Bob Dylan, take note: The times they have done changed

Vintage wedding cake by pompixs and licensed at DepositPhotos.com

 

Whatever happened to simple weddings?

My wife Margaret and I got married 34 years ago in her parents’ living room, in Columbia, with maybe 10 people, tops, in attendance.

This past Thursday, Aug. 25, we drove to Athens, Ga., to make arrangements relating to our youngest son’s upcoming wedding featuring (at last count) 300 guests!

Our mission was to arrange for the wedding rehearsal dinner. You may recall the now-famous Pizza Proposal with a Diamond Topping, the story of which is posted right beneath this one. The wedding will take place on April 8 in Athens, where the bride’s parents live.

Now I’m finding out quickly how far behind the times I am. Who knew that arrangements for a little ol’ marriage could lead to exhaustion and penury?

Listen: the Normandy Invasion did not require the planning and logistics that a big wedding calls for nowadays.

Three-hundred wedding guests!

Why, on our way to Athens we passed through towns that did not have that many people living in the whole place! One such town was Paxville, a community in Clarendon County with a population of only 185 in the latest census.

So if all the guests for this wedding lived in Paxville, the town would be vacant and abandoned on April 8 — and we’d still need to borrow 115 more souls from nearby Pinewood (pop. 459) to make our quota of 300!

Lordy mercy, my dear old grandmother would say! (Note that I did not refer to her as “sainted,” but that’s a story for another time).

Arranging the rehearsal dinner, for which Margaret and I are responsible, seems easy by comparison to the responsibilities of the bride’s parents. Nevertheless, I returned home exhausted. It is not easy (nor inexpensive) to arrange dinner and drinks for 60 people and to find the ideal location for these festivities.

Is there adequate parking? How about access for the handicapped? How will seating be arranged? Who’s on third – no, wait; that’s another routine.

Long story longer, we traipsed all over town (and Athens is NOT Paxville) looking first at this place, then at that place, only to find that the very first place we had seen (Lyndon House Arts Center) was easily the best, after all.

We booked it.

So now could we go to lunch and call it a day?

Of course not, stupid! Now we had to find a caterer.

Oh.

“Don’t you know that an army moves on its stomach?”

“Well, yes, but I’m only just now realizing that I’m picking up the check for all those stomachs.”

More to the point, the currently betrothed son is only one of my four sons – and will be the first to wed. This one is being held in an arts center. Any others will be held in the poorhouse.

And I know what you’re thinking: I should have thought of this a long, long time ago – 34 years ago at least.

And all I can say is, True that!

Frankly, I like the “rehearsal dinner” my old friend Bobby Woodward says he and his wife Mary had years and years ago in Augusta, Ga.

Laughing, he said, “I sprung for a Dr. Pepper.”

The pizza proposal with the diamond topping

I know yCarsonClaireou’ve heard that love will find a way.

Me, too, but who knew that a pepperoni pizza could be part of Cupid’s plan?

You listening?

He was a boy, 26, from Columbia, South Carolina.

She was a girl, 23, from Albany, Georgia.

He graduated (English) from the University of South Carolina (Go, Gamecocks!)

She graduated (social work) from the University of Alabama (Roll, Tide!)

This Southern boy and this Southern girl first met in Charleston, South Carolina, that Holy City of the American South.

This Southern twosome fell in love in Charleston, the perfect setting for Cupid’s marksmanship. Ask anybody who’s been there.pizza

Then, last week, this Southern boy and girl got engaged in Des Moines, Iowa.

Wait! Iowa?

Yes.

Iowa as in the Midwest – roughly a thousand miles from Charleston?

Yes.

But how…?

Patience, children.

His brother Tyler was a student at the Charleston School of Law. So was her sister, Anna.            One weekend, Claire Roth drove from Albany to Charleston to visit Anna. Carson Lamb drove down from Columbia to visit Tyler.

Bingo!

After all, they quickly found that they had a lot in common – not least a fondness for pizza.

