tale of Two First Grades

Being shy and having been sequestered for three months by rheumatic fever, for me at first public school proved challenging. We lived on Laurel Street back then, across from the playground, and during my convalescence, I was confined to a wheelchair. If being in a wheelchair wasn’t bad enough, I also suffered the affliction of being red-headed, so in a town of only three-thousand or so residents, even children I didn’t know would approach me, once I was ambulatory again, and say, “Hey, aren’t you the crippled kid who was in the wheelchair?”

After my recovery, I attended Miss Marion’s kindergarten, whose students were all middle-class and, of course, white. I don’t remember anyone ever even misbehaving, though once when we were told to stay off the swings because of a previous rain storm, Bert Pearce fell backwards out of one and landed butt-first in a puddle of water. He had to spend an hour or so in the bathroom in his underwear while Miss Marion dried his pants, a fate to me that made confinement to a wheelchair seem like a ride in Flash Gordon’s rocket ship in comparison.[1]

In fact, the only negative experience I remember from kindergarten is pouring Coca-Cola in my Davy Crockett thermos, only to discover at lunch time that carbonation – or something having to do with the Coke – had broken the glass inlay of the thermos.[2]  

This is the one I owned.

I entered Summerville Elementary in the fall of 1960, and my mother accompanied me to class on the first day where we met Mrs. Wiggins and the rest of my classmates, who were more economically diverse than my kindergarten peers.[3] I remember one boy whose single mother didn’t have a car and walked with him to school and back the first couple of days. They lived literally on the other side of the tracks, so it was quite a trek. My mother, a kind soul, somehow got wind ­­– perhaps we passed them on the way to school – and started offering them transportation until the school bus situation was straightened out. I recall that his smallpox vaccination had gone spectacularly wrong – he suffered an enlarged stomach-turning eruption on his arm. I also remember they had a handmade sign in their dirt yard advertising fish bait worms for sale. 

I may have the world’s worst sense of direction.[4] On the second day of school, I got lost among the swirling hordes of screechers and stood in line on the steps of the wrong entrance. Once I entered the hallway and couldn’t find my class, I was terrified, as if l’d entered a Twilight Zone episode. I don’t exactly remember how it got straightened out, but it did, but afterwards I emerged with a palpable dislike for school. I much preferred my shared bedroom at home to the light green concrete walls of Miss Wiggins’ classroom with our bubble-headed self-portraits displayed on bulletin boards. The boy who rode to school with us had scribbled slashes of purple crayon for his self-portrait, but it was displayed with all the rest with his name printed under it.

As it happened, in December, our family, which then only consisted of my younger brother David, my parents, and me, moved to Aurora, Colorado, where my father attended some sort of training program associated with his civil service job. We moved into a tiny three-room apartment in an establishment called The Big Bear Motel, located on Colfax, a busy four-lane highway. Although the school was only four or so blocks away, I would have had to cross on foot those lanes of heavy traffic headed to Lowry Air Force base, so Mama drove me to school in the mornings and picked me up in the afternoons.

My brother David (on the right) and I at the Big Bear Motel
The Big Bear, now known as the Aurora Motel

Unlike Summerville Elementary, Aurora’s primary school, Crawford Elementary, employed two first grade teachers per class.  I remember on my first day being introduced to the students and placed into one of the reading groups that sat in a circle and read out loud while the other teacher drilled the rest of the students in some other activity. They had divided the class into three reading groups based on skills and named them after birds – the Eagles, the Blue Birds, and the Crows.[5]  Perhaps because of my scruffy appearance (the only pair of shoes I owned were cowboy boots), my Southern accent, and that South Carolina ranked somewhere like 48th state-wise in education, they assigned me to the Crows. However, once it was my turn to read and I could fluidly decode the “oh-oh-ohs” and “look-look-looks” of the text, they immediately promoted me to the Eagles.

I loved living in Colorado in the winter with its mountains and snow. Unlike in Summerville, we ventured on family outings most weekends, visiting Buffalo Bill’s grave on top of Lookout Mountain and the mining town of Central City where we saw Face on the Barroom Floor, a painting rendered on the floor of the Teller House Bar. As the story goes, the artist, Hendron Davis, had been fired by the Central City Opera Association in 1936. He wanted to leave his mark on the town and asked permission of the bar owner to paint the portrait portrayed in the poem. They refused, but aided by an employee, he sneaked in after midnight and painted a woman’s face on the wooden floor of the saloon.

Another drink, and with chalk in hand, the vagabond began,

To sketch a face that well might buy the soul of any man.

Then, as he placed another lock upon that shapely head,

With a fearful shriek, he leaped and fell across the picture — dead!

The Face on the Barroom Floor

But I digress. School for me in Aurora was great, both socially and academically. I gained a great deal of confidence and was eager to return to Summerville, now considering myself, if not a man of the world, a first-grader of the world.

Only a couple of weeks remained in the school year when we made it back to Summerville, and Mrs. Muckenfuss, the principal, explained to my mother it didn’t make much sense for me to return to class, but my mother insisted, and I did, very full of myself until I realized that I was the only one who couldn’t do long addition. I had no idea what carrying numbers to the next column was all about. Summerville Elementary was more advanced than Aurora Elementary! 

No doubt the excellence of Summerville’s public schools has played an important role in its exponential growth. Now according to Wikipedia, Summerville is the seventh largest city of South Carolin (though, after reading a couple of articles on my hometown and one article on one of its famous citizens, I wouldn’t bet my mortgage on it). At any rate, I’m thankful for the education I got at Summerville Elementary, for teachers like Mrs. Wiggins, Mrs. Jordon, Mrs. Montz, Miss McCue, and Mrs. Altman. 

[1] By the way, the spacecraft spewed fiery combustion in the void of outer space. 

[2] The Moore and Blanton families’ addiction to Coca-Cola is legendary. In her adulthood, my Aunt Virginia lugged a 2-liter bottle with her everywhere. 

[3] Back then, there were no public kindergartens, so we who had attended private kindergartens enjoyed a great academic advantage because we already knew our ABCs and could perform single digit arithmetic.

[4] After my niece’s Hanahan High graduation ceremony held at the North Charleston Coliseum, it literally took me over an hour to find my car, and I was able to do only because the parking lot was virtually empty when I ran across it.

