When you look at photographs like this one, do you wonder what is at the end of the road? I do. As I become consumed with wanderlust, I find joy in exploring what is around the corner or at the end of a canopied country road.
On my travels, moments of whimsy cross my path or I am delighted to find a garden in an inspired location.
It is Monday and I wonder what adventures await me this week? What is around the corner? What awaits you?
"I guess I love mischief as much as Amelia Bedelia. I simply enjoy laughing at life." - Margaret Cecile "Peggy" Parish
I love words. Two of my favorites are arugula and Bok Choy because of the way they roll around in my mouth. When I first read Peggy Parish's book about Amelia Bedelia, I was delighted to follow Amelia as she took a standard phrase and turned it on its ear. When asked to dust the living room, instead of cleaning every surface, Amelia covered the furniture with a fine powder. Ms. Parish wrote of interpreting language literally through the antics of her most beloved character Amelia Bedelia. Because of my love of words and Ms. Parish's whimsical approach to language I believed I would understand who she was with little effort. I was wrong.
Margaret Cecile "Peggy" Parish was born in Manning, S.C. on July 14, 1927. Ms. Parish was a peer of my mother but unlike my mother and the women of her generation she never married. After graduating from the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, she moved first to Oklahoma, then Kentucky and finally to New York City to teach. Through a conversation with Susan Hirschman, a parent of one of her students in New York City and founder of Greenwillow Books, Ms. Parish creates literalist Amelia and becomes a respected author of children's books. As Joe Friday of Dragnet would say, "The facts ma'am, just the facts." But as I venture out on the Pride of Place Tour, I am looking for more. I am looking for how the author's hometown left its imprint on the writer
I've been able to piece together that Peggy's family was poor with her mother dying when she was young. Ms. Parish said she was a sickly child and that her love of reading and writing developed during that period. As the author stated herself, Manning was a place "where everybody knew everybody" and life centered around church and school. She did not say whether these aspects of Manning's personality were comforting or something else. Both the Parish children received a college education with Stanley, her brother, becoming a physician but there is no mention of who paid for their education. Milestones in Ms. Parish's life are treated, as one would imagine Amelia herself would, literally with no embellishment.
Amelia "drawing the drapes"
I acknowledge that Ms. Parish was an unusual woman for her time. She embarked on a career in another part of the United States, leaving behind her Southern home to teach and write when other women of her generation aspired to be wives and mothers. She built a lucrative writing career in the publishing capital of the world and left a legacy that still exists today. But the question still begs to be asked. How did Manning, S.C. shape Peggy Parish? Ms. Parish returned to live in Manning before her death at 61. She was not old by our standards and she died from an unexpected ruptured abdominal aneurysm. Her health seemed to be fine so she wasn't returning to Manning so her family could care for her. Had she returned home as a conquering hero or seeking the comforts of family and home?
While I am not clear on how Manning touched Ms. Parish, I am clear that Ms. Parish touched Manning. The town celebrates her life and work though a statue of Amelia Bedelia in front of the library, hosts a Peggy Parish Literary Festival and continues to compile stories and memories of Peggy. Everyone I talked to in Manning knew her work and her most famous character. Manning is proud to call her theirs.
Today Amelia Bedelia lives on through the efforts of her nephew, Herman Parish. After Ms. Parish passed away, he continued the series. Amelia Bedelia is part of HarperCollins I Can Read Series. If you have a budding reader in your family then Amelia Bedelia may just be the girl for you!
Recently, my granddaughter asked me to read to her a charming book titled, Amelia Bedelia. Amelia, the heroine of the story, works as a housekeeper and is a true literalist. When asked to dust the furniture by her employer, she lightly covers all the home's furnishings with a fine powder. The story is a funny glimpse into the use and meaning of words. To celebrate the last hooray of summer before work and school started in earnest, I headed to Charleston, South Carolina to experience some of America's best restaurants and get in some serious beach reading time. Also, it was the perfect time to begin the second "season" of my Pride of Place series. In my research of the area, I learned that the author of Amelia Bedelia, Margaret Cecile "Peggy' Parish, lived a short distance away from Charleston in Manning, South Carolina.
I headed out in the cool of the morning - or as cool as it gets down south in August - to explore Manning and see what insights I could glimpse of Peggy Parish through her birth town. I prefer to avoid the Interstate and take the back roads as I search for the hometowns of the authors on the Pride of Place Tour. The terrain between the beaches of Charleston and the low country of Manning is rich and lush. Bright green marshland is woven around and through Charleston and becomes pine and oak forest the further from the beach you drive. I take the back roads in hopes of finding small towns and crossroads with assorted craftsman selling birdhouses or other handmade crafts. On the way to Manning, I found acres and acres of pine tree farms, wind blown oak trees and fields of soy beans, dried sun flowers and corn stalks. The congestion of Northeast became an illusive memory as I became accustomed to roads canopied by oaks trees covered in Spanish moss.
Built circa 1906
My first stop in Manning was the public library. A statue of Amelia Bedelia stands in front of the library to honor and acknowledge Manning's native daughter, Peggy Parish. As has become my modus operandi, I dropped into the library to chat up the local librarian on town lore. The young volunteer working the desk was kind and suggested I walk next door to meet with the town historian. Archivist Nancy Cave and Glyn Oliver Bethune are the go-to people if you want to learn about Manning past and present. I was ushered into the old Manning library during lunchtime as we swapped stories about living down south. We had a dynamic and rich conversation about Peggy Parish, the Swamp Fox and the demographic changes in Manning.