Fast forward nearly four years. Carson has graduated from the Georgia State School of Law and taken a job with the Baudino Law Group in – you guessed it – Des Moines, Iowa. Claire now has a master’s degree in social work and is a school-based therapist in Des Moines with a private practice. The two Southerners moved to Des Moines last January.

Earlier this month, on a business trip to Atlanta, Carson bought an engagement ring on the quiet and had it delivered to his office back home.

Then he went to work on a delivery system of his own. These were the elements: a stroll downtown after supper to a local landmark, the Iowa Women of Achievement Bridge, and a “chance encounter” with a friend of Carson who moonlights at Domino’s.

The friend approached them, holding out a box of pizza to Claire, and saying that he had a “failed delivery” and that she and Carson could have the pizza free if they wanted it.

Do you smell a thickening plot?

When Claire looked back, Carson had dropped to one knee and was extending the ring for her to see, and the friend had opened the box to reveal a pizza with the words “Marry Me” spelled out in pepperoni — with a green pepper question mark.

The girl said yes!

They all then adjourned to a nearby wine bar where Carson had arranged a party with their local friends. Next they enjoyed champagne with Claire’s parents, Ira and Julie Roth, of Athens, Ga., who had flown into town for a weekend at the celebrated Iowa State Fair – and stumbled into their daughter’s surprise pizza proposal and engagement.

“None of my friends were surprised that Carson used pizza to propose,” Claire said. “I’ve always loved pizza. It’s probably disgusting how much I love it.”  Full disclosure: Both Carson and Tyler Lamb are the sons of this columnist and his wife Margaret, and Claire Roth is their future daughter-in-law.

P.S. The Des Moines Register caught wind of the Pizza Proposal and ran a story on it on August 10.

 

 

 

A confession: How to speak Southern

Okay, get the handcuffs ready. I’m about to confess:

By day, I am Robert Lamb, famous author of great novels. No, wait! Make that “relatively unknown author whose books were best-sellers in certain quarters,” namely my mother’s bridge club.

But by night I am, by design, mind you, the equally unknown Y'all Ain't From Around Here, Are Ya?author whose nom de plume is (drum roll, please) Cooper Riverbridge. (Note to all Ivy League grads out there: “nom de plume” means pen name.)

In 2009, disguised as Cooper Riverbridge, I wrote and published “Y’all Ain’t From Around Here, Are Ya?” The subtitle was “How To Talk Like a South Carolinian,” and the book was illustrated by friend Rob Barge, (who then lived in Columbia but who since has deemed it wise to retreat to Georgia). A statute of limitations thing, if I recall. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Rob.)

What brought on this confession? Well, I remembered the other day that the first thing Dick, my new neighbor, said to me when we moved to Litchfield Country Club and he heard my Southern drawl was, “I’m from New York. You won’t hate me, will you?”

Little did he know that he was addressing the very man, perhaps the only man in these parts, who could help preserve his Yankee hide. At the time, I could not blow my cover, for the book was setting new records in low sales. But that was then and this is now. Here’s the book’s brief introduction:

“Folks in South Carolina are known for many things – firing on Fort Sumter to start the ‘War of Northern Aggression,’ a curious obsession with beach music, a strong affinity for mustard-based barbeque, a fanatical devotion to college football, and their peculiar attraction to a dish called shrimp & grits. But above all, South Carolinians are known for one major attribute: they talk funny.”

My little book was aimed at helping people like Dick understand the language in this neck of the woods and to avoid that damning question posed to all – and they are many – who came here from north of the Mason-Dixon Line: “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?”

