Thursday, July 30, 2015


 My Mother loved movies.  Daddy, not so much.  She would take me to movies.  The first one I remember was "Shane".  I also liked the Disney movies.  When I was 11, Mother took me to see "Goldfinger".  It was my first James Bond movies.  I didn't understand the humor in it, but I like the action.  She liked the movies and the books.  She was an avid reader.  She had introduced me to Beatles music, and now to James Bond movies.  She and I went to every one together until the last one we went to together which was "Live and Let Die" in 1973.  After that, I was on my own. 
 I went to the movies every chance I got.  In the summertime, the theatres in Columbia would have special movies for kids.  One theatre showed a Tarzan film and invited the actor Jock Mahoney to make a personal appearance.  He talked to us kids after the movie and told us that the vines he swung on were actually rope covered with ivy.  That revelation was crushing to me as a kid, but I understood later when making movies about illusion.  Another theatre showed 10-cent and 25-cent movies for kids during the summer.  Most of them were westerns. 
 As I grew a little older, I continued to go to the movies as much as I could.  The Five Points Theatre had an art film series.  They would show movies made mostly in France or Sweden.  They were not X-rated in the standard of today, but they did have nudity.  As a teenage suffering with puberty, it was an escape.  The problem was that you had to be 18 to see these movies, and I was only 13 to 17.  So, I devised a plan.  I had an old Army jacket, which I used for stealing stuff.  It was a heavy jacket with a Army blanket lining.  I had cut the lining out at the top to make a large pocket in between the outer material and the lining.  I could put record albums in the lining.  I took the jacket and wrote "USC Gamecocks" on the back, thinking it would look more like a college jacket.  Looking back on it now, I know it looked stupid, but I just tried to look older.  I also took one of my brother's college ID's from Furman and taped my school picture on top of his.  Unless you looked closely, you couldn't see the difference.  It got me into several art movies, if they asked for ID.  A lot of times they didn't.
 I always rode my bike to the theatre.  Usually, I would park it in an alley between the theatre and a drug store.  Other times, I parked it behind the theatre.  When I was 14, I was coming out of the theatre to get my bike, when I was attacked by 3 black boys.  They threw bricks and rocks at me, as I was trying to pedal away.  When I asked why, they told me that I had killed Dr. King.  I told them I had never been to Memphis.  They were attacking me because I was white.  As I have said before, this behavior was very foreign to me.  But, it didn't stop me from going to the theatre.
 On one occasion, I went to see a movie, and the girl at the box office wanted to see some ID.  I pulled out my fake ID, and the girl looked at my name and began to smile.  She told me that my Mother was her Sunday School teacher.  Well, I almost died, but she let me in to the theatre.  She told me I looked young to be in college.  I told her that everyone says that.  I thought she would tell my Mother, but my Mother never said anything about it.  Whew.
 Like I said, I loved going to movies.  When I worked in a bank, it was next-door to a theatre.  We had two hours for lunch.  Just enough time to catch a movie.  When I was in college, I would go to every movie playing, sometimes more than once.  When I lived in Texas, I also went to a lot of movies, usually three times a week.  Then, video came out, and I started watching a lot of movies on tape, and later DVD.  It is like a disease, but I love movies.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Rehearsal Dinner

 I had just graduated from high school and still 17 years old.  We went to a wedding in Alabama, where my father was performing it.  My cousin was getting married.  That Friday night, they had a rehearsal dinner at the country club in Anniston.  I was seated with a bunch of girls, who were a little older than me.  They knew that I couldn't drink wine, so they asked me to get my glass filled, and then they would take my glass and give me the empty one.  Then, the waiter would be around and refill my glass.  This happened numerous times.  The girls were getting drunk.  My parents looked over at me, and saw my glass was always empty.  They thought I was binging.  After the dinner, they asked me about it, and I told them that it wasn't me.  They believed me after seeing the girls.  Little did I know that I would be binging in about three years later.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Driver's License

 My parents wanted me to take lessons from Baldwin's Driving School.  Mr. Baldwin was a nice man, when we started, but I think I gave him a nervous condition, while he was trying to teach me.  We went out to Fort Jackson for him to teach me the art of applying the gas and then the brake.  I finally got the hang of it.  I got pretty good over time, so he took me out on the freeway.  That day, we were going down I-20 near Broad River Rd., and we got behind a lumber truck that had a board sticking out.  It was going slower than we were.  I asked Mr. Baldwin if I should pass the truck.  I have never forgotten his answer.  He said, "If you don't, we are going to die."  I passed the truck.  Sage words on his part.
 I went to take the driving test and failed the written part.  Over the next few weeks, I failed the written test 3 times before passing it on the 4th try.  As for the driving test, I failed the first time, because I broke the parallel park barrier.  I thought the car was in drive, but it was in reverse.  When I stepped on the gas, the car lurched backwards, and I rammed into the back barrier.  I looked in the mirror to see a portion of the wooden barrier falling down.  I retook the test later and passed it.  I think they gave me the license just to get rid of me. 
 Except for being a little careless with speed, I only have gotten one ticket for failure to stop at a stop sign, which I don't think was justified.  It was around 10:30 one morning on a school day.  It was raining.  I was going through a neighborhood and saw a box lying in the road.  I thought it would be fun to run over it, so I went around the block to go back to the box.  I slowed at a stop sign but didn't stop.  I made the right turn, and the policeman stopped me.  He said that kids could have been playing out there at that time.  I told the officer that I didn't think they would be out playing in the rain on a school day.  I found out that you are not supposed to reason with the police, because instead of a warning, he gave me a ticket.  It took a whole week, before I could muster up enough courage to tell my father.  He paid it.
 I have had only one wreck, and that was in 1977.  I had left work to go back to my dorm, where I was going to school.  It was lightly raining, and the roads were slick.  I came off of the interstate too fast, and the exit ramp was very short.  I put on the brakes, and they locked.  I slid into the car in front of me.  It did $600 of damage to my car, and 50-cents to the car that I hit.  For a long time, I didn't like to drive in the rain.
 Even though I haven't driven a car since 2013 (mine blew up in 2009), they tell me that I am a very safe driver.  I guess practice makes perfect.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


