“Say Mama…”

Even though this is entirely based in my home in Charlotte, this is still an entry in the annals of “Life On The Road…” although this is a road that traveled only by one, at this point.

Let me begin by saying I’ve been reluctant to acknowledge publicly a situation in straight terms under the garish light of reality… but there is a truth that I’ve been operating under indirectly for the better part of five years, and under my roof for the last one. The truth is that, like a candle wick drawing on its last vestiges of wax, my mother’s memory is slowly exhausting itself. It’s something that has been coming on… but I didn’t really notice until October of 2017 when a tornado struck Spartanburg, less than a mile from her house, knocking out her power.

When that happened, I came down from Charlotte with my generator on my truck… and during that four day stay, I noticed that something was amiss. My mother is a very proud person, and as it goes, she had been hiding the fact that her recollection was diminishing for years before that… but she had relied on the love of friends to keep us in the immediate family from knowing.

And that, to be honest, was pretty easy to do. I never stayed with her more than a day or two, so I wouldn’t notice the little things that should have tipped me off. Now, there were hints. I’d often get a call from her saying someone had changed her computer login, and I’d have to ride from Charlotte to the Burg and figure out how to get her back in. It got to the point that it was taking a trip down every two to three days to get her logged on… a necessity because she was still holding down important functions in her church. Even so, I didn’t realize… or didn’t want to realize what was happening. A friend of hers had called me in June of that year, saying that I needed to look after her because she was forgetting things… but it still hadn’t sunk in, until that stay in October.

I’ll choose not to get into details, for I prefer preserving her dignity. Let me just revisit my early comment about a wick to bring us forward from that time.

Mama came to live with me a year ago, and since then she has maintained her joy for life and her amazing sense of humor even as her memory fades. Anyone who faces the agony of Alzheimer’s can tell you that you get used to things not remembered… but yet and still there remains things that are just about sacred between a loved one and yourself that keep you in the present, in the moment.

While I was a very young child, before the age of five, my mother was teaching in Rutherfordton and then Spartanburg. She left me in Wadesboro, just east of Charlotte, in the care of my grandmother and grandfather. I loved it when she would come home… but I got confused by the roles my grandparents were playing.

One time when she came home to Wadesboro, my aunt Fannie was there visiting from Fayetteville. When Mama arrived, I was happy to see her, but instead of calling her Mama, I called her “Dorothy” because I was calling my grandmother Mama. So, when I did that, my aunt tried to correct me… and it went kind of like this…

“Dorothy!” “Say Mama!” “Daaaaaaathy!” “Say MAMA!” “DAAAAAAAAATHY!”

They got a big kick out of it, and it became a running family joke, and over the years I’d say “DAAAATHY,” Mama would say “Say Mama!” and the giggling would commence. It never failed to get deep, hearty laughs from the both of us.

This morning, I went down to tell Mama that I was ready to fix breakfast, so I poked my head from behind her bedroom door.

“Daaaathy!” She laughed. “Daaaaathy!” She giggled again, louder and longer. “DAAAAAAAAAATHY!!!!,” I said this time in less of a joke but in a dawning sense of realization, almost desperation. “What’s wrong? You okay?” “Yes, Mama, I’m fine.”

These things are to be expected, and they are milestones along a road that does not beckon with a sign of welcome. Some milestones are occasional… and they may return for a quick flash… a moment in time… and live on until they slip behind the journeyman traveler, never to recur. Indeed, this may revisit, and if it does I’ll smile. But this one was a reminder that this journey is not a sweet one, but inevitable. God bless those who find themselves on this voyage, and God bless us all.

Full Circle

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The tragic events of this summer remind one of a tree with roots that run deeply into the soul of the American consciousness… but bring no nourishment, but indeed offer the truffles of modern-day strange fruit.  The senseless tragedy of nine brave souls, struck down in the very essence of living, makes no sense to man.

And yet… there is a reason why.

God showed up at Mother Emanuel on that hot day in June when Dylann Roof did his worst.
He did not reside in the molten rain of hot jacketed lead as it mowed down the hale and hearty like cows under a tree struck by lightning. He wasn’t found in pools of crimson essence on the basement floor. And he wasn’t found in the wails of the living, and the collective gasps as South Carolina and the nation reeled in horror.

