"I'll Fight Him with Words"
I like sports but was not born an athlete. I have taken great delight in being a loud mouth fan, and I do like the great sports books of David Halberstam. He wrote about my almost Uncle Leon Culberson who goes in for Joe Dimaggio's brother Dom in the 46 World Series, 6th game of the BoSox against the Cards in St. Louis; wrote about it in his sweet baseball book, The Teammates.
I have taken delight in kicking some football players tail in a couple tennis matches. Both times were hilarious. Not lookin to get my ass kicked for reminding them cause I have great deal of respect for all the parties as football players, it is just funny to see them get serious about playing tennis and knowing it is bad manner to jump over the fence and beat your ass just cause they are losin a sport they can't play that well.
Dr. Rajesh Mehra and I did it in mid 70's in the Gaffney peach festival tourney against a High School All American who became a runnin back at USC. He was my brother's hero, and married a good lookin girl in my Dad's church in Gaffney; good guy, but Rajesh and I had to give him and the head football coach that year a lesson there at Irene Park.
And then there were the scenes in the mid 90's right out of a George Singleton novel playing with the good sports in their round robin summer Friday night extravaganza's here in Collinsville. If the ball bounced off the light pole and stayed in play, it was still in play. I didn't argue with them cause they were born here and I was relative newcomer and they were usually about 5 of a six pack in if it got close to a tie breaker, and Jesus forgive me, but I usually went home with the six or so dollars wagered, that is if Ricky Myers game was holdin up as my dbls partner.
So turns out one of them is an Eagle's fan and that is where the story came from but it is theirs to tale.
I hope to cut and paste something I got published in the Gaffney Ledger earlier this year, hoping they will appreciate it.
Also, great opening to get them to get the local lyberrian to get another decent book in the lyberry cause I really think they may like this one; Mark Kemp's Dixie Lullaby.
It waxxes eloquent in his tribute chapters to the Allman Brothers and Lynnard Skynard with this prose on the genius of REM and how they brought it all together:
page 179...."REM had taken Southern music beyond the moody blues of the Allman Brothers or the angry honky tonk swagger of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The South or REM had an artistic and intellectually detached quality, its landscapes painted with the colors and hues of textured guitar tones and vocal nuances rahter than emotionally reactive, blow by blow narratives. The gand's sound captured the pastoral ambiance of southern life without all the social baggage. Stipe's impressionistic lyrics and garbled vocal delivery didn't reveal much about the singer's specific feelings. It wasn't that he lacked emotion--in fact, in some songs, such as the delicate, "Camera", his voice positively bled--it's just that his enunciation was so vauge that the songs offered only glipmses of his pain."
And this about a concenrt experience in Greensboro NC in 84: "Stipe seemed to be expressing emotions I was having in a way that made me feel completely understood for the first time--more understood that I'd felt listening to the Allmans or Skynyrd. I felt understood on an intellectual as well as an emotional level. He stripped away all the crap that comes along with being southern, and the only thing left was pure humanness. The artist in Stipe seemed to have an understanding of humanity that transcended the burdens of our shared southern heritage."
For jocks, Baptist deacons and others who don't have the time to read Faulkner, Marshall Frady or Cormac McCarthy, this may be the one they read this decade in addition to the collection of Finebaum or Fly Jamma Flamma or the latest devotional book on the Life of Paul the Bear Bryant.
As the cover says this is a good one: "Kemp offers a lyrical, thought provoking searingly intimate and utterly original journey through the South of the 50's-90's viewed through the prism of rocknroll. With brilliant insight, he reveals the curative and unifying impact of rock on southerners who came of age under its influence in the chaotic years following desegregation. Dixie Lullaby fairly resonates with redemption."
Published in the Cherokee Chronicke, Gaffney South Carolina; April this year
Letters for Publication
The Cherokee Chronicle
Gaffney South Carolina
Last July I road up with my sister and her family to Washington DC to bury my Dad's Brother Fremont at Arlington National Cemetery. Coincidentally that weekend a friend from Birmingham was in town doing some progressive Baptist work and he asked me to go to church with him on a Sunday morning to hear a good preacher, native of Arkansas. I went. Preacher's topic was Kingdom of God is like a High School Reunion and he finds a text and tells the story of his 40th in Arkansas and how almost all of them turned out all right.
I went to my Furman 30th in October and got to thinking about it all and decided it was my time to speak at the Gaffney 35th this fall. So I ruminated and called several folks and finally somebody risked their caller ID and Tommy Jones, our President picked up the phone. I told him I had decided it was my time to speak and I always thought I could do a better job than him or Jeff Pettit. He agreed but said the bad news was as often happened when we were in High school I would be talking to myself cause 71 didn't do the fives they only did the tens and there were no plans this year.
But it was great talking to him anyway. I had forgotten one of his brother's names and called my brother to tell him and he remembered. Been thinking about Gaffney anyway as I had put Sidney Rice clippings around several places here in Momma's small hometown in NE Alabama and was irritating a few folks and that was the point anyway.
Then I see where the good preacher Donnie Padgett is having a Revival in May 31 years after Dad chaired the Bill Glass Crusade. And I talked to Rajesh Mehra on the phone when I went up To DC and was gonna go see him but missed the metro line out to his part of town. Also have become acquainted with the works of Ron Rash the poet, and novelist who was raised in Boiling Springs and graduated Gardner Webb in 75 and made a big splash with the LA Times and other book reviews with his 2002 One Foot in Eden. Good chance a friend and I here in Bama may splash with him with the screen adaptation.
