My Heroes

MotteMilitaryPhotomerge2014My heroes have always been soldiers, and sailors, and airmen…

I learned the Star Spangled Banner in grammar school right along with the Pledge of Allegiance. Our music lessons at McKenzie included folk music, rounds, spirituals, patriotic music and national anthems from ours as well as several other countries.

I loved all of it, but especially the service songs — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Chorales or Choruses from various branches of the service came to Florence in the 1950’s and the whole town turned out.

The most popular movies were war stories from WWII, whether they were love stories, musicals, or dramas. When television arrived at our house, Victory at Sea became a favorite show.

These days a lot of businesses will remain open and feature big sales on Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Veterans Day – holidays designed to remember and honor the sacrifices of our armed forces and their families. Some folks may take the day off and take advantage of those sales. Or they might picnic at the park or barbecue in the back yard, enjoying a long weekend off from work.

PowersMilitaryMen&FamilyIt wasn’t always like that. When I was small nearly everything closed down on those holidays, in honor of the men and women who had died in service of our country. Nevertheless, many churches will still include America The Beautiful in their Sunday worship services, and many remembrances will still be held at National Cemeteries and parks from “sea to shining sea.”

In researching my daddy’s family tree, I discovered that in the late 1700’s Stephen Motte was granted a “patent” for land in the North Carolina coastal area for service in the Revolutionary War. He traded that land for a parcel in what became known as Mott’s Township, the territory around Olanta, South Carolina.

My great-great-grandfather John Motte served with Captain Zimmerman’s Pee Dee Artillery. Wounded in May of 1864, he spent time recovering in the Confederacy’s Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond. His son David Motte, too young to be regular Army, became a teenage prison guard attached to the Confederate Army.

Grandfather Charles H. Motte (see photo) joined the Army after the Civil War, stationed in New Orleans where he met and married my grandmother Etta Follette.

Some of Etta’s relatives had been Union soldiers during the Civil War, one fighting in several of the same battles in Virginia as John Motte. Charles and Etta’s first son Percy served in the US Army in WWI.

My father Harold Motte, Sr. enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1941, served several years and re-enlisted. He became a glider pilot and an aircraft mechanic.

Several of my mother’s brothers joined the Navy during WWII, Palmer becoming a career submariner. My brother Harold served in the Navy in the 1960’s, stationed on an ammunition ship in the Mediterranean Sea during the Six Days War.

Maybe it’s not politically correct nowadays, but every time I hear From the Halls of Montezuma or Anchors Away, my heart still flutters a bit and I recall my family’s centuries-long heritage of military service.

Whether you have these special days off from work or not, I hope you’ll pause for a few moments and say a prayer for all those serving today, grateful that so many have been – and still are – willing to pay the price for our freedom to have such a “holiday.”

(Edited / reprinted from 2006.)

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Spending time with Granddaddy

MimiDa01I was the first-born grandchild to Marena and Dewey Powers (Mimi and Da to us grandkids). Although I spent most of my summer-time visits indoors with Mimi, Da tried on occasion to teach me the finer points of outdoor country living.

Lynches River always offered prime fishing for a variety of fresh-water fish. One morning Da decided to forego plowing and took me fishing. He baited both our hooks, then we dropped our cane pole lines over the side of a little bridge and waited.

“Watch the cork, now, watch the cork. The fish’ll take the bait and the cork’ll disappear and then we got him, but you got to watch that cork.” I watched the cork for a few minutes, then watched a butterfly, then watched a few birds, then watched the assorted branches and turtles floating by in the black river water.

“Doll baby, your cork’s bobbing, you got one, pull him in!” Da helped me land whatever kind of fish he was and there he lay, flopping about on the bridge and gasping for breath. His glassy eyes seemed to look right into my soul as he gave up the ghost, and I cried.

“What you bawling for? That’s your dinner, you caught your dinner, a pretty good one, too.” Da took my catch off the hook while I grieved over the poor little fish that I had killed. He fished a little while longer while I sniffled.

As we packed up our poles he kept shaking his head and muttering to himself, wondering what on earth was wrong with this girl, where’d I think seafood dinners came from. That was our first and last fishing trip together.

Da didn’t give up on me, though. Later on he decided I needed to learn to ride a pony or a horse. Since he didn’t have either one, the plow mule seemed a good substitute. The mule was very gentle and good natured, but very tall!

Da brought him around from the stable, let me pat his nose, look into his eyes and feel his hide. Then Da lifted me up to the mule’s broad back, showed me how to hold on tight to the bridle and slowly began to walk the mule forward.

After the first few steps I began to cry. I was so far up, so far from the safety of the good earth, “Let me down, please let me down!” I begged. And so he did.

