Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Exceptional People in a One-Horse Town, Part V

Sixth in a series, capturing the essence of exceptional people I have had the honor, pleasure, and privelege of knowing in my hometown. If you are lucky, you have known some similar people yourself.

I can't remember when I first met Earl. It may have been when he brought one of his boys, now grown men, to the clinic. But, I did not get to know Earl until he started taking care of my pool. For you see, Earl owns and operates the local swimming pool company, a family affair. For years I enjoyed, or at least told myself that I enjoyed, caring for our pool. I would get home from work, grab a cigar and a beer, and head out to the back yard to skim, vacuum, empty the leaf baskets, backwash the filter, etc. The funny thing is, I hardly ever got in the pool. I just maintained it. Many cigars and beers later, after my kids were grown and gone, I had even less reason to be out by the pool. I found myself getting way behind in the pool chores and ended up with a green mess. It was so bad that one of my partners suggested that I get some aquatic plants and fish and convert it into a fish pond. My bride nixed that plan.

Then I had bright idea. Why not hire the pool company to get the mess straightened out and them resume the upkeep myself? I called, Earl & boys promptly came, and did such a stellar job getting the pool back up to a pristine condition that I inquired about how much regular service would cost. The answer was very reasonable, probably in the ballpark of what I was paying for cigars and beer. We made a handshake deal on the spot.

Over the years I have gotten to know Earl and his family, good folk all. The family is the backbone of a local volunteer fire department. The boys, in addition to keeping up the pool service with Earl, are members of the Sheriff's Department. On the side they use their backhoe, installing septic tanks. That is one hard-working clan.

Somehow I found out that Earl was a cancer survivor. He surely did not tell me, for such is not in his nature. He did not complain or dwell on it, even though things were not going so well for him. He repeatedly went back and forth to Duke University Medical Center for therapy and surgery. I only found out about this because sometimes the boys would come to clean the pool without Earl, and when I inquired about Earl, they would simply reply, "He's back up at Duke again".

When I, myself, became a cancer survivor, the bond between Earl and me was strengthened. He would inquire about how I was doing. Thankfully, I could, and still can, answer that I am doing fine. I would do the same. Now that we were fraternity brothers in a fraternity no one wants to join, Earl felt comfortable in opening up to me. He never complained. But, he was not ignorant of his situation. Time and again he would experience setbacks, get another round of therapy, and would rally, although never "cured". Although his was a stormy path, he never said, "Why me?". He would get out of Duke and be back at the job the next day. One day when he really looked washed out and was out back tending to the pool, I asked him why he did not stay home and get rested. He answered, "I have to keep on living". Man, does Earl love life, and he has kept on living. Between his stays at Duke and his work, Earl travels. He loves to go to the beach and the mountains. He and his wife took an Alaskan cruise a year or so ago. He loves riding his motorcycle and attending biker events with his wife.

At the time of last fall's local Relay for Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, Earl was once again hospitalized at Duke. He had been honored for his inspiration to others at the Kickoff Banquet for the Relay. There was no way he was going to miss the event. He insisted on being discharged, even if only for a day, to participate. He was suffering from nausea and lack of appetite, requiring medication. He was weak. But he was smiling his famous smile. At the time for the Survivor's Lap, I told Earl that I would go get him a wheelchair. "No Way," he said, "I'm going to walk that lap, but I may have to lean on your arm." So off we went, walking together, side by side, two brothers in the bond. Earl made it around the track without assistance. People who had gathered along the fence would, upon seeing Earl, applaud loudly, whistle, shout, and call his name. For such is Earl's inspiration to all the survivors, families, friends and supporters gathered together that glorious day.

In the months since the Relay, Earl's condition has deteriorated. Treatments no longer have a beneficial effect. He was in constant pain. He had stopped doing the things he loved to do. A couple of months ago he was enrolled with Hospice. He has proved that "Hospice is not about dying, it's about living". With adequate pain management Earl has resumed his traveling ways. He has been back to his mountains. He has taken several trips to the beach. He even managed to attend this year's Biker Week at Myrtle Beach.

He continues to inspire. Go, Earl, Go!

Monday, May 29, 2006

Exceptional People in a One-Horse Town, Part IV

Fifth in a series. As I have written this series of posts about "exceptional" people, I am cognizant of the fact that some will read these and think, "These are not really 'exceptional' people, in fact, they are rather 'ordinary' folks. Sports 'heroes', movie & television 'stars', politicians, media personalities,... those are the truly 'exceptional' people". I guess it just depends upon one's definition of "exceptional". I'll stick with mine.

To say Winnie is a "domestic" or a "cleaning lady" is to tell the truth, but not "the whole truth, so help me God". I'll get one thing out of the way right now. She does a real good job straightening up and cleaning the house. She does the litttle things, the often overlooked things, that adds the icing to the cake. And, while she does not like to do ironing, she does it in a pinch and does it well. But that is not why I think she is exceptional, so no more space will be devoted to this.

Winnie is a "Hoot". She always makes me laugh, or at least smile a lot. She is one of those personalities that is bigger than life. More than a breath, but a gale-force wind of fresh air. I look forward to the days when I am off and she is scheduled to work. If my day has started off bad for some reason, my "down" mood is no match for Winnie's intrusion. With her comes a bright beam of sunlight that brightens up the darkest of days. Abby, my little Boston terrier, is a good judge of human character, and she runs around in circles and seems as happy as a hog in mud when Winnie arrives.