 During my senior year, the pressure was incredible to get into a college.  I wanted to go back to New Orleans and go to LSUNO.  Or maybe Tulane.  So, I took the SAT's.  It was held in our gym with a whole lot of other kids.  The year before, one guy got a 1596 out of 1600, and he questioned the other 4 points.  They gave it to him.  He went on to MIT and flunked out.  So, I thought I had a shot.  I just about aced the English portion of the test.  After all, I was a writer, and I read a lot.  But then, there was the Math.  I hate Math.  I always have.  I did have to teach Math to myself, when I got into business and am pretty good with percentages, but at the time of taking this horrible test, I got my name right on the test, but that was about it.  I ended up making a 735 on my SAT's.  Here was this genius guy who didn't make enough to get into USC on an athletic scholarship, even though I didn't play sports.  There was no way I could get into any school.
 My father stepped in and made a call to a friend, who was the president of Anderson College.  Daddy's grandfather had been one of the first trustees of that school many years before.  It was a Baptist-funded school, so some strings were pulled, and I got into Anderson College.  It was a junior college at the time which helped.  Otherwise, that guidance counselor of mine, who had said the only thing I could do was to be an auto mechanic, was right.  Not to put down auto mechanics, but I had higher goals.  AC was coming toward me.

Friday, July 24, 2015


 When I was around 5, we were staying at a motel in Oxford, Alabama.  It probably was around the time of my grandfather's funeral.  My father and I were in the swimming pool, while my Mother was in the room.  I couldn't swim.  The phone rang at the room, and my Mother called out to Daddy to come to the phone.  He left me in the pool.  I was walking around the shallow end, and then I decided to walk toward the diving board, not knowing there was also a deep end.  I slid under the water.  A man grabbed me by the hair and pulled me out of the pool.  I do not know who the man was, other than I think he was in the military.  My parents rushed out of the motel room to find me on the side of the pool.  They thanked the man and wanted to give him a reward, but he declined.  God knows who he is, and He put the man there that day at that time.
 After that experience, I was scared the water.  Daddy tried to teach me to swim.  We would be in a pool, and he would tell me to jump in the water, and he would catch me.  I would do what he said, and he would move out of the way to see if I would swim.  I wouldn't.  I lost trust in him catching me, so I decided that swimming was not something I could do.
 When I was 14, my parents decided to send me to USC to learn how to swim.  I took weekly classes one summer at the pool behind Longstreet Theatre on the USC campus.  I was the oldest kid in the class.  The others were between 6 and 10.  I lied to some kids about my age, because they laughed about me being bigger than anyone else.  I learned how to dog paddle, but I couldn't master the art of turning my head to breathe, so I didn't go very far in the class.  The instructors wanted us to learn how to dive.  The low diving board was not a problem, although I wasn't very keen on doing anything more than just jumping in the water.  But then came the high platform.   Climbing the ladder was like going to an execution.  I was coaxed by the instructors to jump off of the platform.  I did and went to the bottom of the pool.  The idea was the swim up to the ladder by the pool after going into the water.  I got disoriented and couldn't find the side of the pool.  One of the instructors had to dive in and save me. 
 After that experience, I decided that swimming was not important.  I have been in the water since then but always on a flotation device like an air mattress.  No more deep ends for me.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Camp Greenville

 When I was around 14 and 15, my parents sent me to Camp Greenville, which was a YMCA camp near the SC/NC border in the mountains.  Some boys stayed for the whole summer.  I just stayed for a week.  There was swimming, hiking, camping, sports, and other activities.  I couldn't swim, so I had to do the other stuff.  We stayed in huts with tin roofs.  When it rained, it sounded like machine guns everywhere.  They have one of the tallest waterfalls in North America there, and it was fun to play around it. 
 We went camping overnight there and stayed in tents.  I slept very soundly that night.  A mountain lion came through the camp and apparently scratched the tent right by my head.  I heard nothing.  They said the counselor fired a rifle to scare the cat away.  I slept right through it.  I really can't tell you that it actually happened, but everyone there swore it did.
 There was one kid who could throw a baseball from the outfield like a laser and hit the catcher behind home plate.  It was amazing.  He was from Florida, but I don't remember his name.  He should have played in the majors. 
 The head man there was an old man named Monk.  He knew everything.  I remember him telling us that if a car runs over a snake, 90% of the time it will run over the snake's head.  Why?  Because snakes strike at moving objects, so it goes after the tires.  So, the car runs over the head.  Funny how some things stick with you.  I also remember him telling us not to step over a log.  Step on top of the log and see what is on the other side before going on.  You never know what is on the other side like a snake.
 The last day of the week for us was Sunday.  We went to the camp's outdoor chapel, which was called "Pretty Place".  And it was.  It was built on a cliff which overlooked the valley below with mountains rising up on three sides.  We were there around 6am for the service.  While we were there, the sun was coming up and fog was in the valley.  I saw 3 golden buildings with one in the middle taller than the other two.  I thought I was dreaming, so I pinched myself and found I wasn't dreaming.  So, I thought it was a mirage and rubbed my eyes, but it was still there.  So, I turned around and then turned back, and it was still there.  I did not know of any close by cities that would be reflected by the sun like that, as Brevard was the closest town, and they didn't have tall buildings.  Greenville was in the opposite direction.  I realized that I was having a vision of Heaven, which scared me even more, because Daddy and Mother were coming to pick me up that afternoon to take me home down the winding roads of the mountains, and I thought we were going to have a wreck and die.  I didn't tell anyone about what I had seen, but I was in awe.  When my parents came to pick me up, I was terrified in the back seat of the car the whole way home, but we got home without any problems.  I pulled out a map to see if there was anywhere that could have produced the golden buildings, but there were none.  I firmly believe that I had a vision of Heaven.  About 5 years later, I had another vision, which I will talk about later.  I know there are skeptics about this, but it did happen to me.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Drama Bug

