|Going Home by Mike Bailey
A funny thing happened to me on my way to my 50th high school reunion –-
I graduated from high school, was recruited out of college by the government to be a
trained, black ops spook, qualified in subs and earned my Silver Dolphins while traveling to
"exciting" places on a cool WWII era US Navy diesel submarine,
got married, had two kids, left the Navy, worked as a Park Ranger at Myrtle Beach State Park, SC
and a Systems Analyst at General Precision Inc in Black Rock, NC
before joining IBM in Atlanta as a Customer Engineer,
crushed the lower two disks in my spine in accident at work, had bone fusion and wore
stainless steel brace from neck to hips for 18 months,
transferred to Boca Raton, FL for five years as a Hardware Publications Technical Writer,
back to Marietta, GA as a Systems Analyst and Application Programmer,
welcomed four grandkids to my life, fell in love with cats as pets,
took lots of cruises, hiked thousands of miles,
and finally retired as a Senior Marketing Operations Consultant from IBM after 42 years.
This story is not just a simple recap of my 50th high school reunion.
I realized even before I got to Sumter, that the trip there would be more than that.
As my story unfolds, you will understand why.
Last Friday, June 4, 2010, as I packed my Suburban with my clothes and bottles of water (and a
cooler with a few beers), I was thinking that I could not believe I was actually getting ready to
drive 300 miles to Sumter, SC for my 50th high school reunion.
FIFTY years -- God, where had all the time gone?
For a child, 50 was a magical number in so many wonderful ways.
Growing up, having 50 cents in my pocket was awesome, especially if it was a shinny silver 50 cent
piece. While silver dollars were around, we never really saw them in use so the Walking Liberty half
dollar was king (to me anyway).
Oh, the Franklin half dollars after 1948 were OK (money wise) but it was something special about
having one of the older and beautifully engraved coins in your possession.
For 50 cents, I could go to a show at the Rex Theater uptown on Main Street twice (admission was
only 9 cents) and each time, have enough left over to buy a drink and get a box of popcorn while
watching Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lash Larue, Wild Bill Elliott, or Johnny Mac Brown catch the bad
guys who ALWAYS wore black hats.
When we thought of old, anyone who was 50 was ancient. Of course we knew that being 100 was
truly old, but hey, how many 100 year olds were amongst us everyday? Having money was to have at
least 50 dollars -– knowing that only a few people had 100 dollars.
When your old wool sock had 50 marbles safely tucked away inside -- including your prized
shooter –- you had reached the big time. The 50 yard line in football, especially if we were playing
Florence, was the line to cross -- the barrier between you and your goal line prize ahead.
When we swam on swimming teams, we dreamed of winning the 50 meter race (one lap on a
regulation long course pool, or two laps on the 25 meter short course pool).
When our foreign stamp collection reached 50 stamps from far away and exotic places, we were on
top of the world. We felt like major leaguers when our baseball (or football) card collection
exceeded 50 cards. When we bought (or dug up) worms to go fishing with, if you had 50, you could
In the summer time, you had to catch at least 50 lightning bugs to make your lightning bug lamp
bright enough to read by. You were just a scaredy cat if you didn’t climb up at least 50 feet high in
a tree. If you could not hit a target or bottle at 50 feet with your sling shot, you were just no good.
You just knew that the day you could lift 50 pounds on the barbells at the YMCA, you would
All these things about 50 raced through my mind last Friday as I zoomed along the expressway on
my way to Sumter.
As the miles slipped by, I tried to reconcile in my mind how all this time had passed from when I
graduated from high school and now 50 years later, here I was going back -- going home so to speak.
I realized very clearly that I was going home -- in more ways than one. I was born in Sumter and in
the very house that I grew up in. Not only was that place, 410 Church Street, a real place, my home,
but Sumter in a larger way was also my home for it was there that I was not only introduced to
family and friends, but as time went by, the world at large far beyond the safety of my small
About 25 years ago (see, there we go again -- half of 50), I started formulating a theory about
people and how we all seem to eventually migrate towards home.
I call it the “Shrinking World Syndrome.”
My initial introduction to my new theory was presented to me by my mother over a period of
many years by a similar set of statements she proudly proclaimed. She still lived at home with her
brother Andrew at “410,” as it was always called by everyone who ever visited (or lived) there,
and with each visit home, I picked up on her views of the world around her.
