ramblings and writings of a southern hobbit

Tall Tales and Miscellaneous Memories

Tripping in the Rain

Singing in the Rain poster

I knew it would be a bad day when I woke up this morning and it was raining.

Ordinarily, I like rain. But rain means one other thing–my umbrella. And I have to confess something. I’m clumsy. Really clumsy.

A regular school day is bad enough. I have to carry my school bag, and for whatever reason I can’t seem to keep it on my shoulder. (It always slides off and stops where my elbow bends and cuts off my circulation.) A school day in late fall or winter is worse because I have my coat (which I can never seem to put on or off gracefully and which makes my school bag even harder to keep on my shoulder).  But the worst days are cold rainy fall or winter school days when I have my school bag, my coat, AND my umbrella.  And that’s bad. Really, really bad.

Take, for example, this morning. I came out of the dining common more or less successfully wearing my coat, keeping my school bag on my shoulder, and carrying a travel coffee mug, a brown bag with my breakfast in it, and a styrofoam cup of juice. Then I pulled my umbrella out of the umbrella stand. That’s when I knocked two cell phones on the ground and somehow got someone else’s bag caught in my umbrella.

As I stood staring at the ground, trying to figure how on earth I was going to pick up two cell phones when I was already wearing my coat, keeping my school bag on my shoulder, and carrying two cups and a bag full of breakfast, a girl behind me said, “Uh, excuse me, but can I get my  bag off of your umbrella?” That’s when my school bag slipped off my shoulder.


Experiences with the Infernal Combustion Engine

Model T Ford

On Thursday August 6, 2009, an historic event occurred: I passed my driving test. After many, many practice driving trips, three previous failed attempts at taking the test and several quite eloquent speeches on the superiority of the horse and buggy to the Infernal–I beg your pardon, Internal Combustion Engine, I finally am a licensed driver. I have a lovely driver’s license complete with a bad picture of me looking very happy and a red strip on the top instead of the blue one indicating a learner’s permit. It’s pretty snazzy.

Not only can I now drive myself to work, I can also fondly reminisce about the Days of Yore when I first learned to drive. For my first driving lesson ever, I was expected to drive my Dad’s work van. The inside of this van was held together by duct tape, and the outside was painted powder blue with bright orange and deep blue stripes. It was so ugly that it was almost cute. We affectionately named it “The Mystery Machine.”

I’m not sure exactly why my dad got me to drive his car, since even with the seat moved as far forward as it could go I could only just barely reach the gas and brake pedals and because it had a nasty habit of randomly cutting off, say, in the middle of an intersection. It cut off on me while I was in the middle of a turn, nearly giving me a heart attack. Thankfully, there’s not much traffic to speak of in Early Branch. But it was the last time I drove Dad’s van.

All subsequent driving lessons took place with my mom in her van. It wasn’t much better than the Mystery Machine: it was a big white conversion van known as both The Great White Whale and Moby Dick. (Needless to mention, I am *very* grateful for Scarlett, the little red Subaru that I’m currently driving.)

Then there’s the first (and last) time I drove a stick shift. I was in Brevard visiting my grandparents the summer I first got my permit when someone told my cousin Johnny he needed to move his car. Johnny looked over at me and said, “Hey Nel, want to move my car?” I didn’t. But Johnny wouldn’t take no for answer.

Moving the car turned into driving the car all over Brevard. This was somewhat problematic for a variety of reasons:

  1. I didn’t have my permit with me.
  2. Even if I had had my permit, permits are not valid out of state.
  3. Even if I had had my permit with me and I were driving in state, my cousin Johnny was not yet 21.
  4. Even if I had had my permit and I were driving in state and Johnny had been 21, I had never driven a stick shift before and I was in the mountains.

This remains the Most Illegal Thing I have Ever Done, though it wasn’t until afterwards that the full illegality of it hit me. Johnny and I both survived the experience, but I am not so sure about his clutch.

Hic Sunt Dracones

Francis-Drake-WorldI remember when I was four years old asking my mother why my cousin Emily spoke English. My mom  was confused, so I explained to her that since Emily was from another country–North Carolina–she   should speak another language. That was the day that I learned that North Carolina was not a  separate country. And that being from another country doesn’t necessarily mean that you speak   another language. You learn something new every day.

You see, when I was four the world was a fairly small place. It consisted chiefly of North and South Carolina. South Carolina was where I lived and all the principal inhabitants lived in Charleston or the surrounding islands, as I did. North Carolina was just about as far north as you could go–why else was it called North Carolina? We would visit this howling northern wilderness in the summertime to see my grandparents.

