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Birlants Antiques Store: Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future Merge Walking past Birlants on King Street, I caught a familiar glimpse of my friend from our youth, Andy Slotan, and his father. At first I thought I was seeing Andy and a ghost of Christmas past, because most people his father’s era are not around or are not going to work. His father has worked there his whole married life as it was his wife’s family’s, the Birlants. He turned 90 November 8, 2017. Unlike other shops on King, this one still has the old world charm of the days when you felt you were stepping back in time. It is not all new walls and ceilings with the accompanying new smell. It has character, the patina of age, and a father and son nostalgically and reverently keeping the family business going with joy and good cheer and the best from imported from England. Jerusalem being recognized as the capital of Israel by America at the end of the year of our Lord 2017 became the topic. A lady named Caroline Newman on my tour recently dreamed the name Benjamin Netanyahu spelled out several times, the last time in blue. She and I saw this as God’s own prayer request that she received, for what reason we knew not. But we prayed and told others to pray far and wide. Now that the recognition by America of Jerusalem as the capital has made news, we can see that God knew what was coming before we did. We are to pray this Christmas season for the peace of Jerusalem, for the safety and wisdom of her prime minister, and of all her people, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Why did it happen in 2017 before the New Year that America finally recognized the capital of Israel? I believe it is because this year is the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration when a letter from Lord Balfour sent to Lord Rothchild in 1917 said, “His Majesty’s government views with favour the formation of a Jewish homeland in the territory of Palestine.” This was the first time in world history that a government had ever issued any such declaration in support of the Jewish people. The Balfour Declaration and this outcome of WWI gave Zionism a tremendous leap forward, opening the door for many Jews to make Aliah. 2017 and 1917 are in alignment.”If Jesus was a Jew, does that mean God His Father is Jewish if He is the Son of God?” Mr. Slotan asked. “I’ve wondered about this question all my life.”I answered this Jewish man, “God chose to reveal Himself to one group of people first that they might be a Light to Lighten the Gentiles.” Andy said,”To show them the way to the Father.” “What IS the way?” Mr. Slotan, 90 years old honestly and earnestly asked. What could I answer but what Jesus said? “In the Christian faith, we believe what Jesus said, ‘I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life. No man cometh unto the Father but by Me.’ We have all done things we feel shame to remember. We have had the punishment transferred from us to Jesus, the spotless Lamb that was slain for the sins of The Whole Wide World for all time past, present, and future. Mr. Slotan said,”He was crucified.” “Yes. The most ignominious death you could endure, yet without sin. Jesus stands at the gate looks in each one’s heart and sees it all laid bare and says, I have covered this one in my blood that has washed him clean. Though his sins were as scarlet, I make them white as snow.” Mr. Slotan could not help but smile in boyish relief at this Good News. “You may not want the label of being a Christian because you are Jewish and are loyal to all your people are and have endured. People are more than a label. Man looks on the outside of a person, but the Lord looks on the heart.” I gently touched the wool of his sweater over his heart as if I could see his hidden, secret faith. It was as if Jesus was touching him, not me, seeing inside, warming his heart to Him. “The Yom Kippur service I went so surprised me because they say so many times the Messiah’s name shall be Jeshua, son of David, Hebrew for Jesus. I think their own liturgy points to Jesus so that the Jews cannot help but have an inkling of an idea of His being the Messiah.” The glow of love and good cheer made us glad to know each other, glad to be alive this Christmas when we were the last ones in the store. The smiles were sincere. The questions were honest. Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for Benjamin Netanyahu, and for Mr. Slotan. “O come, O come Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lowly exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emanuel shall come to thee O Israel.”
Charlestonians imprisoned by the British July 4, 1780, danced! They were held at Haddrell’s Point, across the Cooper River. Charleston had been bombarded relentlessly by the British until she fell that same year. She would be occupied by the British for two and a half years. Charlestonians always stressed that extra half, for to them the British occupation was going on into a third year; it was a battle for hope.
When Charleston fell to the British, they wisely got the British to agree to certain unalienable rights of the colonists that were the rights of all British subjects. For British subjects we still were, though we had declared Independence four years earlier. These rights had been eroding as Great Britain tried to take advantage of the wealth accumulating of their richest possessions in the British Empire, America.
“No taxation without representation” was not merely the American response to the British levying taxes; it was an unalienable right of all British subjects throughout Great Britain. These rights were listed going back to The Year of our Lord 1215, as granted in the Magna Carta, sealed by bad King John. He was so bad, they forced his hand as his nobles showed up in force with knights in armor at Runnymede. The Magna Carta is the key to the greatness of English speaking people around the world, where the sun never set on the British Empire. An outgrowth of their Judaeo-Christian nation, Great Britain was the first country to recognize certain unalienable rights given by our Creator that are evident in all creation. These rights were ingrained in British subjects throughout the Empire going back to 1215!