Now Winnie is a Yankee. She kinda ruins my sterotype of Yankees. She is also a retired employee of the U.S. Postal Service, rather destroying another of my sterotypes. I kid her that I know she was fired and did not retire, because she was ruining the hard-won reputation of the USPS's "service". I don't think any present USPS employees need fear that Winnie will get a Mac-10 or Uzi and pay them a visit. "Disgruntled"is not a word that pops to mind when thinking about Winnie.

Winnie moved south, while still a postal employee to be nearer some family members, including a son who was living in the area. Upon retirement, she sought employment in the area of domestic services. She began working for a friend of my mothers. The friend recommended Winnie to my mother, who employed her and then recommended Winnie to us. That was our lucky day.

Winnie is one of the most caring, compassionate, selfless, generous persons I have ever known. Among her clientele are several elderly widows. She watches over her brood like a mother hen. Winnie goes that extra mile to cater to their needs. She takes them shopping or shops for them. She takes them to their doctor's appointments. She brings them (and us) surprise gifts. She visits them at home or when they are in the hospital. She calls to check up on them and makes sure they are doing OK. She checks on our house when we are out of town, volunteering to take in the mail and feed the cat on a daily basis, explaining that she will be going by the neighborhood anyhow, so it is no trouble. Reluctantly, she sometimes accepts a tip for these additional services. But, she does not do it for the money. She cares about them and about us.

Winnie is an active member of her church. She lives the Christian life. She epitomizes the saying, "If you are a Christian, act like one...You may be the only Bible some folks will ever see".

A devoted family person, she thinks nothing of jumping in her car and driving to New York and back to check on her elderly mother. Often she makes the round trip over a weekend. Round-trips to Atlanta to check on her son and dote on her grandchild are also a regular occurances in her life. She gives and gives and gives of herself.

I am very thankful that this remarkable, caring woman entered into our lives.

Wedding Distractions

My bride and I have been to three weddings recently, one every other weekend, involving the children of our friends. The three have all been very nice, enjoyable affairs. The brides all beautiful, the grooms all beaming. But all three have been different. The services have been meaningful and the receptions outstanding in every respect.

The first was held on a beautiful, pleasantly cool, cloudless Saturday afternoon in the bride's immaculately landscaped backyard adjacent to the eighth fairway and green of the local country club. The reception was held under a large tent erected on the premesis. It was a first-class affair, but the least formal of the three. There were no distractions from golfers, since the eighth hole had been closed for the duration of the wedding activities. There was no "Fore" during the vows.

The second, with surronding events, was the most formal of the three. It was a High Episcopalian/Anglican service. The reception was held at the North Carolina Country Club in Pinehurst.

The third, held at our local church, a Presbyterian service, was more formal than the first, less formal than the second, somewhere in between. Beautiful music provided by the organist and a violinist, including "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "The Lord's Prayer". The father of the groom, an ordained lay minister in the Presbyterian Church USA, participated in the service. He delivered The Scripture Reading (1 Corinthians 13: 1-13) and the Wedding Meditation. It was quite a moving moment to observe. It was a wonderful wedding ceremony.

(Note to Tom, the self-proclaimed "Presbyterian Worship Nerd": The service did not contain an Affirmation of Faith...I asked our Associate minister, who was sitting with us, what was the position of the Church re: using an Affirmation of Faith in a wedding service, and she said that some families chose to include it while others do not.)

The reception, with delicious food and drink, was held at the scenic lakeside Belk Center on the campus of St. Andrews Presbyterian College, where the mother of the groom is employed. It was a festive affair, and as is often stated in the society pages of the local hometown newspaper or the church newsletter, "A good time was had by all".

But, this is about Wedding Distractions. What distractions? Well, if the latest wedding had not been held at my home church, and if I were not on the Worship Committee that helped draft the Wedding Policy, I may not have noticed. But, since it was, and since I am, then I did notice. The policy clearly states that flash photography is fobidden during weddings, and this includes the professional photographer employed to chronical the event. This information is furnished to the families of the bride and the groom. We have an audio-visual system with two cameras and several microphones to record all worship services, weddings, and funerals. Flashes interfere with the auto settings of the video cameras. Plus, it is a Worship Service, not a rock concert or sporting event.

First I noted the flashes of cameras coming from various parts of the church, like you see from the stands at the Super Bowl or a night-time NASCAR race, as if the flash will go further than about 9 - 10 feet. Next, I heard the repetitive, distinctive, plastically annoying, raspy grinding sound as the thumb-driven wind buttons of disposable cameras were activated, followed by more flashes. Just as the bride's procession began, the professional photographer jumped in and backpedaled in front of the bride and her father, flashing away...almost falling... and finally pushing his way into a pew, nearly knocking down a guest whose eyes, at that time, were focused on the bride. Then the man sitting just in front of me, held up a digital camera blocking my view. When he took a picture, and a flash emitted from his camera, I could not contain myself. I gently tapped him on the shoulder and informed him that flash photography was not allowed in the sanctuary during services. He must have thought I was crazy, since there were other flashes going on at that very time. That's what I mean about distractions. I guess we will have to resort to putting a "No Flash Photo" logo on the wedding bulletins.

Then there was the toddler held in a parent's lap on the back row, who did his best to compete with the minister's Greeting and Opening Prayer. I surmise that the parent took the child out of the sanctuary after this, since I did not hear him/her after this, and I cannot imagine such a chatty toddler suddenly becoming quite and staying so for the rest of the service.Unless, of course, the parent stuffed something in his/her mouth. Why do parents do this? Another logo needed?

