Minding the Store

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

SC Family Memories

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…

SC Family Memories

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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Do you remember 1954? I sure do. Hurricane Hazel, among other things.

SC Family Memories

Moving seemed to be an annual event when I was small.  We went from small apartment to large, then to a duplex, and by early 1954 we had a whole house to ourselves at Coles Crossroads. The large frame house had a tin roof which made for interesting sound effects when it rained, and it had huge yards front and back.

I think dreams of being a gentleman farmer had attracted daddy to the place; an already-constructed, fenced-in chicken pen occupied a prominent position behind the house.  A visit to Kirby’s Hatchery downtown was in order and soon little yellow bitties were scratching their hearts out for store-bought chicken feed.  Several setting hens and a strutting red rooster completed daddy’s menagerie and we were all set to enjoy our own fresh eggs and delicious fryers.

To the left of our new town-and-country home was a fascinating new “playground” for Harold…

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Mama’s Christmas Room

I can still see that room…

SC Family Memories

ChristmasCandlesAround 1955 my mother had a brainstorm about Christmas decorations. She loved them. And she wanted to make them. Lots of them! Lacking any other space, and seeing as how it wasn’t heated and wasn’t used in cold weather anyway, the living room became mama’s workshop. This was no small room, mind you, probably 12 by 20 feet front to back.

The living room was so big and so cold with the door kept shut, it was easy to store greenery of all kinds in there. Holly branches full of red berries piled in a corner. Long lengths of ivy stretched beside a wall. Pine boughs bunched up beside the sofa, and leaves — magnolia, mainly — overflowed a large box off to the side. And then there were the twigs of mistletoe ready to be thumbtacked overhead in each doorway.

In the middle was the work area, the floor…

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Mimi’s holiday dessert crew

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 pry the outer shell away. His pocket knife then became a chisel as Da drilled a hole into one end, then drained the coconut milk into one of Mimi’s measuring cups. Soon he was sawing off little chunks of fresh coconut for us to snack on before we started on other pre-baking assignments. The rest would be grated for at least two large pies and one multi-layer cake.

A navy blue and white roasting pan sat on the floor in the living room, overflowing with pecans picked up in a neighbor’s orchard. A smaller pan full of store-bought walnuts sat nearby, and in between us volunteer laborers, paper sacks waited for the empty shells. Hinged metal nutcrackers and clean mixing bowls were distributed to the crew and a-cracking we went.

Of course, you can’t crack pecans and walnuts and not sample the goods. You have to be sure the nuts are fresh and tasty, don’t you? But there were always extras, and Mimi didn’t care if we snacked a little on pecans — our appetites were soon satisfied and set into competing to see who had the most “whole” pecan halves. The pecans that weren’t would get chopped up for the fruit cake, of course, but we needed a lot of “whole” halves for pecan pies.

Once the nuts were finished, it was time for egg gathering. Mimi’s chicken yard was a large wire-fenced oblong with the chicken house at the very back of that space. In between the front gate and the chicken house were several dozen red and white hens and one ornery rooster. Sometimes that rooster took a cockeyed look at me and just knew I was his mortal enemy. Those days I did not enjoy getting selected to collect the eggs. I had to go armed with a broom or a tobacco stick to fend off beak and claw while I made my way through hens who clucked around my feet, thinking I was bringing them some fresh chicken feed.

Keeping an eye out for the rooster, I’d edge my way into the chicken house, perhaps shoo away a hen or two, then carefully place the eggs into a small basket. The reverse course wasn’t much more fun either and all the time I was having to watch where I stepped — you know how neat chickens are, I’m sure.

While Mimi created the batter for the fruit cake, I helped mix the fruit and nuts. Red and green candied cherries, watermelon rind, currants, chopped pecans and walnuts went into a clean foot-tub, stirred with a heavy metal spoon. I’m sure I’m forgetting some ingredients, but I’ll never forget how tired my arm got in the mixing process. Mimi used a pound cake recipe for the base cake, real butter and sugar. Lots of eggs. Almond, lemon and vanilla flavorings went into the batter. Then it was time to add a whole jar of Damson plum jam for color, extra moisture and flavor.

