Attack of the Cacarootches

johnny-depp-run.jpeg

Okay. Last night my husband, Wendy, and I called it a night around 9:30. An unusual feature of our bedroom is a door leading outside. As I climbed into bed, I heard a ‘thump’ on the aluminum storm door. Odd.

Then another. And another.

“Something’s pounding against that door,” I told Wendy as he finished brushing his teeth.

“I know. I already looked out there. It’s either some bug or a bird.”

Well, there are two doors between whatever it was and me, so I continued playing Words With Friends on my phone. The thumping continued. I was not surprised when my husband investigated further. He’s not good at ignoring aggravating sounds like that.

He opened both doors to have a look and a large bug, with I’m sure an enormous sense of victory, soared into the bedroom. As it zoomed over the bed, I saw it was the dreaded flying cacarootch!

Starting my new book set in colonial South Carolina, I wanted a character to disparage his enemies by referring to them as these undesirable creatures. On Saturday, I looked up ‘cockroach’ on one of my favorite sites, www.etymonline.com.

I learned that in 1624, John Smith wrote, “A certaine India Bug, called by the Spaniards a Cacarootch, the which creeping into Chests they eat and defile with their ill-sented dung.”

Excusing John Smith’s spelling issues, we can see why folklore claims the first syllables, ‘caca,’ refer to poop. It’s that ‘ill-sent’ and shiver of disgust they leave behind. While historically, I could have used the modern-day ‘cockroach,’ who can resist ‘cacarootch’? Not me. It’s in the book.

In the meantime, the vermin soared over my bed, bringing out my true nature. I lay on the pillow with the covers pulled up yelling, “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!”

If it flew from the room down the hall, would we ever find it? I started to get up and close the bedroom door when Wendy called, “Don’t move.”

I froze as he whacked his camouflage croc a hair’s breadth from my left thigh. The evil intruder had landed right beside me. Severely wounded, he was scooped up by Wendy’s wadded toilet paper and whooshed down the Waterslide to Eternity.

Then I heard it. Thump!

Wendy announced, “There’s a whole swarm of them out there.”

Holy moley! We’ve been in this house almost four years with no cacarootch issues. All I could think about was that commercial with an approaching zombie apocalypse. Foregoing the more usual, subtle approach, these flying fiends have attempted an overt frontal attack. What next?

zombie apocolypse (2)

Farewell, Pat Conroy

pat conroy at daufuskie

Pat Conroy teaching on Daufuskie Island in 1970.

On Friday, March 4th, we lost a literary legend in South Carolina. Pat Conroy, the prolific author of the Lowcountry, succumbed to pancreatic cancer at his coastal home in Beaufort.

 

While many people will remember him for The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, or several other outstanding tales based on his life, his early book, The Water is Wide, affected me most.

Both the book and movie, Conrack, came out as I studied to become a teacher. The story is based on his first year out of the Citadel when he taught on Daufuskie Island, a barrier island near the resort of Hilton Head that can be reached only by boat.

daufuskie

A home on the island

 

I was moved by his work with children who had little hope of a life beyond the isolation and poverty of their island. Children who were deemed unteachable. Conroy taught them classical music and how to swim. He introduced them to world events and located each on a map. He took them across the water to Beaufort, which must have seemed a paradise, and carried a group of boys to Charleston to see the Harlem Globetrotters.

I decided. This is what I wanted to do.

Eventually I moved to rural South Carolina where I was assigned, with nearly no materials and little support, to teach basic learners. After pleading for more books or other supplemental resources, my exasperated principal said, “Look, these students can’t learn. Your job is to babysit.”

Livid, I doubled down on providing the best instruction my time and talents could provide. My passion for teaching had been lit by Pat Conroy on Daufuskie Island where he’d found the same resistance.

As Conroy wrote of those who eventually fired him from his job—no, his vocation, “They were old men and could not accept the new sun rising out of the strange waters. The world was very different now.”

20160305_104845 (2)Yes, times changed. What educator today worth her salt doesn’t believe all children can learn? But it was Pat Conroy’s confidence in the value of impoverished, yet eager children that spurred me onward.

Rest in peace, Pat Conroy. You made me a better teacher and the world a better place.

