Friday, March 25, 2011


I was chatting online with Lowcountry author Richard Cote about what he terms "gentle death". This was in response to his Facebook posting about the assisted death of well-known right-to-die activist Nan Maitland.

Since then I have had a chance to think more about this subject, and have come to the conclusion that I am definitely ambivolent about it at this point in my life.


Because I like to watch.

I like to watch events unfold. I like to watch the seasons change. I like to watch politicians continually make fools of themselves. I like to watch the light change as I drive from Charleston to Florida. I like to watch the tides rise and fall. I like to watch my friends having a good time at a party. I like to watch the moon rise above the treeline. I like to watch the Milky Way slide smoothly across the clear Winter sky.

And I haven't even got started.

I said to Richard, "I believe that we all have the responsibility to live our lives to the absolute fullest. Anything less is perhaps one of the deadliest sins. I hear people saying how bored they are... how can anyone be bored with a whole universe just sitting there waiting to be explored?"
And what have I found in my explorations?

For one thing, I have found that one can avoid getting bored in a Doctor's waiting room, or in a gov'mint office, or in the auto salesmans' Closing Room (you know...the one with no inside handle on the door...). Simply put: watch people.

I like to watch people. They are inscrutable, unpredictable, generally entertaining entities, However, people are at their most uninteresting if there is a television in the room. Go into a restaurant with televisions sprouting from the crown moulding like an insidious vine. See the people stare blankly at the screen, not paying any attention to their friends, their servers, or their lives.

So what is the answer to the question I posed in the title?

The answer is that we die when we give up living. Some people do it by never looking around themselves. Others entertain themselves to death to the background of a bluish flickering screen. Some die in a cubicle in an office building, but they still manage to get up and go home at five o'clock.

And a few live their lives as though they will never die. They tend to smile a lot.

I smile a lot, even when the going gets tough. After all, when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. But that is another blog in itself...

Here are a few pithy quotations I shall leave you to ponder.

"We spend too much time living in the ‘what if’ and need to learn to live in the ‘what is.’" - Rev. Leroy Allison

"A bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song." - Chinese proverb

"There is the risk you cannot afford to take and there is the risk you cannot afford not to take." - Peter Drucker

"Excessive self-esteem is the greatest rein on genius." - French organist Marcel Dupre

"They can't say 'Yes' unless you ask them..." - moi

Now go out and live...there will be time enough to die in a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a lifetime...


Jus' doin' the Charleston...

PS - Look for Richard Cote's new book "In Search of Gentle Death", due to be published later this year.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Some personal thoughts after Valentine's Day

It was interesting watching my FBFriends yesterday...

There was not a great deal of heart-on-sleeve emotionalism.

- A few couples made understated comment about their relationship.

- A few sent the to-them obligatory blanket Happy Valentine's Day message: a Loretta Young style sweep-down-the-circular-staircase-and-MWAH sort of gesture. (Gawd, I WANTED that dress...)

- One or two were almost belligerent about their for-the-moment partner.

- Most went about their lives without comment.

Does that mean we didn't have love for our friends? Or they for us? Not at all. I count it to be a good Valentine's day if I dont get any special cards,letters, or FB messages. Yesterday was very good.

I went about my day's living uncomplicated by mass-media guilt or hysteria.

There are a few people out there who know that they are loved, not just on 14 February, but on 14 March and 14 April, too. Without cavil, without fail. And their love travels back to me every day, and I am replete.


Jus' doin' the Charleston

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What are those buildings?

A few people who don't live in Charleston (I won't embarrass them by naming them...) have asked what all the buildings are at the top of this page...

Charleston is known as "The Holy City" because of the large number of churches located in the city. It is also known for the number of world-class concert pipe organs housed in many of those churches.

So, I will identify them...from left to right and coincidentally downtown to uptown...

First Baptist Church...............................................[Wicks Organ]
First (Scots) Presbyterian Church.......................[Ontko Organ]
St. Michaels Church..................[Ontko/Kenneth Jones Organ]
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist (Catholic)...[Bedient Organ]
The French Huguenot Church.................[Henry Erben Organ]
The Unitarian Church ....................................[Johannus Organ]
St. Johns Lutheran Church................................[Schantz Organ]
St. Mary's Catholic Church.................................[Jardine Organ]
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim..................................[Ontko Organ]
Grace Episcopal Church.......................................[Reuter Organ]
St. Matthews Lutheran Church...........................[Austin Organ]
Cathedral of St.Luke & St. Paul (Episcopal).........[Kney Organ]

This list comprises about 20% of the churches on the lower peninsula. With all those pipe organs it can get a tad noisy downtown on Sunday mornings, but God does not appear to mind...


