Sandlapper Society

POPisms: Words to Live By

by Inell Littlejohn Allen

A daughter reminisces fondly on her father’s practical and quirky “words to live by.”

Howdy, howdy, how ya’ coming today?” This was the usual greeting from my father, Cameron Bruce Littlejohn. A son of Lady Sara and Cameron Littlejohn, he was the youngest of eight children, husband to Inell Smith Littlejohn and Pop to two children. He became both mother and father to my brother Cam and me when our mother became ill and passed away. I was only 14.

A storyteller and joke teller, Pop enjoyed visiting with friends in his backyard and sharing peaches in the summer. Former law clerk Jim Hudgen recalled, “I remember how he would come by my house in the summer on some pretext for a visit. We would sit on my deck and chat. I knew the real reason for his being there was to get some of my homegrown tomatoes. Of course that’s why I grow ’em, to give them away.”

Some say “clothes make the man,” but for my father, the phrase should be “in spite of his wardrobe, he is the man.” My father’s choice in clothes had more to do with comfort than style. Plaids and stripes worn together were fine. Most of the time he wore clothes completely out before he bought new ones. Pop did his own mending. When a hole appeared, he went to the sewing machine. When his “britches” tore or became too big, he took in the seams. He even put zippers in his jackets to replace buttons; he altered his clothes to suit himself.

Bruce Littlejohn was practical. He was a gadgeteer and could fix anything. He proved that duct tape can and does hold almost everything together. When more strength was needed, he chose screws. To save time, he used a labeling machine. This made marking a favorite radio or television channel easy. Broom handles became bed lamp posts. Medicine bottles were rain gauges and holders for nails. A machine-sewn leather holster made it impossible to lose the television remote control, especially if it was pinned to the recliner. His home was a tribute to his creativity. This could have been why he often said to us, “Do the best you can with what you’ve got!”

When Pop was 60, he decided to “take up” golf. Jim Shaw, one of his former law clerks, remembers a particular invitation. “Jim, why don’t we ‘trickle on out’ to the golf course and ‘hatch up’ a game of golf?” On another occasion, Jim, his father and Pop were playing a round of golf. Jim was whipping Pop and recalled, “I got up to the tee after beating him on the previous hole and, just before I took a swing, the Judge says to my father, ‘The last time one of my law clerks beat me at golf, he lost his job.’ I proceeded to slice the ball out of bounds— game over. I’m sure he went on to beat me that day.”

Years ago, my father named himself Pop. His unique expressions and words became “POPisms” to us. This country boy used phrases such as “fetch” a book. A “spin” was a leisurely ride in the country, usually on Sunday afternoons. As a child, that spin included ice cream for the family. Before a trip to Wade’s or The Beacon, my dad would announce that he had a “hankering” for some vegetables or a plate of barbecue. “Belly full” had nothing to do with eating. With no more to be said, this was just the end of a situation or discussion. Pop was ready to move on.

I have heard my father say that he “took a dim view” of something or “I beg to differ.” This meant his opinion was his opinion, and no further discussion was needed. When in a debate he might say, “you may be right.” My understanding of this statement indicated that my father still felt he was right but he was not going to discuss it anymore. This usually just left me frustrated!

“Kinfolks” were family. My father loved his family and kept up with their activities and lives. He regularly made visits and phone calls to show how much he cared. “Do you need any unskilled labor today?” This question was timed at the near end of a “chore” being completed, usually in the kitchen or outside yard work.

Alan Tewkesbury reminded me of one of his favorite POPisms. “Got me some experience like I don’t want no more of.” Can’t we all relate to that sentiment?

As children, Cam and I were taught to “spend our money wisely.” This statement accompanied all monetary gifts through the years. This was important to Pop, who was raised during the Great Depression. He wanted to be sure we understood the value of money. My father often said that “it’s easy to spend someone else’s money.” This statement was not always directed at us. He believed juries and politicians needed this reminder as well.

Even though my dad often said “keep a civil tongue in your head,” my tongue has often gotten me in trouble. Cam and I were not the only ones who learned from Pop. His 18 law clerks were his classroom. When my father was a Supreme Court Justice, each law clerk studied, learned and respected the Judge’s wisdom. Each law clerk arrived already prepped for success, and Pop added the finishing touch. They became his extended family.

Bruce Littlejohn was proud of his name and proud of his birthplace, Pacolet.

At the end of his life, my father chose to go back home to Pacolet. He and my mother are both buried in the First Baptist Church cemetery. All of his law clerks honored him by participating in his memorial service, eight as pallbearers.

My father’s farewell was always “Be caught taking it easy.” At his funeral, our oldest daughter, Mandy looked at Pop and lovingly said, “I guess he’ll be caught taking it easy.”

We will, Pop— and you do the same. 

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Justice Cameron Bruce Littlejohn

Born in Pacolet in 1913, Bruce Littlejohn graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1936 and, one week later, opened his law office in Spartanburg. His interest in politics led him to run for a seat in the state legislature where he served in the House of Representatives from 1937–1943. Even though he was exempt from military service as an elected official, he resigned his seat, enlisted in the army and served in the Philippines prosecuting Japanese war criminals. He left the service in 1946, just in time to run for his old house seat. Not only did he win, he was also elected Speaker of the House, the youngest ever in the state’s history.

At the age of 36, Littlejohn became one of the youngest judges in South Carolina, presiding in the Seventh Judicial Circuit. For the next 17 years, he served the citizens of the state with uncommon integrity.

In 1967, Judge Littlejohn became a State Supreme Court Justice. In 1984, after 17 years as an Associate Justice, Littlejohn was elected Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court. Sixteen months later, at age 72, he retired.

In retirement, he became a mediator and arbitrator and also continued to serve on the Court of Appeals for ten years. The desire to share the history of South Carolina’s judicial system and political history led to the publishing of his four books. Laugh with the Judge, Littlejohn’s Half Century at the Bench and Bar, Littlejohn’s Political Memoirs 1934–1988 and Littlejohn’s South Carolina Judicial History 1930–2004. Judge Littlejohn passed away in 2007 at the age of 93. 

 

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