“Russia, and them Communist, I could care less what they are doing!” Years later this was followed
by, “England, I could care less what the Queen wants to do.”
A few years later this was followed by, “Washington, I could care less what all them politicians
are up to … didn’t vote for any of them anyhow!” Years later this was followed by, “Columbia, I
could care less what that crowd over there at the statehouse is doing … don’t help me one bit.”
Soon, her view of the world had reached to only examine the local scene with proclamations like,
“Sumter, I could care less about what those folks in city hall think about roads …
they won’t even fix the hole in the road in front where I get my hair done!”
Near the end of her long and beautiful life, she had finally arrived at the point in her shrinking
world journey to only exclaim, “Andy, what’s for supper tonight?”
Home –- that magical and mysterious place that we all seem to eventually navigate towards -- had
become Mama’s only guidepost in life. Mama no longer knew of and/or had any interest in far away
places and events and even those of a closer level were no longer of any prime consideration. Her
entire lifelong adventure had evolved down to that one simple question that she asked her brother.
The closer I got to Sumter last week, the more I realized that I too was on the outer edge of the
world beyond me. Oh, I am still painfully aware of worldly events but in truth, their importance
to me is no longer what they used to be. I quite clearly see my path focusing in on those things
closer to home -- like family and friends and enjoying all those things that they provide.
My journey this weekend to reconnect with my past and home was brought into clear focus as I met
one of my oldest friends that I grew up with as I walked into the hotel in Sumter where a lot of us
Instant friendliness, trust, and respect swept over me as I greeted Sam Porter.
He and I had a lot of shared childhood memories of growing up together and exploring the world (as
we knew it) with no reservations whatsoever about what we might or might not see or experience. I
cannot begin to tell you all the ways we pushed at the envelope that surrounded us and tried to hold
us back as we grew up.
From making powerful pipe bombs, Cherry Bomb firecracker shotguns (shot 16 penny nails), super-
sizing home-made slingshots, taking chemistry set experiments to new heights, racing trains with
our bikes across train trestles, building box kites that were large enough to actually lift us off the
ground, setting fire to and burning the huge broom-straw field down by Riley Park at least 4 times
each summer, building short-wave radios and listening to stations from all over the world, and on
and on, we pushed hard.
I think what got us really interested in making big firecracker bombs and such was being introduced
to the awesome power and noise of dynamite when blowing up stumps down at Santee (30 miles
south of Sumter on Lake Marion) where my Uncle John was building a cabin on the lake in 1948 &
1949. To us wide-eyed kids, these were the best firecrackers yet.
Back then, South Carolina was probably the firecracker capital of the world (seemed so). You could
buy an enormous selection of powerful firecrackers, TNTs, Cherry Bombs and rockets big enough to
take a plane out of the sky -– it was just fantastic (to us boys anyway).
They were clearing the land next to Uncle John’s cabin and using quarter sticks of dynamite to blow
a stump up so they could hook a chain to it and drag it away with a tractor or a truck.
I guess they got tired of lighting the fuses and running like mad to get away because after seeing
us excitedly watching all that was going on, one of them asked, “You boys want to light a few?”
God -- did we ever! After blowing up all the remaining stumps, we were hooked on BIG firecrackers.
There we were -– all of 7, 8, and 9 years old -– lighting quarter sticks of dynamite and laughing and
running like hell and hiding behind a huge pine tree log lying on the ground.
I am quite sure that type of childhood activity would be frowned on today … :-)
Sam, my dear friend, it is an absolute miracle we made it (or that Sumter survived us)!
Soon, I was greeted by my oldest friend in the world, Ransom Cooper. I was born in and grew up in
my grandmother’s house. Ransom lived next door at his grandmother’s house. I thought for years
that everyone did this, that is, live with their grandparents.
I lived with my mother, father (for only a short time before he skipped town and ran off and
deserted us), brother and sister in the house with my Grandmother. Also living there was my uncles
Andrew, John, and Carl and also with my Aunt Ethel. Even though Uncle Carl died in 1945 and
Grandmother in 1952, “410” was still a busy place while I grew up.
In a sense I had four daddies (Daddy, Uncles Andrew & John, and my brother who was also active in
keeping my wild side in check until he went off and joined the Navy) and four mothers (Mama,
Grandmother, Aunt Ethel and my sister who still tries to boss me around) while growing up.
