I was doing some calendar stuff the other day and realized that this Labor Day weekend, I will have been a resident of Clarendon County for 20 years. Wow!
I will never, ever forget the feeling I had when crossing the Lake Marion bridge, knowing that I was finally a South Carolinian.
I started coming to Clarendon County in 1986, when my mother was hired as the County Librarian. It was love at first site. Her prior residence had been in a dusty little south Alabama mill town that I am sure had its charms. I just couldn’t find any of them. You think a festival honoring a fish is weird … that town’s festival honored the rattlesnake. I’m sorry … rattlesnakes have no honor whatsoever!
My mom came here because my aunt, Ann Reynolds lived in Pinewood. She was here because the late Martha Ann Kolb was her college roommate at Queens College and Martha Ann brought Aunt Ann home to Pinewood where my aunt promptly fell head over heels with my sweet Uncle Condy. Pam Weinberg and I consider each other kissin’ cousins.
When I first moved here, Dr. Sylvia Weinberg-Clarke was the superintendent of the District 2 schools. Pansy Ridgeway was the Manning mayor and Betty Roper was chairman of the County Council. Girls rock!
I think there were five doctors here and all were family medicine docs. The hospital was just about to finish its first major overhaul, one that completely changed the look and function of the facility.
We had Pizza Hut, McDonald’s and Hardees here in town and out on the highway was Burger King. Period. Of course, there was McCabe’s, D&H and Sandwiche Castle (which I always pronounce San-wee-chee) for those wanting a more sit-down experience.
Weldon Auditorium, though still being used, was pretty much a hull of a building. If it was winter, it was cold inside there. If it was any other time of the year, it was hot, sometimes unbearably so. When the Back Porch Players produced “South Pacific” one year in May, I wondered if the heat was part of the play’s ambiance. It was truly tropical in there!
The first year I was here, I was unemployed and thanks to being laid off in Miami, was able to collect unemployment for an entire year. I needed it. I was pretty much shell-shocked after 20 years in South Florida and my timing was so bad in my departure that I stayed to endure Hurricane Andrew before getting the <bleep> out of Dodge!
In that year, I was a housekeeper for my mom and I loved it. I learned how to bake bread, cook a little and have lots of decompression time. I explored the county, sometimes with Mom, sometimes alone and found beauty that took my breath away.
I would often go to Hardees and get a giant iced tea, then head down to the wildlife refuge. I would sit on some benches they had by the shoreline and just stare at the lake. On a bright, sunny day, it looked like diamonds dancing on the water’s surface. It was a kind of peace you will never, ever find in a metropolitan area and there is a part of me that pities those who never get that experience.
In these 20 years, I have had the happiest and some of the saddest times of my life.
In these two decades, I lost my last two grandparents, had cancer and most recently endured an illness that has totally changed my life.
However, the happiness so far outweighs the hardships that any difficult times are hardly registered.
I finally got my dream of a lifetime job, being an honest-to-God journalist for an honest-to-God newspaper. Although that job has ended as it was in its original form, I have been blessed with a High Commander who lets me still write this column and the “Check It Out” piece so that my brain doesn’t turn to mush. The HC might say that it was too late for that, but he lets me prattle on any way!
I was honored to be named the Citizen of the Year in 2009. In my little acceptance speech, (I thought it was like the Oscars, right?) I said that if I could figure out how to pay my bills, I would work for free. God has such a sense of humor. I don’t really consider it work so it all works out for good.
Most importantly, I have been blessed to make some of the best friends a person could ever have. I have more really good acquaintances than I can name and except for a few bumps along the way, I wouldn’t trade a single one. Several women have become the sisters I never had. As tenuous as the last few years have been, not once have I felt abandoned or all alone in my travails. That is what blessings are all about and I am immeasurably rich with mine.
My fervent prayer is that I get another 20 years to enjoy the wonderful life I have here. It is my forever home and I appreciate being adopted.
I love you all!