But I digressed. I'm thinking about Gaffney and reading RAsh's poem on textile mills, the Hub City project Textile Town about Spartanburg County and the passing of an era and wanted to share Rash's poem from Eureka Mill with yall since I was taken with the whole thing last few years I lived in Gaffney in mid 70's.
Rash from Eureka Mill
The Last Interview
That's an early portrait on the wall,
painted the year I graduated from
Princeton University, the year
I took my first trip to the continent,
a disappointment, except for the wines.
But I digress. You spoke of exploitation,
the working man's abuse by men like me.
If they were so abused why don't they go
back to the farms they flee to work in mills,
become Vanderbilt Agrarians
quoting Cicero as they slop their hogs.
In thirty-four when the Union leaders came
and promised everything they could, then more,
my workers stuck with me. My workers knew
I'd take care of them. Eureka ran
when other mills shut down. I took a loss
so they could have some work. Noblesse oblige
is an idea we still live by in the South.
All Men Created Equal? Yes, perhaps
but see how soon we sort the top ones out.
Watch any group of children, they have leaders,
followers and stragglers. It does not change
as they grow older. No one questions rank
in war or politics so why not business.
Don't think that I am stupid. I see your pen
hasn't moved since this interview began.
You'll slant what I have said to fit your needs.
I know how writers work, their luxury
of always being outside looking in,
passing easy judgments while they risk
nothing of their own, mere dilettantes.
Your words mean nothing to me. I know the truth.
I gave them more than they ever had before.
Out of nowhere pretty much Rash is profiled in current issue of Oxford American Magazine with Tim Tyson, and Daniel Alarcon. Alarcon is a native of Peru, but prep schooled in Birmingham and kinda getting to know him also with another project I'm working on with a prescient here in Bama.
But it is Tyson I close with. Tyson is a United Methodist minister's son, and his experience in Oxford, North Carolina, about 30 miles above Duke University and 20 miles sideways from where my Dad went to seminary; while rawer, mirrors my family's waning days in Gaffney. No vendetta here; Momma forgave everybody the last three months or her life in 1988, and if it was good for Paul and Silas and my Momma, it is good enough for me.
But, to any of you truth seekers out there in Cherokee County, find his book and read it. I may not have the moxey he has nor the gift, but the revenants he brings back from the early 70's is much of the story I always wanted to share with loved ones with whom I wrestled there in Gaffney. I do not mock when I say that, just in a version of My beloved Dad, Billy Fox making another appeal, come again to the truth the fountain of life and drink from the water freely.
Near the end of Tyson's book is a chapter "Go Back to the Last Place Where you Knew Who You Were." For me that coulda been the fall of 1969, Miss Youngblood's 4th period Algerbra II class. Down the hall is Charles Foster waiting on graduation day May 1971, about five people in front of me and it is passed time to start and he hollers back at me: "Fox Get this show on the road, I'm Hurdlin out of this town." Down the Hall his cousin Schuyler is waiting on the future and her career with BMW, who in the 90's will send her to send her to South Africa at the end of apartheid, and it is Sky, of Gaffney, South Carolina who will go in a plant there and tell management: "Get these pictures off the wall; My People Can Read."
And in another room is Fletcher Smith, who just a few years later will be in law school at USC and President Ford comes to town and Fletcher asks several sterling questions. Later Ford asks the President of the SC Bar Association, his host for the Day, who the black student was asking all the great questions and the Lawyer says: "That was the irrepressible Fletcher Smith."
And then in another room Johnny Dawkins is toying with ideas, thinking about how he may dodge a linebacker in the Lancaster game, bout 15 years shy of the day he will be in a room with Quincy Jones, as one of the five finalists to adapt The Color Purple.
But on that day in 69, I am in the back of the room of 4th Period laughing with Gary Jones and Mary Jane Pettit, and we're trying to figure out our place in the scheme of things and the late bell rings and 30 seconds later in walks the Charming Jimmy Baker,--see the 1997 National Book Award Winner Charming Billy by Alice McDermott-- heavily pain medicated cause he broke his arm, and he's carrying a five pound weight cause that is what the doctor told him to do to get the bones to heal in place; and Ms. Youngblood says something to the effect: Jimmy, there aren't any special people in here, the tardy bell has rung and let this be a warning football game isn't till Friday night.
At which point Webb Pierce says: Cut him some slack Ms. Youngblood, my boys a star and we got to get that arm healed so we can go all the way this year.
Jimmy Baker is gone now. And time passes and we are in our early 50's and the generation between us and the great beyond is passing everyday and there is no cushion, no partition between us and the Sweet hereafter. It was only yesterday, clicheish as it is, I was talking to my Dad there on Dogwood Drive about James Dickey and his poem Looking for The Buckhead Boys. Now it is Our Time for the great Reminiscing stage and the Next Chapter.
But most of us were on our way to knowing who we were then and in memory we know Now.
I'm from Gaffney, couldn't be prouder
And if you can't hear me I'll say it a little louder.
Stephen Fox, GHS '71