'Jus doin' the Charleston

Overheard on Facebook...

Victor on Facebook remarked:

"...honestly, i don't think government is necessary.the rich should be the ones to dole out the cash to help the poor."

‎@Victor from me -

"Thats how it used to be. The rich had big homes, private railway cars, held big and lavish parties, etc. But it was understood that they also had obligations.

A good example is Andrew Carnegie. He was a tyrant when it came to business. He is reputed to have said "Power is my ability to say 'No' to you and make it stick."

He made lots of money.

He also donated entire libraries to communities which couldn't afford them, and pipe organs to churches and municipal auditoria.

Nobody made him do it - it came with the territory and was expected.

But anymore the rich are interested in doing one thing: getting richer. They have no sense of social obligation.

Is it so surprising that the government has taken over the charitable work once done by millionaires? But they do it to curry favor with the masses and get re-elected by virtue of how many promises they can make of a chicken in every pot (except mine and other vegetarians) and two cars in every garage (are we supposed to stack them?), only to break them after the election.

People have come to expect government charity as their due. (They dont call those programs 'entitlements' for nothing...)

There are going to be abuses in all levels of society; we the people are the ones who must ultimately decide which abuses we will tolerate. And which freedoms we may be forced to give up as a result.

I think we need a government which will deliver the mail on time and defend our interests and our borders, leaving the charitable work to the private sector. And if that counts for having a duplex in Fool's Paradise, well, call the moving company...


Jus' doin' the Charleston

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My Country...and yours

I had a rather nice exchange of emails with my friend Johanna the other day. I had just published the first episode of this blog, and received this email:

"Thank you for the invitation (I joined), funny that your blog was about the national anthem since today I am going to take the test to become an American citizen!"

I knew she of everyone I know would pass he test, so I jumped the gun a bit in saying:

"Welcome to citizenship in our strange but great country. I am sure you will pass the test with high marks, but more importantly than that, you will have done something that only a small percentage of our citizenry does in their lifetimes: learn about our history and our governmental forms.

"It took me until middle-age before I learned about my country and the strengths my grandparents brought to this country when they fled Hitler's takeover of Czechoslovakia. But I am glad I did, for despite its shortcomings, I am proud to be an American - and likewise will be proud to welcome you as a new citizen.

"God bless you and your family..."

She replied:

"Such sweet and heartfelt words of welcome. I thank you.

"Your story is yet another reminder of how the fate of one generation is forever altered due to historic events.

"I went in today expecting only to take the test but ended up being sworn in today as well so as of this afternoon I am an American citizen! I expected to walk out of there without my (Scandinavian) accent but I guess I'm stuck with that ☺

"It won't be long before I won't remember anymore how many representatives there are or how many amendments the constitution has, I will probably also soon forget the 5 US territories or who was the US president during world war one, but as of right now I actually know all the answers to all the 100 questions on the test that I was studying for to become a citizen. I enjoyed learning it all, and I will enjoy being an American from this day forward."

Do you enjoy being an American? Are you proud? I hope so...

Our country has many shortcomings, it is true, but yet it remains the "more perfect form of government" envisioned by the writers of our Constitution. They sought to give us a living document, and succeeded!

I have personally travelled the breadth of our continent, from sea to sea. I have seen the purple mountains and the amber waves. I have stood on Omaha Beach in France among the graves of our boys laid to rest in a piece of the USA facing the English Channel. I have entered a village in Normandy which commemorates D-Day with banners which say "We welcome our liberators" even more than 60 years later...

There must be something right with the USA to inspire people even at this time to seek their fortune, leaving home and kindred for the promises of the New World.

So again I say to Johanna, Welcome! Share with us your talents as we will share with you the greatness of our diversity.

'Jus doin' the Charleston...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Where did you get that title?

A number of people have asked me that...

I stole it, of course! And from a first-class source. (of course)

It comes from the mind and pen of Frank Gilbreth, who for more than 40 years wrote a column of that name under the pseudonym of "Ashley Cooper". (Note that his pen-name is taken from the names of the two rivers which converge in Charleston Harbor to form the Atlantic Ocean...)

I quote a column written by one of his colleagues hours after his death.

I am humbled by his writing genius, and hope to live up to so worthy a mentor.

Jus' doin' the Charleston


Why Charleston will remember Ashley Cooper
Tuesday, February 20, 2001
by Elsa McDowell

Years ago, Lord Ashley Cooper started preparing his own epitaph:
"Although he lived in the twentieth century, he didn't have anything to do with the invention of the atomic bomb, internal combustion engine, TV commercial, rock music or non-objective art."

