Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Gift of Giving

Bluffton Today Column, December 22, 2006

I was sitting at a traffic light today, listening to Christmas music, watching palm fronds blow in the breeze and thought to myself - I can’t believe that I am preparing to spend my second Christmas here in the Lowcountry. How time flies.

While thinking about crafting the perfect Christmas column, I started to look back on Christmas’ past and my traditions growing up.

We would always spend Christmas Eve with my mom’s side of the family. Three and, for many years, four generations of our family would gather for Christmas Eve dinner. Santa always arrived after dinner and everyone (young and old) would have to sing a Christmas carol to receive their first present. Over the years, singing carols progressed into playing musical instruments, writing our own lyrics to the tune of existing carols, performing scenes from our school plays – you name it.

On Christmas morning my mom would always make our special Christmas breakfast – a Bisquick recipe that she clipped one year and had quickly become a tradition.

Our tree was always downstairs and we would have to wait for my parents to have the video camera set-up before we could go downstairs. This ensured that they would capture the look on our faces as we got our first glance at what Santa had left.

As I traveled down memory lane one moment really stands out in my mind – the year my sister and I received our own house. Not a doll house mind you, but our very own house. It was made of cardboard (but we were potty trained, so it was ok) and easily stood five feet tall. It had a working door and windows with painted-on flower boxes.

We were thrilled with this gift! And, as the video captures, despite my excitement I did make time for a brief speech … “Hi, my name is Courtney and this is my sister, Sharon, and welcome to our new home!” (Imagine that with a squeaky, high-pitched, sugar-high, Christmas morning voice.) It must have been a sign of things to come as two of my favorite hobbies are interior decorating and entertaining a house full or people. (Well that and making Joe buy me a new house every two years …)

As I reminisced about my favorite gift over the years, I thought I would ask some others what they remember as their favorite gift from Christmas’ past.

My hubby, Joe, remembers his first Huffy BMX bike right down the flat black paint. He remarks that it was “the first year of transition from the banana seat, so it was a big deal.” He is also quite certain that there must be a scar on his head somewhere from when he flipped over the handlebars in, as he says, slow motion. (This could explain why the bike he got last year for his birthday has accumulated 11 months of dust in the garage.)

Bluffton Today’s very own Kim Jones (Nature Notes columnist) said, “I was always a science nerd in the making – I remember being VERY disappointed one Christmas that I didn’t get what I REALLY wanted – a telescope – and then all the presents were unwrapped and miraculously from my parents’ bedroom came my very own telescope. That Christmas was closely rivaled by the one during which I received a microscope. Really, I never stood a chance!”

My mother, as always, had the perfect answer. She said, “That's a tough question. I've been thinking about it a lot and can't think of a single ‘thing’”. She reminded me of the Christmas my Great-Great-Aunt Mary gave away all her valuables and then how we went through Aunt Mary’s house as she prepared to move into the assisted living apartment and that none of us really wanted any of the "stuff" she spent her lifetime accumulating.

“Those moments really brought home how unimportant stuff is,” she said. “But, as I continued to think and felt like I needed to answer you, I thought of this little, pink, rubber ball that I had as a young girl. With that ball my brothers and I, and my neighborhood friends and I, would play for hours outside making up all sorts of throwing and catching games. From that (and my mother's constant "go outside and play" mantra) came my love for being outside and playing! I made a career out of it (Mom was a physical education teacher for 20 plus years) and still find myself happiest when I'm outside playing.”

So, as you hurriedly finish your last minute shopping and as you sit amidst your family Christmas morning, make memories. They really do last a lifetime.

Merry Christmas Bluffton!

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Man on a Mission

Bluffton Today Column, December 15

His stature is imposing.

His posture alone reflects his years as a Citadel man.

He is a man that every resident of Bluffton should meet.

He’ll tell you that he is a Southern boy and that some of us will probably only understand 80% of what he says … we’ll struggle through his dialect for the other 20%.

He has a great sense of humor. When I asked him if I could write about him this week he replied, with a smile, “Have at it girl.”

He has an enormous job ahead of him.

He is Bill Workman, Bluffton Town Manager.

I had the opportunity to hear Bill speak earlier this week on the topic of leadership. As any true leader would, he credits others for helping to define his philosophy on leadership.

He believes that somebody has to call a meeting – and they are heroes. For Bill, Bob Dylan said it best, “I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.”

Bill will tell you that leaders are responsible for self and responsible for others and he quotes Henry Miller, “The ordinary man is involved in action, the hero acts. An immense difference.”

And, Bill will tell you that to be effective leaders, we must: create and maintain a sense of community, get along, listen to each other, create a sense of urgency, be courageous, be committed, and seize opportunity to impact our destiny.

The bottom line is that the leaders of our community, Bill included, want and appreciate our input. But, they also want us to be diligent in our research of issues, and drawn conclusions from the facts.

Bill told a great Jerry Clower story during his presentation, which I find incredibly relevant to Bluffton. (Clower is a comedian dubbed “The Mouth of the South” – this Northerner, of course, had never heard of him until this week.)

It seems that Uncle Versies learned that the church was fixin’ to spend some money. So, Uncle Versies headed over to the church to hear what they had to say. The church leader declared to the congregation “we need to spend the money on buying the church a new chandelier.” Uncle Versies stood up to state his objections and said …

First, why would we buy a chandelier when I reckon that no one in this congregation can even spell chandelier.

Second, if we were to get a chandelier I am quite certain that none of us would even know how to play it.

And third, why are we talking about spending all this money on a new chandelier when what we really need are some lights in the church sanctuary?

