Monthly Archives: December 2009

The Last Christmas Tree

christmas tree

By Brian M. Howle

Writer’s Note: Today – December 14, 2017 – marks thirteen years since the reason for this column took place. Whomever it was who coined the phrase, “Time heals all wounds,” is completely full of shit. Some wounds just get bigger. But the overall message of this particular story remains just as strong, and in fact, is even more pertinent today. I implore everyone reading this to follow the advice at the end.

The one thing that remains constant and universal about a person throughout their life is the memories of Christmas and the entire holiday season. Unless you weren’t born and raised in a country that celebrates Christmas, of course. Thing is, with each passing year, we are being drawn closer and closer to living in a country that doesn’t.

And if that does ever come to pass – and don’t be so surprised if and when it does – you will still have the means to buck the system and keep right on enjoying everything about Christmas. Despite what has been deemed socially or politically incorrect, all of those wonderful, palpable, cherished memories will live on within the most private recesses of your mind.

So before the Thought Police start cracking down on Christmas even harder, I would like to share a few of my Christmas memories with you.

For some, I guess all those twinkling, flashing colored lights automatically become the cornerstone for earliest recollections of the holidays. For others, it could be the brightly festooned packages, with miles and miles of shiny ribbons and bows.

But for me, it always comes back to the silent sentinel of Christmas that stood watch over our home, our family, and (most importantly) our gifts and presents from Santa Claus within the warm, safe confines of our living room – the Christmas tree.

As I’ve stated many times before, my father owned the Piggly Wiggly in my little hometown of Andrews, S.C.. And though there were these ancillary hints and clues that Christmas was soon to be on the horizon – what, with Thanksgiving parades and the official start to the shopping season immediately thereafter. But for me, the seminal moment for signaling the advent of Christmas was when the big truck backed up to the front of the store. Not in the back, where every other item in the store was unloaded in a loud, frenzied, chaotically choreographed line of workers and steel-wheeled ramps that expedited cases of beans and the like.

No, the only truck that unloaded at the front of the store only came from the distant mountains of North Carolina, and it’s cargo was bushy, sticky and unmistakably aromatic.

The Christmas tree truck.

Once those sap-ladened, needle-dropping bad boys were leaning against the width of the store’s windowed facade, then – and only then – officially, Christmas was on!

Now, I have no idea what my family did before I came into the world, as far as picking out the tree was concerned. I’m sure they struggled in their sweet but incompetent way, bless their leetle hearts.

But once I was around, here’s how it went down: Daddy would come home during his lunch break and pick me up in his blue Ford pickup truck (the official Piggly Wiggly delivery truck could only be a Ford, just so you know) and delight in watching me try to look over the big steel dashboard, straining on tip toes to get that first rush of spotting the trees lined up out front. And he had his hands full, trying to bring the truck to a stop and keeping one hand tightly gripped on me to keep me from bolting out of a still-moving vehicle.

And then the banzai attack was on. I flung myself onto the waiting arms of thousands of sticky, pointy branches of wonderfully scent-laden needles, trying to avoid the big clumps of oozing sap that invariably lay hidden underneath. I rustled every limb, holding every one at arm’s length in order to access the merits or faults of each tree.

Oh, the inspection was grueling and unforgiving. My developing leetle artistic brain demanded perfection in symmetry, with a full-bodied balance in the front, back and sides. Gaping holes or snapped branches? On my tree? Perish the thought.

And more times than not, I had this knack of settling on the one tree out of hundreds with the deformed trunk, where the infant tree’s beginnings in life were altered and maimed by some unknown event that twisted and thickened the base into a quasi-Quasimodo appearance. It then became daddy’s job to hacksaw the blemish off so that it would fit down snugly into the solid steel tree stand with the little water reservoir bowl.

After obtaining my considered approval, the tree was hoisted up into the faithful delivery truck, and daddy let me in the back so I could ensure that rascal didn’t try one last attempt at escaping my determined leetle clutches. Cold December wind in my face, I wrestled to keep the beast from escaping during the entire 4 block sojourn to our house.

Once home, the tree was placed in the aforementioned stand out on the patio, where it was watered and allowed to “breathe” overnight, and the magical transformation was complete. What was once a drooping, disheveled heap of evergreen needles had metamorphosed into a full, thick, massive tree. Standing strong and tall, it was then brought inside and placed in the obligatory corner of the living room.