 Things were getting better for me.  I had met people who wanted to be my friends, and they were.  I had people telling me that I had some talent.  Positive reinforcement is amazing.  There was a city-wide search for high school students to take college-level drama courses at Columbia College.  I applied and was accepted.  Only 16 students from the Columbia area were chosen. 
 During the afternoons, we would go to Columbia College, which was an all-girls school, and take classes in Theatre History, Acting, Stagecraft, Costuming, etc.  Each student chose a partner in our class and performed a scene.  Mine was "Oklahoma", where I played Jud and died.  I had to fall down a lot and developed a deep bruise on my leg.  I learned to wear knee pads under my jeans.  So, I learned that one could protect himself from injury and still look believable.  At the end of the semester, we put on a one-act play called "The Cave Dwellers".  I played the mute boy, and I had to show love for the lead girl with my eyes.  It was like doing mime and was very challenging.  I also tried method acting, which I didn't much enjoy, but I wanted to play the part to the hilt.  My first scene had to show that I had been chased by a policeman, so he and I ran around downstairs from the stage to get out of breath, and then we came on stage sweating and breathing hard.  The others were amazed in our character development.  The drama bug bit me that semester.  I didn't know how hard it bit until later.
 One interesting note from all of this at Columbia College:  the directors of the Theatre were the Eakers.  Catherine and Gene.  About ten years later, I would be asked to perform in a play (which I will talk about later), as well as judging high school students in Speech and Drama.  They really started me on my way and saw I had some talent.  Thanks, guys.
 While this was going on at Columbia College, I had gotten a little attention from my peers for being one of 16 area high school kids in this program, so when the announcement at Flora that they were going to have a senior play, it was just natural for me to be in it.  They announced the auditions, and I went out for it.  I wasn't cast.  It turned out the parts had already been cast before the auditions, but they had to have the auditions to look like they were doing things right.  It was clearly wrong, whether I got a part or not.  There is one thing about me that has carried me through life--be fair.
 During Christmas of 1970, my church was putting on a Christmas play with the Youth doing the parts.  I was cast as a disciple.  I was supposed to say one short line, and then James was to speak.  I got nervous and proceeded to summarize the entire play while on stage.  The other actors looked at me funny, and then I realized what I was doing and stopped and told James to speak.  The audience never knew the difference.  That bit of improvisation would help me greatly 3 years later.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


