Pat Conroy is my dad

I waded into the depths of Southern culture yesterday by attending a literary panel discussion by four Southern writers. I took an intrepid Yankee friend with me for moral support.

Pat Conroy headlined the group promoting State of the Heart: South Carolina Southern BookWriters on the Places They Love, a compilation of essays about South Carolina published earlier this year. Editor Aïda Rogers and writers Dot Jackson, Vennie Deas Moore and Sam Morton were also on the panel and delighted the audience with stories and memories of life in South Carolina.

I bought the book and got it signed by each of them, but because Ms. Jackson took the time to write something personal, I’m going to read her essay first.

Thinking about the event on the drive home later than evening, several things stood out in my mind:

  • Sam Morton was as big a draw for me as Pat Conroy. Sam kick-started my writing/editing career when he asked me to proofread the manuscript of his YA novel, Betrayed. I realized after I left the event that I hadn’t thanked him for that as we chatted in the book signing line. Hey, Sam, THANK YOU!
  • I had forgotten how funny Sam is.
  • The audience was made up mostly of senior citizens (I do not yet fall into the category). This event was held in the library of the University of South Carolina. Where were the young people? (Note: Mr. Conroy did spend time earlier in the day with a group of young people and told me he had a delightful time.)
  • Mr. Conroy’s sweater was worn and pilled. I think there were even a few crumbs or bits of lint on it. I know, you think I’m mean to mention that. But to me, it was a sign that, despite his wealth earned by his bestselling books, he’s still just an old guy wearing his favorite comfy sweater. I’ll bet it irritates his wife to no end; my dad’s obsession with penchant for old clothes was the bane of my mother’s existence.

Only one thing marred the evening. My friend and I were standing next to a woman from Michigan in the book signing line. She went all Yankee on another woman in line who unintentionally butted in line. She actually made a loud remark about how Southern charm is a myth. It was awkward. But, as my friend who is also from Michigan later said, “She lived up to the Yankee stereotype. Truth is, most of us are quite charming- especially the Michigan Gals.”

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