Monthly Archives: February 2015

Singing in the Shower

blue-parakeet-jai-johnsonThe year after Hurricane Hazel, our family moved from Cole’s Crossroads back into town.

The roomy house boasted of two full bathrooms, a real luxury to my way of thinking in the mid-1950’s.

No more waiting in line when you were running late on school days, no more annoying “hurry up in there” when you were soaking in a bubble-filled tub, reading your latest library book.

One member of our family preferred the shower to the bathtub — Petey. We’d had our share of family pets for years, all of them outdoor types. Assorted dogs and cats romped and ran, clawed and scratched and begged to come indoors, but none of them were allowed to live inside, until Petey.

He really didn’t belong to Harold or me, though, he was daddy’s bird. He owned a cage but mainly used it to swing in, or catch a snack of bird seed, or grab a bit of shut-eye at night.

Petey the blue parakeet had the run of the house.

He would come when daddy called his name or whistled for him, usually. If he was super interested in whatever he was doing at the time, however, he might not — and then daddy would stealthily drape an old blue shirt over his head and gather him up for a trip back to “beddie bye,” nap time in his cage.

When not flitting hither and yon through the bedrooms, living room and kitchen, Petey had a couple of favorite perches. The top edge of the dining-room window where the room air-conditioner hummed away on hot days was one of them. Petey just loved the dining room wallpaper. The color of it. The texture of it. The taste of it!

After a few sojourns atop the window there wasn’t much wallpaper left within beak’s reach, but nobody had the heart to shut him away from this taste treat.

When zooming from living room to dining room when daddy was reading the morning paper, Petey’s favorite landing spot was daddy’s eyeglasses. He’d swoop to a graceful landing on daddy’s head, then hop to his eyeglass frames, clamp his little claws on and lean over with tail feathers at a forty-five degree angle, as if he was reading the headlines too.

Daddy would fuss and Petey would chirp, and after a few moments he’d glide down to the table top to enjoy his after-breakfast toast left-overs.

Daddy’s normal morning routine called for a shower followed by shaving and brushing his teeth. Petey seemed to think this ritual was designed just for him. He joined daddy in the shower, his cheery chirps heard loudly above the running water.

He’d sit on the shower head for a few minutes, then flutter through the water to land on daddy’s shoulder, then flutter back up to the shower head and flap his little wings like crazy.

While daddy lathered up, shaved and then tended to his teeth, Petey observed from the vantage point of the shower rod, merrily singing away the whole time.

After Petey had been in the family for a time, daddy thought he might be lonely all alone in the house during the work day. Daddy made a trip to the pet store to purchase a playmate, a lady parakeet. I have no idea what Petey thought when he saw this lovely green and white apparition, but he immediately fell out of love with the humans in the family.

Tweet-tweet and chirp-chirp duets were heard from atop the window sill from that time forward. Petey wasn’t lonely any more! I think daddy grew a bit lonely, though, as Petey abandoned his morning shower, newspaper and left-over toast ritual.

Petey and his pal had never seen the outside world of course, and we were very careful to keep all the doors closed. The back-porch screen door was unfortunately ajar one day, the heavy door into the kitchen standing open. There was a blur of blue feathers as Petey zoomed by to explore this new “room” in his house — the great outdoors.

No amount of cajoling, calling, whistling, or trying to tempt with birdseed could get him out of the dogwood in the back yard. Eventually he flew into the swampy woods behind the house. Every few hours we’d go out and call and whistle, call and whistle, but we never saw Petey again.

We all missed his merry chirp, but his feathery lady friend missed Petey more. Never a human-lover, she didn’t perch on daddy’s eyeglasses, or zoom around the living room, or take refreshing showers in the morning. She sat on her little wooden perch, nibbled on her birdseed and swung on her trapeze, but without Petey she seldom ventured out of her cage.

Petey had been the personality in that little family, and one-of-a-kind — the parakeet who sang in the shower.

Altheas, tiger lilies and grandfather’s beard

Purple AltheaAt our Willow Creek mini-farm in the 1970’s the yard was mostly pine trees and Charleston grass, with a few azalea bushes in front and a weeping willow in back.

Sparse, I thought, so I decided to add at least one of every bush and tree I’d ever liked in somebody else’s yard.

Wish list in hand, early one spring morning I visited a local garden shop.

First on my list was an althea, also known as the Rose of Sharon. The cashier explained that she was minding the register for someone else and had limited gardening knowledge, but she’d do her best to help me.