[5] Actually, I don’t remember what birds designated what level of accomplishment. 

Hubba, Hubba, Hubba, Swish Boo Hoo Hoo

the setting of the first incident

Chapter One ­– Gloomings

In December of 1974, my senior year of college, I lived with another English major on Fairfield Road in Columbia, South Carolina, at least a ten-mile trek from campus. Neither of us had cars, so we rode city buses to class and back home to our not-exactly-quaint two-bedroom house jammed between two rundown convenience stores [see above].[1] The buses quit running at eleven PM, which meant occasionally having to hitch a ride late at night.[2]

Otherwise, riding the buses wasn’t all that bad because poverty can seem somewhat romantic to bookish people just starting out in life. On these trips, I encountered scores of ragtag citizens, some of them interesting folk with tales to tell. Of course, the bus stopped whenever someone wanted to get off, which you signaled by pulling a metal wire that triggered a bell. Smoking was allowed everywhere back then – even in medical waiting rooms – so the buses reeked of exhaled tobacco whose fumes had permeated the Naugahyde of the brown saggy seats. Of course, the fewer the passengers, the quicker the ride and vice versa. Predicting the duration was imprecise; you had to allow for sufficient time.  

Anyway, it was the second week in December during exams, and I was sitting on the living room sofa reviewing my notes before trudging off to the chilly bus stop where I would dance around like a boxer to keep warm, vapor streaming from my mouth.  

Suddenly, the backdoor flew open, the screen door banging, and in stormed a young married woman my housemate had been seeing, a petite, bordering-on-beautiful woman in her early twenties.  She was a student in my TS Eliot seminar, so I knew her from class, though not socially, despite her affair with my housemate.

She was weeping. “Where’s that son-of-a-bitch?” 

I don’t mean to brag, but I tend to be calm in crises, or to put it perhaps more accurately, I tend to transition into a robotic fallback mode of affectless inaction.[3]

“I think he’s in the bathtub,” I said matter-of-factly, and, boom, she charged into the bathroom where the two engaged in some high-decibel communication, if you want to call hurling epithets,  demanding answers, and shouting recriminations communication.

I gathered my books and put on my coat to exit this beyond-awkward situation when she came back in sobbing, my housemate following, completely naked, dripping, his face lathered for shaving. 

They stood there screaming at each other as I squirmed on the sofa, my mental condition oscillating between amusement and horror. It’s like I had been caught in a collaboration of an SJ Perelman and Edward Albee production entitled Who’s Afraid of Harpo Marx. My housemate eventually went back into his room, threw on some clothes, and left, and once he was gone, his now-ex threw her arms around me, relating through sobs the rather sordid turn of events that I was sort of hip to because I had warned my housemate that his blabbing to her husband that they were having an affair seemed like a really bad idea.[4]

I comforted her as well as I could and then asked if she would mind giving me a lift to school, given there would be no way I’d get to the exam on time if I rode the bus. During the trip to campus, I continued in my role as counselor, and when I finally entered the classroom to take the exam, I had an adrenaline rush-and-a half, just the thing for someone who had spent a semester with Prufrock, Gerontion, and Madame Sosostris.

What I didn’t know was that my housemate would leave Columbia that very day, not take any of his exams, and end up moving in with his parents, in other words, abandoning college his senior year with only one semester to go. Before all this happened, we had decided not to stay in that house, had agreed to find separate living arrangements, so I wasn’t exactly left in the lurch. My sophomore roommate Warren Moise and I ended up renting yet another two-bedroom clapboard house in a mill village a mile or two even further away from campus, which, as it turned out, ended up being a mistake, a mistake costing me money I didn’t have.

[1] This seemed ridiculous, two rival commercial establishments sandwiching a residence. Ironically, I don’t remember patronizing either. There was a much cheaper Winn Dixie on Fairfield within walking distance. 

[2] In fact, one such occasion turned into a nightmare, which I have written about here [mature audiences only].

[3] The narrative to the above link above leads to offers an excellent example.

[4] I’ll forego the chore of untangling the love-fraught threads of why my housemate had chosen to kamikaze his relationship in an act of revenge. 

Chapter Two – I Think They Done It to Pick on Me and Warren or “Please Don’t Murder Me”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is screens_video-12562.jpeg
Robert Mitchum as the Reverend Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter

It never occurred to me that two long-haired college students moving into an otherwise blue-collar community would be frowned upon by our neighbors, whose bumper stickers proclaimed them to be followers of Jesus. However, the admonition to “love thy neighbor” hadn’t exactly taken root with those brethren. And it wasn’t as if Warren and I were throwing raucous parties. Who in his right mind would drive all the way to podunkville to get hammered and have to negotiate the multiple lanes of North Main Street to arrive home safely?

Warren played in a rock-n-roll band and was often on the road, so I ended up frequently staying at the North Main house by myself, especially on weekends. Because he had provided the security deposit, Warren had earned the better bedroom. My bedroom, which was on the side of the house, had its own outside entrance that led to a small, sagging porch.

Not long after we moved in on a weekend when Warren was out of town, my girlfriend Margaret and I had gone to bed after a quiet Saturday evening of listening to LPs in the living room. 

Around three a.m. a thunderous crash shattered our sleep. Someone had pounded once on the exterior door about ten feet from the foot of the bed. Margaret let out a startled cry, and I leapt out of bed to throw on some clothes. Instead, of opening the pounded-upon-door, I slipped around to the front of the house, sliding along the façade, trying to keep out of sight. Once I got to the corner, I peered around to see if the Reverend Harry Powell or John Wayne Gacy was standing there, but to my great relief the porch was empty. I went back inside through the front door and then went back to the bedroom and opened the bedroom exterior door to inspect it for damage. It was okay, a mere fist, not a hammer, had produced that sleep-shattering explosion of sound. 

Now slumber was not an option. Margaret had gotten dressed, and we fretted about, my going outside numerous times to check on things. When we finally decided to try to go back to sleep, I walked out on the porch one last time.

In the dark unseen someone was whistling a tune. Calmly whistling a tune.