Shaking his head as he walked the mule back to the stable, I could almost hear Da muttering his earlier sentiments, what on earth is wrong with this girl. That was my first and last mule ride.

In between attempts to countrify me, Da was spoiling me in other ways. Dimes and quarters often appeared in the strangest places, like mantelpieces and kitchen cabinets. Every time I’d spot one I’d exclaim over my find. “Guess the money fairy meant for you to have it, since you found it,” he would say with a twinkle in his eye.

Then I spied him pulling change out of his pocket one day, fingering through the silver before carefully placing several dimes among the dinner plates. I never let on that I knew who the “money fairy” was, I just kept enjoying my good fortune.

I was about fourteen when Da decided to teach me the tried and true traditions of bird hunting. His bird dogs were raring to go the day after Thanksgiving. We piled into his pick-up truck, dogs yipping behind our heads as they trotted from one side of the truck bed to the other.

On reaching our destination we met several other men, some with grandsons but no other girls. Da had demonstrated safe shotgun handling, pointed out tips to targeting a likely bird, and Mimi had loaned me her very own lightweight 410 shotgun.

My aim was perfect. I hit the first bird I aimed at and the dog brought it proudly to my feet. I took one look at it and cried. The poor little bird, I had killed it!

The men and boys looked at me like I was a real sissy and I guess I was. I spent the rest of our hunting trip camped out in the pick-up truck.

Granddaddy brought his and my bounty home that evening, cleaned and cooked the birds for supper. I probably ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. All I could see was the poor little feathery creature lying dead at my feet and the puzzled look on the face of the bird dog.

I’m sure he was wondering along with Da, what in the world is wrong with this girl. You guessed it — that was our first and last hunting trip, too.

Some years later after I was married, Da would drop in occasionally to see how I was doing. Each time after he left I’d find a five dollar bill in the sugar bowl, a ten under a coffee cup or a twenty in the silverware drawer.

I knew it was my granddaddy’s way of saying that he loved me just as I was, city girl and all.

Mimi’s holiday dessert crew

Memories, wonderful memories.

SC Family Memories

A holiday dessert work crew made up of cousins, aunts and uncles usually assembled the weekend before Thanksgiving at my grandmother Mimi’s house. Mimi always prepared both Thanksgiving and Christmas desserts the week before Thanksgiving, and the lengthy menu required many helpers.

Most menu items not to be served at Thanksgiving would be wrapped, labeled, and deposited in the freezer or pie safe, delicious desserts like presents waiting to be opened.

My grandfather Da was an essential helper in the preparation of one ingredient. He brought a large, for-real coconut into the middle of the living room and presented it for inspection to us kids. We passed it around, each one hefting and guessing how heavy it was. Placing it on the floor in the middle of a spread newspaper, “Stay back,” he warned before whacking the coconut with a hammer.

Often it took several smaller whacks before he could…

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1950’s Dime-Store Shopping

One memorable Father’s Day shopping trip… I can still see, hear and smell those neat downtown dime stores.

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Evans Street looking west, 1937. Postcard. Evans Street looking west, 1937. Postcard.

The 100 block of West Evans was a shopping mecca in the 1950’s. Downtown Florence had everything a kid could want, all in one block. Of course, we had our share of department stores and grownups did a lot of shopping in those. But for us kids, the five and ten cent stores were the place to go.

Saturday when the movie was over and it was too early to go home, you went dime-store window shopping. And if sometimes you had to go present shopping, naturally you had to make the rounds to be sure you got the best thing.

One Saturday in early June, I declared my desire to pick out daddy’s Father’s Day present all by myself without mama tagging along looking at every blooming thing in the store. With a smile and shake of the head, she gave me some…

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Minding the Store

Summer’s coming up, bringing back fond memories of Minding the Store at Mimi’s.

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CountryStoreShelvesMinding the store was one chore I didn’t mind, the summers I spent at Mimi’s house during my teen years. She always kept an ear out for the little bell hanging outside the store, but occasionally it rang when she was busy with more important chores, like removing the innards from a soon-to-be-supper chicken.

When the bell jingled at such times she’d call out, “Betts, go mind the store, please.” I enjoyed the responsibility that gave me, acting as store-keep for a while. It might be a farm wife looking for canned goods or gossip, or one of the local kids looking for an after-school soda pop and penny candy.

CocaColaDrinkBoxMimi and Da had built the little country store next to their house on Stagecoach Road out in Florence County. It served near-by neighbors and farm hands with one gas pump, one kerosene pump, one cold drink box, one large…

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All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten

Good stuff like buttoning my coat and tying my shoelaces, “One, two, button my shoe.” That didn’t make sense to me but we learned it anyway. I also learned to say Please, Thank you, and May I. To share even when I didn’t want to, and to say sorry even if I wasn’t. Good safety habits like “Look both ways before crossing a street” and “Never hit back.”

