[Cue ‘Tara’s Theme’ from “Gone with the Wind”] or an Old Descendent of a Confederate Soldier Tells Not Much

luther's gravestone

Son of Wesley Moore, CSA, my great-grandfather’s tombstone

“Beware of using up your last forty years in being the curator of your first fifty.”
― Allan Gurganus, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All

I am –  as far as generations go –  not all that far removed from my Civil War ancestors.  I remember with cinematic precision the evening circa 1970 when my high school girlfriend dropped on the uncarpeted floor of our ranch-style house the slab of glass that held my great-great grandfather’s image.  That raw-boned, thin-lipped scowler posing in his Confederate uniform evaporated before our very eyes, the molecules constituting his outline rising through the crack in the glass like a soul vacating a corpse. Gone, those small penetrating brown eyes, the prototype of my father’s eyes, my eyes, and my son Ned’s eyes.

I, in fact, met that ghost’s son, my great grandfather, who lived past 90, and I also remember a winter night in Sumter, South Carolina, when my college roommate’s great-great aunt, a centenarian, the daughter of a Confederate general, told us long-haired hippies that we were two of the prettiest girls she’d ever seen.  She was a lovely woman, alive, engaged, this daughter of the general, a genteel wrinkled skein of a skeleton sitting, smiling before a fire, practically deaf, practically blind.

I think there might have been a painting of the general over the mantel — or perhaps he was a colonel?  —  I really can’t remember as my memories flicker and fade in the old musty museum of my mind.  I am certain, however, that “the evil that men do lives after them,” and “the good is oft interred with their bones.”

Bishopville_SC

Bishopville, SC

Lindsey Graham and Me

 

1977-mgbgt 2

Lindsey and Me in the late 70s

Although I enjoyed my teaching career at Porter-Gaud, the happiest job I ever had was tending bar at the Golden Spur, an alcohol dispensary located in the student union building at the University of South Carolina in those glorious days when 18-year-olds could legally imbibe beer and wine. It was there that I met the mother of my children, the late Judy Birdsong, and there where I became known as “the Reverend” after an impromptu Dionysian sermon delivered in Afro-jazz riffs a la Dr. John to my pals Furman Langley and Steve Rhea.[1]

I always looked forward to going to work and never, as they say, took work home with me.

What brings this to mind is that I’ve been contemplating the psychological underpinnings of my fellow South Carolinian Lindsey Graham, wondering about his formative years, contemplating what mental dynamics allow him to flip flop so shamelessly, sometimes in the matter of days, from one position to its opposite. In this respect, his switch from revering McCain to pimping for Trump is instructive.

Anyway, as it turns out, the story of Lindsey Graham’s youth is somewhat sad, especially his late youth. He was born a Baptist in the small Pickens County hamlet of Central, South Carolina. Despite that religious affiliation, Lindsey’s parents ran what Wikipedia describes as “a restaurant-bar-pool hall-liquor store, the ‘Sanitary Café’.”  So at an early age, Lindsey must have grown accustomed to dealing with paradoxes, alcohol considered by strict adherents as evil manifest, the antithesis of what they considered sanitary.

Prohibition 1

He was the first person in his family to attend college and joined ROTC, but here’s where his life takes a dolorous turn.  His mother died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 52, and, bam, 15 months later, a heart attack dispatched his father, leaving orphaned Lindsey with the responsibility of being the legal guardian of his 13-year-old sister.

He studied – get this — psychology at the University of South Carolina, pledged Phi Kappa Phi, and graduated in 1977, the same year I dropped out of graduate school.  Therefore, Lindsey and I were both at USC from 1973-1977, which means, in all likelihood, I served him beer either at the Spur or at Bell Camp where I also bartended for fraternity parties.  Although extremely unlikely, he literally could have been in the Spur the very night I delivered my Dionysian sermon. Back then,  I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have given him the time of day – or in this case night.

Obviously, I’m not a fan of Senator Graham’s.  I would love to see him defeated, Trump driven from office, etc.  However, I have to admit that delving into his past has resulted in a bit of sympathy on my part.  He faced adversity at a young age and succeeded mightily as resumes go.  On the other hand, it must be horrible to be so conflicted, to have your better angels drowned out by the braying of a sociopathic vulgarian.

That said, the harm that he has imposed is real, extremely perilous as far as the American Experiment goes, and for that he can’t be forgiven.


[1] I commenced in Dr John’s voice to sermonificating on the glorification of the party impulse present in all of us – Baptist and Bohemian alike – and why that party bud must be allowed to bloom into boogie, cause if it ain’t, your existiment bound to be as flat and tasteless as BiLo brand Tonic Water what ain’t had the cap screwed on tight.

Or worser, that block-up party impulse knocked back down, squeezed back down in the reptilian recesses of your brain gonna mutate into some awful sexual dysfunctification like dwarfophilia or bovineophlia or hollywoodstar-obessification or some such other mental donemessedupness.