“410” was a focus, a magnet for family and friends. On Sundays, it was a zoo of people as more
aunts, uncles, and cousins (most of them also lived in Sumter) who came to see Grandmother. It
was the same next door with Ransom as his kin folks came to see Mamie, his Grandmother.
It was this environment that taught me the value of family and friends which has served me well all
the years since I graduated from high school. In fact, it became a cornerstone of one of my beliefs
that I tell anyone who will listen, that is, “In the end, the only thing that counts are family and
Soon others from our Class of 1960 showed up at the hotel and it was wonderful seeing everyone
and instantly sharing in friendships and stories of our times both at school and since then.
When Bob Sharpe showed up (he owns the hotel we were staying in), I asked him kiddingly, “Bob,
have you told your daughter (who works at the hotel) about all you did in high school?”
With that great smile of his, he looked at us and said, “Nooooooo.” Of course that brought on
threats to tell her ALL!
That night, we had our first official class function at the outdoor Pavilion at Swan Lake Gardens.
It was hot and very humid but we all seemed to bear it, drink a few cools ones, and just enjoy the
evening of getting reacquainted with those we had not seen in some cases, for 50 years.
As this evening wore on, I was amazed by two totally different things that I observed (not only
this night but the next night as well).
First, I realized that even 50 years does not erase childhood friendships and bonds with people.
Even though we might have been slow to immediately recognize someone -- let’s face it, 50 years
WILL change your looks a little bit -- we knew inside all was OK because we could see their eyes
and see friendship and even a glint of recognition.
As the evening wore on, I also noticed that more and more people had taken their name badges off,
gotten a pen and wrote their names in larger letters so we could all see the names better.
Anyway, once we had gotten past the recognition barrier, it seemed like we just took up where we
had left off the last time we talked or attended some event together, or sat silently together in
the Principal’s office, each awaiting our turn to explain either to Miss Ethel Burnett (assistant
principal) or Mr. Lyles, the principal, exactly what we had done (and why).
Stories and laughter filled the air all around me as I walked around and talked with so many people
from my past. I realized as the hours passed that the thing I mentioned earlier about the eyes was
dead on -- that the recognition of the person was the clearest when I looked them straight in the
eyes. When I did this, the rewards of old age -- extra weight, thinning hair, more wrinkles, etc. --
were totally erased. In the eyes, I only saw a person who was my friend.
It was funny though, as I watched how people went about getting close enough to read the name on
the badges. If you wore bi-focal glasses like me, you had to maneuver in close, then bend down, then
tilt your head back so you could read their name through the bottom of your lenses.
The second thing that I observed over both nights was how much so many conversations were about
events in our lives that occurred before we even reached high school.
In the several class reunions that I have attended in the past, the basic conversation at those
reunions were current to the point of yakking away only about things we did in high school, or since
then and most of those were centered on our jobs (most of us had not retired) and the pleasures
(and dramas) of having children and grandchildren.
Oh, a lot of these things were happily (and sadly at times) talked about at this reunion, but there
was another class of events that were discussed -- those that happened before we even made it to
dear old Edmunds High School.
Ernest Oxendine made that point crystal clear to me when he walked over to me and told me, “Mike,
show us where you just about cut your finger off in the 5th grade.”
We were doing some sort of art class thing where all of us eager 5th graders had been given
linoleum knives -- with razor sharp, 6-inch curved blades. We had to cut big pieces of linoleum up
into 12-inch squares so we could carve (gouge out with more razor sharp tools) a design into it, then
roll ink on top of it, then press paper onto the inked surface so it would transfer the image to
Can you IMAGE any school in America today passing out 6-inch knives to a 5th grade class? The
teacher would be fired and arrested on the spot. Anyway, this story led to others about what all
happened to us in grammar school.
Our grammar schools were three buildings on one huge lot in the middle of the city. There was the
Washington, Hampton, and Central Buildings -- dividing the grades up into the 1st and 2nd, 3rd and
4th, 5th and 6th grades respectively. We all shared one common playground and lunchroom. I carry
around with me to this day a physical reminder of that playground.
During recess one day in the 6th grade, my old pal Ransom snuck up behind me while I was getting a
drink of water from one of the fountains on the playground and whacked me on the back of the
head. “Crack” went one of my top two front teeth. Long story short, I have had a half-tooth cap on
that tooth every since.