Enter mama.

Yes, selecting the tree was my forte. But decorating it was hers.

And though I didn’t realize it at the time, it was one of the few things that induced bonding between us. Perhaps it was her way of grooming me for my task in adulthood, when I would have my own Christmas tree to adorn. But she took great pains to show me how to arrange decorations and lights in a symmetrical, balanced manner, standing back and studying her work before swooping back in for a critical adjustment or repositioning of a light.

It’s funny, the irony of it all, now that I reflect on it. My mother and I fought like cats and dogs for the majority of my childhood and adolescence, and wasn’t pretty. There were times when each of us wanted the annihilation of the other, no doubt about it. And to be honest, I think that most of the time it was probably due to my then-undiagnosed hyperactivity (back then, instead of a fancy name for behavioral disorders like ADHD/ADD, they would just call you “spayshul”), with me badgering my mother non-stop about whatever my question of the moment was.

Problem was, I had a zillion questions every minute of every day.

But when it came to decorating the Christmas tree, mama somehow transformed into a patient, doting parent, and answered each question with untypical patience.

And together, we would step back when all the boxes of lights and ornaments and candy canes were empty; after the last few handfuls of aluminum “icecicles” were tossed over the finished project like shimmering strands of silver snow and ice, just so – and bask in the self-satisfying admiration of our mutual handiwork.

And as with families all over the nation and the world, just like yours, we not only celebrated our faith, but our family as well. The deepest, strongest, most emotional and total sensory recall-producing memories are furrowed even stronger within our gray matter when we link family to Christmas.

The years passed by, and each successive holiday saw the commotion over the tree diminish, especially as each of the three children found their wings and flew the ol’ nest on South Farr Avenue.

And, being the youngest, I saw the tree diminish in size – but not always for lack of enthusiasm. Once the advent of the artificial tree took root, so to speak, in the Howle household, my job as official finder became obsolete.

This turned out to be very prophetic and practical for me, as I have chosen a career where software upgrades, planned obsoletion of hardware and a throw-away mentality towards the experienced adult worker have combined to draw our extinction ever nearer than it seems. Which, to me, is ominously imminent.

But before my title was dust, my parents began to struggle with the physical task of climbing up the 78 degree incline of the attic steps, digging out the boxes from the massive asbestos sanctuaries that resided up there, hauling it back down the grade without breaking anything. Then they would set it up in a corner of the room, after moving furniture to make a place for a tree that would now only host perhaps a dozen presents – primarily for my parents, since we were all now gone, except for me.

As they complained one year, while I trudged the harrowing steps to retrieve the lifeless tree from its hibernation, it occurred to me that because of the arrangement of the limbs to the center “trunk,” you could remove one half of the 360-degree circumference of the tree. Because it was already rather short, would fit on top of a row of low dresser cabinets flush against the wall, affording them even more usable space without having to move half the room around and repeat when Christmas was over.

Hey, I had my moments.

The years rolled on, and Christmas at home in Andrews became less annual for all of us to be together, what with our own families and the like.

So when my parents faced retirement and sold the family home, the tree made the move to their new abode. But it only saw a few more Christmases.

And when my father passed away on August 3 of 2004, we weathered our grief and awaited Christmas without him for the first time in my and my siblings’ lives – and for mama, the first time in 64 years.

We always thought that, if mother passed away first, that daddy would not last a week, because his love for her was stronger than life itself.

How much more irony could be infused by the fact that, after his death, she simply gave up and suffered a heart attack on Thanksgiving day.

On her deathbed in a Sumter nursing home, I visited her on December 13, 2004. On my previous stop, I couldn’t take the barren, sterile hospital walls in her room any longer. I bought her a tiny little Christmas tree, and festooned it with leetle tiny ornaments. It even had lights, just so.

She regained lucidity for a moment, gazed upon the little tree and smiled, squeezing my hand, and then faded back off into semi-consciousness.

Our bond with the tree was our first act of contrition all those years ago, and became the final act when she passed away the next night.

So to all of you on this wonderful holiday season – whether you be Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu and all the others – I wish you all the best of good tidings, love, and peace on earth. And whatever you do, please – put away those petty fights and differences with those you really love.

