Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Reflections of a Pensive Poet

Every year when my thoughts turn to fall, I recall a favorite poem I wrote in the early '90s when I was a graduate student at The Citadel, examining voice in an advanced poetry class.




Reflections of a Pensive Poet





By Vicki Wilkerson





Had my mother not fallen on society’s stage, acting in Someone’s play,
Designed to inspire fantastic and frightening images and phrases in an infant son,
And had my father not found refuge and freedom in escape,
Would I have heard and written the word “nevermore,”
Now forevermore chained and stored in the catacombs of men’s minds?
Had I received the grace-granted love given to all children, 


And had I not begged a false father for his despondent attentions—
Attentions that he could not even give his wife, my make-shift mother—
Would others have read how my pen and heart bled
For cold maids and un-dead maidens
Whose love was as temporary and temperate?
Could I have ever told of the tens of thousands of tortures which tormented me
When I could not feed my devoted aunt-mother and dying cousin-wife?
What unnamed fiends found my mind and made a home
Where cold and solitude were my only companions?
My mind was ravened, black and stark,
Scattered with words ushered there by Deprivation and Devastation.
I wonder had I been prosperity’s son,
Would I have heard the haunting, dark verses
Which left my fissured mind weak and unstable, 
Or would I have heard some chirp-word from some blue bird,
Never to be heard from or remembered again?
I can’t remember now if the alcohol was my favored, fancied friend,
Or if it was a necessary nurse to help mend my menaced memories.
My heart told me unspeakable tales others’ hearts could not bear to hear.
My pen pictured devils and Death, Pits and predicaments, Bugs and bitter birds.
It chronicled Mysteries and Masques, Murders and Morgues and beasts and burials.
Was my grief worth the token gold?
Was my piece of fame worth my loss of peace?
Did I as a child belong to the black bird before I ever heard the words
Pick and peck at my head until the vowels were vented
And the consonants were consecrated onto the page?

 




Friday, February 22, 2019

Modesty in the South


As an author of Southern literature, I have taken upon myself to adhere to Southern social and cultural norms that prevail below the Mason-Dixon Line in my writing. I both imply and state blatantly those Southern realities in my novels, and, oftentimes, I enlarge upon those topics in blog posts, magazine articles and newspaper articles. I was born in the South, raised by Southern grandmothers, Southern aunts and great aunts, a Southern mother, and, of course, the revered Southern church ladies, and I received a proper education in modesty—church modesty, societal modesty and even family modesty. From early in my career as an educator, I was asked to officiate propriety at formal school events, like graduation, baccalaureate services, and many times, I was asked by my students to teach them about manners and propriety—the latter of which I declined for obvious reasons.

So, no matter the changing social values and mores in the rest of the country, true Southerners still value modesty. But what exactly is modesty, you ask? Merriam-Webster defines it as “propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “correct or socially acceptable behavior and clothes, representing traditional cultural values.” But the definition that I like best—and I can’t believe the English teacher in me is even mentioning this site (because years ago it was not revered)—Wikipedia defines it as “a mode of dress and deportment which intends to avoid the encouraging of sexual attraction in others.”  

Kate Middleton proves that modest dressing is still stylish dressing.

In a world inundated with Kardashians and Hollywood “It” girls and where showing your body has become more acceptable, the old guard in the South still holds court on promiscuous behaviors and dress. Where the West Coast wears body bearing, low-cut dresses and high-cut shorts, the real South values demureness and pearls. We admire Kate Middleton, Emma Watson, Audrey Hepburn and Barbara Bush, to name a few. You must remember that the South was predominantly settled by the British, and we still adhere to a very formal program of behaviors, if truth be told. 

From the time I was young, however, I could point to examples—even in the South—where people where immodest, but those were the people who always walked on the fringes of proper society. They were looked down upon, talked about, and were eventually—in effect—exiled from social engagements, parties and ultimately lost friendships because of their immodest dressing or deportment.

My examples are far and wide, and I could write a novel on the subject; however, a couple of personal examples stand out for me. When I was in college, a friend and I went to a party at a beach house on Folly Beach. Surely, practically any attire would suffice there, right? I was quickly informed by my friend when we arrived in our bathing suits and modest cover-ups that we needed to retire to restroom to “Southernize” out bathing attire with Band-Aids. What? “Yes,” she said. Her respectable Southern mother informed her that we needed to add Band-Aids under our already padded bathing suits to ensure that nothing pointed could be seen or inferred by the other people at the beach house. It was a subtle difference, but one that needed to be defined: What was acceptable ON the beach was NOT the same as what was acceptable IN the beach house around the ladies, their boyfriends and husbands. That lesson has served me well for MANY years after that day. What I may wear in my own yard, house and on my own boat, and around my own husband, I do NOT wear around others that may take my dress as immoderate.

