A generation ago, parents in the northern part of Beaufort County did their back-to-school shopping at the Sales House at Mather School. They’d travel there in old windowless schoolbuses. The women would be in long skirts, their heads covered by banjo scarves.
Life was much different back then, of course. It was the best of times and the worst of times, really.
Parents in Northern states, who grew up here, would send their children to South Carolina to live with relatives and learn the ways of true Southerners.
Before school each day, the children awoke early to work on the farm. Then they’d rush to catch the bus, a luxury their parents, who walked miles to and fro, never had.
I have been in the Lowcountry for 57 years and not a day passes that I don’t speak to a former co-worker and friend, who also started her teaching journey here.
I had other job offers at the time, but A.J. Butler, director of teaching at my university, encouraged me to leave Columbia and make a name for myself here.
When Dr. C.A. Johnson, the supervisor of teachers at C.A. Johnson High School in Columbia, found out I was interviewing on St. Helena Island, he asked me “Do you really know where you’re going? Do you know that there’s a language barrier there? It’s as different from Columbia as day and night.”
He had taught Mama and my aunts, and he wanted me to stay and teach under his guidance. But St. Helena Island called my name, and I had to answer.
I always knew I would teach. I grew up when women of color had few professional options. We could teach. We could be nurses. We could be maids. That’s it.
From a young age, I had the heart of an educator. I played teacher with my dolls and my playmates. In elementary school, I helped classmates who struggled to learn. In high school, there were many times when I would take over the class in the teacher’s stead.
I’ve always loved to learn and to share what I’ve learned.
As a professional teacher, I had to keep up not just in subject matter, but in community matters as well.
Once when Henrietta Francis, I and two other young teachers stopped at Red and White Grocery Store on Lady’s Island to shop, we saw a shiny Lincoln parked there. Henrietta introduced us to the driver. “Meet W.T. Gregory,” she said. And so we did.
On the drive home to the Pink House, she told us “You wer just introduced to Doctor Buzzard.”
If you could have seen the expressions on our faces ...
We had heard of Doctor Buzzard but in no way pictured him, this man of voodoo, as a handsome, hard-working gentleman.
It was a day to remember.
Through teaching I have become a member of many St. Helena Island and Beaufort families. Social media has allowed me to keep up with former students.
One student, Lola Barrow, told me that she was completing her graduate work when a curious thing happened. Her class was discussing teachers, and right after she shared memories of taking my biology class at Battery Creek High School, the class watched a PBS documentary called “Only A Teacher.” Much to her surprise, there I was on the screen. She jumped to her feet and said, “That’s the teacher I just spoke about.”
Teaching was my calling and I’m so proud to have been able to do so in the Lowcountry, which has given me so much.
Today I give you recipes featuring vegetables, many of which can be purchased at your local farmers market.
Crispy Baked Vegetables
1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
1 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup sliced zucchini
1/4 cup sliced okra
1/4 cup sliced eggplant
1/4 cup peeled potatoes
1/4 cup peeled sweet potatoes
1/4 cup quartered mushrooms
1/4 cup sliced peeled parsnips
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, set aside. Mix together the breadcrumbs, cornmeal and Parmesan cheese; set aside. Over very low heat, saute garlic. Let cool and add to crumb mixture. Dip vegetables into yogurt and then into crumb mixtue. Lay vegetables on baking seet and bake until browned and crispy, about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot.
6 cups chopped broccoli
1 cup raisins
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons sugar
8 slices cooked and crumbled bacon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Mix well. Chill for 1 to 2 hours before serving.
2 cups cooked rice
1/2 pound bacon
1 cup onion
1 cup white crab meat
salt and pepper to taste
Fry bacon. Place on a paper towel to drain. Saute onion in bacon fat until transparent. Add crabmeat, mix well with cooked rice and crumbled bacon. Pour into casserole dish and keep warm until ready to serve.