The grammar school remembrances continued as we talked about how we’d save our quarters (for
lunch) and use them instead to go see movies at the Rex Theater uptown.
When school let out, it was a race to uptown (Main Street, just two blocks away) to get to the
theater, buy your ticket, get a drink and box of popcorn and then get to the front of the theater
first where there was just ONE seat on a row all by itself -- the closest seat to the screen.
Getting THIS seat meant you were king of the hill for the day. When the movie started, it made
you feel like you were in the movie -- that Tom Mix, or the Copperhead, or the Rocketman, or
Gene Autry, or Flash Gordon was talking to YOU. Being that close also gave you a pounding
headache, but who cared -- you helped the Durango Kid capture the bank robbers.
Sometimes, when horror movies were playing -- like Frankenstein, Dracula, or the Wolfman -- it
would get so scary that we would run out of the theater and go across the street to the Sumter
Theater and see whatever was playing over there. Sometimes we paid, and some times we had to
sneak past the ticket taker at the concession stand because we had no more money.
The one movie that scared us the most was one released in 1951 -- “The Thing.” Getting home that
day after the show was over was the hardest ever -- we just knew that he was going to pop out
from behind a bush or tree somewhere at any moment and get us. I don’t think any of us stepped
outside after dark for at least a week or two.
I remember one conversation a group of us had about what happened during our first days in the
first grade. What we were remembering was that some of us had already learned to read and
write (usually taught by our grandmothers). Because of this, we could not understand why we had
to learn how to draw block letters on the funny ruled paper (dashed line between the top and
bottom lines to help you draw letters like b, d, p, etc). Not only that, but all of us talking about
this made us remember that we could also write cursive.
My grandmother taught me how to read and write long before I went into the first grade. In fact,
I can not remember NOT being able to read and write. By the time I started school, I just
assumed that all my classmates could do so as well. I learned real quick that was not the case.
Seems funny now, but back then there was probably just four or five of us (in my class) that
could do that (read/write) at the start of the 1st grade. Now days, kids have 1-4 years of
pre-school under their belts by the time they reach the 1st grade, all of them are capable of
reading and writing on day one -- and still play video games on computers or the PlayStation 10
times better than I can. My grandkids make me look like I was born with 4 left thumbs and have
just 3 fingers when it comes to playing video games. Smarty pants!
Other conversations at the Pavilion Friday night turned to junior high school. By the way, by the
time we did go to McLaurin Junior High, another grammar school in west Sumter had been built --
Alice Drive School -- and some of our former friends (had been transferred from Central or
Hampton to Alice Drive) and new friends joined us for our wild ride through the 7th, 8th, and
The one major thread of discussion in our conversations about McLaurin Junior High School was
something I have always called the “Tiller Effect.”
Mr. Tiller was the Phys-Ed teacher and handled all the discipline handed out to students who were
unlucky enough to meet his method of punishment -- feeling his 3-foot long, 5-inch wide, ¼ inch
thick paddle whacking across their back ends!
Lord have mercy -- that man kept all of us towing the line. All a teacher had to do was just mention
to a student of being sent to see “Mr. Tiller” and the student immediately (99% of the time)
watched his manners and the situation was over in seconds.
What bothered me the most was the fact that this man was my blood kin -- cousin no less. Didn’t
matter -- cousin or not -- me and the paddle met on more than one occasion in my three years
Can you imagine that sort of disciple method being used in schools today? Too bad it’s not -- might
cut down on a lot of trouble caused by unruly kids. All I know is that the Tiller Effect kept all us
Another thing that popped up in our remembrances about junior high school was going out to the
old Sumter airport (grass -- no paved runways) and flying. The airport used to be right by
Guignard Drive (was a dirt road past the airport) and the area now is just a huge sub-division of
houses and tall pine trees.
Back then, several folks in town had old bi-planes at the airport and one person in particular used
to let us go up with him.
Not only that, but while we were up and just flying along, he would say, “Put your feet on the
pedals and see what it feels likes when we turn.” Of course, being the brave 12 year olds that we
were, we jumped at the chance to do it. After a while he would say, “OK, now put you hand on the
stick and feel what that feels like when we turn.”
Even though we knew he was still in control, the sensations we felt were wonderful. After a while
with us flying though the air with our hands on the control stick and our feet on the pedals he
would throw up his hands and yell out, “OK, you've got it -- she’s all yours!”
