Two lanterns for the South (and humanity) – a reprise

I wrote this article over four years ago, I felt we needed to escape politics of the day.

Two of my favorite authors have died in the past weeks – Harper Lee and Pat Conroy. They both were lanterns into southern life, showing the world our love, anguish, bigotry, eccentricity, manners and eccentricities. Yet, they showed all of humanity these same attributes and asked us why must we have these barriers to each other?

Harper Lee wrote the best and most impactful novel I have ever read about the south in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She created through Scout’s eyes a hero in her father, Atticus Finch, that she had to learn how great and brave a man could be. She had written a previous manuscript, which was initially not accepted, but it was released this past year as “Go set the Watchman.” I have this book, but have not read it, as it paints a different version of Atticus, a journey I do not want to take.

In her Pulitzer Prize winning Mockingbird, we learn what racism under Jim Crow looks like. She sneaks it up on you, so by the time the reader understands what is going on, they are hooked and ready to take up for Atticus and Tom Robinson, just like Scout and Jem did. I have written before about the novel and movie, but let me repeat my favorite parts. First, when Atticus leaves the court room after losing the case, the minister admonishes Scout to stand like everyone else is because “Your father is passing.”

The other is when the female neighbor is consoling Jem after the loss. She notes “There are people who are put on this earth to do our unpleasant tasks. Your father is one of them.” Yet, that is what makes the book so marvelous, we are seeing Atticus and racism through a child’s lens. And, it also confirms what is noted in the Rogers and Hammerstein “South Pacific” that bigotry has to be carefully taught. Scout and Jem have been taught not to be bigoted.

As for Conroy, he put in words stories and characters who make the south live. Critics have noted that he has written novels around his father being a very abusive man. It is true that many of his novels, like “The Great Santini,”  “The Prince of Tides,” of “South of Broad,” have elements of his father therein, with Santini being a thinly veiled biography. Yet, his books are much more than that.

My first Conroy book was “The Lords of Discipline” which is about a young cadet being asked to look after the first black cadet at a southern military school, which looks and smells like The Citadel, where he went to college. I normally like to read the book before seeing the movie, but the latter lead me to the book. The Bear was the grandfatherly mentor at the school referring to his mentees as “his lambs.” And, he called the lead character Bubba, which is a nickname for brother, usually because a younger sibling could not pronounce brother.

“The Water is Wide” is great auto-biographical read and was made into a movie called “Conrack,” which is how the Daufuskie Island children, who spoke Gullah, pronounced Conroy’s name. He set out to teach these kids how to read and expose them to new things, rather than just shepherd them along. Eventually, he was fired for being rebellious, as the principal did not want these kids getting aspirations.

He also penned “My Losing Season,” which is a true story of his basketball playing days for a very poor and inconsistent coach. Reading this book led me to a realization that I actually saw Conroy play basketball in the mid-1960s, when The Citadel played Jacksonville University. He spoke of the players I saw for the Jacksonville team, as my father would take us to the games and this is where I learned what The Citadel was.

Yet, my favorite is “The Prince of Tides,” which also was made into a movie with Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner and Nick Nolte. The movie was good, but left out the best example of a character in a Conroy novel. The grandfather was so religious, every Easter he would drag a cross around town to suffer like Jesus did. When he got too old to do this, the family put the cross on roller skates, so he could wheel it around. That is classic eccentricity.

If you have not read them, please give them a chance. The movies are excellent, but the books have so much more to offer. These two will be missed.

Two lanterns for the south and humanity

Two of my favorite authors have died in the past weeks – Harper Lee and Pat Conroy. They both were lanterns into southern life, showing the world our love, anguish, bigotry, eccentricity, manners and eccentricities. Yet, they showed all of humanity these same attributes and asked us why must we have these barriers to each other?

Harper Lee wrote the best and most impactful novel I have ever read about the south in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” She created through Scout’s eyes a hero in her father, Atticus Finch, that she had to learn how great and brave a man could be. She had written a previous manuscript, which was initially not accepted, but it was released this past year as “Go set the Watchman.” I have this book, but have not read it, as it paints a different version of Atticus, a journey I do not want to take.

In her Pulitzer Prize winning Mockingbird, we learn what racism under Jim Crow looks like. She sneaks it up on you, so by the time the reader understands what is going on, they are hooked and ready to take up for Atticus and Tom Robinson, just like Scout and Jem did. I have written before about the novel and movie, but let me repeat my favorite parts. First, when Atticus leaves the court room after losing the case, the minister admonishes Scout to stand like everyone else is because “Your father is passing.”

The other is when the female neighbor is consoling Jem after the loss. She notes “There are people who are put on this earth to do our unpleasant tasks. Your father is one of them.” Yet, that is what makes the book so marvelous, we are seeing Atticus and racism through a child’s lens. And, it also confirms what is noted in the Rogers and Hammerstein “South Pacific” that bigotry has to be carefully taught. Scout and Jem have been taught not to be bigoted.

As for Conroy, he put in words stories and characters who make the south live. Critics have noted that he has written novels around his father being a very abusive man. It is true that many of his novels, like “The Great Santini,”  “The Prince of Tides,” of “South of Broad,” have elements of his father therein, with Santini being a thinly veiled biography. Yet, his books are much more than that.

My first Conroy book was “The Lords of Discipline” which is about a young cadet being asked to look after the first black cadet at a southern military school, which looks and smells like The Citadel, where he went to college. I normally like to read the book before seeing the movie, but the latter lead me to the book. The Bear was the grandfatherly mentor at the school referring to his mentees as “his lambs.” And, he called the lead character Bubba, which is a nickname for brother, usually because a younger sibling could not pronounce brother.