God instead, planted himself in a movement. A movement that started with the belief that this horrible massacre needed to result in a sense of purpose. He spirited himself into the acts and action of a governor who never spoke before on matters of diversity and division. He breathed fire into the heart of a Charleston politician, Jenny Horne, who blew warm with her impassioned of her fellow legislators, also not of color, to do the honorable thing. And He resounded in the song of Paul Thurmond. A son of the vintage South, his father Strom may have been hard pressed to believe what came from his lips. Young Thurmond implored the removal of a symbol that, at once personified a system that let one man own another, and glorified the unmitigated hate of groups and factions that believe neither in content nor character.

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The day they drove old Dixie down on the State House steps dawned bright and sunny as I made my way from Charlotte to Columbia.

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The crowd there was small at first, but grew to the thousands as they waited, some in patience, some in song of protest, and some in resigned reverence to the setting of a sullied symbol. They looked on as an emissary dressed in white ordered that the Confederate battle flag be removed.

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State troopers, in their formal finery, marched to the flagpole, retrieved the flag and removed it forever. Shouts, songs and applause followed from some… while others stood witness of the furling of the flag in silent, palpable pain. Yet, God’s hand was there on those courtyard steps.

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Agreeable men and women agreed to disagree on this day, with resolve but no resistance…

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as both sides retreated, this battle over.

This left the dead at a place of power in remembrance… and that takes us back to Mother Emanuel.
On a Sunday evening, a couple of months removed from the massacre, I found myself on her steps as the sun dove toward the darkness in Charleston.
As I walked up to the church, I was rendered speechless in the awesome power of tribute.

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Flowers, flags, fruit, mobiles of birds in nearby trees, and most poignantly a small Teddy bear on the ground by the fence of the weathered old church spoke to the wishes of the visiting crowds to share their grief and honor the dead. Those visitors that did speak, spoke in hushed, reverent tones much as onlookers at the Tomb of the Unknowns do at Arlington National Cemetery. The solemnity of the visitors spoke much… and yet there was more.
I have never, NEVER felt more of a presence of God’s covering hand of peace over a place in my life. The calmness that emanated from those artifacts spoke to the Creator working through those that sacrificed their being to live on through deeds, words and symbols… removed, and reverently aging on a graying evening in twilight Charleston.

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And in this circle of pain around this holy place, the beacon of God’s grace continues to beckon men and women to a better way… a way that came full circle on Statehouse steps as the remnant of a peculiar institution was looked, and locked away to its rightful location. For God has shown up at Mother Emanuel, pulled up nine chairs and vowed to stay awhile.

Super Highway Siren

It’s frustrating sometimes to have a raging fire inside of you… and you want to explain why it consumes you… and your words… just… come up flat.
Shekilia Bussey, the “Mileage Bully”

Meet Shekelia Bussey. I am so inspired by her journey. Known as the “Mileage Bully,” she rode on a Hayabusa (a sports bike built for speed, not comfort) 9,000 miles solo… from Va. Beach to Washington state and everywhere in between. She inspired me to write about the siren’s call of the road, and I wanted to share.

Excerpts from a letter:

“My mother said to me one of the times that I’ve been down there, that she didn’t want to kill my wanderlust… instead, she wanted to fortify it… and I think she did a great job. You might say “too great” at times, but I can’t help it. It’s all I know.

That same wanderlust makes me want to take rides, both alone and with friends, to places I’ve not seen before. The challenge and yes, risk of doing it on twos, facing man, wind, rain, heat and cold… add up to some universal ongoing algorithmic equation that one must keep balanced to stay safe and strong on the road. Looking at the sky, anticipating trouble, and figuring how to run, cope and/or overcome out West is just as much a part of me as breathing.