Herewith a sampling:

  • ACKRUT – A not quite accurate pronunciation.
  • BAD to – Strongly inclined or strongly prone to, as in “He was bad to steal chickens.”
  • CARO-LEEN-IANS – Natives of the state as pronounced by a former governor who couldn’t pronounce the name of the natives of his own state. (We won’t reveal his name, but his initials were Carroll Campbell.)
  • CHEER – Something you sit in if you are a South Carolinian. Everybody else prefers a chair.
  • DILL – To South Carolinians this is an agreement; to everybody else it’s a pickle.
  • FEM – another word for movie.
  • FIXIN’ to – Preparing; getting ready, as in “I’m fixin’ to go to the store,” which is often pronounced “stow.”
  • LIBERRY – A storehouse for books as pronounced by a former University of South Carolina president.
  • RUBBA – A word that around here has lost its ‘lasticity.’

The list in the book runs through the alphabet, but you get the idea.

For clarification to newcomers, I might add that Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge replaced the old Cooper River Bridge, from which I purloined the pen name.

And before you ask, I was born in South Carolina and grew up in Georgia.

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Book Review: One of Us Is Sleeping

OneSleepThe biggest problem with Josefine Klougart’s One of Us Is Sleeping is that the one asleep is probably the reader.

Even a stream of consciousness novel, which is what this is supposed to be, is supposed to go somewhere—and leave the reader with the impression that he has been there and that the journey, however long, was worthwhile.

This novel opens with a section whose title seems an inadvertent forewarning: The Light Comes Creeping. Alas, so does the storyline, which seems to be a woman’s novel-length reflection during a snowbound Danish winter on a broken romance. On and on it lurches, in fragmented thoughts and images, till you want to say, “All right, already, I get the picture; the lout broke your heart. Get over it and get on with how it all happened.”

So much for inspiring reader empathy!

Okay, maybe even at this late date there is something rotten in the state of Denmark, and for all we know it is the SOB who left her. But this gal is so self-absorbed it’s a wonder she saw him leave. No problem; he won’t really be missed. The protagonist resolves on page 210 “To enter inside the grief and remain there.” She even adds: “I will insist on being a distressed person within the world.”

Fine. But she’ll have to live with the knowledge that self-absorption just ain’t all that interesting. In fact, maybe that’s why you-know-who is now her used-to-be.

One suspects that the author forgot that even in a stream of consciousness novel, the story’s the thing. An interior monologue is a wonderful literary device depicting the thoughts and feelings that pass through the mind, but, like every other element of fiction writing, it is supposed to advance a story, not get stuck in egocentric maundering—and certainly not stray into a bog of self-pity.

In Ulysses, perhaps the best known of this kind of novel, author James Joyce takes the reader on a virtual walking tour of the Dublin, Ireland, of 1904. The story is alive with the sights and sounds of the world in which the protagonist, a middle-aged Jew, lives as while out for a walk he reflects on his youth. The reader comes away feeling that he has been on a fascinating municipal voyage with a very entertaining guide.

Another well-known example of the stream of consciousness novel is Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, whose titular protagonist goes out one day in London to buy flowers for a party she is hosting.

As she goes, her thoughts introduce the reader to a complex and interesting character, one whose thoughts are not exclusively about herself, but about the society in which she lives and about the people she meets and those she knows. This weaves together for the reader the protagonist’s inner and outer reality, shedding light on the story, not just on the protagonist’s state of mind.

Both Ulysses and Mrs. Dalloway are on Time’s list of the best 100 books published since 1923. They should be required reading for the author of One of Us Is Sleeping.

Poet Matt Hamilton discusses life, faith

Matt Hamilton has packed more life into his 41 years than most of us could in twice that.

Of the many roads he has traveled – soldier, congressional aide, Benedictine monk, PeaceMattmug Corps – one he likes best is the road that brought him to North Litchfield, S.C., where he vacationed last week and sat down in a Litchfield coffee shop long enough to be interviewed.

“My whole family has vacationed here for years,” he said. “We love it. The younger ones can go north to Myrtle, and the rest of us have Litchfield, Pawleys and Georgetown.”

A Kentuckian by birth, Hamilton grew up in Ohio and majored in history at Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina. He next earned a master of fine arts degree at Fairfield University in Connecticut, and he now lives near Richmond, Virginia, and works at Benedictine College Prep, a Richmond high school.