Finally, there is the applause. I guess it is acceptable, and really not a distraction, since it is so common after the minister introduces the couple as Mr. & Mrs. ------- ------ for the first time. Must be the Presbyterian in me, a member of the "Frozen Chosen" who do everything in order; but I feel uncomfortable clapping during any worship service. I appreciated the "No Applause" notice in the second wedding bulletin. Felt much more comfortable.
Perhaps the above with a cross hatch would get the massage across

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Another One Will Finally Bite the Dust...At Last

Well, at long last they are going to tear down "old" Scotland Memorial Hospital, located in the middle of town, a block and a half from my house and a half block from my office. This "old" SMH replaced the even older community hospital located in the WW II era military hospital at the abandoned Army Air Corps Glider Base located about five miles outside of town.

It was built in the early 1950's, partly financed with Federal Hill-Burton funding, which at that time forbade air-conditioning such facilities that received that funding. Boy, was that a stupid stipulation in the South, typical of the Feds. With the addition of some air-conditioning and a series of modest renovations it served the community well until 20 years ago when Scotland Memorial Hospital built a new larger facility on a campus on the south side of town. Since that time the "new" Scotland Memorial Hospital (aka Scotland HealthCare Systems, Inc.) has undergone several additions, including the addition of more operating rooms; an Outpatient Surgery Center; a Woman's Center with an enlarged newborn and Level II Nursery; a Cancer Treatment Center with Medical and Radiation Oncology Services; Outpatient Specialty Clinics for visiting sub-specialists from Duke; and the newest in Imaging Services, including CT Scanning and MRI. The latest addition is the new huge state-of-the art Emergency Department upgrade, the first phase of which will become operational next week.

"Old Scotland Memorial Hospital" holds many memories for me, some happy, others sad. I was myself hospitalized there at age 14 with mononucleosis. I was stiched up in the old ER more than once. My paternal grandfater and favorite great-uncle, both in their 90's died there from pneumonia, "the old man's friend", after having fallen and suffered hip fractures. Those were the days before artificial hip replacements. My maternal grandmother, "Big MaMa" - all 5 feet of her - died there in the ICU at age 83, after suffering a heart attack several hours before she died. I can still remember being in her room, tears running down my cheeks after the doctor talked to us, showed her EKG to us and, when I inquired about what if showed, the reply was, "that's a dying heart". I was there to comfort her, but she, in her dying moments, comforted me and my Mom.

My daughter, Miss Em, was born there, delivered by a good friend and professional colleague. During my bride's labor, UNC was playing Kentucky in the Eastern Regionals of the NCAA tournament. There were no TV's in the labor rooms. She, the big UNC fan, would make me go out into the lobby between contractions and check on the score. That suited me fine. We had done the Lamaze thing, but even as a physician, I was not prepared to witness my bride's suffering during the labor of childbirth. I felt completely helpless and ineffective in relieving her discomfort, spelled PAIN! A man's place is in the waiting room, not the delivery room. Miss Em finally arrived. She continues to this day to be well worth my feelings of unworthiness and ineptitude on that day.

The close proximity of the "old" SMH to my home and my office made my "commute" to work a "breeze", and I literally mean a "breeze". I often walked or rode my bike. No hastle finding a parking place in the crowded parking lots.

Professionally, I have had great successes and some losses. At a wedding this weekend I saw a young man headed for Harvard Business School. As a newborn infant he developed Group B Strep sepsis, a lethal baby killer. I was on duty and was fortunate enough to make the right diagnosis and prescribe the correct treatment to cure him. I vividly remember calling his father that night and telling him that he needed to come to the hospital because I needed to talk to him and his wife. His question: "Is it serious, Doc?" My reply, and I'll never forget it: "If it were not serious, I would not be here at 3 o'clock in the morning". He wasted no time in getting to the hospital. Others in the wedding party were also successful survivors of serious, even life-threatening, illnesses managed by me and my partners. These successes and others, these lives saved, are the rewards of Pediatrics.

But, there are also the tragedies. I am still haunted by the memory of the toddler who died of Staph "Scalded skin" sepsis despite my best efforts. I'll never forget the young patients who succumbed to acute lymphoblastic leukemia, now an almost 100% curable illness. Nor will I forget the incident with the sick newborn who was dying before my eyes, and there was nothing more I could do for him. I found myself saying "God damn it" one minute and "God help me" the next. Later, after the infant had died, I took the opportunity to discuss the situation with my minister, a very wise and learned man. I asked him what he thought of such opposite, juxtaposed expressions. His simple reply: "They were both prayers".

I continued my profession at the new hospital. But, we did not relocate our office to the high-rent district surrounding the new hospital. We stayed put, and have even enlarged our own facilities. Meanwhile, the "old" SMH building was allowed to fall into a state of complete disrepair. The grounds were not maintained. It was sold and resold several times to different absentee landlords who professed plans to convert the facility into several types of facilities, such as an apartment complex or a retirement community...pipe dreams all. The building really did not lend itself to any such project. It as built as a hospital with rebar reinforced contiguous concrete flooring and walls. Plus there was a lot of asbestos, making renovations cost prohibitive. It was the consensus around here that these corporations never really planned any such renovations, but rather purchased the building and then re-sold it to serve as a corporate tax loss of some kind.