“The Water is Wide” is great auto-biographical read and was made into a movie called “Conrack,” which is how the Daufuskie Island children, who spoke Gullah, pronounced Conroy’s name. He set out to teach these kids how to read and expose them to new things, rather than just shepherd them along. Eventually, he was fired for being rebellious, as the principal did not want these kids getting aspirations.

He also penned “My Losing Season,” which is a true story of his basketball playing days for a very poor and inconsistent coach. Reading this book led me to a realization that I actually saw Conroy play basketball in the mid-1960s, when The Citadel played Jacksonville University. He spoke of the players I saw for the Jacksonville team, as my father would take us to the games and this is where I learned what The Citadel was.

Yet, my favorite is “The Prince of Tides,” which also was made into a movie with Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner and Nick Nolte. The movie was good, but left out the best example of a character in a Conroy novel. The grandfather was so religious, every Easter he would drag a cross around town to suffer like Jesus did. When he got too old to do this, the family put the cross on roller skates, so he could wheel it around. That is classic eccentricity.

If you have not read them, please give them a chance. The movies are excellent, but the books have so much more to offer. These two will be missed.

 

Treasure the eclectic – I do

The world would be much less interesting without our eclectic friends. Conformity is overrated and when done in excess makes us too vanilla in our thinking. We need a little Cherry Garcia ice cream to keep things entertaining and innovative. It is not unusual that some of our most brilliant minds and artists have been willing to leave the white lines of life’s highway. As a result, we have benefitted from their eclectic thinking.

In fact, a Higher Education expert says innovation often occurs in the various intersections of different disciplines. These intersections are enablers of creative ideas and discussions. This is one reason, before he died, Steve Jobs designed the new Apple headquarters with small rooms that would allow these accidental intersections to occur as people ventured from the restroom, breakrooms, workout rooms, etc.and bumped into each other. “Whatcha working on?” would lead to a brainstorming session.

This is one reason Malcolm Gladwell’s books (“The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” “Blink”) stayed on the best seller list so long. Gladwell said he has always looked differently from others and his parents moved some, so he felt like he was always an outsider. So, his writings seem to have an outside looking in perspective on things. In other words, he had not grown up in area, so he did not conform to the local way of doing things. He could question why do you do the things that you do. Gladwell had an eclectic bent.

Yet, I did not want this post to turn too serious, as I preferred to highlight a few eclectic stories, some real, some fiction that I treasure. They exemplify who we are as a world of imperfect humans.

– Several years ago, the Chicago River was leaking into a tunnel as a hole was accidentally punched into the bottom of the river. The story I was told was after much consternation and failure to stop the leak, a boy suggested that old mattresses be used. Guess what, they plugged the hole with a combination of cement and old mattresses.

– My father grew up in a rural town in south Georgia. He was given the chore to look after the hogs which included the naming rights. So, my dad named all the hogs after movie stars. Sophie Tucker, Mae West, etc. Of course, this became a problem later on, as he became too attached to the hogs and farm life is very basic in mission.

– Speaking of naming rights, my family has a habit of driving named cars, some we named, others which were given to us. My wife likes red cars, so she has driven Miss Ruby, Ruby Red Dress and Miss Scarlett. My cars have less fun names in the Purple Dragon (it was burgundy) and the Grey Goose. One of my best friends used to drive us around in high school in “Old Betsy” a beat up Chevrolet he inherited from his dad.

– One of my favorite Pat Conroy characters is in his novel “The Prince of Tides.” Unfortunately, the movie did not include this character, so you need to read the book to find his story. The grandfather of the main character was very religious and would demonstrate his faith every Easter by dressing up as Jesus and lugging a homemade cross around town. When he got older and the cross became too heavy, his family put the cross on roller skates, so he could complete his annual mission.

– Speaking of fictional characters, one of the most inventive series of characters were on the second Bob Newhart show. And, they never spoke. Into the Inn three brothers would walk and only one would speak. “Hi, I am Larry. This is my brother Darryl and this is my other brother Darryl.” Priceless. Of course, in real life, the boxer George Foreman named his male children all George. I guess he was covering his bets that his name would live on.

– Speaking of Easter, I would try to attend midnight mass each year with my best friend who is Catholic unlike me. Each midnight mass, the priest would wish to his congregation “Happy Easter” as well, as he knew he would only see a great percentage of them again in 365 days. This Father is still with us as he presided over the funeral of another friend’s mom a couple of months ago.

– The other midnight mass ritual we would do, is afterwards, several of us high school or home from college friends would go caroling into the wee hours. Our other friends would be greeted by a knock on the door at 2 am. They would open the door to see these big guys singing horribly various Christmas carols.

– I have written before about my wife’s Aunt Mary. She died at the age of 99, living all but five weeks in her own home. Aunt Mary never replaced her false teeth once they were burned up in fire, so the last twenty years of her life, she gummed her food after tearing it up with her hands. She did not want to bother with new ones. She also was candid with her economy of words, while her younger sister, my wife’s mother, was effusive and did not let the facts get in the way of a good story. After my mother-in-law went on about how good-looking a young man was, Aunt Mary said “all I can say is he was a poor pasture to lead your cows into.”

My wife and I treasured Aunt Mary. I treasure the eclectic. In the southern United States, we often use the word eccentric to mean someone a little different from others. A little “southern eccentricity” can be a good thing. I told my wife, I want to be that eccentric old man, as it would be too boring to be a conformist. At a bare minimum, I want to remain ecelectic. Please feel free to share your eclectic stories. I would love to read them.