We all smiled because, of course, Ashley Cooper will be remembered for what he did, not what he didn't do.

He made us smile. He made us think. He made us angry - but never for long. In his column here, beloved by readers, he would make fun of tourists one day and make fun of native Charlestonians the next.

He would recount colorful stories of old Charleston one day and of present-day Charleston the next.

He delighted us with comical slice-of-life vignettes, and he challenged us with prickly community issues.

Ashley Cooper earned the respect and affection of thousands of readers, and when he retired from column-writing in 1993, they grieved. Many are still grieving.


Ashley Cooper, of course, was the pen name of Frank Gilbreth Jr., who died Sunday.

This is the spot in the paper that Mr. Gilbreth filled for more than 40 years. It seems a fitting place to pay tribute to him. And it seems the best way to pay tribute to a masterful columnist is in his own words.

• "I don't know about other Charlestonians, but the way I tell summer from winter is that in winter we get lots of Lincolns, Cadillacs and stuffed shirts, and in summer get lots of Chevrolets, Fords and stuffed shorts."

• "What we really need in Charleston are tourists who will send their money here but stay home themselves."

• "In a hick town they take up the sidewalks at night. In Charleston, the sidewalks are in such bad shape that if you took them up you'd never get them back down again."

• "Who was it who said that Charleston - our Holy City - was like a lesson in verbs? Yes, you discover the present tense and the past perfect."

• "A correspondent advises Lord Ashley never to ask anyone where he is from. 'If he is from Charleston, he will soon announce that fact,' alleges my correspondent. 'If he is not from Charleston, there is no need to embarrass him.' "

• "They say we in Charleston spend more money on liquor than we do on education. But, my goodness, what you can learn at a Charleston cocktail party!"

• "What is full of slime and hooey,
Makes the stomach loop-the-loop?
What is slippery and gluey?
Greasy, gooey OKRA SOUP."

• He stirred up heated emotions over the Confederate flag (which he thought didn't belong over the Statehouse); over "y'all" and "youze guys;" and over historic preservation.

He wrote about cockroaches and Gullah, about George Gershwin and palmettos, about slumlords and bike paths.

His words remind us why we love Charleston and why we will long remember Frank Gilbreth, who loved it too.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sing, America!

It's Stupor Bowl Time!

All my friends are talking about it...that time of year when we get to hear WHO is going to caterwaul, abuse, screech, mutilate, and desecrate our National Anthem. Oh, that's right - some people call it singing...

It's all right to stretch the meter a little bit. And no one can object to a hint of rubato now and again. And a few ornaments, tastefully inserted, help to spice up the vocal line. And a touch of pitch-bending makes it sound more contemporary.

THis is all fine and good. It is in the best traditions of both classical and pop music.

But instead of musical excellence we get something distantly related to music instead. We take a so-called "artist" whose main claim to fame is reading pointless and marginally obscene non-sequiturs as part of their role on a sitcom, and ask (pay,handsomely) them to get up in front of millions of people and croak through nodule-ridden vocal cords one of the more challenging vocal melody lines in existence. All the while, the audience sits in bewildered SILENCE trying to figure out what the holy heck is he/she actually singing.

I have an idea... (TM)

Lets get a good orchestra or an organist playing a BIG organ or even a rock band to play it with good rhythm, correct meter, and at a breathable tempo.

Then lets all stand up in the stadium or the tavern or in our media room at home (but not in our cars) and SING TOGETHER OUR NATIONAL ANTHEM! Just think of the grand roar it would create. It would drown out the sound of the Twin Towers collapsing, or the heated (but, mind you, not personally influencing) rhetoric of our politicians. And for a few moments we can all rejoice together in being AMERICANS (without the qualifier-dash prefixes). And then lets be sure to sing the rest of the verses, too...

Would that send a message or what?

For those of you who are not familiar with the full set of words of the Anthem, they appear below. Take a moment to read and reflect...


Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
Oh say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more!
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Oh thus be it ever, when free men shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation!
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


The poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song, written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club in London. "The Anacreontic Song" (or "To Anacreon in Heaven"), with various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Accompanying Key's poem and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner", it became a well-known American patriotic song. With a range of one and a half octaves, it is known for being difficult to sing.

That being said, after the pre-game tedium let's raise the rafters with a spirited rendition of our great National Anthem*, and then in accordance with age-old tradition sit back with a cold one and quaff the health of the good ol' US of A!


Jus' doin' the Charleston...

*Westminster Choir College alums, Valkyries ad lib!

Copyright 2011 Olivia Margaret Ontko