February 27, 2021


South Carolina really knows how to have festivals!  There’s the annual Chitlin’ Strut in Salley and several Lowcountry seafood festivals.  But nothing can top the Irmo Okra Strut!  Since 1973, a late September weekend has brought everyone out to celebrate okra.  Only in 2020 was it canceled because of the COVID pandemic.

There were parades with the Irmo High School marching band, firetrucks, beauty queens—and of course, politicians.  No one halfway serious about getting elected in South Carolina would miss being seen at the Okra Strut.

Local crafts people and cooks had booths with okra cooked every way imaginable, wreaths and other crafts featuring the okra pod—sprayed gold or covered with glitter.  There were tee shirts and caps for sale, and every kind of okra trinket imaginable. Over the years, the festival stretched into two days, with a Friday night street dance.

In 2008, we decided Sam and Eli (about 3 1/2 years old) needed to be introduced to the Okra Strut.  I drove over from Nashville, Patrick and Julia brought the boys from Swannanoa—and we spent the weekend at a motel in Harbison.  We visited many Columbia and Irmo friends, ate at Lizard’s Thicket, and of course, planned to take in the Saturday Okra Strut parade. Friday evening Patrick went to get something from the car and when he got on the elevator, a familiar looking person was the other occupant.  He recognized Senator Lindsay Graham—and proceeded to speak to him.  The Senator responded cordially.The parade went off with the usual flair, until we saw Senator Graham sitting in an open convertible waving to the crowds. A small group of picketers were following him along the route protesting something or other.  Just as his car drew near us, the Senator lost his cool.  He loudly pointed at the picketers and angrily yelled a string of expletives at them.  It just wasn’t what we expected to hear from a U.S. Senator—especially at the Okra Strut.   He won re-election and over the past few years, his behavior has often reminded me of his angry outburst that Saturday morning.  Political leaders eventually do show their true colors.

February 26, 2021

First grader cousins
Delbert, Sally and Elbert with Joy


The Cate twins Delbert and Elbert were born to Clifford and Abbie Cate the July before I was born in January. Harriet said her sister-in-law Abbie gave her advice on birth control when she and Arley married, warning her that she was too old to have another baby.  Then Abbie was herself surprised with twin sons—after Leroy, Ralph, Hoyt and Dorothy were practically grown! Harriett was pregnant with me when she went to spend a couple of days with the Cates to help with the new babies that summer, but said she hadn’t told anyone yet.

When the boys turned six, they went to North City School and were in Mrs. Violet Riggs’ class.  With a January birthday, I was supposed to wait another year.  Already reading and ready to learn, I couldn’t wait. Harriett knew Violet Riggs well and asked her advice.  “If you can get Sally into some type of kindergarten program,” she said, “I think I can secretly add her to my class roll in January without any problem.”

Of course, there were no kindergartens in Athens, but another friend, Miss Willie Callen, taught a remedial class for local children who couldn’t learn in public school.  They may have had learning disabilities that weren’t recognized then or other special needs.  She agreed to take me as a “special case” and I happily went to the downtown upstairs office space where her class gathered. Then after Christmas break, I joined the first grade at North City School.

It was hard to come into the class after they’d all learned the rules.  I was especially nervous about going to the girls’ restroom, which was at the bottom of some stairs from the hallway.  The first time I needed to go, I persuaded Delbert to walk me to the bottom of the stairs, which he bravely did and then scampered back upstairs.

Violet Riggs and her North City First Graders

This photo of our first grade class was made in front of the school office.  Elbert and Delbert are in the center of the front row.  I am on the back row at Mrs. Riggs’ left shoulder.  I recognize little friends Adelia Ann, Edanna, Freddie Ross, Jimmy, Bobby, Gleda, George, Carolyn and others.  It looks like Elbert and Delbert may actually be barefoot!  Classroom rules were much different in those days.  It was a good but short school year—and I was grateful for an understanding teacher and my cousins Delbert and Elbert.

February 25, 2021

Coffee and beignets with neighbor Alicia, 1970


When we bought our first home in Columbia in 1970, a bonus was having the Dolans as neighbors just a block away—at the corner of Beltline and Trenholm.  John was a brilliant and irascible history professor at Carolina—a former Jesuit priest.  His wife Alicia was a gentle and creative woman, with the husky voice of a chain smoker.  