 

Photo Credits: http://www.sc.edu/focus_report/education.php#.VttXv4-cFPY; https://rootsrated.com/stories/the-fascinating-history-behind-south-carolinas-timeless-daufuskie-island

Indentured Servitude: The "Official" Version

“What we unfortunate English people suffer here is beyond the probability of you in England to conceive. Let it suffice that I, one of the unhappy number, am toiling almost day and night, and very often in the horses’ drudgery, with only this comfort that: ‘You bitch, you do not half enough…'”    —undelivered letter from indentured servant, Elizabeth Spriggs, to her father, 1756

My main fictional character of The Least of These, Mary Edith Dillon, is the daughter of two Irish indentured servants, Joe and Nancy Dillon. My next book, Aroon, was originally a prequel to The Least of These.
It was intended to follow Joe and Nancy on their journey to America. What was it like for two young people to emigrate here as indentured servants? I quickly found out how little I know about the institution–and how little some want us to know.

History books have little more than a sentence or two, explaining that this was an honorable method for the poor, but hard-working to finance their passages across the Atlantic. The textbook, The American Journey, says “Other men, women, and children came to the colonies as indentured servants. In return for the payment of their passage to America, they agreed to work without pay for a certain period of time.”

Sounds fair.

Walter Edgar doesn’t give it much more coverage in South Carolina: A History. He tells of the Bounty Act of 1761 where the colonial government promised four pounds Sterling ($360) for each white immigrant imported into South Carolina. These immigrants were to be given an additional twenty shillings ($90) as start-up money. Yet a prominent South Carolinian called it “more cruel than the slave trade.”

Edgar, however, like most all other references to indentured servitude, soft pedals it. “Selling their children as servants was simply a means for paying the family’s way to South Carolina,” he writes. Also, “Thrifty and industrious, the Germans of Orangeburg and Amelia turned their townships into the breadbasket of South Carolina.”

A little digging outside the traditional history books, however, tells quite a different story.  I’ve recently been listening to the audiobook version of Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen that exposes the patriotic spin given to most school history texts. You may be astounded, as I have been, by the omissions, slants, and outright myths perpetrated by texbook writers in an effort to present our past in the best possible light. The distortions we’ve been fed on the lot of indentured servants is another such effort.

In my next post, I will tell the true tale from the mouth of a German immigrant, Gottlieb Mittelberger, who wrote “On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants” in 1754.

A voyage to the dark side.

What’s the Big Idea?

Don’t just lay there–do something!
Years ago, I took one of those quizzes in I-can’t-remember-which writing magazine that rated my creativity on par with a zucchini.
Harsh.
Maybe that’s why I like to base my stories on actual historical occurrences. Little known stories from our hometown newspaper and county library have generated interesting ideas for me.
My first book, The Least of These, came from the memoir of nearly-forgotten Tarleton Brown, the local Revolutionary War hero here in Barnwell, South Carolina. Even our esteemed state historian, Walter Edgar, not only omitted him from his tome, South Carolina: A History, but also from his book that focused solely on the American Revolution, Partisans & Redcoats.
In 1843, a veteran of the South Carolina Rangers, Colonel Tarleton Brown, published his memoirs in a short-lived newspaper known as the Charleston Rambler. He described in fascinating detail his Revolutionary War exploits in Barnwell, at that time considered a backwoods, frontier region. No famous battles occurred, but the fighting was fierce and real people suffered.
Tarleton Brown tells the story of the aftermath of 1781’s Siege of Augusta, Georgia, when he decided to “peep” into the fort they overtook. “…[B]ut it was a sore peep to me, as I took small-pox from it.”
Since no one in his family had ever had the disease, he hired Peggy Ogleby to care for him under a large oak tree. “This slut was a Tory, and informed her clan where I was. They said they would come and kill the d—n rebel, but as I had an invisible and Almighty Protector, they had not the power to execute their malicious design.”
A more modern edition of
Tarleton Brown’s memoirs
Apparently in 1843, he was still pretty pissed off about it. Somewhat vague about his method of escape, though.
My husband is an amateur historian and, through some research, discovered a treatise in our library recounting local history. The Village of Barnwell by William Hansford Duncan had originally been printed some time between 1912 and 1915.
This source tells a story of Tarleton Brown not found in his memoirs. He had been captured by Tories, it seems, and scheduled to hang. But the captors wanted to celebrate with a few whiskeys first, giving Brown the opportunity to gallop off on the horse to which he was tied.
To me, both these stories seem to leave something out—the likelihood of outside help in Tarleton’s escapes. Why not, then, have an ordinary young girl, very much “under the radar” in the society of the day, become integral in helping this Patriot fight the good fight? This girl would be very poor and considered beneath the consideration of those around her, yet she would be an invisible hero.
This was the seed I planted to “grow” The Least of These, a book I am re-writing for the third time. They say it’s the charm.