There’s always an unrealized dream

6 mins read

It is Friday, Dec. 17, 2021 and it’s early, still dark, and I’ve got my coffee and a few minutes to contemplate the past. I don’t often do this — the clang and bang of my life prevent much pondering — but this morning I’ve got Frederick Buechner.

“But there is a deeper need yet, I think, and that is the need — not all the time, surely, but from time to time — to enter that still room within us all where the past lives on as part of the present, where the dead are alive again, where we are most alive ourselves to the long journeys of our lives with all their twistings and turnings and to where our journeys have brought us. The name of that room is Remember …”

I was born in a bait, tackle and cold beer store just south of Valdosta, Ga. There was no doctor, nurse or nurse practitioner in attendance; and but for a Gullah woman named Mollie, I would not have survived the experience.

My father, actual identity unknown, was said to have been a seller of a frequently applied, largely useless chest ointment then used against influenza, tuberculosis and what was sometimes called “indigestion” in many parts of rural Georgia.

My mother, as well as her seven siblings, lost her youth, figure and her future in the onion, tomato and turnip fields that were then the only employment for people born into that miserable, humid, gravid geography.

OK, alright, that’s not entirely accurate.

This is, however, the narrative that would have been written on the flyleaf had I been published by Doubleday or Random House. It is the narrative that would be repeated to a bemused audience when speaking at book signings.

My story actually began in Florence, S.C., during World War II when my mother, the spirited daughter of a sober, solid railroad conductor, gave birth to me attended by a licensed doctor who reshaped my disfigured head and face after a long, difficult birth.

While I was born into a war that was consuming thousands of lives each day, my early life was enriched by a grandmother, Minnie, who made sure I was held, loved and nurtured.

My father, a soldier, really entered my life when I was seven. Prior to that he had been engaged in the Pacific and Korean Wars. I was the beneficiary of his innate intelligence and his desperation to climb into the middle class.

While my father was sometimes distant, he was relentlessly curious — curious about everything. And though I didn’t know it then, I would become a devisee of his congenital curiosity.

I was born into a southern landscape complete with big-bellied sheriffs, bloviating senators and a long-suffering Black community. William Faulkner, Pat Conroy, Willie Morris, Eudora Welty knew and painted this tableau — a tableau that has informed, infuriated and fascinated readers for more than 150 years.

While I did encounter a few of these characters, for the most part I grew into manhood dealing with teachers, preachers and high school principals trying to do their jobs as honestly as possible. The colorful mendacity that came out of William Faulkner and Walker Percy was not something I saw very often but, well, there were enough exceptions to keep that genre alive and thriving.

In 1969 I married a beautiful, sophisticated young woman well above my station. She brought color and creativity into my monochromatic life. Susan also gave us a son who seems to be the amalgamation of her creativity and my curiosity.

Susan and I settled into Beaufort in 1971 and soon acquired a cohort of friends who were relentlessly idealistic, spending most of their recreational time in meetings — County Council, School Board, Coastal Council, Comprehensive Health, Planning Commission.

These meetings focused on the failure of public education, lack of basic health care, destruction of wetlands and host of proposals designed build a pathway out of the endemic poverty then prevalent in Beaufort County.

Those hours of sitting and service did not solve all the problems in Beaufort County. But it was a serious effort by well-meaning people that did provide solutions for some.


When I was growing up I wanted to be a lounge singer. I envisioned myself in a faded tuxedo playing “Misty” to a small, disinterested group of solitary drinkers. I wish I had practiced more and continued my piano lessons.

And yes, I could have flossed more.

There’s always an unrealized dream to haunt us in our old age.

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com.

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