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2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 2,600 times in 2010. That’s about 6 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 2 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 32 posts. There were 2 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 234kb.

The busiest day of the year was January 13th with 51 views. The most popular post that day was BLUESMOBILE RE-DISCOVERED Blues Brothers’ car lives on.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for blues brothers car, bluesmobile, 1974 dodge monaco, how to grow orchids in pots, and blues brothers.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


BLUESMOBILE RE-DISCOVERED Blues Brothers’ car lives on April 2008


ORCHIDS NOT SO HARD TO GROW From the Anderson Independent-Mail February 2008
1 comment





By Vince Jackson

John James Audubon aptly named it the Nonpareil Bunting, a bird so strikingly beautiful that he thought it to “have no equal,” when he first saw it in South Carolina. Ornithologist and South Carolinian Alexander Sprunt Jr. said that it is “brilliant in its flaming, jewel-like radiance. Truly it is without equal.”

Today, people who have seen Passerina ciris might agree with these lofty assessments. The Painted Bunting, a small finch found along the South Carolina coast and inland near the state’s rivers during the summer, is certainly an unmistakable eyeful. To some it is gaudy in its red, blue and green carnival plumage, but most just look with their mouths open and their eyes wide.

Unfortunately, like many songbirds it is in trouble. Loss of breeding habitat, nest parasitism by the more aggressive Brown-headed Cowbird, capture in Mexico and Central America for the pet trade, and feral cats all take a toll.

The popularity of beach homes in SC has diminished the coastal habitat of the Painted Bunting, but the bird can live in proximity to man if bird-friendly conditions exist, say experts.

Buntings feed frequently at bird feeders. In fact most sightings are made while they are consuming bird seed in people’s backyards. They also stay close to the ground and this makes them more visible to observers. Because of these characteristics the bird has become a “favorite” and “desirable” to homeowners who enjoy watching birds, say coastal bird watchers like Joe and Maureen Osteen, who have a summer home at Edisto Island.

“Joe and I really enjoy seeing these beauties in our yard. Wow, they are something else,” said Maureen.

People who live on the coast or have a summer home there can provide suitable habitat for buntings by leaving native trees like wax myrtle, scrub pine and red cedar on their property. Native grasses, beach scrub and Spanish moss make needed contributions for food and nesting material, unlike more exotic introduced plants. Consider low, creeping seed and berry producing plants to attract buntings instead of a lawn, says the National Audubon Society.

The Painted Bunting has been given a high priority by conservation groups working to save songbirds from extinction. The bird is on the National Audubon Society’s Watchlist of species in decline and special attention is being paid to populations on the barrier islands of South Carolina and Georgia due to the advantageous habitat the islands afford.

Population censuses indicate that Painted Buntings are declining at the rate of 3% a year in South Carolina. That amounts to an almost 50% decline in twenty years. Scientists at the Migratory Bird Data Center think that Painted Buntings can be managed much like game birds such as quail and dove.

“The barrier islands of Georgia and South Carolina offer the best historic habitats for these birds to survive. That is where the effort should be focused,” says researcher Joe Myers of the US Geological Survey.

Anyone interested in tracking Painted Buntings or contributing sighting information can go to the PAINTED BUNTING OBSERVER TEAM website for more information.



By Vince Jackson

Mel Shehu grew-up in what is now the Republic of Kosovo, first under a communist dictatorship, and then in the crosshairs of a war involving ethnic cleansing. Last week he became a United States citizen.

The Clemson University student, who is pursuing a graduate degree in business administration, feels very lucky to live in America, he says.

“Kosovo is not the best place to live. My family is there and the economy is very bad. I am very close to them and know they have a difficult time. I help them when I can,” he said.

“During the fighting that occurred my father was wounded and our house was burned by Serb forces. My family is OK now, but it is hard for them. I feel very fortunate to be a citizen of the United States,” Shehu said.

Shehu, an ethnic Albanian, says that he was able to come to the United States on a student visa and aid provided by the United Methodist Church, Spartanburg Methodist College and Bruce and Dot Yandle of Clemson.

He was selected to be a student at SMC largely because of work he had performed in relief efforts in Kosovo. After about a year he was able to transfer credits he earned at the university in Kosovo and SMC to Clemson University where he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.