On this particular day, she had come over (probably without John) for coffee and homemade beignets with us.  This was before Patrick was born so Heather’s just 2 years old.  I loved the dining room in our Cape Cod home on MacGregor Drive.  The house had tall ceilings and plaster walls—there were two big windows in the dining room—and a wonderful recessed window in the living room.  The Mona Lisa look alike print on the wall was a souvenir of a trip to the National Gallery of Art.  It felt so good to make those delicious beignets and coffee to serve my new friend in our dining room.

Alicia had a son and daughter from a previous marriage and devoted a great deal of her energy to defusing John’s outbursts.   We thoroughly enjoyed visiting back and forth as neighbors.  A short time later, she took up a new hobby—first in making ceramic miniatures for dollhouses and then she created a unique design for Christmas ornaments on which she painted lovely designs.  She began selling her wares at area crafts fairs and by mail order. Soon she enlisted others including another neighbor Carol Buckley to create more of them. They are still among my favorite ornaments each year. They are as lasting as my love for this dear friend who once  was my neighbor.

Alicia’s ornament for my new house, 1980

February 24, 2021

Celebrating Granny Hurst’s 100th Birthday (2/25/1963)
Blanche, Charles, Harriett and Nannie Belle


Emily Belle Wheeler Hurst (1862-1963) was a force of nature!  Born in Virginia, she had eight children and outlived four of them. She said she remembered when they got the news of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. She was a lifelong Democrat (only breaking the cycle once when she voted for Eisenhower), Methodist and a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.  She said anyone who wanted to go to heaven should read the Bible every day, the Reader’s Digest every month and grow strawberries (to cultivate patience, she said). And at 100, she still stayed awake every evening to watch the 8 o’clock news.

Harriett loved this mother-in-law of hers and the family continued to count her as “family” after Robert’s death.  When she and Arley were planning to marry, they visited “Mother Hurst” in Morristown to ask for her blessing.  She loved Arley and would come spend a week with us every summer.  Jerry, Joe, Bill and I felt sure she must be our Granny, too—and sat charmed as she told stories of life long ago and read Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales in dialect.  

Harriett was especially close to Robert’s sister Nannie Belle, and Granny made her home with her in Morristown for many years.  Aunt Nannie Belle was a schoolteacher.  After she had her family and was widowed, she remarried Mr. Owen.  They had a large rambling house with wraparound porches. Children and grandchildren were always around for picnics and fun. We spent many Sunday afternoons visiting there.

As Robert’s only child, Glenn always held a special place in Granny’s heart.  He named his only child Emily for her. And he died three years before Granny did, which was yet another heartbreak for her.

The family had a grand celebration for Granny’s 100th birthday!  She was confined to bed her last few years but was still very alert and outspoken.  Bert Vincent, a popular Knoxville newspaper columnist, interviewed her for a story.  He made a comment about the recent Cuban missile crisis and Granny said, “Old Khrushchev. There’s one man I wish the Lord would take from this earth!” She was thrilled to get a congratulatory birthday letter from President John F. Kennedy.

Harriett, Katie and Emily and Tootsie drove to Morristown for the big birthday celebration.  Harriett made one of the many birthday cakes for the occasion—and I think Tootsie helped her make it fancier for the special occasion.  The photo shows Harriett with two of Robert’s sisters—Blanche Hurst Pangle and Nannie Belle—and his brother Charles. Another brother Bill was also there. Since we were living in Houston, I missed the celebration but over 230 guests dropped by for the Open House on Granny Hurst Day the Tuesday after her birthday. On her actual birthday the previous Sunday, February 25, Aunt Nannie Belle hosted a dinner for over 30 relatives including Harriett, Katie and Emily, and Tootsie.  All were family—even if not kin.  

Tomorrow will be the 159th anniversary of the birth in Virginia of Emily Belle Wheeler Hurst!