 

As Others See Us

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us! – Robert Burns “To a Louse”

In January and February of 2000, David Foster Wallace, hailed by AO Scott as the best mind of his generation, rode along with John McCain and Company on the Straight Talk Express as he campaigned in South Carolina for the 2000 Republican nomination.  In his essay “Up Simba,” DFW offers his analysis of the campaign and occasional descriptions of our countryside, architecture, and denizens.  Here’s a description of a trip down I-26 from Spartanburg to Charleston:

Coming back up the Bullshit 1’s starboard side, no laptops are in play and no windowshades pulled, and the cleanest set of windows is just past the fridge, and outside surely the sun is someplace up there but the February vista still seems lightless. The central-SC countryside looks blasted, lynched, the skies the color of low-grade steel, the land all dead sod and broomsedge, with scrub oak and pine leaning at angles, and you can almost hear the mosquitoes breathing in their baggy eggs awaiting spring. Winter down here is damp, both chilly and muggy, and Jay alternates the heater with the AC as various different people bitch about being hot or cold. Scraggly cabbage palms start mixing with the pine as you get farther south, and the mix of conifer and palm is dissonant in a bad-dream sort of way. A certain percentage of the passing trees are dead and hung with kudzu and a particular kind of Spanish moss that resembles a kind of drier-lint from hell, but in a very nice way. Eighteen-wheelers and weird tall pickups are the buses’ only company, and the pickups are rusted and all have gunracks and frightening bumper stickers; some of them toot their horns in support. BSl’s windows are high enough that you can see right into the big rigs’ cabs. The highway itself is colorless and the sides of it look chewed on, and there’s litter, and the median strip is dead grass with a whole lot of different tiretracks and skidmarks striping the sod for dozens of miles, as if from the mother of all multivehicle pileups sometime in I-26’s past. Everything looks dead and not happy about it. Birds fly in circles with no place to go. There are also some weird smooth-barked luminous trees that might be pecan; no one seems to know. The techs keep their shades pulled even though they have no laptops. You can tell it’s spooky down here in the summer, all moss and steam and dogs with visible ribs and everybody sweating through their hat. None of the media ever look out the window. Everyone’s used to being in motion all the time. Location is mentioned only on phones: the journalists and producers are always on their cellphones trying to reach somebody else’s cellphone and saying “South Carolina—where are you.” The other constant in most cell-calls on a moving bus is “I’m losing you, can you hear me, should I call back.” A distinctive thing about the field producers is that they all pull their cellphones’ antennae all the way out with their teeth; journalists use their fingers, or else they have headset phones, which they talk on while they type.

If you think that was a bit negative, here’s a peek at the Lobby of the Carolina Ice Palace from his perspective:

Express hauled out this morning at 0738h., and now here McCain is at 0822 almost running back and forth on the raised stage in a Carolina Ice Palace lobby so off-the-charts hideous that the press all pass up the free pastry. (The lobby’s lined with red and blue rubber—yes, rubber—and 20 feet up a green iron spiral staircase is an open mezzanine with fencing of mustard-colored pipe from which hang long purple banners for the Lowcountry Youth Hockey Association, and you can hear the rink’s organ someplace inside and a symphony of twitters and boings from an enormous video arcade just down the bright-orange hall, and on either side of the THM stage are huge monitors composed of nine identical screens arrayed 3 x 3, and the monitor on the left has nine identical McCain faces talking but the one on the right has just one big McCain face cut into nine separate squares, and every ft2of the nauseous lobby is occupied by wildly supportive South Carolinians, and it’s 95º at least, and the whole thing is so sensuously assaultive that all the media except Jim C. and the techs turn around and listen facing away, most drinking more than one cup of coffee at once).

These descriptions brought to mind Robert Burns poem “To a Louse” :

Ha! whaur ye gaun, ye crowlin ferlie?
Your impudence protects you sairly;
I canna say but ye strunt rarely,
Owre gauze and lace;
Tho’, faith! I fear ye dine but sparely
On sic a place.

Ye ugly, creepin, blastit wonner,
Detested, shunn’d by saunt an’ sinner,
How daur ye set your fit upon her-
Sae fine a lady?
Gae somewhere else and seek your dinner
On some poor body.

Swith! in some beggar’s haffet squattle;
There ye may creep, and sprawl, and sprattle,
Wi’ ither kindred, jumping cattle,
In shoals and nations;
Whaur horn nor bane ne’er daur unsettle
Your thick plantations.

Now haud you there, ye’re out o’ sight,
Below the fatt’rels, snug and tight;
Na, faith ye yet! ye’ll no be right,
Till ye’ve got on it-
The verra tapmost, tow’rin height
O’ Miss’ bonnet.

My sooth! right bauld ye set your nose out,
As plump an’ grey as ony groset:
O for some rank, mercurial rozet,
Or fell, red smeddum,
I’d gie you sic a hearty dose o’t,
Wad dress your droddum.

I wad na been surpris’d to spy
You on an auld wife’s flainen toy;
Or aiblins some bit dubbie boy,
On’s wyliecoat;
But Miss’ fine Lunardi! fye!
How daur ye do’t?

O Jeany, dinna toss your head,
An’ set your beauties a’ abread!
Ye little ken what cursed speed
The blastie’s makin:
Thae winks an’ finger-ends, I dread,
Are notice takin.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!