“What would an althea bush look like,” she asked? I described the ones I remembered that grew in front of Mimi’s front porch, a hedge of leafy bushes shading the porch from the afternoon sun.

The tall slender branches were covered with palm-sized lavender flowers. Every year new stalks sprouted up from the ground around the base of the parent bushes and Mimi let them grow, seldom bothering to prune the branches.

But the lady shook her head; she was sure they didn’t have any althea bushes. Perhaps a rose bush would do? I told her no, I had my heart set on an althea.

Bridalwreath SpireaOkay, I asked, how about a bridal wreath spirea? “What’s a spirea?” I said it would look something like a miniature weeping willow except that the long arching branches would be covered with tiny white flowers during blooming season.

Such graceful plants, they always had a calming effect on me just to look at them. Surely the shop had a spirea or two? “No, I’m sorry,” she apologized. I wrinkled my nose as I put an X by spirea on my list.

Handkerchief TreeI knew it was a long shot, but I asked if she’d ever heard of a handkerchief tree (Chinese dove). She hadn’t, and I myself had only seen one in this area, in a yard way out on Paul Jones Road. It was a beautiful medium-height tree sprinkled with large droopy white flowers.

But of course, the shop had no handkerchief tree either. Since then I’ve learned that they don’t usually survive this far south.

Sweetheart RoseOkay, they had rose bushes, how about a sweetheart climbing rose? Mimi had one in her back yard that bloomed for many months out of the year, crammed full of tiny pink blossoms. One of those would be pretty in my side yard.

But alas, they didn’t sell climbing roses, only the kind people put in vases. I was getting discouraged and the cashier was getting embarrassed, so I bought something I didn’t really want, a viney pot plant with multicolored green leaves.

I borrowed her phone book, flipped through the yellow pages and added a few other destinations to my shopping trip. I determined to visit every nursery and garden shop within driving distance, and in the 1970’s there weren’t many.

Grandfathers Beard BushMy luck was mixed to say the least. Some plants on my list I never did get, like a grandfather’s beard bush (left) and an exotic yellow-red tiger lily (below) like Mimi raised when I was little.

I did buy one potted gardenia bush that day, which didn’t survive being transplanted in my yard.

Tiger LilyEventually I added a few dogwoods, a flowering quince, wisteria, some Eisenhower cannas and a baby magnolia tree to my landscape. The magnolia didn’t live long, either — an enthusiastic young lawn-mower did it in.

We carefully planted an apple tree, peach tree and an old fashioned pear tree. They did pretty well, producing leaves but very little fruit in the next few years.

A friendly neighbor offered us a catalpa (catawba) tree which I politely declined. “We don’t fish enough to make it practical,” I explained. Many country fishermen planted catalpas to attract fishing worms, actually caterpillars that they picked off the trees like some kind of fruit. Ugh. No thanks.

Recently I researched the availability of some of my long-admired but never-owned plants and discovered I could purchase a grandfather’s beard tree, a tiger lily, an althea and even a handkerchief tree, all over the internet. I downloaded photos to use as screen-savers on my computer (sprinkled through these paragraphs as you’ve no doubt noticed).

One or two of them even come in brand-new “varieties” these days — plastic or silk, that is — but it just wouldn’t be the same.

1964 Class of Kingstree High School

Excerpt from Family Memories of Tim Cox, Bette’s husband.

blackriver5The Cool Dozen

December 26, 1964, a dozen members of the 1964 Class of Kingstree High School, most home from our first college semester, took a boat trip down Black River for fun, fellowship and adventure.

Charlie Bell, Tommy Bishop, Buford Boyd, Tim Cox, Danny Fry, Paul Jacobs, Billy Jenkinson, James Hugh McCutcheon, Richard Mims, Frank Seignious, Phil Stoll, and Johnny Tanner distributed ourselves among seven small boats of varying sizes, all powered by small outboard motors.

An adult friend, Aubrey Williamson, served as unofficial guide for the first leg of the trip and carried our supplies in his large 16-foot boat.

One of South Carolina’s scenic rivers, Black River is indeed black although clear, not muddy, with a white sand bottom. If you scooped up a glass full, the water would look just like brewed tea.

Tannic acid from cypress trees growing along the river darkens the water, like the tannic acid in tea. Lynches River, Little Pee Dee, Waccamaw, Edisto, and Black River all have black water from cypress trees.