Because you never know when you’ll share the last Christmas tree.
This article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, December 20, 2007.

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Posted by on December 18, 2009 in Along The Watchtower



Corey Smith Once Again Brings In New Year’s Eve At House Of Blues

corey smith

By Brian M. Howle

Have you ever wandered into a club, bar, dive or stadium to hear some music, not really knowing the artists or their genre of music, and then felt you had discovered something no one else in the entire world has ever heard? Well, if you have, then you already know. If you haven’t, this might be your chance to come on over. The skinny on the street is that the next big thing out there goes by the name of Corey Smith, and he’ll be bringing in the new year – again – along the South Carolina coast with opening act American Aquarium, performing at House of Blues in N. Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Thursday, December 31, 2009.

This is an artist who can truly call himself the people’s choice, because the entire basis of his popularity is, well, his popularity. Just like the old skool network of college dorms across the land spreading the word about the cutting edge music of the day, Corey Smith has benefited from the advent of the Internet. His fan base is simply staggering in numbers, and it continues to grow exponentially with each passing day.

Here’s a little background, courtesy of his website:

“I think it’s a little of everything,’ says Smith in describing his innovative style. ‘We don’t live in cultural bubbles anymore. We’re all exposed to many different types of music through TV, radio, and now especially the internet. I like to think my songs reflect the variety of musical styles that have impacted my life in Georgia. Gospel, country, blues, rock, hip-hop – strands of all these are there.” That diversity is especially evident on his newest project, Hard-Headed Fool.

Smith grew up in Jefferson, Georgia, soaking up an array of music from George Jones to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Nirvana to Tupac. “I graduated from high school with about 50 or 60 people. It was a fairly small community, but the kids came from a lot of different backgrounds,” says Smith, who currently lives about a quarter mile from his childhood home. “One of the cool things about Jefferson is that its so close to Athens. We’d hang out there on the weekends. Its a very eclectic college town, almost like taking a little cross-section of a major city and just putting it right there in the middle of rural Georgia. People from all over the world come to school there. Sure we lived out in the country, but when we partied on the weekends, we went to this place that was almost cosmopolitan. That really had a big impact on me.”

The lure of the ‘classic city’ proved too much for Smith to resist, and after a few years bouncing around smaller colleges, he headed back to Athens to attend the University of Georgia.

While working towards a degree in Social Studies Education, Smith spent much of his spare time improving his songwriting skills and testing out new tunes for friends at the all-too-frequent keg parties taking place at their apartments. After graduating from the University of Georgia in 2001, Smith took a job teaching Social Studies at North Gwinnett High School in the northern suburbs of Atlanta and soon thereafter, married his college sweetheart Shannon. With a demanding teaching career and domestic responsibilities, Smith found it harder to find time for writing.

On impulse, he entered a songwriting competition and won the chance to record his first album, Undertones.

Undertones birthed the college anthem “Twenty-One” – a nostalgic tune which tells the story of a young man’s desire first to know, and then to sustain, the carefree lifestyle associated with young adulthood. One of the most requested tracks online and at live shows, “Twenty-One” evokes full-blown sing-a-longs accompanied by fans waving in time with the acoustic melody. “I’m Not Gonna’ Cry”, originally written as a gift for graduates of Dawson County High School in Dawsonville, Georgia, has struck a soft-spot with high school students across the country. The song has garnered immense popularity through the internet. In 2007, over 200 schools chose the single as their graduation anthem, many even reciting the lyrics as they turned their tassels to signify the milestone.

Encouraged by the reception he was getting, Smith wrote and recorded his sophomore set, In the Mood, in 2004. The birth of his first son, Aden Ryan, marked a turning point in Smith’s personal and professional life that is clearly evident in his 2005 release, The Good Life. Although popular tracks such as “If I Could Do It Again” and “Carolina” contain the nostalgic, booze-laden imagery characteristic of much of Smith’s writing, the album as a whole resonates with a familial pride and sense of fulfillment that is refreshingly new.

“I have such a personal, intimate relationship with the songs,” he says of his music. ‘As I’ve matured, the songs have matured. People ask me Mat my favorite song is and every time my answer is, ‘The most recent song I’ve written.’ I feel like with every song I’m a little bit closer to explaining who I am!