Of course, when Warren returned later in the day, I told him of the incident, which made us both uneasy. About a week later when I arrived home after classes, I discovered the house had been broken into, vandalized. Books, clothes, bed linens were strewn everywhere, the stereo and record collection gone, but nothing else was missing. I walked into the kitchen where the vandals had opened containers and dumped all the food on the floor, including slices of bread. To top it off, a pile of human feces had also been deposited smack dab in the middle of the room.

Obviously, we had been visited by the “unwelcome wagon,” and their message was clear: “We don’t want your kind around here.”

Thinking back on it, I find it remarkable that we didn’t call the police on either occasion. Back then, if you had long hair, the police thought of you as the enemy. It was a lighter-shade-of-pale approximation of being Black, though, of course, not as profoundly prejudicial. 

Happily, coincidentally, I bumped into my friend Jim Huff not long after, and he asked if I knew of anyone looking for a place. 

Yes, as a matter of a fact, I did. 

As it turned out, he had found a four-bedroom mansion on Greene Street for rent, just up from Five Points, within easy walking distance to the Humanities Building. 

So, so long, Night of the Hunter; hello SLED.[1]

Warren and I two years earlier

[1] I.e., the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division

Chapter Three – Here We Go Again

1830 Greene Street, right center

What a change in abodes, from the mill village vandal-plagued clapboard cottage we’d been run out of in North Columbia to the semi-stately, just-slightly-gone-to-seed edifice located on respectable tree-lined Greene Street!

Our new house, located at 1830 Greene, had been the boyhood home of the fellow who owned the real estate company that rented it to us. He took special care of its yard, bringing in crews to mow the front lawn and attend to the terraced gardens in the back where on a monthly basis they trimmed the shrubbery that descended the hill in tiers. Without those tiers, it would have been a very steep hill, difficult to negotiate. At the very bottom, tucked in the southeast corner, a hammock hung between two large trees.[1]

[1] BTW, one of our next door neighbors was the Columbia artist Blue Sky

The back patio was sheltered by a roof supported by six or so arches and boasted a giant brick barbecue pit. The patio’s concrete floor had a shuffleboard court painted on it, but we never found discs or cue sticks. There was also an unheated room under there, a sort of basement that Chris Judge, a local rock musician rented for a second or two.

The deal was that only four people would be living in the house, but I think at one time eight were staying there. My bedroom, long and narrow, was off the living room and had been used as a conservatory. The back wall featured two large windows looking out over those terraced gardens in the rear of the house. An air-conditioner, the only air-conditioner in the house, had been built into the wall between the two windows. 

My old bedroom (the air conditioner has been removed, and trust me, there was no overhead ceiling fan). There was also another door opposite to the one shown that led to Warren’s bedroom

I only knew a few of my housemates, Warren, of course, Jim Huff and his high school buddy Phil Compton, a non-student cartoonist/artist Richard McCarthy from Beaufort, but the rest, John Robinson, and a couple of the others, I hadn’t met.

To move my furniture from North Columbia, I had borrowed by mother’s college roommate’s husband’s pickup, which allowed me in one trip to transfer my meager belongings – a bed, desk, chair, typewriter, books, knickknacks, and clothes. I had parked the truck in the driveway, and when I was trying to back up on Greene to leave, a car on the street stopped to let me out, then pulled in after me. 

Margaret accompanied me on the trip to return the truck, and my mother’s former roommate, Jean Holler, was nice enough to give us a ride back. I’m fairly sure I didn’t have a key yet, and we hardly needed to lock the house anyway because with so many residents, someone would likely to be home.

Upon my return, after I turned the handle and pushed the door open, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The house had been trashed, just as the bouse on North Main had, with shit strewn everywhere. I marched straight to my room, which was also a wreck. Even the air-conditioner filter had been removed and flung on the bed, the clothes I had carefully put away scattered everywhere.

“Wow, Margret,” I said. “Those mill people really must hate our guts.” I actually thought I was being stalked by the xenophobes who had robbed us in our previous house.

I went upstairs, which was in the same condition. Not a soul was home, yet every light was blazing. 

We didn’t have a phone, so I couldn’t call the police, though it seemed high time. As we were standing around contemplating our ill luck, Jim Huff showed up with the news that everyone in the house except for him, Warren, and me had been busted by the South Carolina Law Enforcement Department. They had stormed in with assault weapons, and after a mad-dash search, found two separate nickel bags of marijuana and a couple of hits of speed, not exactly a lot of dope given that seven or so students were living there. 

As it turned out, the car that had let me out was SLED, so Margaret and I had just escaped arrest. Even though neither of us was holding, the law said if there was any dope in the house, it belonged to everyone.

The timing of my departure and SLED’s arrival was suspicious enough to have one of the housemates I didn’t know accuse me of being a narc. His parents made him immediately move out, which, despite the loss of rent revenue, suited me. I’m fairly certain I raised my voice in response to his accusation, an ugly scene too vaguely remembered. 

The actual scoop was that the University’s newly installed president William Patterson had decided he was going to distinguish himself from his predecessor Thomas Jones, whom many believed mollycoddled the rioters who had taken over the University in May of 1970, so President Patterson and the Governor orchestrated a widespread raid to send a message the times are a’ changing – back.

So our house was only one of several that had been raided that night. Dozens of students were hauled in for meager stashes of cannabis. It made the front page of the State newspaper, but so far, I’ve come up empty in my google searches.

As it turned out, at least in my experience, Law and Order looked a lot like disorder. 

Q. What’s the difference between vandals breaking into your house and a SLED raid?

A.  SLED doesn’t shit on your kitchen floor.

So thus began my last semester of undergraduate school, a busy semester indeed. I was taking Shakespeare’s Comedies, Shakespeare’s Tragedies, Latin Literature in Translation, Music Appreciation, and French 101 as an elective.

Ah, those were the days, my friends, I thought they would never end.

I-and-I circa 1975

Before There Was Such a Thing as Black Friday

This building as seen today once housed Mr. Pete’s and later Carolina Home Furnishers

When I was very small, there was department store across from the Summerville Post Office on Richardson Avenue called Mr. Pete’s, a cavernous space in a clapboard building. I think that Mr. Pete was a Greek immigrant, though I’m not sure. I am, certain, however, that he sold toys, and I remember a long bin along one of the walls filled with a variety of tiny plastic soldiers that went for a penny a piece. It had only been a decade since WW2’s close, and if my memory serves me, Mr. Pete also sold some army surplus items. I also recall dolls of both races standing on shelves staring blankly out over the merchandise.