‘I have Dot and Bruce Yandle (professor emeritus at Clemson University) to thank for helping me come to Clemson,” Shehu said.

Last week Shehu took part in a ceremony in Charleston where he took the oath to become a United States citizen.

“I feel good about it. I wanted to live here as a legal resident. I have followed all the rules now for over 8 years. I do not think people understand how difficult it is to become a legal citizen in this country,” he said.

Lane Glaze, campus minister for the United Methodist Church of Clemson, said he spent time with Mel and saw him frequently while Mel was completing his degree.

“Mel is a hard working person. I am excited to hear that he has become a citizen. I feel fortunate to have shared a part of his life here in Clemson,” he said.

Asked how the United States differed from his homeland Shehu said, “In Kosovo people are very close to family and friends. I find it hard to make close friends here. Some of it is the cultural difference, but some of it is because here people stress the individual and not close-knit family and friends.”

Shehu said other differences he sees between the United States and Kosovo is the freedom of speech, freedom to believe what you want and peace of mind about your personal safety.

“In Kosovo if you criticized the government, under the dictatorship, it would not be long before you were singled out and perhaps killed. Now Kosovo has free elections, fighting has stopped and people feel somewhat safe again,”

The Yandles attended the citizenship ceremony in Charleston where Shehu took the oath of citizenship with about 25 other people.

“We wanted to be with Mel and be a part of his special day. He is a very hard working individual and Bruce and I wish him the best,” said Dot Yandle.



By Vince Jackson reporting from Anderson

Anyone who drives over Hartwell Lake knows that the water level is going down, not coming back up. If meaningful rainfall does not occur soon, the lake level could fall below the only functioning intake for the Anderson water district early next fall, experts say.

According to the US Army Corps of Engineers the current lake level is 639.58 above mean sea level. This is lower than the previous record low of 642.4 feet set in the drought of 1981. By comparison historic winter lake levels average about 657 feet, according to Corps records.

If sufficient rainfall does not occur soon Corps projections indicate that Hartwell Lake could drop to 634 feet by January 1, 2009.

Steve Wilson, manager of the West Anderson Water System says that water cannot be taken from Hartwell through the only remaining submerged intake pipe if water levels recede to 620 feet. At the current rate of water usage that low level would occur late next summer or early fall, Wilson said.

“I would estimate that we have maybe 300 days of available water left in the lake. No one knows for sure. Conservation methods have been successful and have increased the life of the existing water supply, but more needs to be done to insure the continued supply of clean, useable water from the lake,” says Wilson.

City officials in the towns of Central, Clemson and Pendleton say that their citizens are conserving and meeting the 20% reduction levels required by drought management regulations. The question becomes is this sufficient conservation?

Currently, the Corps releases 3600 cubic feet of water per second to supply electrical generation needs and keep federally mandated flows moving downstream, according to the Corps website. Reductions in this amount have been discussed and suggested by SCDHEC and the Georgia Environmental Protection Department along with various water resource and conservation groups in the area.

Virgil Hobbs, Hartwell Project Operations Manager says that the Corps is working on an environmental assessment that could cut releases to 3100 cfs by November 22, 2008. This could mean that approximately 323 million more gallons per day would be retained in the lake through the release reduction, Hobbs said.

“Both Georgia and South Carolina state environmental protection departments have recommended reduction in flow releases to the 3100 cfs rate for the winter of 2009. They are both fully aware of the water crisis situation at Hartwell Lake,” said Hobbs.

“When people notice the generators running at the dam they think that we are only releasing water to provide saleable electricity. Actually, we are currently purchasing power from other generating sources for use in the area we serve. Over the past several years that amounts to about $60 million in off-system power purchases. We continue to generate some power during water releases, but that is because it is the most efficient manner to discharge the water,” said Hobbs.

Lakes Hartwell and Thurmond currently are providing most of what is known as conservation storage for the Upper Savannah River Basin. This is water that is specifically earmarked for use in maintaining downstream flow rates. Hartwell at present has approximately nineteen feet of conservation storage and Thurmond less than three feet. As greater demands are made on Hartwell this storage margin will decrease rapidly, according to Corps projections.