The songs on his album, Hard-Headed Fool, showcase a confident young artist in full command of his gift. The title track is about a man coming to terms with his choices in life. “It’s about learning from my mistakes, growing up, and becoming an adult,” says the man who has led many a rowdy crowd partying in the bars of North Georgia, but has struggled to tame his own wild streak. And in the process, he has become a rising star.

Yep, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of discovering a great artist, and now it’s your time to get that feeling – hey, it’s become an annual event around here, kids – at House of Blues at Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, SC, as Corey Smith and opening act American Aquarium treat folks to a special night of music this New Year’s Eve, on Thursday, December 31, 2009. Doors open 8:30 p.m. For ticket info call 843-272-3000 or Ticketmaster 843-679-9333; or visit or
This article also appears in Alternatives NewsMagazine, Dec. 17, 2009 – January 14, 2010.


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Jeffrey Allen Edwards Takes Queen City Music Award For 2009 Country Male Artist

jeff edwards

By Brian M. Howle

Local songwriter/singer/musician/producer Jeffrey Allen Edwards of Myrtle Beach has taken another step up the music industry ladder by taking the prestigious Queen City Music Award for 2009 Country Male Artist on December 12, 2009 in Charlotte, NC.

His high energy shows, unmistakable voice, down to earth lyrics, and God-given talents shine when he is on stage and this has earned another nomination for Country Male Artist of The Year for The 2009 Carolina Music Awards in Raleigh NC.

Born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, Jeff moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina at age 16 and began writing songs. Before he was 21 he was already playing and singing at campfires, in living rooms, porches, anywhere anyone would listen. As time went on Jeff said “I slowly started to sing my songs and noticed people really wanted to hear them.” He started playing at bars, parties, or playing from tail gate to tail gate and slowly started to build up the courage he needed to sing in front of big crowds. Jeff said “It didn’t take long for people to see that I was starting to take things serious when I formed a southern rock band (Three Legged Dawg)”. He was playing his original songs throughout the shows. Most of his time was spent on stage performing his own songs long after the regular band was through. He cut most of his teeth playing at 3 & 4 in the morning at a place called Charlie’s Night Life. Eventually, Charlie let Jeff sit in with the band and things took off from there. Jeff later joined Southern Blue and spent several years playing many venues before going out on his own with his own band.

Edwards finally took his songs to the studio and with the help of producers Mike Rogers and Perry Richardson of the multi platinum group Firehouse, produced the Son of the South CD. Jeff wrote the lyrics and music to all the songs on the Son of the South CD. He not only wrote the lyrics, but also arranged the music, and co-produced all 16 songs on the Son Of The South CD and all the songs on all of his sites. Currently he is working in Sound Hole Studio on his new CD – Got Country. The first single demo is on the site now with the CD to be released in 2010.

Jeff has opened for Hank Williams, Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd, Leann Rimes, David Allen Coe, .38 Special, Rhett Akins, Lonestar, Blake Shelton, Colt Ford, The Little River Band, Keith Anderson ,Tracy Byrd, Billy Joe Royal, Brantley Gilbert, The Kentucky Head Hunters, Molly Hatchet, Ronnie McDowell, Confederate Railroad, Matt Stillwell, DB Bryant Band, Mustang Sally, Black Label and has headlined many events throughout the South.

Edwards has sparked the interest of several record labels in Nashville with his original songs and has played a dozen shows at the world famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville Tennessee over the past several years (as well as Rippy’s); 10 shows at House Of Blues; 6 shows at The Carolina Entertainment Complex-Marion SC, and shows at Jimmy Buffets’ Margaritaville, and Easy Ryder Café in Myrtle Beach, SC. He has also been a guest on several radio shows in South Carolina and also in Tennessee.

His Myspace site has well over 2,100,000 plays and over 1,850,000 profile views and boast over 26,000 friends.

We congratulate Jeff on his latest kudos, and advise you all to keep an eye – and ear – on this local talent as he continues his steady rise to stardom in the country music field.
This article also appears in Alternatives NewsMagazine, Dec. 17, 2009 – Jan. 14, 2010 and under “Nightlife & Entertainment” at


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