It is no secret that Bluffton is growing by leaps and bounds. It is also no secret that our residents are largely apathetic and reluctant to be involved in the process of our town’s evolution. We hear and read a lot of anonymous criticism, but when it is time to step up to the plate – attend a meeting, or vote – our numbers are dismal.

Bill’s philosophy on the growth of Bluffton and how to achieve sustainability is inspiring. But, rather than let you read it here I challenge you to attend a Town Council meeting, a Planning Commission meeting, a Historical Preservation meeting, a Hospitality Tax meeting and learn first hand how our Town Manager and our town officials are working toward a better Bluffton.

When asked why a 66 year old man would want to commit to this undertaking in Bluffton, Bill quotes his wife who says, “I married you for better or for worse, but not for lunch.” Bill’s smile fades to stoic as he continues, “I like to see a good plan come together. This is an adventure – vision plus action equals adventure. I want to be part of the adventure.


Bluffton Today Column, December 8

Get out the record players because it is time for Courtney’s Broken Record Show. (Cue the Family Feud theme song.) Congratulations to the 13% of eligible voters in Bluffton who turned out for the local council elections on Tuesday. To the 87% who couldn’t muster the effort, I look forward to not hearing you complain until Election Day 2007.

Congratulations to Charlie Wetmore on his victory and thank you Charlie, for taking down your campaign signs immediately following the election. You kept your first promise and I look forward to your leadership in our town.

Moving on … as much I love Bluffton, living here, and being a part of the community, I can’t help but feel homesick at this time of the year. An email from my Aunt Maryalice back in Pennsylvania just before Thanksgiving started me on my annual “let’s move back North” campaign with Joe. Her email went like this …

“I'm remembering Thanksgiving's past ... when we were all together. You spent a few holidays in our home, and we traveled to yours. Our first Thanksgiving married, we were with your family in Brick (Mike was still eating baby food - he and Sharon sat next to each other in highchairs). One of my favorite Thanksgiving was 1997 - all of your family and mine were here. We celebrated the fact that Mike was in his first year of recovery … I loved watching all of you young cousins enjoying being with each other. And of course, two years ago when you and Joe came here ... I was so excited that you had moved closer to us. And now life is very different. The miles have grown, but really our love for you has never changed … now new traditions will grow. And we'll all find new ways to celebrate the holidays ... but the best is that the memories of holidays past, we get to keep.”

You are choked up right? And you don’t even know Aunt Maryalice. So, you can imagine how this email affected me. I cried when I first read it. I turned to Joe and told him that I wanted to move back home – I miss the family traditions, I miss our friends, and more than anything at this time of year I miss the weather, I miss the snow!

Ok, I know what you are thinking – move back home Courtney. But, please just read the rest of the story…

Since the temperatures here last week were still in the 70s and almost 80s I felt justified in my request to consider moving back to the cooler climates. I watched the news of impeding snow storms in the northwest and got misty-eyed. Until, snow almost ruined the day.

You see last Saturday Joe and I were attending a wedding. I panicked mid-week and decided that what I had in my closet would not do and I needed a new outfit. Fifteen minutes of midnight internet shopping later and I was set. I paid the extra $25 to expedite the shipping. When the package didn’t arrive as promised on Friday, I panicked. I called the shipping company to track the package and learned that my package had stalled in Chicago, where a pre-winter snow storm had stunned the city on Thursday. No phones, power outages, closed airports and my cashmere wrap was sitting in a box somewhere in a warehouse waiting for the weather to break.

I continued my desperate calls well into Friday night and learned that my package had made it out of the windy city and was en route to Savannah, but there was no way of knowing when it would arrive.

I woke up bright and early Saturday morning prepared to go shopping for appropriate wedding garb and was out and about when my cell phone rang. “Hi Courtney, this is Kenny at DHL in Savannah, I have your package in my hands would you like to come and pick it up?”

Impressive right? I have to imagine that with all of the shipping delays that occurred in the days prior that Kenny was probably up to his eyeballs in customer service back log. However, he picked up the phone and called me.

When I got to DHL I was met my Kenny, with a smile and a Southern drawl – “You have a great day ma’am.” As I left the DHL warehouse at the Savannah airport I noticed the hours posted on the door – Saturdays 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. It was 1:30 p.m., Kenny has stayed late for me. And I was misty-eyed once again.

So, I’m over my need for snow and once again in love with the Lowcountry, I don’t think you can find better people anywhere in the world.


Bluffton Today column, November 30.

Last Friday Joe and I headed to the movies. It seems that the day after Thanksgiving is our standing “movie date” each year. We hadn’t been since last November when we went for some relief from the in-laws (mine), and this year it was simply to do something other than battle the Christmas shopping crowds.

We settled in at the Sea Turtle for an afternoon showing of Bobby.

Rather than critique the movie, the popcorn or the seats, I wanted to share with you some excerpts from the ending dialogue of the movie. For some, it will be the first time you’ve read or heard these words. For others, it may be a reminder of what once was. But, for all of us it is the scary truth that history can indeed repeat itself.

“This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.

It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one - no matter where he lives or what he does - can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.

Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr's cause has ever been stilled by an assassin's bullet.

No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.

Whenever any American's life is taken by another American unnecessarily - whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence - whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.

"Among free men," said Abraham Lincoln, "there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs."

Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.

Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.
Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.

For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.

This is the breaking of a man's spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.

I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.

Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.

Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.”

I’m not trying to make a political statement, just simply sharing the words of Robert F. Kennedy. Words that impacted me profoundly 38 years after they were first uttered. Think about it.

Excerpts from Robert F. Kennedy, The Mindless Menace of Violence