 In 1969, my life was falling apart.  I had very few friends.  I had been arrested for shoplifting.  My peers told me I was no good.  My teachers told me the same thing.  I had sunk into deep depression.  I was failing in some courses.  I had gone to a psychiatrist.  And, I had tried to kill myself 6 times.  There really was no need to go on.
 At Christmas that year, my parents called a meeting with me and told me that we were joining a new church the first Sunday of 1970.  I was very opposed to this change.  After all, the only friends I had were at First Baptist.  My parents didn't know this, but the shoplifting "club" that I was in was out of First Baptist.  They knew though (as parents often do) that I needed a change.  They did make a deal with me that if I didn't like this new church that I could go back to my old church after 3 months, and nothing more would be said.
 On January 4th, 1970, we joined Kilbourne Park Baptist Church.  It was about a mile from our house.  My father was good friends with the pastor--Ted Dougherty.  They were in seminary together.  I knew only one person my age who went to this new church--Vonda Snipes.  Her father worked with my father at the Baptist Building.  After the morning service, Vonda came up to me and asked if I would like to go to the youth choir rehearsal that afternoon.  I told her I would, because I had been in youth choir at First Baptist and was rather good.  (No ego there, huh?) 
 That afternoon, I was introduced into the youth choir.  Most of the kids didn't go to my school, and they didn't know what I had been going through.  They accepted me for who I was--a new member; a Bass in the choir; and a cool guy.  I fell in love with those people on that afternoon.  They showed me that I had worth.  And they saved my life, even though they didn't know it.  God used them to get to me.  Had Vonda not invited me, and had I not gone to choir that afternoon, I firmly believe that I would have been dead three months later.  I think of January 4th as my second birthday.  June 17th is the birthday on my driver's license.  January 4th is MY birthday.  Without Pam, Buddy, Sonny, Lawson, Tommy, Craig, Gail, Karen, Ellen, Rodney, Vonda, David, James, Mel, Lelia, and many more, I would not be here today.  These people gave me hope.  They cared about me.  In fact, after that first Sunday with them, I didn't come back for about a month.  I was still conflicted.  When I did come back, they asked me where I had been.  I just made up an excuse that I had been sick.  They told me that they were sorry.  No one had been that interested in me before then. 
 We formed a youth group called "The Kiboneers".  We took an old house next to the church and made it into a youth place.  We painted it, which was challenging.  We had a car wash, where it was my job to take the cars from the curb and bring them to be washed.  One man had a straight shift, and I tore up his transmission.  The church had to pay to repair it.  But most of all, we had fun.  We would go over to the Wise's house and listen to records.  We went swimming at the Jowers' house.  We went to summer retreats and Sunday night fellowships.  One of those fellowships was at my house.  I played some of the sides of the Woodstock LP which were clean, but the kids tried to listen to the other songs I couldn't play at a church function.  We did everything together.  We went to Six Flags.  We went to the beach.  We went to a swimming hole out of town.  I couldn't wait to go somewhere else with them.  These people became my life.  Sure, we got in trouble too.  Once in a church service, we were talking in the balcony, and the pastor stopped his sermon and told us to shut up.  I met a member years later who told me that he remembered the pastor stopping the church service to tell some kids in the balcony to shut up, and I confessed that I was one of those kids.  We went to Ridgecrest for a youth conference and stayed at a house, where the girls were on the top floor and the boys on the bottom floor.  We put shaving cream on the wooden stairs and bannister.  When our leader walked down those steps in the middle of the night to check on us, he slipped and fell and hurt his back.  We also locked a kid in a closet and didn't tell anyone.  The difference though between bullying and fun was that everyone knew we were having fun, or at least I hope they did. 
 I still stay in touch with many of those people.  After all, they were (and continue to be) my life line.  Many have moved away to the far reaches on this country.  One has moved onto Heaven.  I thank God that my parents called that meeting to tell me of the move.  I thank God for my friends.  I thought I would never say that.  And, most of all, I thank God for giving me a second chance.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


 When I turned 13, I got acne.  I guess it is one of those rights of passage, but I had a particularly bad case.  That may be one of the reasons that I was bullied.  It is hard to say.  However, it was a bad time for me.  Girls don't want to go out with a pizza face.  So, my parents did what they could to lessen the disease.  They took me to a dermatologist.  He was one of the best in his field.  I became something of a guinea pig for treatment.  I had the sun lamp to peel the skin, and it was very strong.  I was given steroids and cortisone.  They gave me topical treatments.  The worst was something called Pernox.  It was a soap that had granules in it that was supposed to scrape the skin.  My father was the one who usually applied that on me.  One night, he was doing it, when we heard that Martin Luther King had been killed in Memphis.  Funny how you remember things with other things.  The doctor also sent me to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston for evaluation.  And then, he sent me to Duke University to see if they could "cure" me.  Nothing really worked too well.  I have no idea how much chemicals they pumped into me, and if there were any long-lasting effects.  I don't think anyone knows.  They did take some full-body pictures of me for a study.  Somewhere, there are nude pictures of me.  Clinical pictures.  Maybe DHEC has them.  When I graduated from high school, the doctor wanted to try something new called a dermabrasion.  Apparently, I was the first to have this procedure.  I had to stay in a hospital overnight.  They explained it to me that they would "sand down" my face in an operating room, and they would take off one or two layers of skin.  The result would be that my face would have a scab over it for a couple of weeks.  Then, when the scab came off, my face would be red for about six weeks and look like I had a sunburn.  Then, that redness would fade and the acne would be gone. 
 Upon leaving the hospital after the surgery, I remember my parents taking me home.  We got about a block, and I opened the car door and threw up.  A nurse ran out to see if I was okay, and my parents said I was.  I stayed at home for those two weeks, until the scab came off.  It was kind of gross looking into the mirror, but the surgery worked pretty well.  There was one side effect though that continues to this day.  I am unable to grow a full beard.  The hair follicles are gone.  I can grow a beard on my chin and neck, but just not around my cheeks.  I also have two small scars on my upper lip, so I have grown a mustache to cushion the area around the scars.  At least, that's my excuse.

Friday, July 17, 2015


 I was not the most coordinated kid growing up.  I got picked last for all games in school.  I would try to do good, and sometimes I would do better than was expected, but I would always be picked last.  Even when I did get picked, the looks on the faces of the other players showed disappointment.  I have already shared about getting coal in my knee from a fall.  I fell a lot. 
 In 4th grade, I was playing football with some of the neighborhood kids.  I fell and broke my thumb.  It was on a Sunday, and the break was on my right hand.  The hand with which I write.  So, they took me to the hospital that afternoon.  While we were sitting in the hallway to be seen, a man came in covered in blood from head to toe.  It seems that he fell into a combine on a farm.  It was gross.  The doctor set my thumb and put a big cast on my hand.  I had to write with my left hand.  If people thought I had bad handwriting before, it got a lot worse.  Along about Wednesday, my thumb needed to be reset.  This time, I would have to have surgery.  They gave me something to knock me out, which caused hallucinations.  A 4th grader on something akin to LSD.  They put me in a room with another kid, and we talked a lot.  When I came back from the recovery room, the other kid wasn't there.  When I asked where he was, they told me he was gone.  I found out later that he had died during the night.
 After I got the cast off, my parents tried to keep me from falling again.  Things were okay until the day I fell down the front steps of our house.  I injured my right elbow.  It wasn't broken, but it was badly bruised.  That summer, we went to Lynchburg, VA.  Daddy was doing a conference there.  I had a sling for my arm, which I just didn't care for that much.  During the week there, I developed an abscess on my arm near the elbow, so they took me to the nearest hospital.  It wasn't much of a hospital.  The doctor told me that he could lance the abscess, but he didn't have any numbing agent, so he gave me a leather belt to bite on.  The procedure hurt a lot, and I put teeth marks on the leather.  It was like being in the old West.  I still have a one-inch scar where the "doctor" worked on me.  I think he was a butcher on the side, maybe.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