If drought conditions and current Corps water releases continue at present rates areas supplied by the Anderson Regional Joint Water System could possibly run short of water next year, said Wilson. The areas are:

Belton-Honea Path Water Authority

Big Creek Water and Sewage District

Broadway Water and Sewage District

City of Anderson

City of Clemson

Clemson University

Hammond Water District

Homeland Park Water District

Powdersville Water District

Sandy Springs Water District

Starr-Iva Water and Sewer District

Town of Central

Town of Pendleton

Town of Williamston

W. Anderson Water District

Other problems could occur if water shortages persist, says Mac Martin, mayor of the Town of Central.

“I fear we will have budget problems in Central and in other small towns if water usage is compromised. Currently we bring in about $5,000 per month based on projected water and sewer fees in Central. If water is further restricted or unavailable we will see decreases in revenues to the town that cannot easily be made-up during these austere times. Our budget is cut to the bone already,” Martin said.

“Other cities have similar water and sewer fees that account for an incremental amount of total revenues for that city. Most towns are also responsible for capital service charges that they pay to the water district. These costs do not go away just because a town uses less water. Losing revenue shares from water and sewer fees would cause hardships beyond the potential loss of the water itself,” he said.

Wilson says that the only intake from Hartwell Lake that is currently useable is the 36” pipe near Old Pearman Dairy Rd in Anderson. If water levels recede below that intake then auxiliary pumps and pipes would have to be run to deep water areas of the lake to supply the area’s needs. Wilson says this would be an emergency measure that could not sustain the district’s water needs indefinitely.

“We usually draw about 2 inches of water off the lake per month and evaporation can take more than that. During the summer water usage goes up 50% on average. Rain is the only thing that will solve this problem,” he said.

If it does not rain and the lake continues to drop Hobbs says that there is still what is known as the inactive storage. This is that deep water portion of the lake’s resources that could be tapped for water needs in a worst case scenario.

“If we reach that point next year then the states of Georgia and South Carolina would have to agree to access the inactive storage, since this is a shared water resource. Water would become more expensive and we could lose the lake, but water needs could continue to be met for some time with pumps and pipes,” Hobbs said. If we reach this point all releases will have stopped and flow in the Upper Savannah River Basin would be adversely affected. Power generation at the dam would most likely not be possible and economic impacts would occur,” Hobbs said.

“This is uncharted waters, so to speak. We can only hope that God will be looking out for us and provide some much needed rain,” said Hobbs.



Freddie Stowers, a one- time local resident and the only African-American WWI veteran to receive the Medal of Honor, was  featured in the PBS documentary series HISTORY DETECTIVES “The Red Hand Division,” in 2008 on ETV.

Born in Sandy Springs, SC in 1896 Stowers, was recruited and trained at the US Army’s Camp Jackson in Columbia. A member of Company “C”, 371st Regiment, 93 Division he went into action on September 28, 1918 and was apparently killed shortly there after. He is buried at Meuse-Argonne Cemetery in Meuse, France. He still has relatives that live in Pendleton.

According to a book of the era, “Scott’s Official History of the American Negro in the World War” by Emmett J Scott, Stowers was “heralded for his uncommon bravery.”

Scott was special adjutant to the Secretary of War and former private secretary to Booker T. Washington.

David Condon of the Anderson County Museum said, “We have a permanent exhibit about Corporal Stowers. We have period uniforms and a replica of his Medal of Honor on display. Anyone interested in Stowers can get more information from the museum.” Condon said there is national interest in a traveling exhibit about Stowers and that he is working on putting it together.

Stowers also received recognition from the French government: “For extraordinary heroism under fire 124 soldiers of the 371st and 372nd Infantry were decorated by the French. Among those so honored was Freddie Stowers.” He and others received the Croix de Guerre or French War Cross, according to Scott’s book.

The American Forces Press Service official War record said, “Despite being wounded twice during an assault on entrenched German forces, Corporal Stowers lead his unit until overcome by his wounds.”

Condon relates a story told about Stowers being killed during a “fake surrender” of the German troops.

“The Germans raised a white flag and the African-American troops proceeded to capture them. The German troops opened fire mortally wounding Stowers and others, but he continued to fight on and lead his unit until his death,” said Condon.