Combining the cake batter and the fruit mix was no easy task, considering how much of each one there was. It took two five-pound tube pans and one two-pound loaf pan to contain the batter, and then several hours to bake. Once the fruit cakes were done and cooled, Mimi wrapped one up in tin foil and set it on the sideboard. That one we’d eat at Thanksgiving. The other she wrapped in wine-soaked cheesecloth and stored in her pie safe, to be “basted” in wine another time or two before Christmas.

By Thanksgiving day the dessert menu was complete: Pecan pies, pumpkin pies, and coconut pies. Pineapple torte. Coconut layer cake, fruit cake and pound cake.

When my children were small, for several years I tried to duplicate Mimi’s efforts. I baked two of each kind of pie and cake, one fresh for Thanksgiving, one stored away for Christmas. It was much simpler, since I didn’t have to crack a coconut, pecan or walnut, and didn’t have to maneuver through a messy chicken yard avoiding clucking hens and ornery rooster.

Making fruit cakes was a wonderful time of chopping nuts and remembering Da, chopping fruit and remembering Mimi. I might just do it again one of these years.

Remembering Tim Cox

(The following article, The Tim Cox Story, was written by Bette and appeared in the Fall 2004 edition of “Voice of the Diabetic” Magazine, published world-wide by the National Federation of the Blind. The photo accompanied the article.)

timandbettecoxTim Cox “Sees” a Lot More Life than Most Folks Do, reads the article headline from the Florence Morning News of Sunday, May 4, 1986. This just one of dozens written over the years about the 58 year old native of Kingstree, South Carolina, who at age 5 developed juvenile diabetes. Insulin shots became a way of life for this little boy, in the days when there was very little sugar-free anything to satisfy a child’s craving for sweets. A constant dietary balancing act became his mother Ora Lee’s way of life; as were frequent trips to the doctor’s office or hospital.

As Tim grew, he determined to never let diabetes stop him from accomplishing the important things in life. He joined the high school tennis team, played french horn and the trombone in the marching band, he water skiied, and he had a ton of friends. In 1964 he graduated from Kingstree High School (celebrating their 40th class reunion with Tim as primary instigator June 2004). He went on to business school, began work as a computer programmer, and got married. His daughter Angelia was born.

And then Tim started having vision problems. He underwent laser treatments, traveled to Dukane University in Pittsburgh to be trained as a blind programmer, and by Labor Day 1974, Tim began losing his eyesight. A month later his kidneys failed. Up until that time, diabetics in South Carolina had never been put on dialysis. They were left to die.

But Tim wouldn’t give up, and after many agonizing days of praying, pleading and waiting, he became the first diabetic ever to be put on dialysis in South Carolina. His wife learned how to do home dialysis, but the many pressures of his illness soon led to separation and later divorce.

Once again Tim had to rely on his parents, family and friends, and a lot of prayer. Eventually Tim’s mother learned to operate the home dialysis unit, and the family settled into a precarious routine. Tim refused to settle for being “disabled.” He got involved with his whole heart in the community — serving on local boards for the American Diabetic Association (ADA), American Cancer Society, Kidney Foundation, and Jaycees. He helped found the Black River CB Club and organized such activities as the “Coffee Club Patrol,” calling drivers in from the highway to raise funds for house fire victims.

During these years, Tim won many awards: Outstanding Jaycee in South Carolina, 1978; Kingstree Jaycee of the Year 1979, and the Adam Fisher Award of the ADA, 1981. He was a member of the Committee on Computers for the Physically Handicapped based in Chicago, Illinois, the South Carolina Physically Handicapped Society and the National Federation for the Blind. He kept very busy between dialysis treatments.