 In elementary school, one of my teachers told my Mother that I had the 2nd highest IQ to ever come through that school.  I don't know who had the first highest.  During the time of the bullying in junior high, my parents sent me to a psychologist.  He may have been suggested by the school.  I remember the man giving me a test to see about my IQ.  I got every question right except one.  I didn't know that Goethe wrote "Faust".  So, he determined I was a genius.  That fact didn't help me with the girls, nor did it stop the bullying, but it was nice to know.  Based on his examination, my IQ was around 160.
 So, on to high school.  I really didn't care about school.  I never studied.  All I wanted to do was to go to speech tournaments and have fun.  In the 10th grade, things were not going too well.  I had been arrested by a store security guard for shoplifting a book.  I told him it was the first time, but I had done it many times before.  I was in a "club", where we tried to outdo the other.  At one time, a third of my record collection was stolen.  I mainly stole stuff like records, books, magazines, and toys.  Oh, and cigarettes out of people's cars.  I smoked the half-smoked cigarettes that I found in the student parking lot at the high school.  I was slowly losing my conscience.
 My parents sent me to a psychiatrist for evaluation.  I was put into group therapy with other high school students from the city.  My diagnosis was a schizoid personality.  There were other kids in the group far worse than me.  I was also in Boy Scouts at the time, and I felt that Scouting would be better for me than to sit in a room listening to strange stories about bizarre behavior.  After 10 months of group therapy, I asked to leave.  The psychiatrist told me to take my file to my family doctor, but not to open it.  Of course, you don't tell a kid not to open something, because he will open it, and I did.  I saw my evaluation.  It was about right.
 During my senior year of high school, I wrote an article for the school newspaper questioning one's permanent record.  All through school, we had been threatened with the line:  "This is going on your permanent record".  But, no one had ever seen their permanent record.  After my article ran in the paper, I got a note to see my guidance counselor.  She showed me my permanent record.  The only thing I saw was that they showed my IQ as 127.  So, somewhere between 160 and 127 is where I stand, I guess.  She also told me that, after taking a occupation test, I had the aptitude to be an auto mechanic.  I proved her wrong.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


 I have heard it said that your parents are a product of their parents in how they treat their children, so I wanted to take a minute to talk about my grandparents.
 On my Mother's side, I was named for her father.  Her brother thought I was named for him, since they both share the same first name.  My name is Walter Merrill Durst.  The Merrill name comes from her family name.  My grandfather was named Walter Merrill.  He was a judge.  My grandmother was named Lilla Jones Merrill.  She was first a school teacher, and later became a housewife.  My grandfather was married once before, but his first wife died.  A story that my Mother told me that my grandmother was the first teacher in Alabama to teach both black and white kids.  She would teach the white kids in the morning, and the black kids in the afternoon.  The KKK found out about this and shot out the windows of their home.  My grandfather, being the county judge, found out who did it and put them in jail.  I don't know if that story is true, but I do know that my grandfather was in the Klan for a while, and he taught his children to treat everyone equally.  So, that is how I was taught.  My grandmother was named Mother of the Year in Alabama one year.  They raised some very successful children.  My Uncle Pelham was a high school football coach and later an Alabama Supreme Court Justice.  My Uncle Walter was a very prominent attorney in Alabama.  My Uncle Carl was also an attorney in Alabama, and later District Attorney.  My Uncle Fred worked in higher education in Alabama.  My Aunt Clyde married a Baptist minister and they moved to Florida, where he headed the Baptist Convention there.  She wrote several books.  My grandfather died in 1958.  I didn't know him that well, except everyone called him "Judge" and he was very strict.  My grandmother died in 1969.  She was the strongest person of faith I ever knew.  Her death hit my Mother very hard, as they were very much alike.  My Mother went down to Alabama after her death and spent about a month closing up her house.  My grandmother died very peacefully.  She had gotten up that morning; fixed breakfast; and gotten dressed.  She sat down on the bed to put on her shoes for the day; leaned back; and died.  I wish I could go like that.
 On my father's side, I never knew my grandfather.  He died in 1924, when my father was 13.  There have been conflicting stories on how he died, but the general thought was that he had a brain tumor.  He owned the first car dealership in Greenwood, SC.  My grandmother raised four boys.  She also taught school.  Their family was well to do in Greenwood, owning the bank and a lot of the real estate.  My Uncle Jim lived in Greenwood and was an avid collector.  I guess I get that trait from him.  He started The Museum there.  My Uncle Bill moved to Atlanta and was in business there.  He became very wealthy.  My Uncle George became a doctor and moved to Charleston/Sullivan's Island.  He became rather famous in the medical community.  My grandmother died in 1986 at 105.  Everyone called her "remarkable".  I guess she was, but when she would come for a visit, she would stay in my room, because I had two beds.  She would douse herself with baby powder.  I blame her for my breathing problems.  She was very hard to get to know and extremely strong.  She had to be, having the raise her boys and put them through school.  One summer, I went to her house for a week.  She made me tomato jello.  I know some think it was tomato aspic, but it was jello.  It was very gross.  I dislike tomatoes today because of that.  Also, she had a driveway made of cracked coal.  One day, I fell and cut up my knee.  The coal got in the cut.  My father tried to get it out, but it was too painful.  I still have coal in my knee.  On my grandmother's 100th birthday, we had a party for her at her house.  She got many phone calls that day.  She would always answer the phone with "All Right" instead of "Hello".  One call came from Strom Thurmond.  She was related to him through his mother.  They talked for a few minutes, and then she hung up.  Then, she turned to one of her sons and asked him who that was.  "That was the Senator, Mother" was the response.  She wasn't impressed.  He was just another one of the callers.  Nothing really impressed her much, but she did love her four boys.
 So, my Mother taught us justice, and my father taught us a work ethic.  We carry that with us today.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