More importantly Stowers is one of only 87 African-American servicemen to ever receive the Medal of Honor and the only black WWI soldier to receive this high honor. Stowers’ medal was presented to his sisters at a White House ceremony April 24, 1991 by President George H W Bush.

The Medal of Honor is only awarded “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, in actual combat against an armed enemy force,” according to military protocols.

At the time of the war white and black troops were not allowed by law to fight in the same unit. The French army did not segregate their forces and gladly welcomed African-American soldiers into their ranks. Stowers and the 371st were assigned to the French Army along with American white officers. They wore the traditional US Army uniform, but were required to use French rifles and equipment. The French unit they fought with was known as the Red Hand Division.

The ETV special is about the Red Hand Division and a flag that was purchased on Ebay by Desert Storm veteran Anne Clarkson, who coincidently was also stationed at Fort Jackson until her retirement from the military.

The mystery surrounding the flag is what the TV show is about. Is this the flag that was used by the 371st in France during WWI? The show seeks to answer this question and many others.

Reporting from Anderson, Vince Jackson

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED Contractor Chronicles #3

THE MOUSE THAT ROARED or “What is that in the corner?”

Contractor Chronicles #3

Once upon a time, many years ago I worked in Atlanta, GA as a painting and decorating contractor. Late one afternoon as I was sitting in my office the phone rang and a very nice sounding lady with a crisp, distinctive voice asked me if I would be interested in doing a complete make-over of her house. She said she was in a grave situation. A change-of-plans in the marriage of her daughter precipitated that the bride’s home be used for the ceremony. She needed someone to begin immediately and if I could not come over today and estimate the job, then she would have to call someone else.

“Why yes,” I stammered as I realized the address was a very upscale and expensive neighborhood in NW Atlanta. “I will be there by 6:00pm.”

As I drove my truck up the long winding driveway in a very exclusive neighborhood I had a big smile on my face. This was going to be a great job. I had done my homework and I knew that the lady’s husband was a regionally famous neurosurgeon, who made lots of money. Dollar signs appeared in my eyes to go along with my smile.

The lady greeted me at the door with a big smile of her own and invited me in. She was very stylishly dressed with an expensive- looking silk blouse, string of pearls, large diamonds on each hand and a small yapping dog in her arms. She began giving me a tour of the palatial first floor and showed me some color swatches she was considering. I nodded in approval and mentally calculated square footage, gallons of paint and profit margins as we did the walk- thru. “This is going to be a good job!” I thought to myself.

Soon we climbed the large Scarlet O’Hara-style staircase and ascended to the next floor, only pausing to notice the molding details of the second floor grand foyer. I offered suggestions of how better to emphasize the character of the crown moldings and show-off their intrinsic qualities.

Nodding and smiling with approval the lady said, “Why yes that is an excellent idea.”

We explored possiblies for decorating the guest rooms (there were 3), the children’s rooms (there were 4) and several baths and powder rooms. Eventually, we came to the enormous master bedroom.

For 4-5 minutes we discussed the precise color that the tray ceiling should be; Dover White, Alabaster or French Linen.

“Don’t let me forget I want to paint my dressing closet in this room too,” she said. I duly noted that little detail and said, “Let’s take a look while we are thinking about it. Shall we.” “Great idea,” she said approvingly.

Walking to the closet she opened the door with great drama and motioned me inside with a sweep of her left hand. As I crossed the threshold she shrieked, “What is that in the corner,” and pushed me inside with her right.

Stumbling around I caught my balance and turned and gave the lady an astonished look. I am sure my mouth was open. She was jumping up and down and pointing frantically at the floor in the corner of the closet. “What is it a mouse? I cannot stand a mouse,” she screamed.

I got down on my hands and knees and looked at a sad ball of fur that was attached to one of those sticky roach motels that were once popular. Something was not quite right. It was about the right size for a mouse, but the color was all wrong. I carefully picked it up for a closer examination.

“It looks like a ball of fur. Do you have a mink coat?” I asked the distraught lady. “NO, it is sable,” she replied as she lifted one eye brow and gave me a look of reproach.

“Well, this ‘mouse’ is made of sable fur,” I said.

Quickly the lady regained her composure, smoothed her blouse, adjusted her pearls and smiled benignly. “You are just the nicest man to come out here on short notice,” she said. “You know I need to ask my husband, the Doctor, if it will be alright to do this decorating before we proceed. As I said, I am not in a hurry,” she said brightly.