Nannie Belle Hurst Gilbert Owen (1980)
“Harriett’s other sister”

February 23, 2021

Sunday in the Smokies: Sally, Arley, Katie and Harriett


This photo is one of the few I have of Katie as she looked when I first met her.  After the disappointment of losing his Hawaiian sweetheart, Glenn began noticing a young woman who rode the bus every morning as they went to work.  He was working at Epperson Hospital by then, and she told him her job was in the business office at Foree Hospital. She and her parents had bought a house recently across the Decatur Pike from the log house which was now Glenn’s home. She was Katie May Blair.

Before long, he brought her to Sunday dinner to introduce her to us.  I was fascinated!  She was soft-spoken with soft brown hair. I especially noticed her hands—she had short plump fingers and wore a dainty cocktail ring with tiny diamonds. She ate very slowly—carefully chewing each bite.  Being an outspoken child, I naturally asked her why she ate that way!  She smiled and politely told me she chewed each bite 100 times because it was healthy.  I liked her from the start.

Katie usually preferred tailored simple clothes.  For her wedding she bought a white crepe dress to wear but that morning she decided it just wasn’t her.  So she wore her blue gabardine suit with a white blouse and pearls instead—and her sister Zeola (her matron of honor) wore the white crepe bride’s dress.

One Sunday after church—again with everyone still in their Sunday best clothes—we took a road trip to the Smokies.  My parents, Glenn and Katie (who were married by now), and my girlfriend Joanna enjoyed an afternoon stopping at overlooks like this one, and had a picnic lunch at a roadside park.

Years later, after Glenn died in 1960, Katie became friends with Rhoda Deakins.  She was a lovely woman who never married.  She had family in Middle Tennessee that she visited often and I’m not sure how she got to Athens.  She was a member of our church.  Rhoda had a slight lisp and was always gracious and kind. She worked as a secretary for my brother Monte at the Athens Hosiery Mill. By then, Katie had an office job at the Athens Stove Works.


Rhoda convinced Katie to join the local chapter of Pilot Club International.  Organized in 1921, this was a women’s organization focusing on friendship and service.  In Athens, these clubwomen had several fundraising projects for community needs. They sold cookbooks published by the national group, Claxton fruit cakes, homemade aprons and more.  Absolutely the most popular was their Christmas fudge sales! 

They worked for months—each member made many pounds of creamy chocolate-pecan fudge, peanut butter fudge, and other varieties. All from their secret no-fail recipes.  I know large quantities of marshmallow crème were involved. The Pilot Club ladies carefully cut and packaged the fudge in Christmas boxes for sales.

While they made fudge together, these working women like Katie and Rhoda became close friends.  What will power it took to make all that candy and not sample it (much).  It was impossible to eat only one square of the rich and delicious Pilot Club fudge!  

February 22, 2021

Big brother Buzz with baby John


Mildred was laughing when she called us with the surprising news that she and Easy were expecting a baby in September, 1953.  She was thrilled but surprised.  Buzz was all set to be an only child, and now this.  That summer they stopped by to visit on the way home from time in Florida with Mildred’s parents.  She was tanned and happy, and Arley (who was in a wheelchair following a stroke the year before) was glad another grandchild was coming.  

Arley died on August 12 and John Arlie Eaves II was born on September 29 in Ashland, Kentucky. There weren’t many in person interactions during the next years.  With Arley gone, Easy didn’t visit Athens much.  I literally didn’t see John until my wedding weekend!  My little Hurst niece Emily (age 9) was excited to be a junior bridesmaid—and Harriett suggested John (age 8) would be a perfect escort for her.  Mildred and Easy agreed and John was adorable in his little navy tux.  We moved on—and our paths next crossed when Heather was a student at Vanderbilt and John, Kay and their three sons moved to Nashville to continue their ministry to international students. 

What a surprise and joy it was to get acquainted with John and Kay! To see their unconditional love for people from all over the world, to experience their warm hospitality, and to share Eaves family stories.  John became the family pastor—conducting funerals including Harriett’s in 1992. 

When a new job brought me to Nashville in mid-2001, John said I could live at their house until I decided whether to relocate permanently. For more than a year, I lived in a spare bedroom and shared other living space in their home.  That time was such a blessing to my life and I treasure the memory of it.

