It was just as I expected. A capacity crowd showed up to say farewell to “Mr. Crip.”
It was a middle-of-the week service. Many of those who grew up with the gentleman — whose grandfather brought him to St. Helena Island from Johns Island — were not able to attend. Their children, those who could remember this tall man, a man who did so much for so many, came to pay their last respects.
When Gardenia Simmons-White and I served as co-managers of the York W. Bailey Museum at Penn Center, one of our tasks was to plan a curriculum for groups that came to learn about the island and the Gullah culture.
Volunteers Daisy Jackson and Robert Middleton noticed our program did not include traditional arts and wanted to know if the two of us would make a change in our presentation. We listened and decided to add Joseph Legree to the list of traditional artists to help tell the story of the area’s culture.
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Meeting Joseph Legree was a pleasure. He became “Mr. Crip” to me and as he set up his tools — special yarn, a weaver, a nail, a stool — the task of weaving a cast net would begin. “Come try,” he said and I did. This is when I learned that I would need more than one sitting to master the skill
Whenever Mr. Crip would offer his skills, I would accompany him as he was a true Gullah gentleman and out-of-towners needed someone to translate the language. He would tell of throwing the cast net — it was the only way he gathered fish from the creeks and river as he never used a fishing pole or bait.
On one occasion, Dwayne Smalley was out a ways in the water trying to catch shrimp with just a net. Mr. Crip and his fishing friend noticed the lad, who didn’t know much about the tides, and knew he would be in danger before he could get to shore. They rowed the boat toward him and rescued him and the few shrimp he had. The rescue turned into an treasured experience as not only did Smalley receive important lessons about about how the tides here work, he learned how to throw a cast net. He came home with much more shrimp than he would have caught alone.
A sharing man was Mr. Crip. When he would come in from the river, there were stopping points along the way as he would drop off the catches of the day to neighbors. Many times his neighbors would extend as far as he had seafood all down Seaside Road and the paths in between. He was saddened when authorities began to limit the catch. He wondered what happened to the catch that was seized and whether the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources understood the needs of the people who only knew how to live off the land.
The experiences he had in life and his skills for survival were lessons passed on to his children and grandchildren.
At the 2005 Heritage Days celebration, Dr. Oscar Lovelace asked to see someone doing traditional crafts of the island. When he was introduced to Mr. Crip, he spent much time observing, asking questions and listening to the Gullah language. He was so amazed at the skill that he purchased two cast nets, not to use but to display as artwork in his home.
The waters of this region allow us to enjoy its bounty. I share with you today, seafood dishes that I prepared as I remembered a man who wanted the best for his children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends.
I just think how it all began with the core group working as a team, sharing the history of the place through traditional art and the cast net making of Mr. Crip.
Columnist Ervena Faulkner is a Port Royal resident and a retired educator who has always had an interest in food and nutrition.
1 or 2 eggs, well-beaten
1/4 stick butter
1 small can of evaporated milk
1 tablespoon tomato catsup
salt and Worcestershire sauce to taste
1 pound crab meat
crumbs made by grating toasted white bread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix well-beaten eggs, butter evaporated milk and seasonings. Stir this into crab meat. Mix well but gently so as to leave nice size lumps of crab. Add just enough crumbs to hold mixture together, about 2 or 3 tablespoons. Pat mixture into crab backs or casserole. Sprinkle a few crumbs on top. Bake for about 20 minutes until lightly browned.
Shrimp and Rice
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup converted rice
1 1/2 pounds shrimp
1/2 stick butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 cups bean sprouts
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
In a 2-quart saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the rice and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer covered until done. While the rice is cooking, peel and de-vein the shrimp. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onion and pepper and cook, stirring until the onion is transparent. Add the shrimp, and cook until they curl and become pink. Add the bean sprouts and cook a bit longer, allowing ingredients to blend. Add the rice and salt. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes, allowing all favors to blend.
2 medium trout, gutted and boned
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup barbecue sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the fish and pat dry. Season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Let stand for at least 15 minutes or longer in the refrigerator. In a medium bowl, combine the onion, green pepper, celery and barbecue sauce. Fill the cavities of the trout with the vegetable mixture. Fold closed and wrap in foil. Place in a 9- by 13- inch pan or one large enough to hold the fish. Bake fish for 20 minutes. Serve while warm.