God -- instant panic and excitement at the same time. But amazingly enough, within seconds we felt
at ease and kept the plane flying on a fairly level flight path. Turning was scary at first but with
his gentle but firm voice telling us what to do, he eased us into a slow turn and allowed us to really
experience the thrill of flying though the air.
“Can we land the plane?” “NO, NO, NO!” was the immediate answer. When that question was asked
(every time we went up after that), he knew it was time to take back control of the plane.
12 years old and flying a WWI or WWII era bi-plane -- we were captains of the skies. We only
puttered along at about 50/60 miles an hour but we were positive that we could keep up with
I realized years later why he (our benevolent pilot) always told us, “Now boys, don’t breathe a word
of this to your parents -- it’s our little secret.” If the town elders had known that one of its
upstanding citizens was letting 12-year old kids fly bi-planes over Sumter they would have ridden
him out of town on a rail. “Thanks, Xxxx … we never told a soul.”
By the time of our final year there was coming to a close, we began to have mixed feeling about
what was ahead of us -- high school. At McLaurin, and in the 9th grade, we were kings and queens of
the hill -- we were the seniors, so to speak and did our best to boss around all the 7th and 8th
graders. Life was good.
As time ran out, we realized that yes, we were absolutely thrilled and excited about going to HIGH
SCHOOL, but we were also going to be once again, low man on the totem pole. We would be lowly
sophomores and would most likely, be on the receiving end of the pecking order harassments dealt
out by our upper classmen.
One of the things some of us remembered thinking about or worrying about at McLaurin was
whether or not our Latin Teacher, Miss Mallard, would ever get a new dress. All any of us ever
remember was her wearing her green dress from around April to October, and her black dress
from November to March. She was a wonderful, caring, and dedicated teacher who tried her best
to make us fall in love with Latin and to see its beauty and how much it had influenced the language
we use even to this day. We also thought that she probably had the same problem getting Julius
Caesar to learn Latin... :-)
By the end of our final 50th Class Reunion event on Saturday night, I had been amazed at how many
stories were told, shared, relived, etc., which were NOT about our high school years but were about
our grammar and middle school years. I know I have said this before but it bears repeating.
It made me realize how in lots of ways that we were all on some sort of going home journey -- that
we were reaching all the way back in our memories to those things that meant home, safety, and
trouble free good times.
We talked about how we used to roam all over town, either on foot or by bicycles before we finally
reached 14 -- yes 14 years old -- when we could get our driver licenses. We roamed, explored, and
never once ever worried about our safety. We would ride our bikes all the way out to Poinsett State
Park, 18 miles away, just to swim for one hour. I walked to school every day until I reached
What is amazing (to me at least) is that we all grew up in a small geographical circle that was
basically just 10 miles across.
During the school year, our whole universe was basically centered around being only about 5 miles or
less at any given time from the center of town. All of our shopping, our schools, our churches,
playgrounds, homes, restaurants, hang outs -- everything -- was inside that circle.
When you went west on Broad Street and passed Clayton Lowder’s store there in the forks of the
road (one to Camden, one to Shaw Field), you had just about reached the edge of our known
universe in that direction. Except for Alice Drive up a few blocks distance coming over and meeting
the highway now to Shaw Field, it was just farm land.
Friday night when I went to the cookout over at the Pavilion, Sam Porter rode with me and we drove
back into town, pass Alice Drive and towards where Cole’s Drive-in Restaurant used to be at the
corner of Broad and Bultman Streets because we wanted to turn there to get over to Liberty
Street where Swan Lake was located.
When we were in high school, there was almost nothing on either side of the road between Cole’s
and Clayton Lowder's store. However, there was one place along there that was of significant
interest to all of us young teenage drivers -- the Sky-View Drive-in Movie Theater. What else
can I say…?
Bottom line, it was the largest lover’s lane in Sumter, next to the back side of the drive-up sheds
behind Cole’s. Oh, there were a few other spots here and there around town, but these two places
were safe and best of all, the police left us alone. If they found us parked other places, they’d
run us off.
Speaking of farmland, they were building the US 76 By-pass around Sumter in the summer of
56 -- the year I got my drivers license. On the very first day, one hour after I had gotten it, I
was on an old dirt road that used to go by the Sky-View Drive-In over to Pike Street. This was a
paved road that ran between the Camden highway next to Clayton Lowder's store all the way over
to North Main Street.