Escorting me to the front door she eased me through the doorway and said, “Don’t call me. I will be in touch with you.”

As I descended the stairs I turned and looked her straight in the eye. “Next time call Orkin,” I said.

“I did, but they refuse to come out here anymore,” she admitted.

“Well,  I hope your daughter’s wedding turns out OK,” I enjoined.

“She is already marri—,” she sputtered as she clasped a hand over her mouth and her face began to turn red. With that she closed the door and I heard the deadbolt engage.

We always hear about the rip-off contractor, but never about the con artist customer.



Many of you will not believe this story, but it like most of my stories is true.

One day the phone rang and a very polite Southern lady said in a squeaky little voice, “Are you a painter?”

I am frequently asked this question. Usually, I am standing in the paint section at a home remodeling center, arms loaded down with painting supplies, dressed all in white with paint smeared here and there on my clothing when someone will come up to me and say, “Are you a painter?” My response quite often is, “No, I am a brain surgeon. Why do you ask?”

This reply gets me a blank stare. Then I will laugh and say something like, “Yeah, I am a painter.” Then both of us laugh.

That is not what I said to the lady on the phone. It is usually apparent when you can tease someone and when you cannot. This lady fell into the latter category. She was a no nonsense type of person. She may have been a Sunday school teacher or librarian.

She said, “I am getting 3 estimates to paint my house and someone said you would give a FREE estimate.” (Somewhere it is written that you should get 3 estimates for contract work, but I don’t know why. In the first place it is damn near impossible, but good luck trying.)

I replied, “Yes, I will give a FREE estimate and I will be there promptly tomorrow.”

Arriving at her home the next day I quickly determined that her job would not cost very much, because she had a small brick house.

I handed her a written estimate form that explained I had been in business 10 years, that my work was guaranteed, that I could supply references of successfully completed jobs, was fully licensed and insured and could begin work within a week.

She seemed unimpressed and asked, “Is this the cost of labor only?”

“No, madam,” I replied. “That is total cost—all materials and labor.”

“Well, I am going to buy the paint myself to save money. How much paint should I buy,” she asked?

“Only 4 gallons are needed. Your house is mostly brick—not much to paint here,” I said.

Customers are sometimes under the impression that contractors mark-up paint 300% or more. This is usually not the case as any homeowner can buy paint for the same price I can and paint is advertised constantly to the public at sale prices. It is very difficult to make money on paint mark-ups, so many contractors don’t even try. I don’t.

I added, “I will be happy to pick that paint up for you and save you the trouble.”

She looked like I had asked to marry her daughter. “OH NO, that will not be necessary,” she exclaimed! “I will provide the paint in order to save money.”

“That will be fine,” I sighed.

She called me several days later and said two very nice brothers had given her an estimate that was $25 less than mine and she was going to use their services instead. I said, “That is fine, $25 is a considerable sum and we all have a budget to keep. I understand completely.”

I quickly forgot about the lady and the estimate. A week or two went by. Then the Squeaky Lady called me again and asked a very unusual question. “Mr. Jackson did you take 40 gallons of paint from my carport?”

“No,” I said. “Why would you ask?” She said, “I was told by the Nice Brothers to buy 40 gallons of white paint for my house and have it delivered from the hardware store. Now it is gone and I think YOU may have taken it.”

Summoning all of my emotional control I said, “Madam I did not take your paint. Why did you buy so much anyway—it was only going to take 4 gallons to paint your house?”

“Well, the Nice Brothers said 40 gallons and they should know, they sometimes paint part-time for an apartment complex somewhere in the city and have been doing so for nearly a year”

“I see,” I said. “Do you think that the brothers might have taken your paint and used it somewhere else?”

“No,” she snapped. “They are very nice and would not treat me like that,” she added.

I told the Squeaky Lady that I did not take her paint, that I was sorry for her loss, but was very busy right then and there was nothing I could do. I then hung up the phone. A few days later she called again.

“I have been thinking about what you said,” she said. “The Nice Brothers have had their phone disconnected and I have not heard from them for some time. I am beginning to think you may be right—do you really think they may have taken my paint?”