There was some notion of lands existing farther north than North Carolina, but my conception of them was vague. I did know that somewhere just north of North Carolina was Wisconsin where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in her cabin in the Big Woods. If you went much farther north, you’d hit the North Pole.

South of South Carolina was Georgia, and further south of that was Florida and the magical land of Disney World. And then there was England, which in my mind was exactly like South Carolina with the exception of the accents and the snow in the wintertime. There were also castles and fairies there.

As for the rest of the map, well, there there were dragons.

* Hic sunt dracones means “here be dragons” in Latin. The phrase designates unknown areas on a map. Read the Wikepedia article.

Sir Francis Drake’s map of the world courtesy of www.history-map.com

This is my brain on sports…

my brain on sports

If you compare the human brain to a calculator, when it comes to sports my brain is a slide ruler competing with graphing calculators. No, wait. Make that an abacus. Or perhaps just paper and a pencil.

To be quite honest, I am totally incompetent at sports of any kind. Whatever part of the brain enables an individual to understand and play a sport is completely missing in mine.

the game plan

There are only two occasions where I will agree to play any organized sport, family beach week and Thanksgiving. At these times all of the cousins are together and, chances are, one of them will say, “Hey, who wants to play football?” And for some reason, I always say yes.

the game

On Thanksgiving there is more likelihood of other clueless females playing, so my incompetence is less evident. But last week during Beach Week 2009 all of the other girl cousins refused to play. It was my moment to shine.

Or fizzle.

After an entire game of running back and forth looking somewhat confused and not knowing the score, I finally caught the ball. I caught the ball. The ball had been thrown to me, and I had caught it. No fumble. No interception. I stood there amazed. My teammates yelled out to me to run, but before I could figure out which to direction to run the other team decided to stop being gentlemanly.

So we lost. But I caught the ball!


I will never forget my first energy drink.

It was last summer, actually; a girl I worked with invited me and another girl from work over to her house to watch Gone With The Wind. For three walking tour guides what could be more fun than spending the evening watching an old movie replete with plantations and hoop skirts? Before watching the movie we had some energy drinks. Then we had supper, made some cookies, played a game and talked…and talked and talked. By the time we actually put on the movie, it was 3:00 AM.

The movie wasn’t over until 6:00 AM.

I had to be at work at 10:00 that morning. By the time I actually made it work, adrenaline kicked in: I proceeded to give one of the best tours I have ever given and be generally happy and perky until I got off work.

When I got home, it finally hit me that I had had no sleep the night before. Ashley was in our room drawing and had her art supplies all over the bed, so I attempted to take a nap on the couch in the living room. That didn’t go so well.

A family living room. A girl is draped across the couch, as if dead.

RANDOM SIBLING: Hey! Did you have a good day at work? Guess what! Guess what! Guess what! I saw a squirrel today! Did *you* see a squirrel?

ME: I’m tired!!! I need to sleep!!! Ahh!!!!

This proceeded until my mom insisted that I go lay down in her room.

At the end of the fall semester this past year, I had my second energy drink. As part of Phase One of an Evil Plan to Destroy Campus and Thereby Take Over the World, I was given an energy drink, a box of Starbucks espresso truffles and silly string as an Artist Series gift. I had the energy drink for breakfast on the last day of exams. I did not silly string my English professor in the face, but I don’t think I’ve every been so excited about a 7:40 exam before. I made the mistake of telling my mom who told my cousin Tara who then proceeded to drink two energy drinks in a row in order to be more hyper than me on our ride back home. Perhaps hobbits never learn.

How to tell a tall tale

Telling a good tall tale is an art, an art my grandfather Pop has perfected. Pop has gotten so good at telling tall tales that every story he tells becomes one–a sign of a true tall tale artist. It takes practice, but you too can learn to tell a good tall tale. Just follow these basic guidelines. I will use the story of how Pop met my grandmother Nonnie as an example.

1) Start with the original story. Usually true stories from your own life work best.

Nonnie and Pop went to different high schools when they were younger, but their mothers knew each other. One fateful day, the washing machine broke down at Nonnie’s house. So her mother–known to us as Toddie–decided to call up Pop’s mother–known to us as Grandmomma Hanna. Grandmomma Hanna offered to send over one of her sons to fix the washing machine. She just happened to send over Pop. Apparently he and Nonnie got along fairly well: not too long after that he invited her to his prom. The rest is history.

2) Now that you’ve decided on your story, embellish a bit. Careful! At this stage you still want the basic details of the story to be recognizable.

The version my grandfather told my mother and her sisters growing up is very similar to what actually happened, but there are a few important elaborations. According to Pop, Nonnie deliberately broke the washing machine knowing that he would come over to fix it if she did. As he fixed the washing machine, she stood by his side repeatedly dropping a handkerchief. It was all part of an evil plot to get him to ask her to the prom.

