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I wish I felt that way today

6 mins read

By SCOTT GRABER

It is Wednesday morning, and I’m sitting at the black, formica-topped shelf that separates our small dining room from our (smaller) kitchen. It’s still early, and I’m reasonably content with my coffee and my (Great Grains) cereal.

It’s the 4th of July, and I’m pondering the celebrants who will soon pour into Port Royal. The patriotic troop will park throughout town and then walk — sun block, beach towels and children in hand — to the beach. 

Once at the beach there will be swimming and the eating of hot dogs and then, later on, fireworks courtesy of the Marine Corps and the town. 

But, alas, I won’t be among the happy throng.

Every 4th of July, my wife and I travel to the home of Pam and David Taub — in Beaufort — for a reading of the Declaration of Independence. The recital involves 10 or 15 people who read parts of Declaration; and then David Taub delivers a follow-up homily on the price of freedom. 

All of this talking is paired with thinly sliced flank steak and several glasses of Pinot Grigio.

Some years ago I had a reading part. But, in a moment of miscalculation, I ad-libbed a short sermonette on (the widely misunderstood) King George III and why we might have stayed a part of the Commonwealth. 

For my mischief, reaction was swift — I was stripped of my reading part and demoted to ordinary guest. Tonight I will sip my Pinot and eat my thinly-sliced steak in silence.

But I wish I could talk because I’m truly worried about the ‘polarity’ between the Democrats and the Republicans; between the ‘Trumpistas’ and those who loath the former realtor; between North and South.

Although I had a wandering, peripatetic youth, I was greatly influenced by my maternal grandmother who lived in Florence, S.C. Minnie Riddick Teachey was more of a mentor, and best friend, than a grandmother. And when I was 17 she became my refuge. It was during this time that I came to think of myself as ‘Southern.’

In the last couple of years I’ve noticed small things, magazine articles mostly — that take gratuitous shots at all things Southern. 

Last month there was article in the June 24 edition of the New Yorker that was a ‘take-down piece’ on the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga. Before that, there was Spying on the South by the late Tony Horwitz.

The concept of spying is to follow in the footsteps of Frederick Law Olmsted who did a ‘turn’ in the South 10 years before the Civil War. 

While Olmsted made three trips and was focused on slavery and its manifestations, Horwitz chooses the Creation Museum in Kentucky to get his insight into the Southern species. Then it’s off to a ‘Louisiana Mudfest’ where hundreds gather to race monster trucks. After that it’s a mule trip (in Texas) with a brutal and offensive mule-skinner named Buck.

Well, you get the drift here — we mule-skinning, mud-racing Southerners are truly worthy of contempt.

But I also think the Scots-Irish who populate much of the American South have a persisting, corrosive distrust of the ‘elites’ who migrate from Williams or Brown into offices in Washington, DC, or to Wall Street in lower Manhattan. Although these Southern folks don’t usually write for the New Yorker or the Washington Post, they do vote. And these days they are sticking, velcro-like with Donald Trump.

When I was in high school in Florence, I belonged to the student ‘chorale.’ In that capacity, I toured with our singing group north, ending up in Kingston, N.Y. 

It was here, in Kingston, where we performed our signature anthem — a slow, solemn, hymn-like rendition of Dixie. When we were finished there was mostly silence in the packed auditorium.

Then members of the Kingston chorus began to file onto the stage — this was unplanned — and then their student director asked our student director if we would join them in Battle Hymn of the Republic.

As we stood together on that stage and bellowed “My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” I noticed that just about everyone in the auditorium was crying. 

And in that fleeting moment, I felt a kinship with these northern students. And in that same moment, I felt very good about the United States of America.

I wish I felt that way today.

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