I started typing this column to congratulate whoever’s in charge of picking the musical groups for Richmond Hill’s July 4 celebration and the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival. You know who you are.
It’s going to take me a minute to get there. That's because the other day a certain school board member asked me if I was from New York.
Startled, I asked where in blazes (I used a different word with fewer letters) that came from. Granted that just about every other person in this part of the world these days seems to hail from somewhere far above the Mason Dixon line, but I was still taken aback.
New York? Say what?
It stuck with me so much I told my wife when I got home that night. “A grumpy school board person asked me if I was from New York,” I said, sort of.
“Not hardly,” she said. “He must not know you.”
In fairness, my accent can sometimes defy description and make it hard to guess my roots.
That accent is the result of an Army brat upbringing on various Army posts from here to Alaska and Germany (and France, briefly) and then perhaps to my own Army travels. But make no mistake, I am an nth generation South Carolinian with roots dating back to the 1700s and proud of the fact.
Those who know me know this because I won’t shut up about it. This is partly because South Carolina, at least the part that is not Clemson, tends to lose things like war and college football games and I apparently tend to overcompensate with regard to the Palmetto state and its Gamecocks. Some guys drive big pickups to make up for other shortcomings in their lives, me, I talk up my home state.
Always have, even though for much of my early life South Carolina was a place people fled from rather than moved to. I was proof of that. My folks left the Upstate to seek a better life.
So it was I wound up a sixth grader on the first day of school at Barlett-Begich High and Middle School in Anchorage, Alaska. I answered the teacher who called roll by saying one word. “Here.”
The teacher looked up and asked me where I was from. I told him.
“I thought you were from the South,” he said, and then went on to say I talked pretty. That’s what I heard, anyway. It’s also what the whole class heard.
Now, this was about the time “Deliverance” was out and people thought all southerners were just like the characters you saw on Hee Haw. This also was before country was cool, as Barbara Mandrell put it somewhere right about the time country apparently became cool enough for her to say she was country before it was cool.
Note to teachers. You don’t tell a sixth grader he talks pretty in front of a room full of wound-up sixth graders on the first day of school and expect him to like it. Bottom line, I got teased incessantly. I think it convinced me I’d be better off not talking pretty in future.
And so I don’t. My own accent, which when it rears its head sounds miles different to me from, say, the rich baritone drawl of former Richmond Hill Mayor Richard Davis or the nasally thin pitch of the late great Frank Inman, or that high lonesome sound of the upper South. My speech is more nasally, with dashes of mountain and moonshine and cotton mill in it. My extra large cousins, who stuck largely to Pickens and Oconee counties, and whom I am tempted to invited down to a school board meeting so they can get on the agenda, speak it more fluently than I.
Now, to congratulate Richmond Hill and the Richmond Hill Chamber of Commerce on their good taste in music.
It starts with the Tams, who will perform during Richmond Hill’s July 4 celebration on Saturday at J.F. Gregory Park.
Sure they got their start in Atlanta, but the Tams are to my mind South Carolina beach music legends of the first order. They remind me of a portion of my misspent youth, this portion being back in the 1980s when I was up in Columbia at the University of South Carolina and would take a mix tape of Beach Music to parties and try to get somebody to play it.
Nowadays, even though I’m nearer 60 than 50 and have the Barney Rubble used car look to prove it, I still get a good feeling inside when I hear the late Joe Pope’s raspy vocals on “Silly Little Girl,” “Hey Girl Don’t Bother me,” and of course “Be Young, Be Foolish (But be Happy).” Truth is, the Tams could sing the words to a legal ad and it’d make you want to head to the nearest salt water and shag your shoes off.
Sadly, I’ll miss the concert. By then I’ll be heading back from Hilton Head Island after an abbreviated (couple days) vacation, starting tonight. My wife’s been up there all week, but that’s ok. For what it’s worth, I am not a fan of Hilton Head, which is crowded and touristy and overrun with people who apparently think South Carolina is a county in Ohio.
Some have gone so far as to take the South Carolina state flag symbols - the sabal palmetto and crescent - and incorporate them onto bumper stickers and window decals and flags and so on. Perhaps imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s kind of like someone took the words to “Georgia” and slid “Cleveland Browns rule” in there.
Here, let me stress that I know many good people from Ohio, including my American Legion friend Ernie Mitchell. There are none finer than Ernie.
That said, the sheer onslaught of Buckeyes on South Carolina has led one entrepreneur in Charleston, SC, to market t-shirts saying “Make Charleston Great Again,” on the front and “Build the Wall and Make Ohio Pay for It,” on the back.
I suspect he’ll sell a few shirts. I know my dad wants one.
I also suspect the GOSF will sell more than a few tickets in October. That’s when the Marshall Tucker Band will headline the Great Ogeechee Seafood Festival.
The Marshall Tucker Band is from Spartanburg, S.C.,which happens to be my mom’s hometown, though she later moved to Anderson. I’ve long been a fan, the state had only one area code (803) and because the late Toy Caldwell is a native son wounded in Vietnam. The Hutchings- Caldwell Detachment of the Marine Corps League in Spartanburg is named partially in honor of Caldwell and his brother, Tommy, who also served. Vietnam veterans don’t get the love they deserve.
But mainly, it’s because of the music. There’s something about Marshall Tucker that’s quintessentially South Carolina to me.
One more thing. Given that Bryan County is named after a South Carolinian, I’m hoping the folks who decide such matters will keep the Palmetto State in mind for next year’s GOSF. After all, I hear Hootie and the Blowfish are touring again.