I said, “Yes, that can happen and again I am very sorry.” I started to hang up the phone, but before I could return receiver to cradle she said another unusual thing, “Would you be willing to paint my house for free and provide the paint, since I have had this problem?”

I said, “What? I thought I heard you ask me to work for free and provide the paint.”

“Yes,” she said. “You see I just don’t see why I should have to spend any more of my money to pay someone to paint this house. After all, I have to pay for all of that paint that got lost. Some people will take advantage of other people, you know.”

I replied, “Yes, I have heard that.”

I felt sorry for the Squeaky Lady, but I could not believe she would ask me to work for free. So I asked her why?

“Well, you seem like a kind person and I thought it was worth a try,” she replied. “I need to hang up now so I can call the hardware store and see if they will just give me the paint that was stolen and call it even.” With that she was gone. Never to be heard from again.

I may be nice, but I am not that nice. When you are in business you meet all types of people.


CONTRACTOR CHRONICLES: The True Adventures of a Remodeling Contractor

This is the first in a series of what I hope will be a continuing saga of my true adventures as a remodeling contractor and some of the unbelievable things that have happened to me during a 30+ year career dealing with the general public.

This first tale, like all my stories, is 100% true and I swear that it is accurate in every detail. It took place in Atlanta, GA about 26 years ago. The principals are long dead and would laugh out loud if they could, so there is no need to protect their identity any longer.

Cotton was a cantankerous older gentleman who lived in a working class neighborhood in the inner city. He had been a painting contractor in his working life and he still thought of himself as a good judge of painting ability. Cotton wanted to have his house painted and he decided to “audition” prospective painters. The way he went about it was to have prospective painters climb up a ladder, scrape peeling paint off a clapboard and proceed to paint it.

Cotton was nearly blind. Everyone who showed-up to display their skills that day could tell he had vision issues and some thought they could fool the old man and just do an average job. Well, Cotton might not have been able to see, but he could hear real well. He would listen for the sound of the scraper and the gliding sound of the paint brush. If it did not sound right—you did not get the job.

I arrived for my “interview” and watched the guy before me as he climbed up the ladder. Winking at me, he proceeded to slap the paint brush back and forth in an attempt to paint Cotton’s house.

“SH*T, come down from there—you’re no painter !” Cotton bellowed.

“Well, I thought I was,” replied the befuddled applicant.

It was my turn next. I climbed the ladder having figured out what Cotton wanted. I silently glided the brush back and forth across the clapboard. Cotton cupped his hand to his ear and strained to hear something. Finally, he said, “Come on down. You got the job.”

As I stood next to him on the ground he smiled wryly and said, “You are the only one out of this sorry bunch of people, that have wasted most of my day, that know how to paint. You don’t go slap, slap, slap with a brush. You glide the paint on and lay it in the right way.”

Shaking my hand he said, “When can you start?”

As you might imagine Cotton was not easy to work for. He was very critical of everything I did and stated flatly that “his way of doing it was better than mine.” I nodded in acceptance and continued with my work.

As lunch time approached one hot day, Cotton offered me a plate of BBQ. It looked and smelled delicious, so I swallowed a big fork-full and thought to myself, “This might be the best BBQ I have ever tasted.”

Cotton said, “It is good ain’t it?” I said, “Yes it is.”

He nodded and looked away. Something he often did. Not a man of many words.

I said, “When you get a chance write down the recipe for me, so I can make some of this sauce.”

“Can’t do that,” he said. “Why not?” I said. “Because it is a secret,” he said without ever turning around.

I finished Cotton’s job and he paid me and said it looked great. I’m not sure he could see it very well, but it did look pretty good. Asked him once more for the sauce recipe and he just shook his head firmly, NO.

Years went by. Sometimes when I passed by his home I would wave at him sitting on the front porch. One day the phone rang and Cotton’s wife said that Cotton was very ill with cancer and near death. She asked if I might drop-by the house as Cotton had asked to see me before he died. She indicated he spoke of me often. Surprised and very touched, I said, “Sure, I will come by this afternoon.”

As I entered the house I was directed to Cotton’s room. He had been a heavy smoker and his lungs were about gone, so he was covered up in bed even though it was a hot summer day. He motioned me close to him and asked me in a hoarse whisper to tell him some stories about painting jobs I had been involved with as of late. I did. This seemed to delight and comfort the dying man. He smiled and laughed and coughed and laughed some more. There was nothing in particular about my stories that were funny or entertaining, but he liked them.