In 1978, after four years of ups and downs with dialysis, Tim and his mother traveled to the New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston and Ora Lee donated a kidney. Tim arrived home from the hospital at 12:05 AM, Christmas Day 1978. A month later, he became public affairs director and talk show host for WKSP radio in Kingstree. He owned a 1976 Datsun 280Z, and with driver Joel Stone, in 1979 he competed in several Sports Car Club of America races, coming home with first or second places.

He Has Battled Death and Won. So reads a December 17, 1979 Charlotte Observer headline. A State Newspaper headline of December 25, 1979 reads, Christmas Very Special to Tim Cox. And it was, indeed. Tim celebrated by arranging for the Brass Ensemble of the Charleston Symphony to play two public concerts in Kingstree, “as a Christmas gift to the community.”

Blindness Didn’t Stop Him, reads the headline from a Florence Morning News article of 1983. Tim had determined to get on with his career and enrolled in Francis Marion University in Florence. He moved to Florence, rented a room in a boarding house, and still owned a car. “It’s a lot easier to bum a ride if you have your own car,” he said.

He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration in December of 1982 and went to work as the only blind instructor in the state’s technical college system. He had all his text books audiotaped and recorded his class notes on tape also. “Talk about a challenge, whew!” he said. He moved into an apartment complex and “sometimes I would be known to run into the hall asking my neighbors, what was in the box of Lean Cuisine, and for how long did I set the microwave!”

About that time, Tim met Bette Gaymon at a Full Gospel Businessman’s meeting in Florence, where she served as pianist. They began dating and were married on Christmas Day, 1984. Diets and insulin shots became the way of life for yet another person in Tim’s life. When Tim’s contract with the technical college ran out, he and Bette opened their own business, Executive Services of the Pee Dee, Inc., a full-line secretarial service. It was May, 1986.

Tim and Bette both got involved in their community. With Bette at the wheel of his car, Tim became a popular spokesman for the ADA, speaking to civic and church groups across the state. Both joined the board of Crimestoppers of the Pee Dee, and Tim took up playing his french horn again, joining Bette in the music ministry of their church. Their business grew and expanded along with their community activities.

Tim Cox Receives President’s Trophy, reports a May 1988 headline from the Florence Morning News, as Tim was named Florence’s Handicapped Citizen of the Year. This award was followed by being named South Carolina Handicapped Citizen of the Year for 1988, as well as Employer of the Year of the Handicapped, recognized for hiring handicapped employees for his business.

But …

By 1987, Ora Lee’s donated kidney had begun to fail. Despite the tightest blood sugar control Tim and Bette could achieve, diabetes had taken a toll on the transplant, and Tim began to study the possibility of a pancreas transplant to stop the diabetes completely. There was one obstacle — he also had coronary and other major artery disease, likewise a result of diabetes. “Get your arteries fixed, and then we’ll talk,” said the physicians. That didn’t seem to be an option at the time. But in May of 1987, Tim was admitted to the hospital with unstable angina, and while an inpatient on the cardiac floor he suffered cardiac arrest. An emergency pacemaker saved his life and ten days later he underwent triple bypass surgery. Later that year, his right leg had to be amputated due to gangrene. Diabetes had wrecked the peripheral arterial system in the leg.

After recovering from all that, Tim made another call about the pancreas transplant, and after traveling alone in September 1988 to the University of Minnesota Medical Center for a complete examination, he was accepted as a candidate for a double kidney-pancreas transplant. Since the kidney was already weak, they must replace it also. While Tim awaited a donor, this time he began fund raising efforts for himself — in 1988, insurance companies considered a pancreas transplant experimental and wouldn’t cover those costs.

Tim Cox Never Gives In To Fate said Charlie Walker in a December 14th newspaper column in the Kingstree News. “Tim Cox believes when you’re handed lemons, you make lemonade,” quipped Charlie. He pointed out all the other people Tim had helped over the years, and the fact that now Tim needed help. Charlie organized a Jail-A-Thon to help out. Civic clubs, church groups, friends, business acquaintances, and even strangers — people all over the state began helping out. Billboards went up all over the county: “Tim Cox Needs $100,000.” A trust fund was set up by a local civic club, a beeper was donated, and money started coming in.

