McPhersonville’s Moment in the Sun

On March 22, 2014, Wikipedia (the world’s sixth most trafficked website) featured “Burning of McPhersonville” as its “Picture of the Day,” prominently displayed on its front page. I’ve posted a screen capture below (click the image to see a larger, linked version):

burnmcpherThis was a jaw-dropping surprise for me to see, since McPhersonville is the teeny, tiny, remote, no longer incorporated Low Country South Carolina hamlet (we always call it “The Village”) where my ancestors have lived for generations and generations. (I am eleventh in line of descent from the first permanent English settler in South Carolina). One of the mentioned houses left standing during the burning of McPhersonville was, in fact, my family’s home at the time. (Though, in all fairness, they deserved to have it burnt down, too, as one of the largest slave-owning broods in the region. Just saying).

McPhersonville is so seemingly insignificant in the grand narrative of South Carolina that I actually had to be the one to create its Wikipedia page, on April 13, 2006. The only image I included in that original page was the William Waud sketch of the burning shown at left above, which all these years on has risen in stature to being named a Wikipedia Picture of the Day. Huh!

If you follow me on my Facebook page, then you’ve actually been looking at McPhersonville regularly for quite some time, since I use the following topo map as my cover image:


I particularly love this map (found online), because right next to “downtown” McPhersonville, someone has hand annotated a surveying benchmark with the legend “Cocock.” Presumably, this is a misspelling of “Colcock,” the name of my mother’s mother’s family who owned this land all the way back to pre-Revolutionary days.

Cool and cool again!

Ten Years

Ten years ago today, I traveled to Beaufort, South Carolina to see My Dad for the last time, after he had been critically injured by an elderly driver who had no business being behind the wheel of a car. My Dad was in the same hospital where I had been born almost 40 years earlier. He was not conscious when I arrived, and he never regained consciousness, though I was there with him when he left the troubles of this world behind and flew away, which is important.

He passed away a couple of days after his beloved North Carolina State Wolfpack stomped my alma mater Navy’s football team by a score of 65 to 19. That was okay, though. I like the Wolfpack, too. He watched the game from his hospital bed. The last time that we spoke, by phone, we talked about the game, through his morphine fog. I’m glad he got to see it.

It was important to me that the last words he heard from me on that phone call were “I love you.” We’re one of those families that ends pretty much every conversation with those words, because you never know what tomorrow might bring. In this case, tomorrow brought something awful, so having said that made a big difference.

The image above is a memorial that my Mom placed in The Beaufort Gazette, since My Dad’s buried in the National Cemetery there, and he had so many friends in the area who we know will like to see it. The top image on the Wikipedia page for Beaufort National Cemetery is one that I took just after My Dad’s funeral. His grave is the fresh one right below and to the left of the big live oak in the middle of the photo.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been ten years since I took that photo. Some days, it seems like a lifetime ago, since so much has changed since then — but other times, it feels like yesterday, since I remember it all so vividly, down to the tiniest details that usually fade with time.

I miss him terribly, and think about him daily. And, thus, the public service announcement that I make pretty much anytime I mention him online: if you know an elderly or infirm driver who is no longer capable of safely operating a motor vehicle, you really need to help him or her transition to a non-driving state. Now. The man who killed My Dad walked away with a sprained wrist, while our lives were irrevocably changed, forever, for the worse. You don’t want to be responsible for doing that to somebody else’s family.

Take the keys when it’s time to do so. Please.

Where The Sour Turns to Sweet

1. We went to the Iowa State Fair last week, along with over a million other paying guests who were drawn to Des Moines by the promise of live entertainment, rides, livestock and really appallingly unhealthy food. (Note: The population of the entire state of Iowa is just over three million people, for perspective on just what a huge draw this massive regional event is). We each decided that we would pick one appallingly unhealthy food, then share the fruits of our foraging. Katelin went with the foot-long, batter-dipped corn dog, I got the fried macaroni and cheese bites, and Marcia got the pork chop on a stick. We sucked those down (with beer), then decided that we needed some appalling desserts to chase them with. Marcia went for the salted nut roll dipped in chocolate, I went high-brow and got a roasted ear of corn lathered in butter with a side of bacon on a stick dipped in chocolate, and Katelin got a red velvet funnel cake on a stick. More beer was necessary to wash it all down, though much of the second course ended up in the trash cans, as we were overcome by collective lard shock midway through our treats. Here’s some of the photo evidence, to prove the gustatory horrors we endured in the name of experiencing the best of Iowa in all of its summer glory:

Marcia and Katelin are technically not livestock, so they were allowed on the sidewalks.

Katelin and her corn dog in the Iowa Craft Beer Tent.

The looks on our faces are caused by lard shock, I believe.

Red Velvet Funnel Cake on a Stick. Yes, you read that right. Red Velvet Funnel Cake on a Stick. Note powdered sugar explosion all over Katelin’s shirt.

Even in the name of research, we couldn’t bring ourselves to attempt this one.

2. I had placed St. Vincent’s album Strange Mercy high on my Best Music of 2011 Survey, and my belief that it’s a masterpiece was made even stronger when I saw the series of live videos Annie Clark (St. Vincent’s real name) made for 4 AD Records (her label, once home to some of my ’80s faves like Bauhaus, Cocteau Twins, Clan of Xymox and others) that add a whole ‘nother level of mystique and majesty to some of the album’s stronger songs. This video has four songs from the live set, and then there’s a fifth song here that for some reason didn’t get edited into the long form one. Really nicely done . . . and they’re high definition videos, so blow ’em up to full screen and enjoy! (Note: Annie Clark’s live drummer is Matt Johnson, who I once saw tear the roof of the sucker in Albany when he was a member of the mighty Jed Davis’ Jeebus).

3. I grew up hearing stories about the time that my Dad stole the Frogmore Frog and found himself branded as a felon on Paul Harvey’s national radio broadcast. This story had enough resonance beyond my own immediate family that a Low Country South Carolina author has written a book about it, complete with a confession from another one of the perps. One of the Marine Corps Lieutenants referred to in the article was my dad, and I laughed reading the story, because his memory of the Paul Harvey radio broadcast was almost word for word what’s reported here. (Note: Don’t bother trying to find Frogmore on a map . . . the Coastal Development Carpetbaggers who descended on Beaufort County’s Sea Islands in the 1980s decided that the town name wasn’t posh enough, so it was changed to St. Helena, after the island it’s located on. I don’t consider this to be progress).

Nine Facts, One Falsehood

1. I am tenth in direct line of descent from the first English settler of South Carolina.

2. I have been in the World’s Largest Truck Stop, in Walcott, Iowa.

3. I have broken 100 on a regulation golf course, once.

4. I have a lazy right eye and atrophy of two fingers on my left hand.

5. I used to go sailing with Oliver North.

6. Admiral Hyman G. Rickover yelled at me during commissioning ceremonies for the submarine named after him.

7. I used to play acey deucy late into the night with the NBA’s David Robinson.

8. My current house is the 26th one that I have lived in, to date.

9. I have visited the site of Alvin Straight‘s house, but it was burned down when I got there.

10. When I was in sixth grade, I could see the dome of Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary from my bedroom window.

So . . . which one is the lie?