Cutting right through the middle of the old plowed cornfields near Pike Street was where they
were building the By-pass parallel to Pike. When I tried to drive through all the mess, I had to
actually drive out into a field to get around something blocking the road. Big mistake -- Mama’s
tank heavy old Oldsmobile bottomed out and sank in the field and we (six of us in the car) were
stuck in the mud up to our hubcaps like you would not believe.
One hour -- one hour with a brand new drivers license and STUCK in the middle of a stupid
cornfield. Thank God Bob Abbott just happened to come along with his jeep and with a rope,
pulled us out of the mud. Thanks Bob, you saved the day.
Everyone in town looked out for us -- other parents, neighbors, even the police. Before we could
get home (if we had been doing something we shouldn't have been doing), our parents already knew
about it and were at the door waiting on us.
None of us really remembered ever having (getting) a brand new bicycle. Oh, it might have looked
new (someone had painted it for Christmas) but other than that and for all the rest of the bikes we
owned, we just scrounged around town and got parts of bikes from trash heaps, thrown by the
roadside, whatever, and set about making our own bikes.
We painted our new creations to make it look like it all came together -- complete with playing
cards clothespined to the fender supports of the wheels so the cards would flap against the spokes
when the wheel turned and sounded like a motor. The more cards you had attached, the louder
I remember one year someone in our neighborhood, Mike Gilchrist, I think came up with some
playing cards that were heavily coated -- almost like plastic. Lord, his bike sounded like a
motorcycle when he got it going fast.
Yes, the stories and remembrances pulled on us, drawing us back to times long gone but surely
On Saturday morning, I enjoyed talking with some of our other classmates who came over to the
hotel I was staying in to join us for some coffee and doughnuts. The class reunion committee had
worked very hard on this reunion since it was spread out over two days. This morning's
get-together was one of the nice touches they had added to our event.
Afterwards, I set out on my own and just wandered all around Sumter. I left the Comfort Inn
there on Broad Street where we were staying, headed towards town and then took Alice Drive
this time back over to Liberty Street by Swan Lake where our cookout was held the night before.
As I passed by Miller Road and saw all the houses there now on the left side of the road where
the old airport was, I fondly remembered those days so long ago when we soared with the eagles
in a beat up (but beautiful) old bi-plane.
I was headed for Sumter Cemetery over on Oakland Avenue when I passed by the fairgrounds
area there on Liberty Street and alongside Artillery Drive. Seeing some of the old buildings there
made me remember all the great times we all had every fall when the Sumter County Fair came
alive. I can still smell the hamburgers, hot dogs, popcorn, and French fries being cooked in all the
food pavilions ran by local clubs, like the Elks, Lions, etc.
The midway area during the fair was the closest thing to present-day Disney World as you could get
with all the bright lights, rides, shows, and fast food to munch on. On some occasions all the
wonderful aromas from the midway food places battled with the smells coming from all the
livestock pens close by, but what the heck -- it was the fair -- just added to the charm, I guess.
Speaking of shows, we (not mentioning any names, you understand) were forever trying to sneak into
the adult shows on the midway that had all the pretty women on display out front. By today’s
standards, these events (shows) would almost be considered tame but in 1948, 1949, and the early
1950s -- wow -- the hoochy-coochy girls got the blood boiling. To my knowledge, none of us ever
got caught... :-)
During our high school years, the football stadium was also located here. God, it was old when we
used it -- I have no idea how long it had been there. It didn’t matter because on Friday nights when
our fantastic football team, the Gamecocks, hit the playing field, it was a rocking, roaring fun place
I can still see and hear our great marching band out on the field -- strutting around, playing great
music -- all the while we cheered them on from high in the stands and enjoyed the show.
Football nights were great. They were the final release in the build up of tensions and excitement
that in some cases, had been building for weeks. Pep rallies, parades, home comings, going there
single and leaving with a date, sneaking smokes under the stands, yelling, kissing, holding hands -- it
had it all.
As I drove on by the fairgrounds on my way to the cemetery, I couldn’t believe how many of these
old memories of this place had flooded my mind. I had been by here many times since I left Sumter
but never had I had such feelings of fond remembrances of the fairgrounds. I guess it was all
because of the reunion this year as it was already affecting me in ways that I had never felt
before. Go Gamecocks!