July 4, 1780, Charlestonians rallied round the prisoners of war to cheer and to bless those imprisoned souls. It was not just the families of the prisoners who visited but a full representative of Charlestonians, “the officers and Lowcountry elite on parole under the terms of the capitulation of Charleston.”
Dancing and celebration have followed solemn prayer of thanksgiving throughout our history on July 4, and this day 1780, their first Independence Day under British control, was to carry on the same new tradition. They had live music, for there was no other kind. Charlestonians had long enjoyed the finest musicians hired to play for them going back to the first musical society in America, formed here in Charleston and still alive, the St. Cecilia Society. They also had, believe it or not, fire works, which they called illuminations. What is even more surprising is that they had “the firing of pistols into the air, and dancing with women for two to three hours in one of the rooms in the barracks.”
General William Moultrie was not least among them. He who had led the Battle of Ft. Sullivan on Sullivan’s Island June 28, 1776, where he had had the fort built out of palmetto palm tree logs, danced and joined in the celebration. Naturally, the British responded to the noisy revelry of celebrating our Independence while under their control as prisoners. General William Moultrie defended the prisoners, saying, “their activities represented a typical Southern celebration that was by no means inconsistent with our paroles.”
Slaves throughout the Lowcountry also celebrated this day with dancing and feasting as it was a holiday for all from the typical day’s work. No one could out dance the African American community or play music as they did.
Dancing the Charleston in the 1920s was actually the white imitation of what the black street musicians were doing. Jenkins Orphanage Band paraded through the streets of Charleston on July 4 and any other day of celebration or otherwise. One or two among them “street danced”, which Charleston ladies are photographed as imitating. The band traveled to England to raise money for the orphanage. The fame spread far and wide as they, “The Charleston” were called upon to “Give us The Charleston”.
The world is dancing to The Charleston still today as Charleston’s reputation grows as the world’s most polite and livable city. So “if you are weary of the syncopated unrest of a crazy world, come here and set your feet to a saner tempo. ‘What will we gain by that’, you may ask. ‘All we’d accomplish would be to get out of step with the world.’ We do not argue the point. But if you would only do it for a bit, you would leave us wiser than when you came. For the streets of Charleston have something to offer those that walk them in a receptive mood that will make life forever richer.” So wrote Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, Charleston artist of the late 19th and 20th century in her book, Mellowed By Time.
Whatever your prison is, break out and dance, whether it is in the kitchen, at your desk, changing diapers, or battling cancer. As Preston Hipp said, “Make a resolution to dance as much as you can!” If you can put a shoe string budget together or a fortune, the streets of Charleston are free for the walking and the beaches are free for the dip in the sea. Come to get refreshed, even if it is hot and humid. It is good for the skin pores and good for the soul.
Laura Wichmann Hipp 843-708-2228
With thanks to The South Carolina Historical Magazine July 2015 article by Richard H. Tomczak.
April 7th and 8th, 2017 is a two day offering that is a rare opportunity to tour this many private homes and gardens. Each house will have fresh flowers arranged by members of the Garden Club of Charleston. You buy a ticket for each day. There will be different houses on each day. Garden Club members will be the docents. You go at your own pace and in your own preferred order from house to house.
Through the end of February, I as a member am able to buy tickets for less than the general public. I am willing to make these tickets available to you at this reduced price of $75 for two instead of 50 each.
June and I would like to take you on our tour the day or two before to give you the personalized experience and understanding of Historic Charleston. For those who go on a tour with us, we will accompany you complimentary if you wish on the House and Garden Tour as a small group to give extra commentary along the way. This offer is the first time the Garden Club has allowed us to pass this member discount on to you.
Please text or call Laura at 843-708-2228
On June 17, 2015, an assault on the Holy City of Charleston took place in the heart of who we are. In the sanctity of one of our most historic churches, sacrificially restored by the congregation and their pastor, The Reverend Pinckney, this assault took place. NINE members of the congregation including their minister, South Carolina State Senator Pinckney, lost their lives at the end of a prayer meeting at Emanuel AME. A five year old boy, I hear, witnessed it but played dead. He and we all who hold Charleston dear to our hearts are scarred for life.
That this murderous rampage could happen here means the pure evil out there is creeping in and can happen anywhere. This crime should not be named among us. It is an assault to the identity internationally and at home of the Holy City of Charleston; to the religious freedom of…
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We are having a party soon in honour of our eldest of three daughters, the Oxford frequenter. Her escort, Hamilton, is worthy of mention because, here for dinner tonight, he has lifted my spirits from fear and trembling to soar with the champions. He said, “You should have a reality T.V. show to track the progression to this party, the most authentic Charleston event ever. (Flattery will get you everywhere, especially when I am most in need of it! Not thata reality TV show is my thing.)