The morning after Christmas dawned sunny and cool. We put in below Kingstree, planning to end the day at Brown’s Landing. Near Kingstree the river was barely twenty feet wide and in narrow spots the water ran swift, but suddenly the river opened out into a beautiful vista.

Except for navigating around the occasional log we had smooth travel for miles. Ducks and deer peered at us from the banks as we put-putted by. There were no snakes or alligators to worry us, being winter time.

Our 4:30 arrival at the Landing left little daylight to set up camp and unpack food supplies. As the sun went down and the temperature with it, we scrounged for kindling and started a camp fire. Aubrey’s ride arrived and he departed for home and his nice, warm bed.

Hot dogs, Vienna sausages, peanuts and junk food made our supper, but our favorites that night were coffee and hot chocolate. It was growing very chilly.

We were all dressed appropriately for the occasion, we thought – heavy coats, hats, gloves, hunting boots and thick socks. Each had a sleeping bag and Charlie Bell and Tommy Bishop even had a tent. We kept the fire going until too tired to tend it, sleeping bags spread in a semicircle around it.

Crawling in fully clothed with hats pulled low and just our noses poking out to breath, we thought sleep would be easy. It wasn’t. We were not prepared for the 24-degree weather that night, plus sleet.

Tree branches kept the worst of the sleet off of us, but Charlie soon got so cold he decided to re-start the fire. The sound of Charlie chopping down trees to feed the fire awakened the rest of us every couple of hours.

At daylight all we wanted was coffee and hot chocolate to thaw us out. Ice had formed in the bottom of some boats and Billy Jenkinson and Frank Seignious’s outboard engine refused to crank. Billy pulled until his arm tired out and Frank crawled to the back to help out.

Unbalanced, their two-man boat tipped one way, then the other, and water poured in on three sides. Bailing out their boat delayed our departure, but finally we got that last engine cranked up.

Aubrey didn’t return that morning – guess he thought it was too cold – so Danny Fry took over solo control of my boat, I moved to Aubrey’s 16-footer, and the smaller boats moved out in front.

Aubrey had warned us that the river was deceptive close to the landing, and he was right. In the daylight the water appeared to run straight ahead but the map showed a 90-degree turn to the right.

Sure enough, some guys missed the turn and ran out of water. They thought for sure they’d have to haul the boats through the woods to find the river again.

Watching from behind, I circled around and slowly ran down the right hand side, checking the current until I found the turn between two large cypress trees. The opening was only 12 to 15 feet wide. We re-grouped and started again.

Down river we stopped at a cabin where some guys came out to chat. “We hate to tell you,” they said, “but there’s some fallen trees blocking the water downriver. Those small boats might make it but you’ll never get that big boat through.”

Well, being teenage boys we decided to go for it anyway. Sure enough, a few miles downstream the river was blocked. Now, some of our dozen had been football players, big strong guys, so they climbed out to clear enough of the brush on one sandy bank to carry the boats around.

The small boats were easy, but Aubrey’s 16-footer was nearly impossible. Wearing his waders, Richard Mims eased out into the water. We all yanked, pushed and pulled to make a gap big enough to manhandle the big boat through. A solid hour of precious daylight was soon gone. “Are we still having fun?”

Things seemed to be going fine again, when we hit a “T” where it looked like the body of Black River ran into some other river. As the boats up ahead turned right, I watched to see which way the water flowed. Yep, that was the wrong way.

Back-tracking was getting old, but nearing Andrews where the water gets wide we thought we could make up for lost time. And we did, until we reached the Andrews Narrows and yet another log jam.

This time there was no way around. Ropes were made fast to one log, then another, the outboards were cranked up, and gradually we pulled the downed trees apart.

Another long hour had passed, but all the boats were through. We were getting short on fun and a little long on adventure…

Out in the wider water there were no trees close enough to serve as windbreaks. The cold was seeping through to our bones, and with daylight getting away we speeded up and stretched out.

My boat had a smaller engine than the others and Danny had trouble keeping up. The rest of us arrived at Brown’s Ferry, piled out and got a bonfire started, but still no Danny.

When Aubrey rejoined us at the Ferry he and another guy took off in his boat upriver, searching. They found Danny still put-putting along, holding up a gas lantern to see where he was going.

Huddled around the bonfire we tried our best to get warm. Buford Boyd pulled off his frozen boots, stretched his feet close to the fire and said, “If I could figure out how to levitate and hold both feet out at one time that sure would be great.”

After a moment he added, “You know, I’m mad at my mama.” We all asked why? He said, “She had better sense than to let me come on something like this!”