Over the course of time, I amassed quite a collection of soldiers, which we would set up as armies on opposite sides of our bedroom floor, and take turns rolling marbles to knock them over, the winner being the one who “killed” all of the opposing general’s men. The last survivors were always those soldiers who lay on the stomachs pointing their rifles. You had to flip them over to kill them.

Also, among the items for sale for children at Mr. Pete’s was a Monopoly game that went for five dollars, which was a fortune back then when you could hop, skip, and jump a couple of blocks and cop a fountain Coke from Guerrins for a nickel. Anyway, my Aunt Virginia, who was only six years older than I, coveted that Monopoly game, and it was a monumental moment in my young life when she finally scraped enough money to purchase it. 

In her role as banker, Virginia was very meticulous when we played the game, counting aloud as she distributed funds or doled out houses and hotels. I was more accustomed to games like Candy Land and Kentucky Derby that featured concrete starts and finishes. Drawing cards or thumping a color-coded spinner determined your moves in time-restricted outcomes better suited to a four-year-old’s attention span. Often, Virginia had to bribe me to play.

I have no idea what happened to Mr. Pete or his store. I did, however, years later work in that building when it housed Carolina Home Furnishers, which was run by Weeza Waring, an absolutely wonderful and undemanding boss who regaled me with old yarns as we sat next to one another in recliners watching Perry Mason reruns. 

That’s what we mostly did, watch TV, the old reruns giving way to soap operas as the day matured. Customers were few and far between. My duties consisted of fetching the mail in the morning (and sometimes a bottle for Weeza from the liquor store in the afternoon), and sweeping and dusting. On Saturdays, if we had made a sale that week, the owner’s son Kirk Singletary and I would deliver furniture, or one occasion, repossess an item that the purchaser could not afford.

A few months ago, my wife Caroline and I travelled to Summerville so I could refresh my visual memory of these places for this self-indulgent project of chronicling what it was like growing up in a small Southern town during the Civil Rights era. Of course, we went to see the building, but it was the height of the pandemic, and the businesses there were closed. We didn’t get a chance to check out the interior of what now is now “Katie Mae’s Flea Market.” I wanted to look up out of the two small rectangular windows on the South Cedar Street side of the building.

I remember almost a half century ago, in the late morning of my life, dying for the workday to end, peering through those tiny rectangular windows at puffy white clouds drifting past.

Moments “that time allows in all his tuneful turning so few” as we wish our lives away.[1]

photo credit Caroline Tigner Moore

[1] Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill,” an incredibly beautiful poem, well worth a click.

Inching towards Integration in Summerville, SC (1954 – 1970)

1970 Summerville Green Wave Basketball team

Note: Despite the academic-sounding title, I’m no historian, so the following is merely a personal remembrance of events that happened a half-century ago. Here’s a link to more legitimate article on Black history in Summerville. 

Like virtually every community in the South in the ‘50s and ‘60s, my hometown Summerville, South Carolina, was segregated. Black people could not patronize the town’s movie theater (when it was intermittently open), the bowling alley, restaurants, or laundromats. Even doctors’ waiting rooms were divided into “white” and “colored” sections, the way vets separate cats and dogs.  

Because the schools were “separate but equal,”[1] the only Black children I ever encountered socially were the children of domestics my mother and grandmother occasionally employed.[2] Racism was deeply embedded in my upbringing. Although my parents were kind to Black people – we actually once sheltered a Black boy in our house to protect him from abuse – my parents considered the African American race inferior.[3]

I remember one Saturday when our maid[4] Alice worked, she brought along her daughter Sallie who asked if she could watch Jump Time, a locally produced African American dance show modeled on American Bandstand. Jump Time wasn’t something we would have tuned into ourselves, but my brother David and I acquiesced, foregoing whatever Saturday TV fare we were accustomed to viewing at 1pm. After that visit, I made a point of watching Jump Time when I happened to be home watching TV at that hour. We’re talking the golden age of R&B, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin. And the dancers! They allowed the beat to lead the way, gracefully swaying and juking, turning what to me was a staid social convention into something primal and thrilling.

One small step.

Of course, Brown versus Board of Education had come down years before in 1954, so Summerville Schools were not in compliance with the laws of the land in 1957 when I first placed my hand over my heart and recited the Pledge of Allegiance in Mrs. Wiggins’s first grade class. At some point – I can’t remember the year – as a sort of compromise, the powers-that-were selected a few African Americans to integrate Summerville Elementary School. I suspect these students were chosen not only for their academic talent, but also for their Jackie-Robinson-like ability to withstand a certain amount of bigoted abuse. From my immature perspective, the transition seemed to go smoothly, or at least there was not that public spectacle of abuse that had occurred in Little Rock where Whites stalked Black children, screaming at them as they were escorted to school on the first day of integration. 

Little Rock Seven

After passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965, our public parks became integrated, and my first co-equal social interactions with students from the Black high school, Alston High, began at the Laurel Street basketball courts. In the late ‘60s, a few of my friends and I joined the Blacks there playing on Saturdays and Sundays and sometimes after school. These Summerville High kids included Gordon Wilson, Tim Miskel, and a few transplants from the North whose names have faded from the fraying annals of my memory.

Players would choose a three-man team to challenge whoever had won the last game, and we played by African American rules. In my subdivision, Twin Oaks, you maneuvered  the ball to back court after a defensive rebound, but here you could tip in an opponent’s missed basket and receive a point. We counted by ones, and eleven was the winning score, though you had to win by two. I don’t recall even an iota of racial tension. 

One glorious sunny afternoon Richard Blalock, Gordon Wilson, and I won three straight games.

Unfortunately, after our third triumph, Carl Whetsell, a Black Summerville High student in my English class, asked me if I knew that two players on the other teams were starters for the Alston Tigers. I passed the info along to Richard and Gordon.  The next time we faced them, we immediately choked, never to beat them again, which suggests, to flip the cliché, that what you do know can hurt you. Anyway, we became friendly with some of our Black competitors, especially with a couple of kids known as Mookie and Tubby.