On December 23, 1988, the call came in. “We’ve got a perfect match. You need to get here within twelve hours.” But the private planes Tim had lined up weren’t available due to the holidays. And all the major airports connecting to Florence were fogged in, so he couldn’t get to Minneapolis on a regular airline, even though Florence skies were clear. Desperate calls went out for a private plane, and one was finally found in North Carolina. Friends, family and news reporters waved goodbye as Tim’s parents, Tim and Bette flew out of Florence, headed for Minneapolis. By this time Bette’s daughter Shelby Powell was helping run the business, a tremendous blessing over the weeks ahead.

The transplants took place on Christmas Eve. All day long Tim’s parents and Bette sat, stood, paced the floor and prayed in the nearly deserted waiting room, and finally Dr. David Sutherland, head of the surgical team, came out with the news. The pancreas and kidney were working fine — the pancreas fired up immediately when the last stitch went in and Tim no longer needed insulin shots. Over the next two days, bleeding problems necessitated two more surgeries, but thirty days later Tim was back home in Florence and well on the way to recovery.

Diabetes was no longer a problem but fund raising had to resume, with talent shows, gospel sings, auctions, and a myriad of other events. Slowly but surely, the community responded and enough funds were collected to defray most of the medical bills and medications not covered by insurance.

Today, over 15 years later, Tim is busier than ever. The transplants are still working fine, and Tim is a true advocate for pancreas and kidney transplants, and of course organ donation. The disease was stopped in its tracks, but the damage already caused by diabetes wasn’t reversible. Tim lost his other leg in 1989 and later most of his fingers. He’s had several small strokes which affected his hearing. However, he still runs his business, still plays his french horn for church, and is still active in community affairs and politics. In 1991 he organized the UP (for Used Parts) Club, a support group for transplant patients of all types, and established the Carolina Transplant Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to assist patients in fund-raising. He received WBTW-TV13’s “Giving Your Best” Award in 1991. In 1992 he added another division to his company, Advanced Insulation. He was named Florence County Republican Party Volunteer of the Year for 1993-95, and received the James B. Edwards Award of the state Republican Party in 1998.

Advantage: Attitude is yet another headline about Tim. “I don’t consider myself handicapped, I’m handicapable,” declared Tim in the 1992 business article in the Morning News. That really sums it up well. Tim Cox is Not Special; He’s Stubborn, said another Morning News column in 1997. “I like to surprise people. I like to do things they think I can’t do.” And he’s still doing it. Tim is now a grandfather with a two year old granddaughter, Bella. He and Bette recently added a new division to their company, Family Memories, which conducts interviews for personal histories, biographies or memoirs. Visit their web site and take a look at Tim’s resume. (No longer active.)

Tim could never have survived, much less accomplished all that he has, without the help of his family, his multitudes of friends, and his faith in Jesus Christ. Every time there was a medical setback, a call for prayer went out across South and North Carolina and things took a dramatic turn for the better. A special Bible verse came to Tim’s mom Ora Lee during a critical period, and over the years it has been a great source of strength.

If you don’t remember much else about Tim Cox, remember that verse: “With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation.” (Psalms 91:16) That is the reason that still today, Tim Cox “Sees” a Lot More Life than Most Folks Do.


Tim died in December 2006, after falling at home and breaking his leg. He underwent surgery to repair the leg but suffered a heart attack in the recovery room. He lived only one day. Everyone expected Tim to bounce back – he always had before – but his tired heart couldn’t hold out. I miss him every single day, but I know that today in heaven he is well, healthy, busy, and still very much a “people person.”

Read this post in one of my other blogs to see what I mean: https://speakingofheaven.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/touching-base/