As the time passed and it was time for me to leave. I smiled and said, “You never did give me your secret BBQ recipe, Cotton.”

This angered him greatly. He sat-up in the bed and said in a loud voice, “I told you, you Son of a B*tch—IT IS A SECRET!”

A better ending would be he died right then, but he didn’t. He lived several more days before expiring. After the funeral I asked his wife, “Did he ever tell you how he made that BBQ sauce?”

“No”, she said. “He never told me. It was a secret.” People are very strange.

COGONGRASS from the anderson independent-mail


George Kessler is worried about cogongrass. Never heard of it? It is known to be in Pickens and Anderson counties right now. “Cogongrass is one of the most invasive species in the world. It is a real threat to wildlife like whitetail deer, turkey, dove, squirrel and rabbit. If this stuff gets a foothold it could take-over the Southeast, maybe even more so than kudzu,” said Kessler.

Kessler is the cogongrass coordinator for Clemson University’s Agricultural Extension Service. He is organizing a task force to survey 26 counties in South Carolina, at or near the Georgia state line. From May 15th through the 18th volunteers, as many as 500, are needed “to help find cogongrass in South Carolina,” said Kessler.

“Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrical) is native to Asia. It spreads by seeds and rhizomes and once established it chokes out native plants by releasing a toxin into the soil that inhibits growth of other plants, which means less food for game animals,” said Kessler.

In appearance it looks a lot like our frequently planted ornamental grasses. It is often sold in plant nurseries and on the internet as Red Baron, japgrass or Japanese Bloodgrass.

The rhizomes are very hard to kill and grow deep in the soil—6-8 inches, forming colonies. They can hitch-hike on farm equipment and mowers and migrate to new locations, according to the Center for Invasive Species at the University of Georgia.

In one case in Beaufort County, a resident planted cogongrass in a pot in her yard. The rhizomes grew into the ground and became established. Clemson University has been chemically treating the soil since 2004 in an attempt to kill the plant, according to the Island Packet newspaper.

As if this were not enough, cogongrass is great fuel for wildfires. “When the grassy leaves dry in winter they can catch fire and burn at temperatures as hot as 800 degrees,” said Kessler.

Temperatures that hot can kill even fire resistant trees like pine and could pose a huge risk to the timber industry. “This is why the Cogongrass Task Force is doing a survey. If you would like to volunteer call Jeanne Campbell at the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources at 864-656-2479,” said Kessler.

Cogongrass grows like other ornamental grasses, such as pampas, in attractive circular formations as tall as five feet. The leaves are rough to the touch and usually look yellow-green in color, turning red in the fall. The fluffy silver-white plume occurs in the spring, according to the Auburn University Cooperative Extension Service.

At present cogongrass covers at least 200,000 acres in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Some experts say infestation is many times greater and the total acreage is undercounted. Numerous states have banned the importation of the pest, but a quick search of internet sites revealed many dealers still selling the ornamental grass as a bonsai plant and for outdoor planting in many areas of the country.

Cogongrass and its relatives are banned for sale in South Carolina, said Janet Scott of the Agricultural Extension at Clemson University. On April 26 of this year, the Georgia Department of Agriculture banned the sale of cogongrass and its relatives in the State of Georgia, according to their webpage.

For some excellent photos and detailed information about cogongrass go to“”

In a worst case scenario, if not contained, cogongrass could cover large areas of the Southeast and turn the southern forests into grassy savannahs devoid of all native plant species, Kessler believes.

Reporting from Clemson, Vince Jackson


<!– story Back to school –>
<!– story Back to school –>

Back to school

George and Sally Mitchell talk in front of Tillman Hall at Clemson University before going to class.  Sally, 80, takes a computer class while George, 84, is studying history.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

George and Sally Mitchell talk in front of Tillman Hall at Clemson University before going to class. Sally, 80, takes a computer class while George, 84, is studying history.

George Mitchell, 84, left, talks to Phillip Hoyt, right, 23, minutes before their history class started in Hardin Hall at Clemson University.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

George Mitchell, 84, left, talks to Phillip Hoyt, right, 23, minutes before their history class started in Hardin Hall at Clemson University.