3) Continue to elaborate and add new details every time you tell the story. By the end, not even those who were present should be able to recognize the story.

By the time the grandkids came along, Pop had matured and perfected the tale of how he met Nonnie. By this point the washing machine was forgotten entirely, as was the prom. He was only two years old when he met Nonnie, and he actually met her on their wedding day. Nonnie was supposed to be marrying someone else and Pop was the ring bearer for the wedding. However, the senile old preacher got confused and married Nonnie to Pop instead. Since Pop was so cute, Nonnie didn’t say anything. And Pop, being only two years old at the time, was entirely too young and innocent to understand what was happening.

If you follow these basic guidelines you will be well on your way to telling a good tall tale!

Portrait of a Small Town Gift Shop

The Spirit of Old Beaufort

Last summer I started working for a small, local walking tour company and gift shop run by a friend of my family’s. Her late husband started the business, the Spirit of Old Beaufort, around fifteen years ago; he was originally from the state of New Jersey, where he had taught English for years, but swore up and down that the fact he was from South Jersey made him a true Southerner. Though I never had the privilege of meeting Peter Stevenson, I have heard many stories about him and sincerely wish I could have.

I work as a tour guide and shop keeper. My duties as shop keeper include answering the phone and answering questions, running the cash register and endless dusting, dusting, dusting. Leading tours is a more exciting: I dress up like a pirate queen in a green colonial dress and a pistol, and I get to do three of my favorite things–walking, talking and singing–at once.

Appropriately enough, the shop is located in a big, white house built sometime in the 1850s. We are located in the basement of the house; upstairs there is an art gallery and right across from us there is a coffee shop and antique store. The coffee shop brews exactly three kinds of coffee: regular, decaf and the Yankee Hair Raiser–my personal favorite. They make specialty coffees as well, but I never get them. The whole shop is piled up with old things, as is the hallway.

Our shop is very small–about the size of a dorm room at school–and is one of the quirkiest little shops you will ever step into. Ms Evelene, the shop owner, sells antiques for her mother, so our half of the hallway is laden with its fair share of ancient treasures. Inside the shop itself you can find everything from books on local and Civil War history to pirate flags to sweetgrass baskets to South Carolina teddy bears. The walls are hung with water color paintings of local landmarks by local artists and the windows are full of little knicknacks and oddments. The shop smells like my great-grandmother’s house.

There is a cd player with five rotating cds. We switch out cds occasionally, but usually not before all of Ms Evelene’s workers never want to hear those five particular cds again. We have cds of bluegrass bands playing Civil War era songs, a few cds of a local singing group called the Hallelujah Singers, a guitar cd recorded by Ms Evelene’s brother-in-law and currently we have not one, but two Glenn Miller cds. The Glenn Miller cds are my favorite.

If you peer past the window displays and the Marina Ship Store across the way, you can see the river from the shop. The weather is almost always warm here–unbearably warm at times in the summer–but there is always a breeze off the river. There are usually flowers too. The day we took down the Christmas decorations was a funny day: the sun was shining, flowers were blooming in the front yard and the birds were singing sleepily. The Spirit of Old Beaufort is a sleepy spirit.

In Memoriam

In Loving Memory of

Elmo Lee Ficken

December 19, 1914 – May 21, 2009

Fourteen years ago my family and I moved from our home in Charleston to our current home in a teensy, tinsy little place called Early Branch. Just across the road from us lived Miss Elmo Lee Ficken, one of the sweetest–and funniest–little old ladies I ever had the priviledge of knowing. She was a petite but fiesty woman with large, thick, purple-lensed glasses and she kept her hair colored what I believe was supposed to be auburn, but was closer to maroon. She lived in Charleston for many years and–a true Charlestonian–was convinced that it was the most wonderful place on earth. She loved to tell stories of when she lived there, such as the time she received a ticket for roller skating down King Street during morning traffic. Her diet must’ve been what made her so sweet: judging by the empy boxes in her house it seemed she ate nothing but cookies and candy and icecream. She would never buy anything else, no matter how hard you tried to convince her to get some “real food.” She would just look at you and laugh. I can’t remember now exactly when or how I met her, but I have many fond memories of sitting with her on her oft-painted porch (if you had a dime for every layer of paint, you would be rich).

Miss Elmo went home to be with the Lord  last Thursday at the age of 95, and yesterday I had the sad honor of attending her funeral and burial in the Ficken family cemetery. I wish I had been able to sit with her on her porch one more time instead. But I take comfort in knowing that she is with her family, who she loved dearly, and with Jesus, who she loved even more dearly; and one day I will see her again and there will be no more goodbyes. Until then.