After visiting my mother’s grave in the cemetery, I drove on into town on Oakland and when I
reached Main Street, I was flooded with memories of the Overhead Bridge there (used to cross
over the huge expanse of railroad tracks there). That was the only hill in Sumter and man, could you
be flying on a bike after starting off from the top.
As I headed north on Main street, I was struck by how much it had changed and at the same time,
(in a lot of places, ways) not changed at all in 50 years.
Fifty years ago, we lined the streets for various parades during the year, including big school pep
rally parades. Christmas time was magical when the city (fire department because they had the
ladders) climbed up on all the street poles and hung strands of huge (60 watt size) colored lights
across the streets.
I fell in love with outdoor Christmas lights the first time I saw them. Uncle John was a City
Fireman and an electrician. The first time he took me uptown to see the lights right after they had
turned them on, I was mesmerized by how it all looked. All the beautiful lights were strung across
Main and Liberty Streets like strings of popcorn or lights on the Christmas tree back at the
house -- twinkling brightly in the dark sky above the streets. I was hooked.
Thirty years later, when I moved into my present house, I used to put up about a 100,000 lights out
in my yard at Christmas time. The effort to do that was great and wonderfully rewarding for about
18 years but by then, it was getting harder and harder to do each year. One advantage of getting
old is being able to stop doing crazy things like that and blame it on a bad back! Sorry, Santa.
As I passed Liberty Street (Liberty/Main intersection is dead center of Sumter), I immediately
missed the old Dixie Life building that stood there when we all came along. It was only about 13
stories tall, but it looked close enough to all the tall skyscrapers we saw in the movies across the
street at the Rex Theater, or a few doors down at the old Sumter Theater (now the Opera House).
Some of us talked Friday night about how exciting it was to go uptown on Saturdays when we were
growing up. Lord, you could not move, it was so crowded. People were everywhere and I guess maybe
it was because a lot of the old time habits were still in place, that is, “You go to town on Saturday
to get your supplies.”
The sights and sounds back then were exhilarating and magical almost. People talking, laughing,
scurrying about in and out of stores like the Capital, Brodys, Belks, and Sumter Dry Goods, etc.,
with big shopping bags clutched in their hands, car horns blowing, horse or mule drawn carts
plodding by at times, trucks grinding by in low gear -- the whole scene almost like some sort of
traveling show that hit town with a bang.
It was even that way when my mother was young. She loved to tell all of us about going to town on
Saturday in the early 20s and getting to drive the car there. The policeman who stood in the middle
of the Main/Liberty Street intersection directing all the traffic would see her coming, throw up his
hands to stop cars, and blow his whistle and holler out, “Watch out, here comes a loose car!”
I tried to imagine what that must have looked and sounded like this past weekend as I continued on
my drive up Main Street. As I approached Hampton Ave, I thought about how we not only drove the
soda fountain clerks crazy at Lawson's Drugstore, but those folks at Seaco Music Store a little
further down and across from Law Range Street. Why buy the records when you stay there for
hours and try out (listen to) all the latest music?
When I reached Calhoun Street, I turned left to go past Tuomey Hospital and on over to
Washington Street. My Uncle Hugh (Humphries) ran a Gulf Oil filling station there on the corner
of Main and Calhoun while I was growing up and it was where I bought all my gas for Mama’s 1948
Oldsmobile that I finally got to drive officially when I turned 14.
I had been driving it since I was 10 years old when she would send me to the open air market over
on Main Street just four blocks from our house. “Boy, don’t you go racing in my car, you hear me?”
“Yes, Mama.” :-)
The Hill brothers, Danny and Michael, that lived on the other side of me there at “410” were always
building pieces of motorized crap -- stripped down to the absolute basic frame that was just barely
able to hold a motor, axles, transmission, and gas tank. I say crap but to them, and to those of us
who rode on them or drove them -- they were works of art.
The final one that was built had something that looked like a two seat couch bolted to the frame
for something to sit on. Michael had found it somewhere (probably on the side of the road
somewhere) and was beaming when he drug it home and mounted it. I can still see him grinning from
ear to ear with his blond crew-cut hair blowing in the wind as he sat up high on that seat and
roared up and down Church Street to test it out.