Another early example came from my mother and her friends and dealt with one of my own dear friends who was breastfeeding at the time. Bless her heart, she was not from the South, didn’t have a Southern mother and didn’t know the rules, so, unfortunately, she thought it was acceptable to breastfeed in front of my father, brothers and other men who just happened to be around. Turns out it was not. My mother, her friends and others derided my poor friend and let me know in no uncertain terms that my friend was NEVER to be invited to any other social engagements. Though it was a shame, no one—including me—because it was ungracious to call her out—spoke to my friend about the way Southerners felt about modesty—especially in their own homes. Instead, she found herself OUT of their society.

Right or not, fair or unfair, sexist or not, I am simply blogging about what is, and it IS because we live in the Bible Belt, where myriad examples of the virtues of modesty are given in verse after verse. The lines of modesty in the South may look blurred—at times—especially to outsiders because of our mobile society and because people move below the Mason-Dixon Line and continue to behave the way they were taught in other regions. But make no mistake about it, modesty still prevails in the South, whether or not you understand or not, or choose to ignore it and be eventually, effectively ostracized. In the REAL South, people may as well call it the Modesty-Dixon line.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Southern Churches




Summerton United Methodist Church
Don’t you just LOVE Southern Churches? I’m not talking about the monster mega-churches you might find in larger cities. I’m talking about small town churches—you know, the ones that have been there forever and are filled with families who have been attending the same church for generations. These unique places are not only houses of worship—which is their primary and most important function—they are also places that are the social, moral and charitable centers of many areas, villages and towns all over the South.
Taw Caw Missionary Baptist Church
Nathaniel Hawthorn wrote in The Scarlet Letter, “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized that among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil as a cemetery, and another portion as the site of a prison.” Around these necessary cemeteries, churches were usually built. In later years, churches moved away from that practice; however, small Southern churches remain essential centers of small Southern towns.
Summerton Presbyterian Church
I personally love taking photos of picturesque churches as I travel around the South. I am fascinated with the architecture of them. Some are gleaming white clapboards. Some are red brick monoliths. Some have grand columns. Some have bell towers, and others have steeples. Some have elaborate stained glass windows, and some have artless glass through which the sun streams brilliantly. Some churches are simple, and some are grand. Doors can be doubled or single or even configured with multiple sets of accesses, which I often wonder if they were designed to allow for a rush into or out of a particular church. Perhaps the congregation put them there to accommodate for overzealous preachers stepping on too many toes on Sunday mornings.
The unique architectures do not end on the outsides of those buildings. Inside, distinctive features can be found, as well. Carved wooden alters, elaborate cornice work, old timber floors, curved pews, grand lecterns and clergy chairs and more decorate the interiors. Some have ornate chandeliers, columns, tapestries, statues, and even balconies. Because churches are centers of worship, many are decorated with the very best a congregation can buy; however, do not dismiss the simplistic beauty of humble places of worship because many of them have an allure with which grandeur cannot compare. Sometimes I’d like to think that God may like them best, but, then, this isn’t a discussion about religion.
St. Matthais Episcopal Church
I have particularly fond memories of attending a small, Southern church when I was a child. I loved dressing up in my finery on Sunday mornings with my little patent leather shoes, listening to old hymns echo through a lofty building and being amazed at the way the sun streamed through the textured windows and illuminated all that was around me. The church ladies would comment on my little dresses or bows, and I would run and play with my friends on the grounds after the service had ended. Ah, childhood! But I digress.
Summerton, South Carolina, the small town in which I live now, is populated with varied and beautiful churches of all sorts and all denominations. Taw Caw Missionary Baptist church (which is filled with the most INTERESTING history ever), St. Matthias Episcopal Church, Summerton United Methodist Church, Summerton Baptist Church, Liberty Hill AME Church, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Summerton Presbyterian Church, Andrews Chapel, Calvary Baptist Church, and believe it or not, many others anchor the extremely small town! Churches are a serious business in the South!
Summerton Baptist Church
One can learn a great deal about a town and its people by attending a small town church. Is the congregation formal or informal? Are the people friendly or aloof? Are they focused on local charity or on missions in foreign counties? All are important elements to consider as far as differences go, but there are some similarities in small Southern churches, as well.
Southern churches are great places to celebrate all of life’s big events: weddings, baptisms, christenings, Christmases and Easters. They are essential to making connections, personal and professional. They are places where you are taught the morals and mores of local society. Some have schools, and many have daycare centers. They are places where you are held to standards, and if you fall away from those standards, there are always the ubiquitous “church ladies” who will try to keep you straight, if they can. Many times churches are places of love and acceptance, and they will be the place from which you’ll receive meals when you are ill, cards or calls when you go missing, invitations to worship at special events, and visits from the minister at your home or in the hospital when you are leaving this earth.
One of the most important social features of Southern churches is the breaking of bread together. Again, I’m not talking about the more reverent “Communion of Saints;” I’m talking about Sunday dinners on special occasions. It is called by many names: homecoming, dinner on the grounds, church suppers, church socials, potluck dinners, fellowship dinners. No matter the name, it involves eating the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted. Why? Because that’s when all the ladies break out their special recipes to show off their cooking skills! And if those ladies have ever gotten together to publish a cookbook, well, you’d better buy one because they are filled with the best recipes in the region!
St. Mary's Catholic Church
I could go on forever—especially about the food—but that would be tedious to readers. In summation, many good things come from Southern churches. They are places to connect, to understand the culture and town, to admire beauty inside and outside the buildings, to learn and to teach, to give and to receive, but no matter the reasons that bring you to the buildings, they are first and foremost places to worship as you choose, if you choose.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Stalked!