 I went to A.C. Flora High School.  It was only 3 blocks from my house, and it was the best school in Columbia at the time.  My brother had gone there before me, and we had a lot of the same teachers.  Unfortunately, they wanted to compare me to him.  It was at Flora that I became socially and politically aware of what was going on around me.  In 10th grade, I realized that the Vietnam War was wrong, because I took the negative side in a debate in a History class.  I don't know what would have happened, if I had taken the affirmative position.  Anyway, I tried to make good grades, but it wouldn't be so good.  I even had a cousin who was a teacher there, and she almost failed me.  One teacher had dated my brother, when they were older, and she almost failed me.  We had a substitute English teacher, who only talked about going to nude beaches in Sardinia.  But, there were also pluses.  I got to meet James Dickey through my Senior English teacher, whose husband taught at USC.  And there was Forensics.
 The National Forensic League sponsored speech tournaments between schools in our area and beyond.  Once, we went to Bluefield, WV to go to a debate tournament.  My specialty in these tournaments was the Congress portion, where I would be one of several representatives debating issues of the day.  I got several awards for winning these Congress events.  I started out in debate my Sophomore year.  My debate partner and I went to a tournament at Dentsville, and the opponent school asked me a question in the debate if this topic was already inherent in the system.  I didn't know what "inherent" meant, and I looked over at my debate partner, and he shrugged his shoulders.  We lost the debate, but I learned from that experience to always be prepared for anything, and carry a dictionary with you.  The highlight of every year was the Model U.N.  Each school chose a country to represent, and they would send three members of the school to go.  The first year, we had Ireland.  It wasn't too exciting to be Ireland, so we tried to declare war on the UK.  It made for some interesting debate.  The second year, we got Byelorussia.  Once again, we were being dominated by the Soviet Union, so we tried to secede from Russia.  It didn't go anywhere, so we walked out.  My Senior year was the most fun.  We took Albania.  You would think that would be the least exciting, but Albania was allied with China at the time, and we caused so much havoc that they wanted us to leave.  In fact, the other members voted us out of the U.N., but we refused to go.  We set up our own U.N. within the confines of the General Assembly.  We were all hippies back then, so it made sense.  We also disliked the guys from Dreher, as they were our archrivals in sports.  If they brought up a resolution on world peace, we advocated world war.  If they brought up a resolution on health, we advocated genocide.  It was brutal.  When I graduated from Flora, I went back the next year to participate in the Model U.N., as once again they had Albania.  I had to sneak on campus, because I was no longer a student there, and I was found out and kicked out of the proceedings.  The sponsors tried to make it dignified, but for us it was just great fun. 
 There were 601 in our Senior class, and 537 graduated.  The graduation was in the Township Auditorium downtown.  As the procession started, we were told to remain standing until the entire class came in.  As my name started with "D", I had to wait on the "Z"'s came in.  I stood for 35 minutes.  I didn't get to go to the party afterwards, because my family had to go to a wedding in Alabama, and we left right after the ceremony.  Oh well.

Sunday, July 12, 2015


 On the day that I was born in New Orleans, I was enrolled in the Cradle Roll Sunday School Department at First Baptist Church.  As my father was a minister and my Mother a Sunday School teacher, going to church was a way of life.  We would go mornings and evenings on Sundays, and sometimes on Wednesdays.  I also went to Vacation Bible School every summer, and Baptist conference centers with Daddy.  Our lives were intertwined with church. 
 In 1964, my father decided that it might be time for me to accept Jesus as my Savior; join the church; and be baptized.  So, I spent some time reading the Bible, and learning what all of this meant.  When I told him that I was ready, I did all of that on Easter Sunday at First Baptist Church in Columbia.  That night, Daddy was going to baptize me.  The pastor of the church was Archie Ellis, and he was to baptize others on that night.  We were in a changing room, putting on robes for baptizing, and waiting for the moment to go down into the water.  My father had always worn white underwear.  I had always worn white underwear.  So, I thought all preachers wore white underwear.  When I saw Dr. Ellis changing his clothes into his robe, he was wearing blue underwear.  I thought that was a sin.  I was shocked that the pastor would sin like that.  I never told my father, but I was quite disappointed in our pastor.   White was right. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Bullying Part 2