There’s a lady that I follow on three of my biking pages that just completed a 9,000 mile solo ride from Virginia Beach to Washington state, down to San Diego and back. On a Hayabusa… a sports bike with no built on saddlebags where you lean over the tank instead of sit up. She has SO inspired me that the ride (I’ve talked about down Route 66) is going from a whisper to a scream. She’s going to write about her journey… indeed, she’s chronicled it everyday… and it’s something to tell. She came through the pain of being uncomfortable (I’d NEVER do that on a ‘Busa) and being on the prairie alone in storm and hail to make it back safe.

And I know I can’t make you understand the powerful attraction that that walkabout has. It’s like the best crack you could ever smoke. Monument Valley sits at the end of a lonely, forlorn road, and I must get there.”

Thanks, Shekelia, for the inspiration for the explanation. She embodifies what #RYS (if you don’t know, ask me) is all about. And thank you, dear reader… see you on the road.

Great Scott! A review of Scott’s Barbecue, in Hemingway, SC.

Note: As I run across previous reviews, I’m adding them to the blog. This one was written exactly one year ago.

Sometimes, being a Buffalo Soldier means taking one for the team… a trip, that is. Not wanting to let my fellow Soldier, Triple Threat, ride alone to Myrtle Beach, I decided to accompany him there. We figured we’d stop along the way to Myrtle to cut the dust of the trail.

Not far off a direct line to that beach out of Charlotte, lies the small town of Hemingway, South Carolina. If you find yourself on State Highway 41, your path, indeed if not your nose, will take you to Scott’s Barbecue.

It’s in what appears to be an old service station that has been repurposed into a house of gastronomic repute. Next door is a building that resembles an old Quonset hut, and the blue smoke that rises from testifies to the magic that is being made within.

The business is run by Rodney Scott… who is no stranger to readers of the New York Times. He and his business has been mentioned several times in that noble instrument… most recently when Scott was awarded Best Chef Southeast by the James Beard Foundation. Scott has parleyed his fortunes in Hemingway into a second location in Charleston. We will visit there on another occasion, but we’ll talk about the “mother chapter,” so to speak, right now.

To visit Scott’s is to go back in time. You walk up and you’re greeted warmly by the gentlemen sitting on the bench on the porch. When you enter the door and look around, you see mementos of Scott’s fame and days gone by.

Clippings. Candy. Bread. Coolers of soft drinks. Ceramic pigs, and peanuts in plastic bags.

A picture of SC Congressman Jim Clyburn and President Obama on the wall. And… four of the nicest, sweetest ladies you’ll ever care to meet.

One of them is Mrs. Ella Scott, Rodney’s mother. She doesn’t know a stranger and will make you feel right at home. The other three reside behind the counter, boxing up pulled pork, ribs and sides.

Triple Threat and I ordered ribs.

Let me begin with this. At $8.50 for a plate of some of the meatiest, juiciest ribs that you’ll ever want to see, you’ve won before you’ve taken a bite. They’re served with two slices of white bread, beans and slaw… though other sides are available as well… but I digress. The ribs are as I said… rich, meaty and delightful… just salty enough, and with just-enough firmness to make them succulent and inspiring. They’re dabbed with Scott’s barbecue sauce, which is vinegar, spices, and I’m guessing, just a hint of ketchup.

They were, in a word, wonderful. Yet… something was missing for me… and I have to say it… it was the sauce. Maybe I shouldn’t be predisposed, but I’m used to sauce on ribs. Now, I’ve had Scott’s pulled pork before, and the sauce with that is the stuff that wins awards and keeps people driving up from Timmonsville to Toledo. Yet, with the ribs… I found myself wishing for something that was a little more substantial… something that “sticks to your ribs” just a little more. I don’t presume to tell folks that they need something in addition to what they already have… but a thicker sauce for ribs would be just the thing.

They were the main attraction. The cole slaw was creamy enough, and the beans were… beans. You don’t come there for either. You come there for the meat, and as a practicing carnivore, that was enough for me.

Still… I’d love to make my acquaintance with Scott’s rib sauce, if they ever get it.

On Train’s “Ain’t It Good / Good It Ain’t” ™ scale, it gets 3 ½ “ain’t it goods!” with the only negative being, in my opinion, my wanting to be in the sauce.