With Kay and John, Annapolis, May 18, 2002

The world seemed to stand still on September 11, 2001, while I was living there. Kay and John came to Annapolis to celebrate Patrick and Julia’s marriage in May, 2002. Much of that year, John shuttled back and forth to a new ministry position at Hephzibah House in New York City.  When I finally found a house I liked in Nashville, John came over to inspect it from top to bottom.  When he said it was soundly built, I decided to buy.  It was a joy to be able to have them over for meals—after being their house guest so long!

In 2003, John was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer and underwent chemotherapy. That July I hosted an Eaves Family Reunion honoring John.  We rented tables and linens for my carport, prepared a souvenir booklet about the family, put framed photos and flowers on the tables, and had a festive picnic style lunch together.  Arley’s grandchildren Farrell, Patsy, Buzz, John, Jerry, Bill, Heather and Patrick were all there—plus an assortment of their spouses and children.  Everyone shared family memories and stories about the first John Arley Eaves—it was a beautiful day.  

Eaves Family Reunion, July, 2003

John died at home on February 22, 2004, just a few months after joyfully celebrating his 50th birthday with family and friends, food and dancing. Instead of asking why his life was cut short, John steadily continued his witness of God’s grace to the end.  His emails (later published in a booklet, Finishing Well) throughout his illness inspired so many. He also preached several powerful sermons in his final months.  But John’s very best sermon was his life—a wonderful surprise!

February 21, 2021

Weena with Dori Sanders, 1998
Weena with Ruthie Bolton, 1999


In the fall of 1998, I took Weena to the South Carolina Book Festival at the USC Coliseum on Assembly Street.  We enjoyed hearing some authors speak and looking at the book tables.  She was especially eager to meet author Dori Sanders, whose book Clover she had read.  Dori Sanders was gracious and autographed her latest book Dori Sanders’ Country Cooking: Recipes and Stories from the Family Farm Stand for Weena.

The contrast between this author’s life and that of the younger Ruthie Bolton was striking.  Both are black women who’ve lived in South Carolina all their lives—and both have had success as published authors. Dori Sanders came from a large farm family and her father was a school principal.  They had one of the oldest black-owned farms in upstate South Carolina.  Dori and one of her brothers were the only children who remained on the family farm.  They operated a roadside stand selling their peaches and other produce.  Dori loved farming, cooking, and observing all the people she met at the roadside peach stand. She told stories and was encouraged to write.  Clover was her first success, published in 1990 when she was in her 50s. She was amazed to have a literary agent in New York City, and was able to rent an office in nearby Charlotte, North Carolina, where she could go to write.  She enjoyed the book tours and festivals but was always happy to return to her farm life.

Ruthie Bolton (who never used her real name) was abandoned by her 13-year-old mother and raised by her grandmother and step-grandfather.  She experienced extreme oppression and abuse until her escape after high school graduation.  She was working at a nursery in Charleston 1993 in when a groundsman from author Josephine Humphrey’s home came to pick up some supplies.  She told him she wanted to write the story of her life and he took her phone number to give Ms. Humphreys.  When the author called Ruthie, she recognized the power of her story.  Twice a week for eight weeks, Ruthie went to Humphreys’ home and told her story.  Humphreys took the 25 mini-cassettes, transcribed them verbatim and sent them to a publisher.  Gal: A True Life was published in 1994. Humphreys wrote the introduction to the book and commented that Gal  sold more copies than her own novels such as Dreams of Sleep and Rich in Love. The two women lived ten minutes apart—but worlds apart in their life experiences. 

Ruthie said her experience as a published author was too drastic a change for her.  Although she enjoyed flying for the first time, staying in fine hotels, and going to book events, it was very stressful for her.  People sent her gifts and mail.  Finally, she decided she’d had enough of it and wanted to go home. Her marriage did not withstand the pressures of this period—and ended in divorce.  Except for occasional talks to book clubs or her children’s school groups, she leads a private life.  The newspaper clippings, photographs and gifts were all packed away in her garage. She was glad to have the financial resources to buy her suburban home but went back to work doing bookkeeping and billing at a nearby Firestone store. 

Ruthie mentioned to Weena that Dori Sanders was another author she liked reading, and that she would like to write a sequel to Gal.  As far as I know, she never has.  I often wonder how her life has changed since we visited her in Mount Pleasant in 1994. 

