I will start at the beginning. We went to Greenwood South Carolina, as a friend of mine from high school lives there with her family. I hadn’t seen Dianne since just after we left school – 25 years ago. I know, I’m giving up my age good and proper now. We have been back in touch for about 5 years since a couple of friends and I organized the 20 year school reunion. Although Di couldn’t come to Australia for the reunion, we kept in touch over Facebook and email and when I said that I was coming to America she suggested we could head south. I thought it would be great to see her – although I was a little apprehensive about landing on her for three or four days. But I’m so glad we did. It has been such a highlight of the trip so far. Seeing Dianne it was like we hadn’t talked since yesterday. She hasn’t changed a bit, except that she’s now an extraordinary mother to three of the most beautiful children I have ever met.
We flew into Greenville/Spartanburg Airport, which is very quiet and extremely civilized and reminded me a lot of Perth at home. I had been excited and a little nervous for several days, wondering what it would be like catching up with Di. But from the minute I saw her, I knew it was going to be great. We didn’t stop talking all the way to Greenwood, which is about an hour or so drive from the airport. Greenwood is a pretty place – with lots of Oak trees and some very beautiful old homes. Dianne and her family live on a golf course estate with picture postcard homes dotted along the edges of the fairways. It’s a real community where everyone knows everyone, and people look out for each other. When we entered the house there was a huge poster, ‘Welcome Harvey’s’ which Di’s daughter Alex had made. There was also another decorative welcome on the hall mirror. I couldn’t wait for the kids to get home from school to meet them.We met Steffan, Di’s husband, who is very charming and funny, and then Alex arrived home followed by Matthew and Kieren. They are all adorable; Alex is quiet and artistic, Matthew is the family comic; Kieren is very charming and smart – they are all very smart – just like their parents. They got straight on with their homework and piano practice – and I even bumbled through a couple of pieces with them. Then we went out into the yard and there were squirrels! I love them – they are so fast and cute.
For dinner that night we had homemade lasagna and salad - scrumptious – Ian and I had been craving some home cooked food. After dinner we took a drive into town so I could visit my first ever Wal Mart! It was huge and had everything from groceries to guns. I marvelled at the prices – a double sized punnet of strawberries for $2.00!! Tresemme shampoo in the big size for $6.00, beer for less than $10 for a 12 pack. Shopping in the USA is amazing.Dianne had worked her powers all over Greenwood and arranged for me to visit five of the local schools over the next three days. On Wednesday morning after a traditional southern breakfast of Grits with egg, sausage and cheese – this was my first ever try of Grits and, I would go there again. It’s not at all what I expected – I thought it would be crunchy but it’s more like a smooth cereal. I gather it would be pretty tasteless though without the eggs and sausage.
We headed to our first school, Hodges Elementary where we were warmly greeted by Frances Gilliam, the Assistant Principal among a range of other jobs. Her southern accent was gorgeous and I was looking forward to meeting the children. They were great – I spoke to two groups and many children had ordered books for me to sign too. They knew some things about Australia and asked lots of good questions. The school itself is beautifully cared for and well laid out and the children had impeccable manners.That afternoon we took Kieren and Matthew to swimming and Alex to gymnastics and then Di and I hit the supermarkets again. Again I was gob-smacked by the bargains. The town has and Aldi and a Bi Lo as well as some other supermarkets I don’t recall the names of, in addition to Wal Mart. There are also just about every chain restaurant you could ever imagine. That appears to be very common across the USA.
On Thursday we headed out to Matthew’s school called Woodfields to talk to the grade 3-5 students. It was a large group in the hall and again they were a great audience. I had promised Matthew that I would make mention of the fact that I would not have come to Greenwood if it wasn’t for him (well his mum). Matthew is a born comedian. He has that natural comic timing – he even did a stand-up routine for the end of school performance night. Anyway I decided to invite him to be my ‘Jacinta’, the school’s second best tantrum thrower when I ask a couple of children to come out the front and act out a section of the book. He was fantastic. So was the little girl who played Alice-Miranda.Woodfields is a beautiful school – the design is fantastic with five wings fanning out from a central atrium. The principal Mrs Metts and the librarian Miss Steffke were so welcoming.
From Woodfields we headed to Cambridge Academy, where I spoke to two groups. The grade fours and then the rest of the school. Loved it! I signed lots of books and Miss Thomas was so enthusiastic. In the US the children seem to call everyone Miss even if they are Mrs but in the south everyone is Miss and I giggled when Dianne told her own children to call me Miss Jacquie.I also loved the children’s names. There are lots of doubles – Anna May, Emma Grace and then some more unusual ones where the second name is the mother’s maiden name. I love that, except in my case I’d have been Jacqueline Jones – not so great. There are so many southern belles!
