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Better to be a Bitter Southerner

CACKALACK

As Southerners, we get to choose what we keep and what we let go of. How you can love the South but hate the Flag.

Excuse me–and forgive me–for joining the bandwagon of people around our country who are demanding the removal of the Confederate flag from its official posts in South Carolina and elsewhere in the South.

I acknowledge it’s hardly a brave thing to say that the flag is overdue in its removal, particularly after none other than the likes of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and Senator Lindsey Graham have added their noteworthy voices to this chorus.

Indeed, much of Southern, conservative leadership has seemed to take on the cause of taking down the rebel Stars and Bars from the corner of the Capitol grounds in Columbia, SC. It is more than a little surprising, given how flaccid their opinions were only recently–but who am I to blame? It’s not like I’ve been standing on that soapbox myself as of late.

But before you pass too much judgment upon me and my desire to see the flag gone, allow me to share with you my story as a Southerner.

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WCU's Jan O'Brien

Looking for Jan O’Brien

IN MEMORIAM

 

 

A journey to say goodbye to a campus legend–before it’s too late.

UPDATE, DECEMBER 5, 2016: Western Carolina University announced today that Jan O’Brien had passed away. It’s important to note this story is about the summer of 2014, when Jan’s passing was erroneously reported.

Jan will always be a cherished part of my college years, and I am deeply saddened to hear she’s passed away. I will always be grateful, however, of the chance I got to tell her how important she was to so many of us before it was too late.  –jdh

*****

THIS STORY BEGINS SIXTEEN YEARS AGO, the fall of 1998, when I was a high school senior visiting my college sophomore girlfriend at Western Carolina. We were kids, so we were drawn like moths to the flame by the on-campus Chick-fil-a, where fried chicken sandwiches wrapped in foil bags sat under heat lamps, waiting for us to collect them and pay for them with a mysterious and seemingly inexhaustible supply of declining balance points.

We’d gathered our meals and headed for check-out, and that’s the first time I met Jan O’Brien, the infamous register attendant in the University Center food court. She was an older lady, short but strong stature, white, curly hair, and a vibrant smile, which she flashed warmly to me. “Hello, sweetheart!” she said.

“Hi, Jan!” Kelly said back to her.

I grinned. “What, no ‘sweetheart’ for me?”

She laughed, and then she called me sweetheart. We chatted, and then we checked out, and we ate, and the next year I came back to Western Carolina as a freshman. Jan was still there, and she called me sweetheart. She called me that for the next four years.

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Fall Meditation

CACKALACK

Here comes the cold, crisp fall:
Bare feet retreat to woollen socks,
and darkness falls on younger clocks
as August sees her summer leaves
awake in orange glow.

It seems every end of summer begins a season of anticipation–four, blissful months of anticipation. September starts the school year new; October is a house full of goblins counting down to one big haunting; November, the turkey season beckons, and then, December’s darkness bookends the days towards solstice, and Advent leans into Christmas.

But summer! Oh how the summer burns down into embers, and how the first cold mornings awaken something inside from a deep, forgotten slumber. Fall is the best time for good beer. Bring the spice. Soon it will be okay to turn the oven on and bake–it won’t warm the house too much like it does in July. I cannot wait for a day cool enough for chopping wood.

I cannot wait for football–not that the sport itself means much to me–but the games themselves, the communities of people together, the time for wearing college sweatshirts again.

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