Though I should leave it up to a caterer, I cannot help but include some of our tried and true family receipts. I should not have but did let Hamp. taste a melon scoop of my home made iced creams. History is my thing, and the first iced creams were made by hand. So far we have ginger, raspberry, and banana rum currant. We have mini iced cream cones for the young people to get a taste! Cover an empty cereal box with white wrapping paper, punch holes in and you have an iced cream mini cone holder! Hamp thinks this will be a hit.
The other real authentic thing is THE SHRIMP. I hate to tell you that people do not take a chance on local shrimp for big formal events. Better to go with the frozen prepeeled firm shrimp, they think. We are having my shrimp man, Tommy, who takes his shrimp boat out to sea along the coast of Charleston, bring us 100 lbs of shrimp. And peeled and deveined! A pretty penny, but our guests are worth it. Right now they are “roe shrimp”, not as firm or pretty, but oh, so good and tender.
The other authentic thing to be served is that wild boar from our land. A Charlestonian has also given me his tried and true receipt for the most tender beef and is loaning me his meat slicer. I tried out the method on the family tonight with Hamp as our dinner guest, without the slicer. It and the melt in your mouth flat pole beans were not wasted on him.
An encouraging word goes a long way, restoring the spirit and refreshing the soul. He believes in me. He believes this is going to be the most authentic Charleston party ever. He is connecting me to that hope rising within counteracting the infectious dread my husband said, “Just wake me up when it’s over.” Where would we be without those whose guttural response is an encouraging word?
Thank you to those who give that encouraging word about my tour for others to read. Inviting people into our home makes one vulnerable. When I’m down and troubled, and I need a helping hand, I thank God for James Taylor and those on my tour who have expressed appreciation to remind me, “You have a Friend.” Thank you!
I have smoked and slow cooked my first wild boar. I feel like one of the boys now. The hardwood charcoal did the job along with Albert Heyward who shot the young thing from our land in the country. I smoked it with hickory chips on our simple round charcoal grill in the back garden. Actually it is the pork that flavored our okra soup this week, though I was afraid to admit it.
Tackling a wild boar, even though a small one is Nothing compared to tackling twenty five years of marriage to the same man, Preston Hipp! Now that is Wild! Our silver anniversary is today and I did not need a thing. What did The Man do? He gave me silver, naturally, from Croghans, no less, a well worn path created for his mother by his father, Charles Rucker Hipp. Preston’s family came to Charleston because of the Heywards, whose ancestor Thomas Heyward signed the Declaration of Independence, whose descendant shot that wild boar, you see. What was the silver he gave me? Come and see! It is something I do not have and something I will always cherish. Two gifts actually. He was giddy with excitement like the young man he was when he had the diamond ring in his pocket for a few weeks before he asked me to marry him.
He gave me this morning at breakfast an old silver basket lined in an etched glass vase for which I picked the last of the daffodils on John’s Island. It had arrived that very day to Croghans. But then he saw a silver jar to hold tea leaves; he thought, a tea caddy, and Lover that he is, he bought that for me, too. I asked why both, why not one or the other. He said he liked the tea caddy one and wanted me to have the other, too. I will keep it on the tea tray cart to add more tea when serving. The real miracle he said is that they are from the man who the real estate market has not been kind to these last few years. A silver wedding anniversary only comes around once. We have the silver punch bowl that was the silver anniversary gift from old Mr. Harleston to his wife, Frances, from Birlant’s Antique store where he proudly bought it. That punch bowl graced many a table for church events as I was growing up before she passed it on to me. Little did I know that in referring to it as their silver wedding anniversary gift, I was setting a standard for my own.
A day of wine and roses it has been. Kind thoughts of guests for today’s Charleston Tea Party Private Tour, and friends…but then my husband says we should share the hurts of life, least all should think we live behind a veneer of perfection. My beloved mother, who has kept the walking tour going until last spring, is turning into an octogenarian this month. She alas has begun this week treatment for the C word in her throat we all hate. My own husband, 53, the most loved and best looking man in Charleston, fit as a fiddle, has that prostate C word, too.
We are not immune to the visisitudes of life; but we are blessed with a community of life as it should be being lived out. It is not just a shell of a city of historic houses. There is a heritage of the faith of our fathers that runs deep and steadies us still. It is an attitude of gratitude. Come, partake; eat and drink. You will leave us wiser than when you came.
Mincemeat tarts like I grew up with made by my English mother are the offering for tea this Christmas.