For more information

The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (864) 656-6912 Tuition-free classes at Clemson University Contact the academic department in which you wish to take classes

When George Mitchell walks across the Clemson University campus, there’s a spring in his step. This vigorous 84-year-old is delighted to be back on a college campus — as a student. An often-overlooked state law from the 1970s provides senior citizens the opportunity to seek intellectual stimulation beyond the golf course and the garden — for free. Section 59-111-320 of the South Carolina Code of Laws states that S.C. residents age 60 or older qualify for no-cost tuition at state-supported colleges, universities and technical schools. Senior students can choose to earn college credits, leading toward a degree, or simply audit courses they are interested in, with no grade awarded. For many, it’s a chance to study subjects that weren’t available to them during college the first time around. Others seize the opportunity to explore classes they simply didn’t take before. (Others who may qualify for free tuition classes at state colleges, under separate sections of the law, are children of wartime veterans and children of firefighters, law enforcement and government employees disabled or killed in the line of duty.) Mr. Mitchell, who lives in Clemson Downs, has taken several tuition-free classes in history at Clemson University. This semester, he is auditing a class in the history of Western civilization. “I have two degrees from the University of Minnesota but they are both business-related, and history was not part of that curriculum,” said Mr. Mitchell. “I am particularly interested in the history of World War II, since I was there. The only war history I knew was what happened 50 feet on either side of me. We were too busy fighting to understand the whole picture of what we were involved in.” Mr. Mitchell sat in on a graduate-level history course taught by Don McKale. “There was much sharing and discussion of military strategy and events that I was involved in, but did not know much about,” he said. During one class, a student was discussing the Battle of the Bulge and said that her research indicated the Germans could have been more effective if they had used paratroopers. Mr. Mitchell, based on personal experience, was able to refute that claim. “I said the Germans did use paratroopers, and they were killed as they landed behind our lines,” Mr. Mitchell said. “She replied, ‘How do you know that?’ And I said, ‘Because I was there!’ “ Mr. Mitchell added, “It was not meant as a put-down or an arrogant statement on my part. It was just an overlooked piece of history. From the class discussion that resulted, we all learned something we did not know. To me that is the real value of this type of educational opportunity.” Mr. McKale called Mr. Mitchell a “wonderful ambassador of the Greatest Generation” and said he loves having seniors in his classes. “They bring a rich and intangible life experience that the younger students seem to listen to and appreciate. They offer the benefit of wisdom and sound judgment in a historic context.” Roger Grant, another Clemson professor, teaches classes in the history of railroads. He hasn’t yet had any senior students in his Clemson classes, but did have them when he taught at the University of Akron. “It is definitely something we should encourage,” said Mr. Grant. “I think that as a service institution we should welcome and provide the taxpayers with as much educational opportunity as possible.” According to Clemson University records, only 14 senior-age students currently attend classes under the free tuition program. Mr. Mitchell hopes to audit another class this fall semester, Mr. Grant’s railroading course. Another senior education opportunity at Clemson is “OLLI” — more formally known as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. It presents opportunities for area residents to participate in classes through paid membership. OLLI classes are usually non-credit, but some can be used for certification. The classes usually meet once a week for several hours, usually during the day when seniors have free time. For the last few years, classes were held at locations all over Oconee and Pickens counties but by 2010, OLLI will have a permanent home in a two-story building being constructed at the new Patrick Square development, near U.S. 123 in east Clemson. Sally Mitchell, George’s wife, who is 80, is currently enrolled in two OLLI classes. One is titled “Eeeek! It’s a Computer!,” which is designed to introduce newcomers to the online world. The other is a popular class that almost always has a waiting list of eager students. It is taught by local naturalists and biologists, and includes weekly field trips to the Jocassee Gorges area in Pickens County. “Most of the OLLI studies are taught by retired professors,” said Ms. Mitchell. “The class is made up of retirees for the most part. We have small groups and full access to the Clemson library, with parking privileges on campus. I feel like a real college student. It has been a wonderful experience for me.” OLLI courses are more specialized and include subjects such as opera, birding, yoga and local history. Several study abroad courses are on the curriculum, taking students to various locales in Europe and Africa.