Not only did the "old" SMH become a giant eyesore, it became a dangerous place, attracting young thrill seekers and the local population of dope smokers. Not conducive to the maintaining of property values in the neighborhood, my neighborhood. So, several years ago a movement started to purchase the property with the goal of tearing down the building and seeking a new tenent to build on and enhance the property.

With a combination of local private donations, coupled with some private foundation and governmental grants, the project came to fruition early this year. But, there was one last hurdle to jump. In order to secure the governmental grants, the building had to be cleared by the State and Federal Historical Commissions. Look at the building, it's ugly 1950's utilitarian institutional architecture. Review the brief history. Its not suitable for any other use. Why would it even be considered for the State or Federal Historic Registry, but it was. Finally, within the past month this last hurdle has been cleared. Chain link fencing has been erected around the site (which should have been done years ago) and the demolition company's sign is in place. The real work of demolition is supposed to begin within the next week of so.

The site will be cleared to make way for the local community college's new health-related education center, featuring a school of nursing and various medical-related technical programs. So, it seems our decision to keep our office at its present location will turn out to be a wise decision in the long run. Such a new modern educational institution will be good for my neighborhood also.

It's about time!

Thursday, May 25, 2006


Few good things have come out of Georgia. Peaches? Edgefield County, South Carolina produces more peaches than the entire state of Georgia. "The Peach State" my eye! How about those "el foldo" Atlanta Braves; or the"Close but No Cigars" Falcons; or the "Are Not, Never Were, and Never Will Be" Hawks? President Jimmy Carter? I'm talking about good things here. CNN was a good thing at one time. The University of Georgia has produced one good thing, its mascot UGA.

(Sidebar: Reminds me of a story: Two Georgia football fans were attending a game. They meandered down to the playing field during halftime and went over to see UGA. At that particular time UGA was licking himself, as dogs often tend to do. Fan # 1: "Hey, I sure wish I could do that." Fan # 2: "That dog would bite Yoooou"...Thanks to the late Lewis Grizzard ...One good thing out of Moreland, GA.)

But, to give credit where credit is due, Georgia has given us Coca-Cola and the sweet, delicious Vidalia Onion. Coca-Cola did stump its toe when it introduced the new Coke Classic a couple of years ago, but overall it has been a good product, an icon of modern western civilization, like it or not. Hate to admit it, but I prefer it to my own state's product, Pepsi-Cola, while many say they can't tell any difference between the two. I now prefer Caffeine Free Diet Coke, but feel foolish that I am really purchasing dark colored, sweetened carbonated water. I don't feel quite so foolish now that I see folks paying more for plain old bottled water, and even more for plain old flavored bottled water. (I would love to go to one of those bottled water plants and see what faucet that water really does come from)

But, I digress. It's "Vidalia Onion Days" again. It only lasts a short time in the spring of the year. Our high school band booster's club sells them every spring. Their product is good and freshly delivered from the special area of Georgia, so I have been a regular customer for a few years. I usually order ten pounds for ten dollars. Although these sweet delicacies don't keep as well as your ordinary generic onions, and I may have to throw out the last two or three, it is money well spent. For the next couple of weeks I will be preparing and eating my year's quota of onions.

(Sidebar: Storage...put the Vidalia onions in a nylon stocking, with a knot between each onion. Hang in a cool place. When onion needed, cut off the bottom onion.)

Some folks peel them and eat them like apples, I don't go that far.

Sliced: On juicy hamburgers, or Bologna & Cheese or Bar-B-Q Sandwiches.

Chopped: On Hot Dogs. In Soups and Stews. In Spaghetti Sauce. In Salads.

Rings: (1)Soaked in Milk for 30 Minutes, Lightly Dredged in Flour/Salt/Pepper to produce Thin Coating and Deep Fried in Vegetable Oil, not overcooked. (2) Four Vidalia Onions Marinated with 1/2 cupVegetable Oil, 3 oz. Crumpled Blue Cheese, 2 Tbs. Lemon Juice, 1 tsp Salt, 1/2 tsp Sugar, Dashes of Seasoned Salt, Pepper, & Paprika...Refrigerated for at least four hours, to produce "Scotland High School 'Wilt Your Kilt' Cheese Marinated Onions"...They really get great after a few days of marinating...(Don't go out in public after enjoying these)

(Sidebar: Scotland High School is in Scotland County, which has a large population of persons of Scottish descent. There are more Mc's and Mac's in the phone book than the Smiths and Joneses combined. The athletic teams are "The Fighting Scots"...and no one has come forward to protest that the nickname is ethnically or culturally insensitive. The award winning high school band wears authentic Kilts, imported from Scotland as its uniform. Hence, "Wilt Your Kilt".)

Quartered, Using the Microwave: Topped with Butter or Butter & Bar-B-Q Sauce or a Can of Cream of Mushroom Soup and microwaved until the onions are soft...not too long.

Gotta go. Need to make some more "Wilt Your Kilt" onions. I'm not planning to go out anywhere today or tomorrow and am not expecting company.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Exceptional People in a One-Horse Town, Part III

This is the forth in a series of an unknown number of articles highlighting a little piece of Americana. The people to be featured in this series of blog postings are just a few of the exceptional people I have the honor of knowing in my home town.

III-A: John, a very exceptional person, is the subject of a previous posting: "My Best Friend John".