Lipscov2To the school’s students, he is Matt Hamilton, school librarian. But to the wider world, he is Matthew A. Hamilton, prize-winning poet and a rising literary light. His first book of poetry, “The Land of the Four Rivers,” published in 2012, was hailed by critics and readers alike, and in 2013 walked away with the Peace Corps Writers Best Poetry Book Award, a coveted prize.

One critic wrote: “Hamilton’s poems do what a surprising number of modern poems are too cowardly to do: They risk being understood. If his poems were photographs, we would not only see them, we would feel that we could step right into them.”

The poems were about Hamilton’s experiences from 2006 to 2008 in his first Peace Corps assignment in Armenia, which is located between the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and has been called “the crossroads of antiquity.” Some believe the biblical Garden of Eden was located there and legend has it that Noah’s ark came to rest on an Armenian mountain top.

Armenia is a very poor country, but its ancient culture resonated with Hamilton, who only a short while before had been simply Brother Boniface, a Catholic monk at Belmont Abbey, in North Carolina. “We spoke a different language, but we spoke to the same God,” he said.

Hamilton left the monastic life in 2004 after “four years of loneliness,” he said, and an increasing call to plot his course “in a wider world.”

But he left with his faith intact and perhaps a divine going-away present: the knowledge that his contemplative monastic days had made him a poet.

“That’s when I began to write poetry,” he said.

And he’s been writing it ever since.

Besides the prize-winning book, he has published widely in literary magazines, been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize, and earlier this year published his second book of poems, “Lips Open and Divine,” based on his experiences in The Philippines, his second Peace Corps assignment, 2008-10.

Hamilton maintains a blog at http://mahamiltonwrites.blogspot.com.

His first book is available from Cervena Barba Press. His second, by Wild Goose Publishing, is available at http://amzn.to/28Qc5Bb.

His next goal is to land a teaching position on a college or university faculty. “That’s my dream,” he said.

You listening, Academe?

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Two non-Southern states of mind

I’m a South Carolina native who grew up in Georgia, and I have lived in one of these two states most of my life except for two years in the Navy (during which I never saw a ship — a story for another time) and a misguided six months in California, land of fruits and nuts.Maine St, Kennebunkport, Maine by Kate Barnum

How bad was the golden state? Well, when I got back home I kissed the ground and vowed never again to leave the South except for visits, and only then with a copy of my birth certificate in hand to prove where I was from so I could be sure to get back in.

But I might have been a bit hasty in making that pledge. Two reasons: Iowa and Maine.

I had heard for years that Iowa ranked high in quality of life (among other things, like public education). But possessing that foreknowledge had not prepared me for Des Moines, which my wife Margaret and I visited recently.

Ready? Des Moines offers clean, safe streets; free-flowing traffic; good food at reasonable prices; low unemployment; affordable housing; higher wages; pleasant, friendly people; and (at least when we were there) very nice weather. (Full disclosure: We had been advised by friends there not to come till after March so as to avoid the harsh winter. Turned out they had had a mild winter, but forewarned is forearmed: we went in May.)

My chief impression was that Des Moines was designed for its inhabitants, not for its automobiles – a sharp contrast to, say, Atlanta, where we used to live when we worked for The Atlanta Constitution. On a visit to The Big A last November, we found a city choking on its traffic. We missed two engagements simply because we could not get there at the appointed hour. We were stalled in traffic on the freeway. Stalled as in “not moving.”

I used to miss Atlanta. Not any more.Then, this month, we visited Maine. Oh, boy!

We’d been to Maine several times, including Kennebunkport, where we stayed this time, and had developed a special fondness for the Pine Tree State. But this time, it was, in the words of that great philosopher Yogi Berra, “déjà vu all over again.” In short, it was wonderful! Again!

