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Monday, June 18, 2007

What was I thinking?

The AP Chem teacher at school warned me. It’s the most intense class I’ve ever had, she said.

Pour moi? Non. No chemistry class is too intense for me. Piece of cake, I thought.

She was right. They Law, I’m too old for this! My brain is fried.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

AP Chem Institute in Aiken

Well, I made it to USC-Aiken in a little less than two hours today. The last time I was in this town was about thirty years ago. Sure has changed. I don't remember it being as hilly though, almost as hilly as it is at home. For some reason I was thinking the topography was more like that around Orangeburg.

I haven't been in a dorm room since brother Keith was at Clemson twenty years ago. The dorm I'm staying in is called Pacer Commons. It's only about two years old and very nice. Now let's go check out that single dorm bed. Oh, joy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Poplar Legs

My papa, Charles P. Kuykendall, told me his daddy had “poplar legs.” I thought he meant “popular legs” – an awful weird thing to say about your daddy.

One spring day, Papa and I were walking through the woods to go trout fishing and came up on a yellow and orange, tulip-like blossom in the path. I picked it up and took a whiff. It smelled sweet. I thought about touching my tongue to it to see if it was sweet tasting, like honeysuckle, but it was loaded with little black bugs and I thought better of it.

“That came from this poplar tree,” he said and patted the rough, dark gray, straight trunk.
I just about fell backwards straining to see the blossoms silhouetted against the blue beyond the canopy way above my head.

“Oh! Legs like a poplar tree!” I said. “I get it now. Your daddy had very long legs, right?”

“Right.” Papa smiled, nodded, and we kept walking.

Robert Valentine Kuykendall lived in Hendersonville and was about 6-feet 5-inches tall. And that’s where I got my long legs, everybody tells me. Great Granddaddy’s parents were Henry Pinkney Kuykendall and Cynthia Carolyn Capps Kuykendall. He was from a long line of Kuykendalls who settled in Carolina backwoods when it was still wilderness, about twenty years before the American Revolution.

I had seen a couple of pictures of my great grandfather as an old man when I was little. In one, he was sitting on an apple crate with my then six-year-old Uncle Johnny in his lap. He could have gotten three more younguns in that lap. In the other picture, he was standing in front of my grandparents’ farmhouse in Greenville, near Parris Mountain, wearing overalls. His plow mule was behind him, all hitched up. I swear he made that mule look like a pony.

At one point, he delivered mail in the mountains. I recently acquired a picture of him sitting in his mail wagon. He really fills it up, too. I wonder if I got my wild imagination from him. Papa said he was a real storyteller, and he sang little songs he made up all the time. I wonder if the brain in that big Kuykendall head was just clicking away with stories, poems, and lyrics while he was riding those mountain roads. Mine goes into overload when I’m driving alone or on the tractor cutting the grass.

My uncles told me he once knocked out Jack Dempsey cold when Dempsey came to Hendersonville to train. It seems they needed a big fella for him to punch on. After that, they told Gramps to go home; they didn’t need him any more.

All those Kuykendalls are naturally strong, big size or not, even Momma. When we were almost grown, she could still scoop us up and throw us over her shoulder like we were small sacks of chicken scratch. She’s pushing eighty now and still strong.

My favorite of all the Kuykendall pictures is one I found in a box of genealogy stuff I inherited from Momma’s Aunt Helen. I calculate it to be about 110-years-old. Robert Valentine is sitting in a chair in a photographer’s studio with two toddlers in his lap. I think they are his first two tow-headed sons, Rufus and Roy, and I figure Robert is about twenty-six-years-old in this picture.

Knowing that back in those days you had to sit still a while to have your picture made, I’m absolutely fascinated by this picture. First of all, there are two toddler BOYS in his lap who had to sit still for about ten seconds. How the heck did he accomplish that? His lips are parted under a (I imagine copper and gold) handle-bar mustache. I bet he is whispering, “Be still. Be still,” to them. I think the older boy, Rufus, was able to comply, but not the least one — his little feet and face are blurry.

When I was making out the invitation list for my wedding, I sat in Papa’s kitchen going over it with him to see if I left anybody off. He was stirring his coffee with annoying clinks and staring at me.

“What is it?” I asked.

“You know, you favor my daddy more than any of us.”

Well, that just threw me for a loop. I had only seen the pictures of him with the mule and the one with Uncle Johnny before then. He was a bald, pot-bellied old man. I teared-up a little. How could Papa say such a thing? And how can looks skip three generations, anyway? That hurt my feelings. But I didn’t let him know. Papa died of a stroke a couple of weeks after that. He never got the chance to show me the other pictures he had of his parents when they were young. My wedding day, one month later, was bitter-sweet.