One of the most interesting facts I learned talking to Ms. Cave was prior to the building of the Interstate Highway System, U.S. Route 301 was the main road used by New Yorkers to get to Florida. Manning and many other cities thrived as tourist made their way south to vacation in South Florida. Large homes on either side of the highway became Tourist Homes and lodged travelers for the night and then sent them on their way the next morning after breakfast. As Ms. Cave said, "We would call them Bed and Breakfasts today."
Manning as the county seat of Clarendon County pays homage to another South Carolina favorite, Francis Marion - aka The Swamp Fox - through a series of murals painted on the building throughout the town. Francis Marion earned his nickname due to his stealth and cunning during the Revolutionary War and the murals tell that story. It is a lovely walking tour that allows you to be outside and learn about South Carolina's part in the revolutionary war.
I continue to be amazed at the individual creative spark that exists in our towns and cities and Manning is no exception. Friday, I will blog on Peggy Parish and her work as an author. Chat later!
P.S. A heartfelt thank-you to Nancy L. Cave and Glyn Oliver Bethune of the Clarendon County Archives & History Center. I learned something new and met two really nice people -for me that is a perfect day.
Summer is in full swing as my squash and zucchini plants are heavy with fruit and I am in full gardening gear as I work to out wit our resident groundhog in battle for the most tender parts of the lettuce. He is winning. My grandkids are visiting one at a time this summer instead of descending upon us in a pack. There is such joy in these intimate and joyful visits but I will be the first to concede that at times very tiring. On about the third day of their visit I am reminded why parenthood is for the young.
I am calling these visits, the Weekend of Yes. Each grandchild is told yes to anything thing that is safe and within the budget. They ask to go to Time Square so they can visit the M&M store and purchase a pound of M&Ms. Yes, let’s do it! You want cookie dough pancakes with whipped cream? Yes, coming right up!. The grandkids control the remote control and I gladly watch reruns of the University of Florida playing football against a Southern rival while my grandson excitedly narrates each play it is about to happen. They choose the play, the movie, the museum and the kinds of food we eat for this one special summer vacation as well as what time we go to bed. It is their Weekend of Yes. The WOF is a once in a lifetime treat; a very special treat because it happens only once during their childhood.
I am saying yes to a few things that I want to share with you. Footsteps is starting a new series on Wednesday called Letters From Dixie. We are printing letters from a displaced Southerner to her sister as she attempts to navigate the ideas and people of her new Northern home. I hope you are amused by Dixie's observations as I am. Also, I have discovered a new podcast that has captured my attention. Malcolm Gladwell is on episode 09 of this podcast Revisionist History. Gladwell takes a second look at events that shaped actions and thoughts in the United States and questions there impact. While I don't agree with all his conclusions, I find it refreshing to give brain power to ideas instead of the minutiae of the current media banter.
And finally how about the Olympics! Inspiring and dramatic are two words that come to mind as I watch this year's event in Rio. If you get a chance to check out Under Armour's new video piece on Michael Phelps, do it, it is worth your time. Their new tag line is Rule Yourself. I Will. I believe that slogan rivals the Nike, Just Do It!
And finally, finally. The Pride of Place tour is gearing up again so be on the look out for the next installment.
I New York! My affection for the City is multifaceted and is shaped by the knowledge that with an estimated population of 8.5 million people, one can find a minimum of 150 like-minded individuals on any interest or need. Monday night I enjoyed the fruits of one such group, The Gingold Theatrical Group. The GTG presents the works of George Bernard Shaw as a "platform to entertain, enlighten and enrich." Shaw was an Irish playwright and critic who wrote satirically about the leading political issues of his day.
GTG as Visiting Presenters at Symphony Space -home to my favorite, Selected Shorts-hosted a one night only reading of Shaw's play, Geneva. I must first say that I knew very little about Shaw before attending last night's performance. I did know he wrote the play Pygmalion that was the bases for the movie My Fair Lady. I loved the movie and who wouldn't with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in the title roles. The film won 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. I was twelve and in love with the music, particularly The Rain in Spain but embarrassingly I was oblivious to the irony and political overtones of the musical.
To be oblivious Monday night was impossible to anyone sitting up right and breathing. The evening opened with GTG's Creative Director, David Staller, giving an engaging introduction to Shaw and his play. Geneva was fast paced, witty and frightening in the context of what we know today about World War II. Geneva shines a light on the dictators who were democratically placed in a position of power and explores how Fascism grabbed hold of a people. Shaw wittily remarked that "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve" and uses humor and wit to look at world crisis in the making.
After the performance, half the audience remained in place to take part in a "Talk Back" hosted by Staller with Irish Consul General to New York, Barbara Jones and Professor Andrew M. Flescher joining him on stage. The exhilarating conversation that followed touched upon Shaw's politics, Donald Trump and the competency and diligence of the European Commission bureaucrats. (Ms. Jones steadfastly maintained that individuals who work for the EC are caring and capable. I liked Ms. Jones from the get go because of her measured responses and wonderful accent but liked her even more after her straightforward defense of the EC bureaucrats. I am weary of all the negative speech from U.S. politicians during this election season and it was just plain nice to hear a politician say a kind word about another person.)
But I digress, two of the actors, Jay O. Sanders and Christine Pedi, - joined the audience for the discussion- giving their take on Shaw and the play as performers and actors. I was completely enthralled as Sanders described how he would visually support Shaw's words if he were to direct a full-blown production. I was reminded there are working actors in New York City theatre that love his or her work and continually strive to elevate the craft.
Shaw's words have lingered long after the walk home from the theater. I will definitely be exploring more of Shaw's work and checking out additional performances by the GTG. If you live here or are heading to New York City over the next couple of months then I encourage you to check out GTG and Symphony Spaces. Broadway is wonderful but if you venture out beyond Time Square and 42nd Street, you may find yourself surrounded by ardent enthusiasts who will give you a glimpse of the true magic of theatre.