Once the high school was fully integrated in the academic year 1969-1970, knowing the Laurel Street Alston crew made the transition meaningful for me, and Tubby and Mookie joined us once at a party at Adam Jacobs’s apartment Boone’s Farm from person to person. Our parents would not have been pleased.

A much bigger step.

That year, the integrated basketball team, led by Summerville High’s Sherwood Miler and former Alston High’s George Cooper, made it to the State Finals. Although we lost that game, the very worst of the bad ol’ days of segregation were behind us. Athletics helped enormously in bringing the two races together in our sports-crazed town. People like to win, and when it comes to football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, and track, fielding an all-white team is a disadvantage. 

Black athletes like Harry Blake and Eddie Felder became local heroes in those days, though that is not to say that even they escaped the racial bigotry so entrenched in society, in both the North and the South. Most people weren’t then – and aren’t now – colorblind. The original sin of slavery continues to darken our days as the events of the year 2020 have demonstrated. Nevertheless, compared to many other communities in across the country, Summerville’s integration was, thank goodness, relatively peaceful.

[1] As I typed that phrase, my tongue was lodged firmly in my cheek.

[2] The fact that we were lower middle class suggests how low wages must have been. Of course, no social security taxes were involved. 

[3] This act of mercy was not popular with our neighbors. I was mocked at the bus stop for having a [racial expletive] as a brother. 

[4] I realize the word “maid” has fallen into disfavor, but it doesn’t designate a race and actually sounds better to me than “female domestic servant” or the euphemistic “helper.”  Imagine if Molly Maids changed its name to Dolly Domestic Servants or Molly Domestic Helpers. 

A Brief, Possibly Inaccurate History of Summerville’s Counterculture

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night

Born in December of 1952 in the small South Carolina town of Summerville, I missed out on the Beatniks, except, of course, for Maynard G Krebs, the goateed bongo-bopping pal of Dobie Gillis in the sitcom that ran from 1959-63.[1]

Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebs

If Summerville had any beatniks, I never ran into them in my family excursions to the Cub Drive-In, Eva’s, or the Piggly Wiggly. I’m pretty sure we didn’t have a coffee shop in the sense of a bohemian hangout where beret-wearing malcontents high on MaryJane passed around copies of Alan Ginsberg’s Howl

It’s too bad because I happen to think that bohemian cultures are healthy counterbalances to potentially stifling conformity. When I taught at Porter-Gaud, after the Magnet School of the Arts opened, we lost a slew of our countercultural students, i.e., nearly all of our liberals, and so without safety in numbers, fewer divergent thinkers were willing express unpopular opinions, which, of course, can led to smug complacency, especially in a community that lacks economic diversity. Plus, occasionally it’s fun to encounter a hep-cat daddy-o sporting a black turtleneck and straight-legged cigarette pants.[2]

So when did Summerville begin to develop a counterculture you may – but I doubt it – wonder?  From my admittedly fogbound memory, I’m going to peg the year as 1965 and credit surfers as the first countercultural subgroup of Summerville.

Back in those days, at Spann Junior High, PE classes weren’t divided into grades, but 7th, 8th, and 9th graders met en masse during whatever period you happened to have PE. After playing football or basketball or softball, we were supposed to take showers, which could be a tad bit uncomfortable, depending upon whatever stage of hormonal transformation you happened to find yourself.[3]  Anyway, one afternoon when we were showering after PE, someone shouted, “Are there any surfers in here?” One of my fellow 7th graders, I think it might have been Joe Dorn, answered enthusiastically, “I am” and was met with a basso chorus of “Surfers suck!”

This rather unsettling incident occurred right about the time a fellow named Greg Nutt arrived at Summerville High from California. Greg sported longish blonde hair, horizonal striped shirts, white jeans, and spoke in that somewhat whiny affected accent we associate with California. Greg claimed to have had some musical connection with the Beach Boys and played drums in a really good band called the Pendleton’s.[4]  Greg was a charismatic cat, as we jazz enthusiasts like to say, and after the administration booked the band for a pep rally before a big game against archrival Berkeley, the animosity against surfing abated somewhat. The Pendleton’s performed killer covers of “Pipeline” and “Wipe Out,” and it would take one cold-blooded adolescent not to get off on that the drum solo from “Wipe Out.” In fact, Greg might have been the first non-football player who achieved some degree of celebrity at Summerville High.

And so more and more of Summerville’s youth turned to surfing, despite the long trip to Folly Beach in those wireless days when you had to call long distance to McKevlin’s to get a not very up-to-date and perhaps enhanced surf report.

What one day would become Snapper Jack’s on Folly Beach

And to be a surfer, you wanted to look like a surfer, which meant long hair and flipflops as opposed to flattops and tasseled alligator loafers. Ven Diagrams of surfer and hippie costumes share a large swath of concentric shading, and on 15 October 1969, the day of the Moratorium to end the Viet Nam War, many of the Summerville High students who wore black armbands were surfers.

Thus, the counterculture had arrived for sure in Flowertown, which meant marijuana, LSD, and all that jazz heavy metal. Bye-Bye American pie; hello tie-dye.[5]

[1] Maynard was played by Bob Denver, who became much more famous as asexual Gilligan, the most famous castaway this side of Robinson Crusoe.

[2] On the other hand, too much of a good thing can be equally offputting; a completely countercultural community can be just as conformist in its own way as a country club. As much as I like Asheville, I sometimes wish I’d run across someone sporting a polo shirt and pair of khakis. 

[3] Alas, puberty had yet to even knock on my door when I was a seventh grader, so showering among 9th graders who had failed a grade or so was, shall we say, unfun.

[4] Greg also played the sousaphone in the marching band where I encountered him in my short-lived gig of pantomiming playing the clarinet in that group.

[5] By the way, my friend Tim Miskell was the first to bring the art of tie-dying to Summerville. He had sneaked off to his old stomping ground of Croton-on-the-Hudson, which was, not surprisingly, much hipper than Summerville, and upon his return started tie-dying his friends’ t-shirts and bell bottoms for a nominal fee.  

