Ward and June and Wes and Sue

In some ways my childhood homelife
was not unlike the sit-com Cleavers’ –
we lived in a house in the USA with a yard, slept in beds, and ate  
          homecooked meals.
 
On the other hand, my mother didn’t wear pearls 
as she dumped overflowing ashtrays 
into a pedal-operated plastic receptacle, 
 
my father watching TV, cursing LBJ, baring his tobacco-stained teeth, 
much less restrained in the den than Ward in tie and cardigan,
turning the pages of the afternoon newspaper, which happily 
          we had in those days.
 
In fact, Ward and June never watched TV or talked politics.
He never held his boys down, arms pinned, to tickle them
as they laughed hysterically in anguished howls on the floor.
 
There were apparently no black people where the Cleavers lived,
no juke joints on the edge of town, no bootleg whiskey,
no Wilson Pickett records, no Muddy Waters, no mojo magic.
 
                               ***
 
Mr. Cleaver played golf; my father flew airplanes, 
performed snap rolls and loops and hammerhead stalls.
On rare occasions I accompanied him in the cockpit.
 
More often, though, I was down below, neck straining, 
calmly watching his daring acrobatics,
like the son of a trapeze artist who knows the act by heart.
 
It was an expensive hobby, but one well-suited to
an adrenaline junkie, paradoxically
terrified by the thought of undertow dragging him out to sea to drown.
 
Like the Cleavers, my parents never divorced,
Died, in fact, in the very same bed a decade apart,
Next to a window overlooking our overgrown lawn.
 
No tombstones bear the Cleavers’ names;
alive and well in reruns, they relive their lives
in thirty-minute arcs resolved with smiles.

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.

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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.