The kids at Mrs. McIntosh’s learned to bow our heads and say a blessing before eating, and to be quiet and still on our little mats at nap time. I seldom fell sleep in the daytime but my imagination could keep me plenty occupied while waiting for the other kids to wake up.

I learned to count to ten and to write my numbers in big broad strokes. I learned how to grip the fat pencil and stay inside the ruled lines as I wrote my ABC’s in block letters. How to draw an almost square, a lopsided circle and a tilted triangle. How to put puzzles together, and the difference between red, green, yellow, blue, brown and black.

Some of our lessons were social, some academic and some practical but it was all fun. Us kids thought we were playing, but the learning flowed into our little heads like osmosis.

I attended Mrs. McIntosh’s kindergarten from age four to almost six. Her big two-story red brick house, big yard and a circular gravel driveway was on Edisto Drive close to Cherokee Road. A private home now, the house is still there behind the brick fence, tall trees and thick shrubbery. A glimpse of the house riding by brings back such wonderful memories.

I don’t remember riding to and from kindergarten, but I distinctly remember the finger paints. In the bright sunroom with many windows, a dozen or so of us kids got a hands-on lesson in primary colors. A gob of red plus a dab of yellow – orange! Red plus blue – purple! Blue and yellow made green, red and white made pink.

The slick paint squishing between my fingers felt so cool. “Let’s paint a flower today,” she would encourage. Swirl, swish, zip, “Don’t get it on your clothes,” swoop, swish, swirl, “Keep it on the paper,” zip, swish, swoop, “Don’t wipe your hands on your (fill in the blank: nose, hair, neighbor).”

Browns and blacks didn’t appeal to me much. I used them for outlines only. I preferred fire-engine red and cornflower blue. My flowers were colored like tulips but shaped like asters, zig-zaggy and shaggy around the edges. I carefully kept my colors inside the lines, carefully held the paper by the edges, and fiercely protected my drying masterpiece until I could take it home to Mama.

Making potholders was another creative pastime at Mrs. McIntosh’s. Little metal looms with toothy edges were handed around the room. A sack of stretchy fabric circles like cloth rubber-bands was passed around. “Get you a big handful, there’s enough to go around.” Some kids picked all yellow or all green. I picked mostly red and blue bands with a few greens and yellows mixed in.

We proudly presented our creations to our mothers, so colorful, so practical. (Mama used mine until they were too scorched or too thin. Then she dug out my little loom from the bottom of the buffet and we made some more.)

Some days we made music. The clear high-pitched tone of my triangle went “dingggggg” when I struck it lightly with the little metal rod, “DINNNNG” when I gave it a good swat. I learned that I could create an interesting combination, “dingggg-dink” if I grabbed the metal with my hand before the second sound died out.

Another kid chose a wooden block and mallet. His “clonnnt, clonnnt” soon dueled with the “clannnkk, clannnkk” of his pal’s cowbell. “Use the mallet on your own block, not your neighbor’s bell,” Mrs. McIntosh admonished sternly.

The “scritch, scritch, scritch” of the sand blocks made a nice fill between the “clack-clack, clack-clack” of the sticks. Our band was rounded out with “cling-clings” of miniature cymbals, “bom-boms” of a tambourine-shaped hand drum and “jin-jingles” of tiny bells fastened to shaker sticks. “All together children, One, Two, Three, Play!” We practiced like mad for our spring concert and I’m sure our parents clapped enthusiastically in praise of our joyful noise.

By the time first grade rolled around, I knew my numbers and the alphabet and could read simple Dick and Jane story books for myself. Mrs. McIntosh’s instructions in courtesy, safety, academics, and above all how to get along with my fellow kid stood me in good stead when entering McKenzie School.

Come to think of it, they still do today.

The Blizzard of ’73

Wonder if we’ll get any snow this winter? I’m recalling one memorable snow storm from 1973…

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HogInSnowSooooie, pig, pig, pig!

Sooie was a friendly pig, at least we called her a pig, even though she must have weighed close to 300 pounds. We fed her grain, sometimes weeds, and housed her in a nice, roomy electric fenced pen with a soothing, cooling mud hole.

The children didn’t really look upon Sooie as pork chops, sausages and bacon, but that’s what she was. Groceries on the hoof.

Of course, it helped that the children weren’t as attached to Sooie as they were to the yard dogs and house cats, but to save everyone’s sensitivities, we never referred to hog-killing time around Sooie herself.

Things were going very well, Sooie was gaining appropriate poundage and we were anticipating sugar-cured hams and real hickory smoked, vinegar and hot sauce-based barbecue, when it happened.

The Blizzard of ’73. One February morning we awoke to a wonderland of snow, and ice…

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