Have you ever been stalked? If you have, you know how scary it can be. If you think you haven’t, you may not even know that you have been stalked. Authors love to write about stalking because it adds tension in books, the same as in victims’ lives. People call it stalking because it is what animals do—they quietly, secretly, stealthily creep around looking for its target, at its target, salivating for contact with the target, and the victims (frequently) don’t even know it—until it’s too late! That is why you must be aware of stalkers at all times. Unfortunately, in a way, the victim must be constantly cognizant of her stalker to keep herself safe and informed about what the stalker is up to, planning, thinking, saying, doing. Because there are signs of trouble beforehand, and you must be aware in order to protect yourself.

Unfortunately, I have some experience with this topic. I’ve been stalked by two serial stalkers, upon whom I’ve had to call the police, by two men from previous relationships who didn’t want to let me go, and by a woman (who was married to a different man) who had an agenda to undermine my relationship with her ex-husband from whom she’d been divorced for over ten years. The first two were scary threats, and the last three were simply up to no good. But make no mistake about it, the latter category could always turn South, and that is the reason they should be monitored, too.

I didn’t understand stalking at first because I was a polite Southerner. Why on Earth would one want to be in the company of someone who didn’t want to be with them? Relationships are a two-way street, right? People tell you and give off vibes to let you know they don’t want your company. Stalkers—on the other hand—are socially handicapped and do not “get” those vibes, hints, or words. In fact, you can vehemently tell them to stay away from you, and they won’t because of one universal characteristic: Stalkers do not hear the word “NO”!

In fact, stalkers do not even recognize that they are stalkers. They have NO boundaries. The police can come. You can take out a restraining order. You can say anything to them to show your discomfort or fear of their behaviors, and it doesn’t matter. They are solely focused upon their agendas, unable to admit to themselves that they are, in fact, a stalker. Instead, they say they are around you to help you, to love you, to warn you about dangers, to simply talk to you, to spend time with you. Who wouldn't want that, right? Wrong! They don’t recognize that you didn’t invite them to the movies—and they show up at the movies when you are there (WTFun?). They don’t care that you don’t go to their house to visit them—and they come to your house almost daily. They don’t care that you didn’t invite them to go shopping with you—and they show up at the mall or the grocery store or a restaurant (coincidentally) when you are there. And they ALWAYS have an excuse for their contacts with you and their behaviors toward you.

I also learned firsthand that the police can do little unless the stalker has threatened you. Unfortunately, stalkers are very good at what they do, and with a little information, like where you work, they can make your life a constant anxiety fest. After the initial daily stalking from a man we’ll call…I don’t know, say “Dan”, I would go for relatively long periods of time (a year or more) without ever seeing “Dan.” Then he’d show up in the mall and follow me around while the security guard yelled at him to leave me alone, and then “Dan” disappeared when I heard the police sirens finally arrive. I wouldn’t see him for another year, and then I caught him watching me with steely eyes from across the ice rink at a hockey game. Then I wouldn’t see him again for another year, until he saw in the paper that I was orchestrating the commencement exercises at the high school where I taught. By then, I’d hoped “Dan” was in my rearview mirror, but no. He spotted me at the North Charleston Coliseum at the graduation ceremony, and tried to get to me to through the crowd to “talk.” I had to fight the crowd to get to a security guard who whisked me away under the bowels of the coliseum and out a secret exit and to my car. Though that was now twenty years ago, he recently ran into my sister-in-law, and told her he was still in love with me. I still cannot let my guard down when I am in public.