III-B: Walter is a gentleman. An honorable man. A good Christian man. For years the treasurer of his church. A devoted family man. About the only person, outside my family, who has access to a key to my house, and to the home of my mother as well.

A retired textile supervisor, he enjoys doing yardwork and gardening. It is now his vocation as well as his hobby. I was lucky to have found him shortly after I moved back to my home town. He was helping out a handful of people, doing yardwork, on a part-time basis then. Now, many years later, he still helps me keep my yard presentable to the neighborhood. His mastery of his skills is extraordinary. If Walter would plant a stick in the ground, it would sprout leaves and grow. His own yard is a showplace of a wide variety of shrubs, and flowering plants, most of which he started from clippings from the many yards he has tended over the years. These perenials are augmented yearly by the tasteful addition of a variety of annuals, giving even more color and flair. It has won the local Chamber of Commerce's "Yard of the Month" Award for its design and sheer beauty. Walter is not a selfish person. In my yard are many plants that the started at home, nurtured until they were ready for transplanting, and then brought them here and planted them in just the right spot. Walter has offered his expertise to the city. Many of the public parks feature beautiful azaleas lovingly planted by Walter over the years.

Walter's garden is a cornucopia of culinary delights that he gladly shares. Summer brings home-grown tomatoes (nothing like them), squash, cucumbers, and the piece de resistance, Silver Queen Corn, the best sweet white corn on the face of the earth. In the fall, after the first frost, of course, to ensure the maxminum sweetness of the harvest, we gather many heads of collards. These we prepare, enjoying some right away and freezing a large quantity for future use.

I love my time spent with Walter. He has interesting stories about growing up on a farm in a neighboring county. He still owns land there, farmed by others. He is a proud U.S. Army veteran, having served his country in North Africa and Italy in W.W. II. He has tales of these experiences also. He is also quite a social commentator, decrying the lack of work ethic and interest in education so prevalent in many of the youth in his home town. It mystifies him.

As evident from the fact that he is a veteran of W.W. II, Walter is no spring chicken. He is 83 years old, always reminding me that he was born on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Armistace Day. His eyesight has failed some, due to glaucoma, such that he can no longer drive. He would gladly walk to my house to work, and has done so on occasions when I was detained at work, but it is my pleasure to pick him up and visit during the drive to my house. So I try to arrange my schedule to be able to get him. Working in the yard with him is a pleasure. But, his productivity falls off some, as does mine when we work together, because we both love to talk. And, talking does not get the job done.

Walter has slowed down some. He sometimes forgets to put the tools away when he leaves. Sometimes, due to his failing eyesight, he misses a patch of lawn when mowing or misses a weed or two when cleaning out the flower beds. No big deal. I have 20 years on him, so I pull out the mower or pull out the remaining weeds and finish the task that is 99+ % completed. He no longer works, "Thank you Jesus", when he deems it too hot or too cold for outdoor activity. But, he still gives me more than my money's worth every day he visits my yard.

So, as long as Walter wishes, he will be welcome to come to my yard and be reimbursed for his time, whether it is to pursue his passion for plants and yardwork, or simply sit back in a yard chair, drink some ice water or sweet iced tea, and enjoy the beauty of the years of his handiwork. For this exceptional man is more than a yardman, he is a dear friend, like part of the family.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Exceptional People in a One-Horse Town, Part II

This is the third in a series of an unknown number of articles highlighting a little piece of Americana. As previously stated, "one must not necessarily live in a major metropolitan center to meet some really exceptional people. There may be a gazillion such people in such a city, but how many do you really get to know well. The people to be featured in a series of blogs are just a few of the exceptional people I have the honor of knowing in my home town".

Last Sunday afternoon I attended the senior organ recital by Clay, an organ student, who is a friend I have known all his life. The recital, or concert which is a better description, was magnificent. Clay played difficult classical compositions from the baroque and the romantic eras, featuring selections by Brahms and Bach. He appeared to play them with ease. He also showed his versitility by playing organ pieces by modern composers, such as Locklear, Professor of Organ at Wake Forest University. In addition, he sang "The Lord's Prayer", while accompanied by himself. He had previoulsy played and recorded the number on the organ, which has this feature so organist can record themselves and then listen to the performance, to check registration, tone, volume, etc.

Two weeks previously I had been in that same church sanctuary to witness Clay being awarded his Eagle Scout Award. For you see, Clay is not a college senior, but rather is just completing high school.

Clay has been studying the organ for only two years, taking lessons from a professor of organ music at nearby U.N.C. Pembroke. The professor had never taken on a high school student and was dubious. She handed him the "Red Book", the difficult, college level introduction to organ, and told him that when, and if, he mastered that, she would consider taking him on as a regular student. Most college organ students take a semester to finish the "Red Book", and some require a full year to do so. Clay had finished that introductory exercise in just two months. His professor said that students like Clay come along very rarely and is the type of student that keeps her wanting to keep on teaching. In her remarks she further stated that some of the compositions that Clay performed were those usually done by college senior or graduate school organ students.

Clay is a very gifted musician/entertainer. He has performed in numerous productions by his high school arts department and Encore Theater, the local little theater group. He regularly entertains at civic club functions and at Scotia Village, the Presbyterian Home facility located here.

But, he is not one dimensional. He is an honor student, having served as a class marshal at last year's high school graduation, chief marshal if I am not mistaken. He is ranked at the top of his class, and it will be interesting to see where he ranks at the upcoming graduation. He was also a member of the cross-country team.