Lullabies for the Lobotomized (or Misremembrance of Things Past)

For me, one particularly melancholic aspect of the death of my elders is the loss of family lore, no more tales from my father, mother, grandparents, or great aunts. If I could recoup some of the precious time I squandered in my younger days –  hours wasted bouncing tennis balls off the side of our house, watching Saturday cartoons, or later, sitting at bars solving crossword puzzles ­– I would reinvest some of that recaptured time asking follow-up questions to my kinfolk about some of the stories they used to tell.

Now, in my own old age, questions arise that I cannot answer. For example, it seems that no one in my family except my Uncle David had a church wedding. My maternal grandparents and my parents both eloped, Hazelwood Ursula Hunt running off with Kistler Jerome Blanton in the 1930s, my parents following suit a generation later. As Springsteen puts it in “The River,” “No wedding days smiles, no walk down the aisles, no flowers, no wedding dress.” 

And I might add, no photographs.

According to my mother, her father Kistler had to quit school in the third grade because his pipe-smoking raw-boned Scots-Irish mother demanded that he not waste his time on abstractions like reading, writing, and arithmetic. After all, there was hard money to be made with child labor. Kiki, as we called him, was born in 1901, so his dropping out would have occurred in 1910 or 1911. But was my mother’s memory accurate? Could it have been the fifth or sixth grade? Weren’t there truant officers? Kiki seemed pretty damned literate for someone with a third-grade education, but then again, he never wrote me a letter or sent me a birthday card, so who’s to say?

That he was “dirt poor” is beyond a doubt, unlike his future bride Hazel who grew up on a prosperous farm in Branchville, South Carolina, her mother a Fairy (as in Shepard Fairly, a distant cousin). The Fairys arrived in the Palmetto State before the Revolution so I guess would qualify for the DAR. 

Anyway, how did these two meet? They say Kiki sang in some kind of quartet that performed in various venues. Mama Blanton, as we called Hazelwood, played the piano. Did their music bring them together? Did they meet at a dance? A church? A party? How did they pull off their great escape? Who hitched them?  Where did they stay? What was their parents’ reactions when they found out? I have no idea, only know that their marriage ended up being a separate bedroom arrangement, and I never once saw them embrace, much less kiss. 

The Hunts were good-fearing Baptists, the Blanton’s not so much. Now that I think of it, the Hunts were atypical Southerners in that they didn’t really tell stories. I remember Mama B and her sisters Pearl and Ruby sitting in front of a television shelling beans and watching soap  operas, but I don’t remember any tales of deering-do or tragedy or even gossip coming from anyone of them.[1]

My father’s people, on the other hand, were full of themselves and also stories. The Moores considered themselves aristocrats, which I always found preposterous, until a distant cousin tracked me down and provided me with a family history. Someone named Richard Dunmore has written a history of Appleby Magna in rural Leicestershire and has devoted a chapter to the Moores, which begins, “The Moore family lived at Appleby Parva for about 320 years, first at the old manor house and later at Appleby Hall, built in the 18th century and enlarged in the 19th.  Although Sir John Moore who built Appleby School is the most famous member of the family, there is much of interest to be found in the lives of the others.”

Sure enough, I’m descended from these once well-to-do Brits, as the family tree my cousin provided me attests, and it appears they lived the Downton Abbey lifestyle for a while: 

The social status which the Moores enjoyed is illustrated by the 1841 census which shows the Hall occupied by George Moore and Isabel his (second) wife with their first child Clara aged 3 months.  Fourteen servants were present at the Hall itself, 9 female and 5 male.  There would be other employees living in cottages belonging to the estate.  In particular the lodge or gate-house on New Road was staffed by a family with two children. (Dunmore)

However, just as we saw in Downton Abbey, the old families found it impossible to maintain these estates in modern times. Again, Dunmore:

Charles L G Moore inherited the Appleby estate on the death of his father in 1916.  Despite their desperate financial situation, his parents had continued with their lavish lifestyle with numerous staff.  In 1891 soon after the return from Norfolk, the Moores employed 3 male and 8 female staff in the house; and Aubrey Moore recalled even more employees just before the First World War.  Although Mrs. Louisa Moore had her own ‘fortune’ which provided some income, the fact remains that the Moores were making ends meet by spending the capital arising from the sale of farms.  In effect they were eating their seed-corn.

Cousins who decided not to cross the pond

Of course, by this time, their fourth or fifth cousins, my great aunts and my grandfather, were alive and kicking in the not so great State of South Carolina, not residing in oak-lined plantations in the Lowcountry but dwelling in backwater communities like Bishopville and Bennettsville. My great-great grandfather fought as a foot soldier for the Confederacy, and there is an apocryphal (I hope) story about his turning down a medal for carrying a wounded soldier off a field.  Supposedly, his conscience wouldn’t allow him to accept the medal because his motive was not to save the wounded man’s life but to provide himself protection from incoming fire.

His son Luther produced a bevy of girls, my great aunts Polly, Mary, Tallulah, and Lila, and one son, Wesley E. Moore, Sr., my grandfather.[2]

Although I spent less time with these great aunts than I did with the mineral-named great aunts on my mother’s side, I can recall many more stories from Aunts Lila and Lou than I can from Ruby and Pearl.

For example, whenever Aunt Lila dreamt of diamonds, someone close to her was doomed to die. She told me once ­– I couldn’t have been over ten – that she had begged her daughter, Lila Moore Stanton, not to go out with her roommate from Winthrop the night after Lila the Elder had dreamt of diamonds, but to no avail, and sure enough, both Lila Moore and her roommate were killed when a train smashed into their car a half mile away from the house. Aunt Lila related the story as matter-of-factly as if it had happened to someone else. 

Also, after her first husband died, Aunt Lila remarried someone named Norman Lynch, who, according to what my parents told me, was lobotomized because he was an alcoholic. Can this possibly be true? Daddy told the story that someone once said to Lila, “You know, Uncle Norman would be better off dead,” and she replied, “But I sure as hell wouldn’t be.” It seems she was receiving some kind of monetary stipend as long as he was alive. Once again, this sounds suspect. What about social security?