 Just a quick note about what happened when I got to high school.  The bullying was not as much as junior high.  Mainly because there were more people in high school, and some of the bullies were now on the football team or more concerned about partying or passing.  There was one guy named Michael, who continued to bully me.  He enjoyed throwing me over desks in classrooms.  Occasionally, I would be punched in the arm on the way to class, but that didn't happen much.  Thankfully, the lockers were too small to be stuffed into. 
 I will talk more later about my high school experience, but just a follow-up on Michael.  He graduated with honors from high school and went on to college.  During his first semester, he killed himself.  It is said that he did so, because he didn't have any friends.  I went to his funeral, as did one other person from our high school class.  Michael was a gentle giant who no one understood.  I wish I could have been his friend.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Junior High

 Some people tell me that they are amazed about what a good memory I have.  It comes from training.  When I was training to be an actor, I had to bring up memories to use as character development for plays.  I worked long and hard to increase my memory power.  Good actors do this all the time.  It is called "sense memory".  I say that to say this:  I do not remember a lot about my experiences in junior high, because I have blocked most of it out.  Much of it is a blur.  I remember a few things out of necessity.  Why? 
 I was bullied.  I was beat up every day for three years.  The key to the bullying was for the bully not to draw blood or for me to have any visible bruises.  It was almost like a science.  There was the physical abuse, but also the mental abuse.
 The physical abuse came in many forms:  being thrown down steps; punched; kicked; being thrown into bushes; spat on; being stuffed into lockers; and whatever other creative ways they could think of.  In my eighth grade annual, I marked all of the kids who had done something to me.  Most of the kids were marked.  Some of their pictures were blackened out by me.  Sometimes, I would tell my teachers about the abuse.  The bully would get into trouble, and then I would be beaten worse after school by the bully, so I learned not to tell and just take it.  The bullies thought it was funny.  I think there were about 6 main bullies that beat me up on a regular basis, but there were a lot more who joined in.  Some of them stemmed from the 6th grade scandal, when I told on them for fixing the fight between Tom and me.  But, many of the bullies did not know me prior to 7th grade.  On one occasion that I remember, I was standing in a line of boys in P.E. class, and the bully behind me started spitting on the back of my legs.  He continued to do it, until I could not take anymore, and I turned around and spit on his stomach.  The teacher saw what I did, and I was called into his office after class and was paddled by him with a big fraternity paddle.  He said, "Bend over and grab your ankles."  So much for responding to the bully.   On a Saturday, a friend and I were walking down a road in our neighborhood, when we were confronted by three of the bullies.  They told my friend not to do anything, and then they threw me into a rose bush, which cut me up.  I went home, and told my Mother.  She called the police.  The police "investigated" and determined that "boys will be boys".  Oddly, one of those bullies grew up to be a decorated police officer.  My parents also learned that they could do nothing. 
 The mental abuse was a bit more.  I was told that I was no good.  Nobody liked me.  I had very few friends.  Even one science teacher, during an experiment where I was to report my findings, told me that my findings were wrong, and I could not have seen what I did.  I had a cyst on the back of my ear, which was full of pus and blood.  I had very bad acne during this time.  One of the kids drew a cyst hanging from my ear to the ground on the blackboard before class.  Everyone laughed.  The teacher came into class and asked why everyone was laughing.  Someone pointed to the board.  She started laughing too. 
 My parents saw the toll this was taking on me, but they didn't know the half of it.  I did have one friend, who I knew from church.  Her name was Gayle.  (She passed away a few years ago)  Gayle recognized that I had a talent for writing, music and acting.  She suggested that I use my talents to escape from the bullies.  I took her advice, and that is how I really began my creative journey.
 Meanwhile, the bullies continued.  In the 9th grade, I got the bright idea to design a robot, which would protect me from the bullies.  I drew this robot, which would stand 4 ft. tall and would send out lasers to hurt the bullies.  As they were about the beat me up again, I pulled out the drawing of the robot, and explained to them that I would unleash the robot on them.  They started to believe me, because they knew I had a high IQ.  Of course, the robot didn't exist.  But, I did buy some time from getting beat up.  But one day, the bullies called my bluff and wanted to see the robot.  Of course, I couldn't produce it, so the time lost from them not beating me up was added to the beatings, and they got worse. 
 I think I could tell you one or two more stories, but you get the picture.  One interesting side note to all of this happened in 2001.  I went to my 30th high school reunion.  Mainly on a dare.  I saw some of the bullies from junior high there at that party.  I didn't say anything to them, and they didn't say anything to me.  About a week later, I got an email from one who said that he had seen me at the party and was too ashamed to come over and say hello.  He had remembered what he and the others had done to me, and he felt remorse.  He apologized to me, and asked for forgiveness.  I forgave him, and now we are good friends.  Time heals some wounds. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Fight