Besides excelling in Boy Scouts, achieving its highest rank, he was also the recipient of the God & Country Award. At the same time he has been a member of and leader of the local 4-H chapter. Twice he has been to the national finals in an oratorical contest.

Following high school graduation Clay will be heading north, I almost choke writing this, to attend Harvard. Well, I guess that is better than staying in N.C. and attending that great Northern Institution of Higher Learning, Duke. At present he plans to study business with a goal of getting his MBA. But, he assured me he will continue his musical endeavors. I'm keeping the invitation to and the program of his senior recital. I am going to have them autographed. They could prove to be valuable some day.

Just proves that you do not have to be old to be an exceptional person in this One-Horse Town.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Exceptional People in a One-Horse Town, Part I-A

As previously stated, "one must not necessarily live in a major metropolitan center to meet some really exceptional people. There may be a gazillion such people in such a city, but how many do you really get to know well. The people to be featured in a series of blogs are just a few of the exceptional people I have the honor of knowing in my home town".

There was no way to have two first entries. This second entry, my MOM, also deserves top billing. So let's call this Part I-A. Mom, ususally "Ma" for short, is a wonderfully exceptional genteel Southern Lady, unfortunately a dying breed. At age 89 she has slowed down a little, but not much. I have no fear that she will "rust out", she'll "wear out" some day, perhaps after me. (Sidebar: I had a good picture of Mom, but she would die of embarrassment if she thought I were publishing it on the internet.)

We have all seen those syrpy sweet, sentimental Mother's Day Cards, Birthday Cards for Mother, Christmas Cards for Mother, etc., and thought, who could these cards possibly be intended for...they are talking about the perfect mother. Right, they are talking about my Mom. She brought me into this world, after a difficult labor due to my breech presentation, but has never said, a la Bill Cosby, "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out". However, she did believe in discipline. Usually a stern look or a good "talkin to" sufficed. But there were rare occassions when she made me or my brother go out back and pick our own switches and then go to our rooms and wait for her. To be honest, the waiting was the worse part. The "switchings" were mild in comparison. When urgency demanded swift retribution, an old black rubber fly-swatter (which never touched a fly) skillfully applied to the back of our legs, was the method of choice.

While educated for a clerical position, most of her adult, married life has been spent as a homemaker, par excellence. She mastered all the required skills of homemaker and motherhood. She was, and still is, and excellent cook and baker. I still have the pleasure of eating a deliciously prepared lunch at her house three days a week, unless, of course, she is on an outing with "the girls" or at a church circle meeting. Her "Big Mama's pound cake" and her pimento cheese are in demand by all who have tasted them. Nothing's better than a slice of her pound cake, toasted with butter on it and served with a cup of coffee. Toasted pimento cheese sandwiches, "Yum". Every fall we cook up a large mess (about ten or so large heads) of collards and freeze enough to get us through the year. Goes great with pork roasts or Eastern North Carolina type Bar-B-Q.

When I attended the church kindergarten program, she taught there. That enabled her to get out of the house and keep an eye on me at the same time. Smart woman, she.

For a time, while I was in upper elementary, high school, and college, besides being a homemaker, she owned and operated a gift shop. She also did some interior decorating and directed no small number of weddings. She has quite an artistic flair, which has been lost on me. Her home is well appointed, welcoming, and comfortable. Her decoupage boxes and plaques, as well as her works of needlepoint, embroidery, and Carolina cross-stich are beauties to behold. Those which she has made and presented to me are among my most valued possessions.

Mom, while a homemaker, was not, and is not a homebody. She traveled to Europe twice, visiting first my brother and then me when we were stationed in Germany with the Army. She still loves to travel, 0ften going with my bride and me to the beach, to The Outer Banks for our yearly excursions, and to Chicago, Miami, and Austin to visit our children. Our plans are to include her on future trips to Costa Rica to see our son and a hoped-for Alaskan cruise. As noted, she has slowed down some, but I bet we can convince her to go when the time comes.

Mom is, or was, a talented musician. Often, upon entering her house, you hear music of many genres (No Rap, No Heavy Metal) being played on her CD stereo system. Before the arthritis got bad in her hands she enjoyed playing the piano. For years she sang in the church choir, and was the featured soprano solosit for many of those years. That reminds me of a humorous incident that occured when my brother and I, high school students at the time, also sang in the choir. We had just gotten some new light colored choir robes. It was a Communion Sunday. If Mom warned us once, she warned us a hundred times not to spill the grape juice on the new robes, saying, "it won't come out, you know". Well, she was so intent on keeping her eyes on us that she completely missed her mouth with her small portion of grape juice, and it ran down the front of her new choir robe. And, she was right, it did not come out. We have told that story many times over the years.

She was also active in the community. She served three terms on the local city school board. When my brother and I were Cub Scouts, she was a Den Mother. She is active in our church, having served as a deacon and as an elder. She still attends services regularly. She was awarded a lifetime membership in the Women of the Church for her service to that organization.

As stated above, she is a true genteel Southern Lady. She values her God, her faith, her family, and her friends, in that order, above all else. She studies her daily Bible lessons faithfully. Nothing brightens up her day as much as a visit, a call, or mail from one of her grandchildren. She now has 5 great-grandchildren to dote upon, one of which was named for her. She enjoys reading, mostly light novels, but also has a DVD player to use with her NetFlix movies. Her TV fare is eclectic, ranging from PBS, especially re-runs of "The Lawrence Welk Show" to "Cops"..."Watcha Gonna Do?...Watcha Gonna Do?"