In the spirit of the Me, Too Movement, where the perpetrator cannot explain away the unwanted, unencouraged sexual behavior, the stalker does NOT get to decide if what they are doing is stalking! Stalking is called by the victim, just like sexual harassment is called by the victim. If any person is showing up in another’s life and it makes the victim feel uncomfortable, she is empowered to call it what it is—stalking!

I said all that to say this: You can never truly let your guard down with a stalker. Be aware of your surroundings and the stalker’s “understandings” about you and his/her intentions toward you because even if you haven’t heard from the stalker in a while, he/she may still be watching you! My husband is a hunter (and yes, “Dan,” he owns LOTS of guns, in case you’re wondering), so I will use his analogy freely. While you are hunting a deer (going about your daily activities), be aware of the bear that has been following you for miles and you’ve never even heard a twig snap. By all means, in order to stay safe, know what your stalker is up to—in essence, stalk your stalker!


Friday, May 25, 2018

Southerners and Our British Roots

Highclere Castle values its gardens as much as its interior.
Recently the royal wedding triggered a line of thought that has been traipsing through my mind for many years, and that is the close connections between Southerners and the British. Of course we know that the South was settled largely by the British. Many of the plantations of the South were originally land grants from the kings of England. But even if you cannot trace your family’s history back to its British roots, you can trace some of the South’s culture back to the United Kingdom and, thereby, explain some of our…tendencies.

When visiting the United Kingdom last year, I was taken aback by the ubiquitous use of the word “proper.” There seemed a proper way of doing everything—as exampled always by the rules of royalty. Though much of the South has taken on a more casual way of living, make no mistake about it, doing things the “proper” way is still the preferred way to many Southerners.

First of all, we (who notice) are like the British in our formal behaviors and manners.  Dining, sitting, introductions, decorating—all have protocol. Though they were too gracious to call us out on our American dining habit of switching our forks and knives when we ate, we caught the way the British looked at us. Though we eat with our forks upturned in our right hands and don’t ascribe to pushing our peas with a knife onto an upside down fork in our left hand, we have our own standards for manners when dining and interacting with others, and like the British, we would never call people out for putting their elbows on the table or for eating and talking at the same time. There is simply a way to behave in “proper” society, and then there is…the improper way. Though our “rules” may differ slightly, propriety is the overarching theme for both cultures.
Proudly on display in the Cotswalds are wool pillows,
throws and upholstered chairs, as well as wool clothing. 

Dressing for the British and for “proper” Southerners is a more formal affair, as well. The British love their tweed and wool from the Cotswalds, and we ladies from the South love our Lilly Pulitzer dresses, but what we both have in common is our united sense of dressing conservatively and well. We have a sense of what is proper to wear where and when. And though it’s not always adhered to, the rule in the South about not wearing white before Memorial Day and after Labor Day is still on the books for many in the old guard. Do I even need to point out our affinity for pearls? And nowhere is the similarity more evident than when dressing our children. We Southerners decorate our young children with smocked dresses, shorts suits and outfits made of heirloom stitching, and we slap bows the size of our little girl’s heads in their hair. We have a sense of fine fabrics, cardigans, and “proper” shoes for our little ones, as well. Just take a look at the royals—if you’re in doubt.

Serving tea is a religion in the South and in Great Britain.
The foods and beverages we consume in the South have British roots, too, though some may not fully understand. Our meat puddings, like liver pudding and hog’s head cheese, have their beginnings in merry old England, where meat pies and puddings are staples. Have you ever eaten black pudding? In the South, we call it blood pudding. And do I even need to mention the connection we have with tea? It is an everyday staple for Southerners and the British. Though we have morphed our consumptions (sweet iced tea for us and cream tea for the UK), the unifying part is the tea.

Where do you think we get our love for hunting? That’s right, Great Britain! The list is long: Fishing is a religion. We look for occasions to pull out and use our best silver. We love our Southern gardens, Southern gates, and Southern architecture—all of which harken to the United Kingdom. Like the British, we go overboard naming our children with family names. Our churches and our faith are serious business. We love to decorate our homes with English antiques or antiques that embody British aesthetics. We name our houses, gardens and lands like the British-Middleton Place Gardens, Charles Towne Landing, and Drayton Hall, just to name a few.

I’m not saying that some of these influences cannot be linked to other regions of America, but the fact that the traditions are magnified tenfold in the South cannot be disputed.
To further my point about our connections, I can direct you to my favorite Southern magazine, Garden and Gun, which is planning a trip for subscribers to Great Britain to celebrate all the things we have in common. The South’s execution of some of these traditions may be slightly different; however, our connection to the British is undeniable. Southerners have British roots that have grown deep and wide in this warm Southern soil!


Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Friendship in Fireflies and Lies

Fireflies and Lies, my latest release, is a story about a woman who is about to lose her family’s plantation and history—unless she can satisfy some antiquated will and trust her long-dead ancestor established during the Revolutionary War. In the story, readers become acquainted with the beauty of Jenna’s parcel of Southern land that borders an ancient river that took her brother’s life. The lies that surrounded that devastating event, the fireflies that had her mesmerized that evening and the friendship that helped her through her grief are a few of the motifs that run through this inspirational story of strength and healing.

In this fast-paced, disposable world, lasting friendships seem to be a casualty. Oh, you can find relationships that are built around a season, for example, you’re friends with the people in your neighborhood because they live on your block, or you’re friends with the other mothers from your son’s little league team, or you’re friends with your co-workers. But if you move, if your son quits little league, or if you lose your job, how many of those people will be your friends in a few short years?

Yes, many friendships fall away and some morph into the casual variety that are so prevalent these days. Few are friendships that last forever—are close forever—are special forever. Such is the bond that I have with my best friend, Joan, who inspired the friendship in this story.
In high school, Joan studied. I did not.
Joan and I became friends in middle school about forty-five years ago. Our friendship continued through high school; she was my maid of honor at my wedding, and she continues to be my best friend to this day. Though we went our separate ways physically in our early twenties, we stayed in touch through the busy years of raising our children, building our careers and beyond. We had few days together in those demanding times; however, as the years afforded more time together, we seized upon those opportunities, and now, we meet regularly, though we live in different states. Our friendship has endured and thrived because the foundation of our friendship had been built on bedrock.
What is the bedrock of friendship, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. It is loyalty. It is truth. It is honesty. It is love. It is worrying about one another’s health and happiness. It is defending one another. It is having the other’s back when she fails. In the bad times, friends cry together, and in the good times, they celebrate each other’s successes. I have wanted all the best for my friend all my life and have prayed for her many times without her even knowing. 
In Fireflies and Lies, Jenna, who is the heroine, and April, her best friend, have the kind of relationship that I’ve just described—close, fierce, supportive and unwavering. Though the events in the story are completely fictitious, the alliance between Jenna and April is not. It is a mirror of my friendship with Joan.
Friendships that last a lifetime are rare, and I am blessed to have one. I wrote an entire page in my friend’s high school yearbook, recounting some of our antics, hard times and hopes, and I ended it with these prophetic words: “Joan, you and I are going to be friends until we turn gray.” We’ve accomplished that…and so much more. I love you, dear friend!

Joan and I enjoy some time together before one of our high school reunions.


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Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Camp Meeting in Swamps and Soirees


The Camp Meeting in Swamps and Soirees


One of the unifying images and settings in Swamps and Soirees is the idea of Camp Meeting. Camp Meetings were historical gatherings that began in the late 1700’s during the Great Awakening. Francis Asbury, one of the founders of Methodism, travelled and preached at these ad hoc campgrounds as residents in the area gathered for a week-long revival of Christianity.

Through the years, the camp meetings morphed into something more than their strictly religious beginnings. At the inception, tents were erected for local residents to sleep in and rest between the meetings. Later, crude wooden structures were built to replace the fabric tents. These wooden structures were built with only a couple of feet between them, had dirt floors, an open floor plan and a loft for sleeping. Porches extended from the fronts with primitive benches under them, which encouraged folk to sit outside to socialize with their neighbors. Some families have owned these cabins for generations, passing them down to successive generations.

Initially, these “revivals” could occur at most any time of year; however, as they became annual gatherings, the meetings were organized around the harvest in the fall when campers could enjoy the fruits (and vegetables and meats) of their labors. There was always a pig or two sacrificed for the occasion. Many families even hired cooks that had worked the camp meetings for practically their whole lives. Camp meetings are still known for their amazing Southern foods.

At the center of the circle of “tents” an open-sided wooden Tabernacle with simple benches became the central gathering place in the evenings for services. This Tabernacle was physically and symbolically the centralized reason for fellowship and a revival (or rebirth or an awakening) of faith for the entire community.

A fictitious camp meeting is a unifying motif in Swamps and Soirees. Throughout most of the novel, the characters look forward to the meeting, plan for the camp, and enjoy friends and family during the revival. It is also where some very important “events” happen that change the outcome of this inspirational story. I hope you enjoy learning about camp meeting as you read this funny, inspirational story of hope, love and courage!