Think delicious weather under clear, blue skies. Think great seafood. Think flowers and American flags everywhere. Think American Yankee attitudes and spirit.

Not least, think Down East common sense and mischievous humor.

Example: Sign in a Kennebunk barbershop where I got a haircut: “Be Nice or Leave.”

Sign in a downtown Kennebunkport parking lot: “If you park here, we will crush your car while you shop and/or dine.”

Sign at the Cape Porpoise post office, which is located in a general store: “U.S. postage and small talk.”

Gotta love a place like that. Moreover, the sign was an example of truth in advertising. At the post office’s one window, I saw and overheard a patron who was indeed engaged in small talk with the clerk.

But we’re home again, and of course there’s no place like it.

You can quote me on that, but remember I was not under oath.

Editor’s Note: At the latest count, 568,093 readers have contacted me to say that Maine is the Pine Tree State, not, as I wrote earlier, the Granite State. This was, of course, a ploy by me to see if my readers were paying attention. Glad to see that more than half of you were on the ball. ~Robert Lamb

(Photo by Kate Barnum)

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Nocturnal Musings: misguided idealism

LibertyBellSometimes, in the still of the night, I think I hear the American culture coming apart at the seams. Sometimes it’s the popping of a stitch. Other times it’s an alarming rip. But the culture is definitely showing signs of strain.

I don’t think this is normal wear and tear. I think the culprit is zeal connected to bad ideology, zeal fueled by ignorance often masquerading as enlightenment.

A moment’s thought, for instance, reveals that Political Correctness undermines the most precious provision of the Bill of Rights: free speech.

Which is more important, freedom of expression or somebody’s feelings?

Only the ignorant would say feelings, but ignorant doesn’t always mean uneducated. Last November a University of Missouri journalism professor attacked a student journalist who was covering a campus protest. The faculty member championed the protesters.

Had she never heard of freedom of the press? It’s in the Bill of Rights and her field was journalism. Where was her judgment?

As Mose Allison, the great blues musician, might put it, “Her mind was on vacation and her mouth was working overtime.” (Note the verb tense; she was fired. Good riddance.)

But how many young, impressionable minds did this teacher contaminate with her wrong-headed idealism, which sadly seems more and more welcome in Academia.

A few more cultural stitches popped in recent reports that historical revisionism is in the saddle again, focusing chiefly (for now) on Civil War memorabilia – flags, statues, building and bridge names. The datelines were as varied as Columbia, New Orleans, Charleston, Cape Town, and Oxford, England, but it won’t stop there. Among the unthinking, few things spread as fast as a bad idea.

Those pushing the movement may be too young to recall that the Soviet Union was big on historical revisionism, too, but now both the Soviet Union and its revisions are gone. But why can’t any revisionist see that it is naïve to look at history only through the lens of modern sensibilities? In matters of judgment, context is essential.

Also essential is common sense, a quality that turns out to be not so common, after all.

Not least among the enemies of the republic are those who promote multicultural diversity as if it were a noble rebuke to bigotry in America. Actually, it marshals public sentiment toward separatism, which is the exact opposite of what the UNITED States stands for. Remember? “United we stand; divided we fall.”

The zeal for multiculturalism also ignores that ethnic communities have been a part of the American landscape almost from the beginning – Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem, Tarpon Springs, Eatonville, La Storia. From sea to shining sea, the list goes on and on.

But here’s the historical difference, and it’s a huge one: Though understandably interested in preserving their ethnic heritage, the immigrants in these communities came to the USA to assimilate, NOT to remain separate and apart.

The great strength of America is its openness to the melting-pot concept of society. To push the country in the opposite direction is to encourage the balkanization of the land, or, in clearer terms, to try to disunite the United States.

If any or all of this describes the kind of American you are, I leave you with these parting words: The world is full of other countries and Delta is ready when you are.

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  • Image: Schoolhouse Rock’s “The Great American Melting Pot” (watch it on YouTube.com) via Giphy.com (fair use).

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