Aunt Lila’s grave marker

There is one story I know is true that Aunt Lila’s sister Lou told me about the suicide of her nephew’s wife Sarah, who burned a hole in my blue sweater with a cigarette one Christmas Eve when I was seven or so.  

Tipsy on sherry, Aunt Lou told this story more than once. Sarah had locked herself in a bedroom with a gun threatening to kill herself, then opened the door, put the gun to her temple, and fired.

“I don’t think she knew it was loaded,” Aunt Lou said with a twinkle in her eye. “I’ve never seen a person with a more surprised look on her face when the gun went off.”

So that’s what you get in “classless” America, the descendent of Sir John Moore marrying the daughter of a man with a third-grade education. In other words, what you get is a red state, an obsession with the past, and some pretty good stories to pass along. 

[1] If an efficient God wanted to create a heaven and hell in one location, he could make a heaven by having Pearl, Ruby, and Hazel shelling those beans watching those soaps and a hell for my father by placing him in that same room with no cigarettes or whisky.

[2] In our family lore, Aunt Polly was infamous for her flatulence, which she could harness and employ at will to dissuade certain of her daughter’s suitors from continuing their flirtations. According to daddy, her trumpet-like blasts could rattle windows and smelled like a Stygian sewer. When launched at a dinner table, they could certainly give a young suitor second thoughts. 

A Night in the Summerville Jail

The Old Summerville Jail

He’s in the jailhouse now
He’s in the jailhouse now
Well I told him once or twice
To stop playin’ cards and a-shootin’ dice

                                                            Jimmie Rodgers

Well,  given that I’ve waxed nostalgic about Summerville’s azaleas, the Curve Inn Pool, our village idiots, and county hospital, I think it’s high time I turned my misty memories to a local institution you may not have visited – the Summerville Jail.

I spent one memorable night there in the summer of 1972, the summer before my junior year of college, after a group of friends and I engaged in a series of what educators nowadays call “bad decisions.” We’d smoked a joint (mostly seeds and stems) on our way to downtown Charleston to patronize a basement bar called Hog Pennys. There, of course, we downed a couple of beers, no doubt Old Milwaukees because they offered two extra ounces. [1]  On the way back home to Summerville, I suspect we did another joint. I know for sure the Kinks just released album Everybody’s in Showbiz was blasting from the speakers of the car’s cassette player. 

An appropriate snippet from the album

I guess it was only eleven or so when we pulled up to our hometown poolroom. We weren’t close to drunk or even all that high. After a couple of games of nine ball, we decided to call it a night.  

Another friend, Keith, who hadn’t accompanied us on our journey to the peninsula, asked if he could bum a ride home, so we all piled into the car. At some point, a revolving blue light clicked on behind us. It seems the driver – I’ll call him Billy – hadn’t come to a complete stop at the most recent stop sign.

There were two different bags of cannabis, belonging to different passengers. My perhaps flawed memory has us tossing them back and forth like in that old childhood game hot potato. Someone stuffed one of the baggies beneath the front passenger’s seat. The policeman approached the driver’s side, and as the fellow riding shotgun leaned over to make sure the baggie was well hidden, the officer took note.

“What is that?” he demanded.

“Uh uh uh.”

So we were all hauled downtown to the Summerville Jail, an adjunct to the police station itself, located in those days at 225 West Luke Avenue.  

The thing is that the officer did not procure the other bag, which created a very convenient out for this very inept liar. When the interrogators tried to put, as they say in crime novels, “the screws to me,” I could honestly say I didn’t know who had been in possession of the one baggie of impotent marijuana –  less than a nickel’s worth – that had been confiscated. 

Anyway, we were all ushered into the same cell without being fingerprinted or having mug shots taken. I recall an intercom with its red flight aglow, so we didn’t blab about what had happened. The police instructed us to call our parents, though Keith told the jailer that his mama had recently suffered a heart attack, so he’d rather spend the night in jail than wake her up with a phone call. I felt really bad for him because he was perfectly innocent.

One-by-one, my fellow inmates were released to their unhappy progenitors. When my father and mother arrived, my father was so boiling mad that I told the jailer I’d rather spend the night than be released, and he agreed that it might be a good idea.

Keith and I ended up in different cells, neither of which had bed linen, pillows, or a toilet seat, and I can’t begin to tell you how unpleasant it is waking up about 85 times in the middle of the night and remembering you’re in the clink. Morning did at last dawn, and we were served a poolroom hamburger for breakfast. My mother showed up to retrieve me; (thank goodness my father was at work). I assured Mama that the marijuana didn’t belong to me ­– it didn’t – but I did lie and claimed I hadn’t smoked any. Like I’ve said, I’m a terrible liar, but in this case my mother believed me.

We were supposed to be tried in St. George, and all of us but one made the trip. We sat there among other miscreants of Dorchester County on the pew-like benches of the courtroom. A self-important man with a Southern drawl called out cases and the accused stood up to acknowledge their presence . One trial involved statutory rape. Not only did they make the accused stand, but also the teenaged girl who was his victim, though she looked of age to me. Finally, the names of the last trial were called. Our names never were. Seems as if our no-show friend’s parents and procured a lawyer and had the case dropped. 

Sad to say, but the last time I saw that friend was in June of 2014 at the funeral of another of that carload. Because I don’t make it to Summerville often, I don’t think I’d seen my late friend or the no show in the new century. We sat next to one another in the pew, but neither of us brought up the incident. Sadly, it had created some bad blood.

[1] 18 was the legal drinking age back in those more lenient days.

Me in 1973 (note spray-on tans had yet been invented)

The Curve Inn Pool, Make Me Feel So Good, Make Me Feel All Right

Of all the songs on the jukebox at Summerville’s long-gone Curve Inn Pool, songs like the Byrd’s “Eight Miles High” and Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law,”[1] my favorite was “Gloria” – not the Van Morrison original but a cover by an obscure Chicago band, Shadows of Knight. 

Somehow the Knight’s lead singer Jim Sohns’s gritty growling imitation of a Northern Irishman trying to sound like an American fit the funky working class vibe of the Curve-Inn, which you could join for the entire summer for a measly eleven dollars.[2] I can’t remember if the swimming facility at Miler Country Club featured a jukebox, but I’m absolutely positive you wouldn’t find anyone there perched on the rail of the high dive with the adjectives “sweet” and “sour” tattooed on each of his pectorals. In fact, those were the first homemade tattoos I ever witnessed, the equivalent of stick drawings compared to colorful tapestries you see sprawled across the epidermides[3] of hipsters nowadays.