On Thursday night Dianne made us pulled pork which is truly delicious and another very traditional southern dish. I had been looking forward to spending a relaxing afternoon writing the blog and getting some editing done when my new ASUS Ultrabook computer decided that it didn’t want to play anymore. So Steffan kindly drove us into town to see what could be done. Apparently nothing unless we sent it to California. So we thought about options. And decided to visit Wal Mart (after visiting two other electronics shops) and bought a backup net book. We found there was an ASUS repairer in NYC so we decided to wait until we arrived here to find out if the problem could be fixed. Anyway, that’s another tale.Pulled pork is delicious and I will have to find out how to make it. We also sampled some lollies or candy that we had never tasted before. We had been given a big box of Saltwater Taffy which we opened after dinner. They reminded me of a lolly we have back at home called a red skin – only softer and better.
On Friday we headed for Alex’s school Lakeview where I met the lovely Lindsey Insalaco, who had worked with Dianne to organize my visit. She also presented me with a gift on behalf of all the schools – a Starbucks voucher (apparently someone had seen me getting Dianne to head through the drive through every day on the way to the schools) and several Greenwood souvenirs. It was unexpected and very kind.I talked to a huge group of grade 3-5 students in the cafeteria. The kids were fabulous – answering and asking questions and listening so well. We had a role play out the front and Alex played Alice-Miranda this time. The boy who played Jacinta was scary!
In the afternoon we headed for our last school, Pinecrest, where I was working first with a large group of Kindergarten students – around 80 in all I think, then the Grade 1 and 2 students – about 180 at least. They were all great and I was thrilled when the librarian Miss Pinson asked if I had time to talk to the grade 5 students too. There were a couple of classes available and it was wonderful to have that opportunity to speak to them. You could have heard a pin drop during my talk - they were amazing and asked fantastic questions afterwards too.There were several students who made a big impression on me. A girl called Julia who said that she wanted to be a writer. She asked me what I did when people put me down and told me that I couldn’t do it -meaning being a writer. I told her that people usually did that when they were jealous that you were pursuing your goal, and the best way to get over it, is work hard and achieve your goal. No one can tell you that you can’t but only you can decide if you really can.
There was another boy Nicholas, who I gather doesn’t always make the best choices. He came and spoke to me at the end of the talk and said how much he had enjoyed it. He was a very handsome boy – and apparently very talented too. He reminded me of a young fellow I worked with out in the desert in WA many years ago now. Gentle and stylish but walking a precarious line. I told him that I was so pleased he enjoyed my talk and how gorgeous he was. His smile was bigger than the room.I was standing saying goodbye to the children (leaning down) when several of the girls began touching my hair. One of them said, ‘how come your hair’s so soft?’ I was fascinated with the African American girls’ hair with their extraordinary braids – some of the girls said that it took their mothers all day to do it but they kept them in for a couple of weeks and slept with the beads and bubbles. I don’t know how they do it but I loved their hair.
After the school visit we headed to McCaslan’s Bookstore in Main Street for a signing. We arrived early and so went to have a look at the theatre where Dianne has become a much loved volunteer, looking after everything from kid wrangling to set design. For a relatively small community the theatre is obviously at its heart with productions every few weeks. They were about to put on Good Grief Charlie Brown – which I would have loved to see – but opening night is this week. We also saw the arts building which is in the photograph above right. We also dropped into the Index Journal and met Joseph Sitarz who had written a huge article about Dianne and me the previous Sunday.When we arrived at McCaslan’s we met the lovely Anne who had helped organize the signing and orders for the schools. The store has been in the same location on Main Street for 91 years. There was already a queue (a line I should say) and I met lots of children and their me-maws (that’s grandmothers to us back home), mums and dads. It was great to have kids who I had met over the three days coming in to buy books and have them signed and I think Anne and her team were pleased with how it all went. We sold out of Alice-Miranda On Vacation and had only a few Alice-Miranda At Schools left.
On Friday night we went to dinner at a very traditional Southern restaurant called Crackerbarrel. There is a shop selling all sorts of southern wares attached to the store and the rocking chairs out the front are fantastic – unfortunately not good travelers though. The food and décor is very traditional too. I had chicken fried chicken – delicious!While we were having dinner three little girls walked past and smiled at me. I had visited their school. A little while later they came up with their mother and asked if I could sign them some autographs. It was so cute – so we took some pictures as well. Then one of the Crackerbarrel waitresses asked if I could sign something for her grandchildren too. I happily obliged – after all, it has never happened in a restaurant before at home!!
Packing to leave Greenwood, Ian and I were both sad to go. We would have happily stayed the weekend except that the plans had been made – and when we first said that we would go, we really didn’t want to outwear our welcome. Alex made us a beautiful card and some origami so we wouldn’t forget. The kids all gave us lots of hugs and we vowed to come back again soon. At the airport on Saturday morning it felt like we were leaving family and as we headed up the escalator to the gate, there was a tear or two from me!