She thinks the Sterling silver should be used at meals, instead of being kept hidden away in a silver chest somewhere. She enjoys a good Scotch and water (single-malt preferred), an occassional beer, and rarely, a glass of wine. But the only time I have ever seen her "drunk" was when she was recently put on a medication for neuropathic pain, and it knocked her for a loop. I noticed she was staggering around the yard as she and her 83-year-old yardman were out hand-clipping some shrubbery away from the side of the house in anticipation of a painter coming to paint the house. We stopped the medicine!

She believes that acts of kindness or gifts should be acknowledged with a timely hand-written thank-you note. (Sidebar: Reminds me of the joke about why Southern Ladies don't like group sex...They don't like writing all the thank-you notes.) The ones she writes are personal, like poetry, with handwriting that still mimics caligraphy. While she enjoys a good joke (clean and otherwise), and her friends keep her supplied with an ample supply gleaned from e-mail and the internet, I have never heard profanity pass her lips.

That's my "Ma". A True Southern Lady...whose kind, regretfully, are going or have "Gone with the Wind". Another exceptional person in my little town.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Exceptional People in a One-Horse Town, Part I

One must not necessarily live in a major metropolitan center to meet some really exceptional people. There may be a gazillion such people in such a city, but how many do you really get to know well. The people to be featured in a series of blogs are just a few of the exceptional people I have the honor of knowing in my home town.

First, and foremost, there is my bride of almost 38 years. Putting up with me for that long is, in itself, a reason to be listed among the exceptional. She is a nurse. Appropriately enough she was a psychiatric nurse when we met. I guess that is what attracted her to me. She correctly diagnosed me as being just a little bit crazy. While I was in medical school she worked on the Clinical Research Unit of North Carolina Memorial Hospital, UNC, Chapel Hill. There she worked with kidney dialysis patients, when hemodialysis was in its infancy and the hemodialysis machines were the size of your average home washing machine. She was a member of the specialized medical team that took care of the first kidney transplant patients at NCMH-CH. She was a medical pioneer. During my internship/residency at Medical University of South Carolina, she continued her work on the dialysis unit and with kidney transplant patients there.

While I was in the Army in Germany for 3 years, when we went back to Chapel Hill for another year of residency, and after we moved back to my hometown, she pursued that most demanding and underappreciated occupation, being a full-time wife/mother, for several years. She also taught at our local church Kindergarten while our children were enrolled there. But, her main job was that of a housewife. However, her love for nursing beckoned, and she answered in a special way.

Over 20 years ago, she along with two other southern ladies had a dream, a vision…a Hospice Program for our community. No one around here had even heard of Hospice. Thus, twenty years ago the local not-for-profit Hospice was born on our back porch. She was the first, and for a period of time, the only Hospice employee (nurse, administrator, secretary, etc.). With the help of a small cadre of volunteers, United Way funding, and individual donations of money and second-hand office equipment, she made it go. Remember, these were the days prior to insurance and Medicare reimbursement for hospice services. The program was completely dependent on charitable contributions. Hospice had its infancy in a single upstairs room in our church’s Sunday school building and in the back of her station wagon.

Under her leadership and nurture as Executive Director, that single-employee enterprise has grown to a very successful not-for-profit Hospice now in competition with the newcomers, the for-profit Hospices. Its programs and services are available to people in need regardless of race, creed, religious preferences, or ability to pay. It now has over 60 employees, including nurses, a physician consultant, nurse's aides, psychologists, social workers, a chaplain, bereavement counselors, as well as the support, clerical, and administrative personnel. That once small cadre of volunteers now numbers in the hundreds. Continued local financial support from the community, much in the form of memorials and honorariums and support from the United Way, coupled with reimbursement for services in some cases, has enabled the Hospice program to offer new and expanded services. Each summer Camp Spinoza is conducted for children who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Counselors and social workers go to schools after tragic events. Speakers forums dealing with end of life issues are conducted. All the while extraordinary patient care continues on a day-to-day basis. Her Hospice program now serves our community as well as several surrounding counties in North and South Carolina, with an average daily census of over 100 patients. "HOSPICE CARES...It's not about dying, it's about living."

Hospice now occupies its own campus, Eaton Place (Named for Eaton Corporation whose Golf Pride Golf Grip Division is located here and is the major sponsor of the annual Hospice Golf Tournament-more later). On campus are the main Hospice office building and the recently completed six-bed Hospice Inpatient Unit, Morrison Manor.

All these facilities were fully funded before the groundbreakings. How? Generous local financial support from a grateful community. Foundation grants. And, the annual Eaton/Hospice Golf Tournament. That charity tournament alone has raised over 2 million dollars for the Hospice program over the last 20 years. This year's total exceeded $185,000. (The history of that golf tournament and the people who have made it succesful is worthy of a book, not simply a blog entry)

All this has been accomplished under the leadership of my bride, who still finds time for some good old-fashioned bedside nursing, wifery, and motherhood.

Nurse. Medical pioneer. Visionary. Administrator. Fund raiser. Wife. Mother. Dedicated daughter. Homemaker. Quite a remarkable person. And she lives in our little town. In fact, she lives right here. Lucky me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Crab/Shrimp Boil...As Promised by Kel de Texas

Must make some things completely clear from the beginning:

(1) When it comes to Southern Cooking, Soul Food and Country Cooking are synonymous. This fact may not be clear to those of you born and raised north of the Mason-Dixon line. Crab Boils, Shrimp Boils, Crawfish Boils, etc. have been favorites along the Southern coasts for years. Those critters don't know the ehnicity of the boilers.