A lover of flowers, Ruthie said her favorite is the sunflower.  She ended Gal:  “I really like sunflower. Because it makes you happy, you know. And if you plant one, regardless of how you set it, when the sun is shining, whichever direction the sun is shining, I swear to God you might see that flower turn yourself. The face of the sunflower will turn directly towards the sun. As the sun moves around, I swear, it moves. It follows the sun.” So did Ruthie Bolton!

February 20, 2021

Weena interviewing Ruthie Bolton, April 18, 1999


Weena Gaulin, a beautiful student from Reunion Island, was at the University of South Carolina for the 1998-1999 year.  She had come all that way in search of a woman she felt compelled to meet.  While on a beach vacation to Australia, she had read a book that changed her life—Gal: A True Life by Ruthie Bolton. This painful true story by a South Carolina African American telling of the incredible abuse she suffered primarily at the hands of a cruel step-grandfather went straight to Weena’s heart.  She decided she wanted to write her thesis at Universite de la Reunion on this book.  To do so, she determined to meet and interview the author.  

Ruthie Bolton was a pseudonym the author chose to protect her privacy and her family. Weena knew the story took place in South Carolina.  Surely she could find the real Ruthie somehow, she thought. At the university, she asked everyone she met if they had heard of the author.  She used clues from the book she practically had memorized and by early spring, she met a student from Mount Pleasant who said she knew someone who knew Ruthie.  Weena convinced the person she wasn’t out to embarrass Ruthie but just wanted to interview her for her thesis.  She got a phone number and called.  Speaking to Ruthie, she explained her mission and requested an interview.  Ruthie was hesitant at first, but after several conversations, agreed.

She told Weena to come to her home on Sunday, April 18 for lunch with her family.  Afterward she would let her interview her.  Weena didn’t have a car and asked me if I would take her.  I agreed, and Ruthie consented. She instructed us to meet her in a Food Lion parking lot at 11 o’clock that morning, and she would lead us to her house.

Ruthie and children, Mount Pleasant, SC 1999

Armed with her notebook and a cassette tape recorder, Weena was giddy with excitement.  Ruthie came over to our car in the parking lot for introductions and we followed her home.  She had three daughters and a son, all teenagers with beautiful smiles and warm but shy personalities.  They lived in an attractive and spacious suburban home with a carefully manicured lawn. 

Ruthie had her children serve the delicious Southern Sunday dinner she’d prepared for us.  We sat down with the whole family, Ruthie said grace and we ate together.  Pork chops so tender they melted in your mouth, rice and gravy, sweet potatoes seasoned with nutmeg, fresh green beans cooked to perfection with ham, fresh strawberries and cantaloupe for dessert, and sweet iced tea.  Ruthie said she loves cooking—and would love to have a restaurant except for how much work that would be.

After lunch, we moved to the living room where Weena began her three-hour interview.  She gave Ruthie an outline of her proposed thesis. It was a fascinating afternoon—hearing her talk about the way the book changed her life—both for good and bad. And to have her describe how she came to write the book and what it was like to travel about for readings and interviews (she was a guest on The Oprah Show) and why she has retreated from public life. She also answered Weena’s questions about the tragic details of her early life that she had revealed in her book.

She fixed Weena a gift basket including autographed copies of her book and two ceramic figures she had a friend make for her—they were a little boy anda little girl reading Gal.  She also gave me an autographed copy of her book, in which she wrote: Sally, Thanks for taking out time to bring Weena. It’sbeen a pleasure having you over. You must come again. Love, Ruthie Bolton.

Ruthie thought Weena was beautiful like her daughters and said she would never have agreed to meet with anyone else.  As we drove home to Columbia, Weena said, “I am exulting!”  And by that fall, she was back in Reunion Island writing her thesis.  She mailed me a copy—An Exploration into the Power-Relations in Gal, A True Life (1994) by Ruthie Bolton (1961- ).  Ruthie never told us her real name.  We never saw her again.  But what a day we had!

February 19, 2021

Sunday visit at the Moss Farm in Polk County


Arley was born in Polk County—maybe at Wetmore—near Delano.  Chester Moss seemed to be his primary link back to where his life began. There was a perception that they were cousins but I haven’t discovered the link.  I do know these two men had a strong bond of shared memories and that they loved the countryside where they were born.