Summerville coach and administrator Olin McCurry owned and operated the Curve-Inn, and he was there six days a week overseeing the establishment, shirtless and sporting one of those pith helmets bwanas wear in old Tarzan movies. I can see his son, little more than a toddler back then, also shirtless and waddling behind him.  I think the McCurrys were neighbors of ours when we lived on Laurel Street. I remember Laura McCurry, who was a few years younger than me,[4] conversing with my mother like an adult at the tennis courts as I rode my bike around and around the metal nets.

My most memorable summer at the Curve Inn was the summer of ’66. I had a so-called girlfriend named Francine Light, who had delivered me a note two days before school let out for the summer asking if I’d be her beau. I had been admiring her from afar forever, so I was thrilled. I remember walking her to the school buses that afternoon, my hair parted on the wrong side so it would hang over one ear, which no doubt looked ridiculous, though daringly out of dress code.

The problem was that I was so shy I rarely called Francine that summer, and when I did, I couldn’t figure out what to say. She came to the Curve-Inn a couple of times with her little brothers in tow, but all too soon wearied of my awkward non-engagement. I remember sending a message via a female friend to tell Francine I loved her, but the friend came a couple of days later to report that Francine didn’t love me back.

[cue Herman’s Hermits] “Why does the sun keep on shining?/Why does the sea rush to the shore?”

In reality, by no means did that crush-gone-wrong darken my summer. We played Marco Polo, devoured Zero candy bars and Cokes, perfected our cannonballs, back flips and gainers.

Oh yeah, and got an earful from that jukebox standing among puddles in the shade of the pavilion.

G – L – O – R – I – A 

[1] By the way, when I saw Springsteen on the front row of Gaillard Auditorium in The Darkness on the Edge of Town tour in ‘78, the Boss began with a cover of “I Fought the Law,” and I recognized it two chords in.

[2] Cool quote from Sohns, “The Stones, Animals, and Yardbirds took the Chicago blues and gave it an English interpretation. We’ve taken the English version of the blues and re-added a Chicago touch.”

[3] Forgive my pedantry, but epidermides is preferred over epidermises as the plural form, though both are acceptable.

[4] More pedantry: If any former students are reading this, note how I have broken a grammatical rule – it should be “older than I” – so I don’t come off as a constipated, um, pedant.

Football Pratfalls

In addition to its verdant beauty, its azaleas, its wisteria-entwined pines, Summerville is also famous – at least in South Carolina – for its long history of high school football excellence. If Summerville’s so-called historic district can’t claim a Revolutionary or Civil War battle, it can claim over a century’s worth of Friday night clashes on the gridiron, an impressive history of prep school football dominance.

I remember being a little boy and Mama bragging about Summerville teams of her high school days in the late 40s  and early 50s, teams featuring Bufort Blanton and Bo Berry, who a decade later were still being lauded for their post-World War II gridiron exploits. Perhaps they still are among the dwindling number of Summerville citizens of that era, though even greater triumphs would ensue.

mama and bette

Summerville High Students Bette Newsome Walton and Sue Blanton Moore (my mother) circa 1950

Hired in 1953, John McKissick amassed 621 wins, 10 state championships. “Legendary” is a word I hate to see affixed to a historical figure, but I will say that McKissick may have earned it. He was so successful that Pat Conroy included him in two of his novels, The Prince of Tides and South of Broad. I was born in 1952, so Coach McKissick was the only coach I ever knew, and I can proudly say I was once paddled by the great man in his role as assistant principal. I had been dismissed from class by a math teacher and sent to the office. I had the choice of three days of suspension or three “licks.” I opted for the latter, and Coach McKissick performed his duty affably, without a smidgeon of rancor, but all too efficiently.

Screen Shot 2020-08-10 at 8.59.44 AM

via 1967 Summerville High Yearbook

Of course, virtually every boy growing up in Summerville dreamed of being a football hero, of donning the green and gold of the mighty Green Wave, of achieving, like Billy Walsh in the 1960s, the mantle of hometown hero.[1] I was no exception; only there was a small problem, literally a small problem, which actually ended up being big problem: I was so scrawny I could have been the model for the 90-pound weakling advertisement. Not only that, I wasn’t very fast, though I did possess fairly decent hand-eye coordination and was capable of making diving catches, even an occasional one-handed grab. We played tackle every day after school in my front yard, for hours on Saturdays and Sundays. In my neighborhood, I was considered pretty good, the equivalent of an impressive koi in a tiny little backyard water garden.

90 pound weakling

One time, I remember, the kids in my subdivision challenged another neighborhood  – or they challenged us – in a game where we wore helmets and shoulder pads. I guess maybe I was in the sixth or seventh grade. The contest was played near the Curve-In Pool on a big slopping grassy side yard of someone’s house. If I remember correctly, Green Wave stars Wayne Charpia and the late Billy Sedivy refereed.  A kid on the other team named Punky Pearson ran through our arm tackles for touchdown after touchdown. A less romantic child might have reasoned that maybe he wasn’t cut out for the bigtime.

But when high school rolled around, in the fall of ’68, I went out for junior varsity. The tryouts were at Doty Field, and although our coach, Reid Charpia, didn’t cut anyone, lesser talents like me had to pick out our equipment last from a diminished pile of helmets, pads, pants, and shoes. I ended up with white, not gold pants, and a pair of high-top cleats at least two sizes too big.

I will say this for myself. I didn’t quit as several did. Practices were brutal. Hydration was frowned upon in those days, though I think we had salt pills.  I ran the windsprints, got creamed in the tip drills, but managed to survive the season without serious injury. On Thursdays, I got to wear my jersey to school, number 67, not a typical number for a halfback, but appropriate enough for a fourth string halfback.

The good news is that the Summer of Love had just passed, and other recreations beside football were in the offing for those not well-suited to bodily collisions.

[1] In subsequent years a few Green Wave veterans ended up in the NFL, most notably, AJ Green.