(2) When I say "Shrimp/Crab Boil", I really mean Shrimp/Crableg boil, utilizing the long legs of crabs not really found in the South. The succulent meat of the indigenous blue crab, especially the backfin portion, is much too fine to be wasted in this simple recipe. They deserve their own entree or crab salad.

(3) In preparing this meal, as with most things in life, timing is most important. In fact, I have a friend who for years has had the vanity car tag "TYMING", as well as the e-mail address tyming@... to emphasise this important point. Different ingredients require different cooking times. Put all the the ingredients in the pot at one time and risk some items being under cooked (the potatoes) while others (especially the shrimp) are tough as shoe leather.

So let's begin:

For you who insist on adulterating this dish with Kilbasa Sausage, I have included the instructions for this, although I do not recommend its inclusion.

Ingredients: 1 bag of Zatarain's Crawfish, Shrimp & Crab Boil (Old Bay Seasoning for Seafood is a suitable substitute) ; Salt per box instructions; Kilbasa Sausage, one-two links / person (optional); Corn on the cob (1/2 to 1 ear /person); Shrimp (1/2 lb. per person) - even when we are at the beach we purchase the E-Z peel frozen Shrimp - 21 to 30 count per lb. - makes life much simpler; Crab legs (1 cluster / person); New potatoes [Oh where is Dan Quayle when I really need him?] (4 - 5 / person). Of course, you may increase amounts if you are feeding a bunch of gluttons; Large pot with 1 to 1 & 1/2 qt. water.

Add seasoning to water. Bring to a rolling boil. Salt per box instructions.

Time: 0:00 - W/ Kilbasa add them................W/O Kilbasa

0:10 - Add New Potatoes and gently boil....................0:00

0:30 - Add Crab Legs.....................................................0:20

0:42 - Add Corn on the Cob..........................................0:32

0:47 - Add Shrimp..........................................................0:37

0:50 - Remove from Heat/Steep..................................0:40

0:55 - Serve Hot.............................................................0:45

Be sure to have Texas Pete or generic hot sauce available for patrons.

Need lots of napkins, or better yet, rolls of paper towels.

Serve with cole slaw, cornbread (preferably fried Hushpuppies) & Sweet Iced Tea.

Dessert: Banna Pudding

It may not be Epicurean, but it sure is good.


Was channel surfing Monday night, looking for one of my favorite shows, anything with "Law & Order" in the title. Went to USA network, hoping to catch a rerun of "Law & Order - SVU". What should I behold, but the aged Terry Funk and Mick Foley going at it on "WWE's Monday Night Raw". It was pitiful to watch, so I shut down the tube and went back to the internet. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not an elitist. There was a time I enjoyed professional "rastlin" and could name most of the participants.

Back in the mid-late 1970's, when I was a young Jaycee, the club used to offer the local quarterly "fine arts series", featuring stars of the old, Charlotte, N.C. based, Jim Crockett, Jr.'s NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) franchise. These events were held at the high school football field, no matter the weather. They were usually scheduled around the first of the month to coincide with the government checks. Ensured a large gate. My task at these functions was to meet and greet the wrestlers and keep them company until it was their time to perform...and I was told by them it was a performance, but an athletic one. I surmised as much when I saw sworn enemies using the same dressing room and engaged in friendly conversations.

Back in those days the wrestlers traveled by car, but Big Cars. I fondly remember sitting in those cars or vans talking with the wrestlers. I met The Nature Boy, Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, and Black Jack Mulligan, among others. Those guys went out there and put on a show. They rastled, not talked. The shows started on time and ended exactly on time. What choreography. The locals got their money's worth. Those were the days.

Now the WWE is big business. Cable TV. Pay-for-View mega events. More talk than wrestling. More plots than the soap operas. More skin than vintage editions of Playboy (but not Penthouse). More gratuitous violence than gang warfare. I have completely lost interest. It's painful to imagine men my age up there in the ring trying to strut their stuff. Even the once-great Nature Boy (Picture credit: Scott Pon) is trying to hold on. But now, when I happen upon the WWE and see Ric Flair, the sight I behold is an out-of-shape older man who "whoops" and talks a lot, "styles and profiles", but wrestles very little and very ineffectively. SAD!

The only good thing to come out of the WWE lately is the comely Stacy Keibler, who performed so well on "Dancing with the Stars". What looks. What dancing talent. What legs. She was robbed. I did not even know she had been in the WWE's stable. I never saw her there. If I had, you better believe I would have remembered. I'm not that old, yet.

Much the same can be said about another great Southern institution that has gone big time and outgrown its pants, NASCAR. While abandoning its Southern heritage in the search of the almighty dollar, it has lost its soul. Smaller Southern tracks, the birth place of stock car racing, with proud histories have been left in favor of larger cookie-cutter speedways near large metropolitan centers. Real racing personalities have been replaced by bland "young guns" whom are hard to differentiate. Skillful, although sometimes aggressive, driving used to win a race. Now it earns a trip to the "penalty box" on pit row and later a meeting in the Chairman's office, coupled with a fine. Again, I have pretty much lost interest. I'm just glad that the late, great Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt, is not witness to any of this. SAD!