 Tom Phillips was my best friend in 6th grade.  He had a hamster.  One day, I went over to his house, and he said that his hamster liked to play in hair.  I told him that I was afraid it would use my hair as its bathroom.  Tom assured me that the hamster had already done it, so it was safe to have him play in my hair.  So, I put the hamster on top of my head, and it went to the bathroom on my head.  Tom thought that was funny.  I didn't, but we were still best friends.  We both loved "The Man from UNCLE" and would play it every chance we got.  One time, his mother was doing something at the Town Theatre, and she took us downtown at night, while she was rehearsing.  We had a great time playing spy downtown.
 Tom's mother wore pants most of the time.  My Mother wore dresses all of the time.  The other kids in the class noticed this and tried to get Tom and me to fight for the honor of our mothers.  We didn't want to fight each other, because we were friends, but the pressure mounted.  Tom got caught up in the pressure from the other boys in the class, so he started to taunt me about a fight.  My Mother would come and pick me up in the afternoon after school, so I would hurry to her car, before the fight would start.  This went on for three days.  Finally, I said okay, so we planned to fight after school.  We actually planned to just run around and slap at one another.  So after school, a circle of boys surrounded us, and we started to run around in the circle and slap one another.  Dust began to come up from the playground, and a teacher came out and stopped the fight.  Tom and I were taken to the principal's office.
 The principal knew us, and he knew we would not have done this unless we were coaxed to do it.  He asked Tom who had started it, and Tom wouldn't say.  Then, he asked me, and I named names.  Pretty much all of the boys in our class except for two.  The problem was that we were patrol officers.  That was a pretty big position for a 6th grader.  We were able to roam the school and look for kids out of class.  We were able to stop traffic in front of school to let kids cross the street.  To be on patrol was a huge honor.  Not all of the kids were chosen.  We even had badges.  But now, I told on the other patrol officers as being those who started the fight.  The principal called them into his office and removed them from patrol duty.  The other two boys, who didn't participate, were given patrol duty.  There were normally six patrolmen at any one time.  Now, there were only two. 
 The kids, who got in trouble, didn't speak to me again.  In fact, some of them still do not speak to me to this day.  It was almost like Watergate for the 6th grade.

Monday, July 6, 2015

4th Grade Christmas

 I had started my drama career in kindergarten, but my first lines came in 4th grade.  I was cast as a Wise Man (again) in the 4th grade Christmas Pageant.  And, I was the only one with lines.  Actually, it was only one line, and I can't tell you what it was, although it was probably something about bringing gifts to the child, but there was an enormous amount of pressure to get it right.  I was practicing backstage.  I was practicing before entering.  When I got onto the stage, I mumbled something, and the play went on.  It was not a stellar performance by me, and one I would rather forget.  I understood pressure.  I learned later how to deal with it.  It also started a life long problem with stage fright.  I guess my teacher, Mrs. McCuen, saw something in me that warranted those lines.  Maybe she "discovered" me.  At any rate, it would be years later before the drama bug would bite me.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


 There have been a lot of shark attacks recently, so I wanted to share my shark story.  I had an uncle and aunt who lived in Jacksonville, FL.  We spent one weekend with them.  In fact, that has been the only time I have been to Florida, believe it or not.  So, we went down to the beach and saw some commotion.  There were 12 baby sharks that had washed up on shore, and they were laid out in a row at the edge of the water.  About 100 yards off shore, we could see a full-grown shark swimming back and forth.  It was the mother of the babies looking for its young.  Very said to see, and you didn't see any humans going out there either.  This was long before "Jaws", and there were some very smart people with common sense.  Don't go in the water.

Thursday, July 2, 2015


 As mentioned previously, we went to Atlantic City in 1964.  We were first booked into a hotel that had corn shuck mattresses.  We couldn't stay there, so we moved to a nicer hotel.  It had a macaw in the lobby and skeet ball for the kids.  It was fun to go on the Boardwalk, but I also saw the places the tourists aren't supposed to see like the rundown apartments.  I also wanted to go in the ocean, but it was absolutely freezing in that water in June. 
 But, back to our trip.  We first got to Washington, DC.  Our nation's capital.  As a kid, I loved the Smithsonian.  We also toured the White House and did all of the monuments.  We were distantly related to Senator Strom Thurmond, and he got us passes to the Senate.  We also got a behind the scenes tour of the Capitol, including a train ride underground between buildings.  That was cool.  We got to eat in a restaurant underground, and ride an elevator for Senators.  When the elevator doors opened, there was Barry Goldwater.  My Mother almost fainted.  All she could do was shake his hand.  She didn't wash that hand for the rest of the day. 
 After leaving Atlantic City, we went to New York to the World's Fair.  I liked riding the tram and seeing the Pieta, but I couldn't stand, and still can't stand, the song "It's A Small World".  They debuted the song there, and that was a tragedy.  We also toured the United Nations and the Empire State Building.
 As we were driving back home, we stopped at a motel in Silver Spring, MD for the night.  I had my teddy bear with me.  Teddy was my best friend.  I left him at the motel accidentally, when we left the next morning.  When we got home, I realized that Teddy was still in Maryland, so I got very upset, and my parents called the motel.  The manager said they had not seen Teddy.  We figured a maid gave it to their child, so I hope Teddy had a good time in Maryland and still cheers up a child somewhere.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Billy Graham

 In the summer of 1963, my parents and I were at Ridgecrest Conference Center in NC, where my father was leading a conference on Sunday School work.  My Mother and I were there, because it was kind of like our vacation.  One afternoon, the phone rang at our room, and it was Billy Graham.  Billy lived in Montreat, which was only a few miles from Ridgecrest.  He asked my father if he wanted to come over for dinner that night and to bring the family.  My father knew Billy Graham from his work.  Daddy said no thank you, because he explained he was leading this conference.  My Mother and I were furious at Daddy, but what could we do?
 The next summer, we went to Atlantic City NJ for the Southern Baptist Convention.  Billy Graham was the keynote speaker.  After his speech, my father took me up front, and I met Billy Graham.  He looked to be a giant of a man.  As I was shaking his hand, Daddy explained to him that this meeting got him out of the dog house for passing up on the dinner the year before.  Billy and Daddy had a good laugh over that.  I got very emotional, because I had just met Billy Graham.