I never saw those pictures till last year when I got the box of stuff that belonged to Aunt Helen, and there was the 110-year old picture. Those cheekbones, that nose, that forehead, and lips – all mine (and my brother’s) sans mustache. And I’ll be darned if looks can’t skip down three generations.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Long time no rain.

I enjoyed the rain today. I sat in the rocking chair on the porch and watched the early evening storms while eating cantaloupe wedges from a Tupperware bowl. They weren’t bad storms, the wind wasn’t even blowing hard. The porch hardly got wet. The lightening streaks seemed to just jump from cloud to cloud. I think we got a half inch yesterday and an inch today. It rained steady for about two hours tonight. You could almost see the grass stretching and greening up. And just in time for the new flower pots I put out last night.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Let it go.

She asked for my senior citizen’s card that Wednesday morning. I had run by the bakery at the Bilo in Lyman to get some muffins for my department meeting that afternoon. What prompted her request, I have no clue. Except, perhaps, it was because I had pulled my shoulder-brushing bob cut back and pinned it on the top, exposing the newly emerging silver at my temples. She didn’t look any older than the 9th graders I’d been teaching that semester. When I said, “What?” she promptly explained that seniors get a 5% discount on Wednesdays.

“How old do you have to be to get a senior citizen’s card?” I asked.


“How old do you think I am?”

“Uhh, Fifty-five?”

“Sorry, hon, but I have nine more years to go to be considered a senior citizen at the Bilo.”

“Sorry.” She looked at the register screen. “That’ll be $12.60.”

I scanned the store. At 7:00 am, it was deserted. “Wait just a minute, okay? I’ll be right back.” The checkout was right in front of the pharmacy, and the Clairol Natural Instincts boxes were
only a few steps away. I pulled a strand of still wren-brown hair from over my ear and held it in front of my eyes while comparing it to the pictures of luxurious locks on boxes. Toasted almond appeared to be the closest to my natural color.

The box sat on the counter in my bathroom for about six weeks before I got the nerve to do the deed. By then, school was out for the summer. I was right about the color, it was a near perfect match the natural shade of my youth, which still ruled the back of my head.

I only used the color about every four months until the rate of white hair growth increased. I began to get what I have always referred to as “skunk head syndrome”. That’s the white streak you get at your part when the color grows out. It wasn’t so bad when the white was just in the front. Then I increased the coloring rate to once every six weeks. I quit using it the summer I turned 51 years old. Right after my husband told me the gray shone like polished silver in the moonlight spreading slats through the mini-blinds in our bedroom. Let it go, he said, let it go. So I have for the past year. But I’m not ready for that senior citizen’s card yet.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Wood's Chapel

Great-grandma Johnson was a Westmoreland before she married. And her mother was a Wood, the great-great-granddaughter of Rev. William Henry Wood, an American Revolutionary War Patriot and pioneer Methodist minister in the South Carolina backcountry. Last month the Mecklenburg Chapter, (NCSSAR) of the Sons of the American Revolution honored his memory with a marker ceremony at the Wood’s Chapel United Methodist Church cemetery on Brown Wood Road, Greer, SC. That’s right near the intersection of Interstate-85 and Highway-101, practically across the street from the BMW plant entrance. (Yes, they build German cars on top of my ancestral stomping grounds.)

Born December 16 (same as brother, Keith), 1756, in what is now Warren County, NC, he served in the struggle for American freedom as a member of the Third Division of N.C. Militia under Lieutenant Henry Shurrin and Colonel Hebert Haynes. He participated at the battle of Guilford Court House and other engagements during his service in the Revolution.

He married Elizabeth Mayfield in July 1777 in Warren County, N.C. She died soon after the marriage and he remarried Nancy Burns. He and his second wife moved to the Spartan District in South Carolina after the Revolution where he started a Methodist meeting house near the Greer area which is now called Wood’s Chapel United Methodist Church.

In 1803 during a trip through South Carolina, Bishop Francis Asbury wrote in his journal that on Nov. 1 he rode to the Reverend’s home and preached there the next day. William Henry Wood lived in the same home until his death on June 12, 1843.

All my life, I’ve lived within 8 miles of Wood’s Chapel but have not attended services there. I’ve been a member at Startex United Methodist, now First United Methodist Church – Startex.
I’ve visited the Wood's Chapel graveyard several times, especially when I lived in Greer. I told my children the same thing my Papa Kuykendall used to tell me whenever we visited the graveyards at Mud Creek Baptist in Flat Rock, NC or Double Springs Baptist down the road from there. “You’re blood kin to most of these bones under your feet.” The exception being that these bones are on my Johnson side, not the Kuykendall side.