Some of my earliest memories are a series of Sunday afternoon drives through the country to visit the Mosses. We would go after church, Harriett still in her Sunday best dress, hat and purse.  I can’t imagine why she didn’t change to comfortable clothes!  On the drive to Delano, Arley would point out familiar sites along the way where he’d spent his early years. 

As soon as we got out of the car, it was like stepping into a different world.  Everything seemed so slow moving and peaceful.  Chester would be wearing tan workclothes and a hat, and his wife Ada a simple print dress.  They had three daughters, the older two already grown, but their youngest Haroldean was always kind enough to entertain me (although she was about 10 years older). 

The men would sit outside on wooden cane bottom chairs under a big tree.  Chester liked to tilt his chair backward against the tree as he talked. Arley always seemed more relaxed here than anywhere else. Sometimes they would walk around the farm, checking out the crops and livestock.  I think Chester had horses, and that was another shared love with Arley.

Ada, Haroldean and Harriett at the Moss home

I was most fascinated with their house!  It was old, unpainted wood, with a tin roof and heated by a fireplace.  Just stepping inside was like going to another world.  The house was always dark, with wallpapered walls and unfinished wooden floors.  The furniture was dark and there was always a strong smell of smoke from the fireplace.  The old clock on the mantel ticked loudly and chimed on the quarter hour.  They cooked on a wood stove, used a dipper and bucket to get water from their well. There was no indoor toilet and they were still using kerosene lamps.

Sally and Haroldean

Those Sunday afternoon visits eventually became less frequent over the years and then stopped.  Chester died at age 90 in 1980 and Ada at 104 in 1996.  They were still living on the Moss farm near Delano.  This week I found a 2019 online obituary for Haroldean—Wilma Haroldean Moss Wiggins of Polk County .  It listed her parents, siblings, children and grandchildren. It said she had worked many years at The Drug Store in the county seat of Benton.  There was a slideshow including photos from her early years on the farm.  I remember the place she first called home.  It was a wonderful place to visit on Sunday afternoons!

February 18, 2021

Sally and Joy


This little white pup was really unforgettable!  Some neighbors from Eaves Street—the Wattenbargers—called Daddy to say their dog had had puppies.  They’d found homes for all but one—her tail was exposed to freezing temperatures and they’d had to amputate most of it.  She just had a little stub of a tail left.  Did we want her? 

Of course!

She didn’t look like any other dog I’d ever seen—no one seemed to know what breed she was.  Somehow her little face always seemed to have a sad expression.  That black button nose and eyes on her shaggy white face. She was energetic but gentle.  

I’m not sure why I named her Joy—but probably because it was my best friend’s middle name—Barbara Joy.  Barbara’s family always had a cocker spaniel pet.  They seemed very fancy—but my Joy was just a bundle of love.

We always said she was a mind reader—she seemed to know where we were going whenever we got into the car. If Mother was driving to pick me up at North City School, Joy would bark and beg until she let her come along.  Not so if we were going to church—that wasn’t Joy’s thing!  She also loved to eat Mayfield’s ice cream—as we all did and still do.  Sometimes Daddy would stop at the store on the way home from work and pick up a quart of ice cream.  As soon as he got out of the car, Joy was excitedly barking around his legs waiting for her dish of ice cream.  How could she know he had that ice cream, we wondered.

I can still see her when we gave her a bath—and smell her wet fur as she shook herself dry when the bath torture was finally over.  

When I was 7 we moved from the log house (where this photo was taken) back to the Eaves house on Eaves Street and Joy had new places to explore.  One summer we had family company—and we piled into the car to go visit some other family.  Joy chased after the car as we started off, begging to go along, but we had a carful and told her to go back home.  Sadly, one of the neighbors came along while she was still in the road barking after us and ran over her.  He felt terrible—and carried her to our house.  She was badly hurt and broken—there was nothing the vet could do, he said. We made her a little bed in the laundry room and watched over her. She wouldn’t eat.  “Give her some Mayfield’s ice cream,” I said.  Surely that would save her.  We set the dish before her and she just couldn’t eat any.  We knew that was the end.  Sweet little Joy.