Between all the trips to the market, messing with the striped down cars, us driving them, then
driving cars and trucks down on all the dirt roads at Santee -- including speeding around and
pulling at the end of a 25 foot rope tied to the car, a 1940 Ford hood that was turned up side down
and had one or more of us riding in it, hanging on for dear life as we spun around curves while
yelling our heads off -- we were seasoned drivers by the time we turned 14 and could get a license.
It’s a miracle we saw our 15th birthday.
Thinking about the really crazy thing we did with riding around the dirt roads at Santee and pulling
a car hood with riders holding on to it made me think of another adventure a lot of us had while in
I learned how to water ski not on a calm lake, but out in the ocean at Edisto Beach while being
pulled by boat driven Jay Palmer.
Jay’s family owned a beach house there and had of course, a boat. His favorite stunt was to get us
up and running wide open as we zoomed across the water past the beach front and then quickly pull
the throttle back to neutral.
As you can guess, our forward speed dropped like a rock and we would start sinking into the ocean.
Just as we were about to completely stop moving, he would slam the throttle all the way forwards
and the boat would roar off with us -- if you were NOT expecting it -- being jerked right out of our
skis and being dragged behind the boat while Jay and the others in the boat with him laughed their
All my Edisto skiing came to a halt one year when I watched two of our friends demonstrate what
not to do while skiing in salt water marsh areas.
We were skiing back on Big Bay Creek near the boat marina and Ruck Siddal was being pulled fast
around a sharp circle -- boat turns quickly and you go flying out and around in a big arc and really
start picking up additional speed -- when it happened.
Before anyone could react, a very small fishing boat came out from a side creek and boom, Ruck hit
the boat and went flying head first over it and went tumbling across the water like you were
skipping a rock across a lake. He left behind him a boat sinking with both of his skis embedded in
the side of the boat and the startled fishermen scrambling to save their little boat.
The other incident was similar in the beginning -- fast sling around after turning the boat sharply --
but this time, it was someone else and he lost control, broke away from the ski rope and went
tumbling across the water. Unlike Ruck who had ended up in deep water and basically OK, this
person ended his tumbling act by landing smack dab on top of an old (dead) oyster bed.
I do not need to describe to you what he looked like after that -- other than it was very painful and
bloody. The oyster bed skier was Allen Wooten from Camden who stayed down at Edisto all
My ocean skiing days were done that weekend -- I decided right then I’d stick to driving cars on
dirt roads. It still amazes me why I thought at the time, that riding around in the hood of 1940
Ford tied behind a speeding car on a dirt road was safer than water skiing at Edisto.
Anyway, I can remember buying gas at Uncle Hugh’s station for just 18 cents a gallon. Remember
the earlier discussion I had about 50 -- well 50 cents bought almost 3 gallons of gas. With 3 gallons
of gas, we could cruise all night. More on that later.
All of us who had an occasion to visit Tuomey Hospital back in the 50s would never recognize the
place now. The hospital was started in 1904 and named Tuomey in 1913. Where as the old hospital
looked like all the old pictures of beautiful buildings built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the one
there now is huge (covers several city blocks) and looks like all the other large, institutional and
boring looking buildings we seem to be in favor of building now.
In a lot of ways, I felt like I was raised in Tuomey. My mother was the head nurse and the 11-7
supervisor at Tuomey the entire time I was growing up (and on to 1972 when she retired).
Dicks Cone and I were talking about that Saturday night when he said he could remember his daddy
(Dr. Cone) saying, “It was no big deal if the hospital called at night for him but if Alma Bailey called,
you (any doctor) had better get yourself over there without ANY delay!”
If there was ever an angel that walked this earth, my mother was one. But, when she had her
starched white, head nurse/supervisor cap on, whew boy -- watch out -- she could make grown
On the weekends, after a date or just cruising around, I always had to drop by the Emergency Room
(where she swears she spent 95% of her time) and show her, tell her I was OK.
Do you know how hard it is to hide the fact from a trained professional on drunks that you have
been drinking beer (as an underage teenager)? That and smoking -- I swear Mama could smell
cigarette smoke a thousand feet away.
One of the biggest lies I ever tried to tell her and got caught at -- about why I was in the
Emergency Room for treatment -- was when I had been hit in the eye with a turkey egg. It was
Halloween night and we were riding around in town in the open back of a big truck that someone
had borrowed and we were having egg fights with others just as crazy as we were.
There were at least 10 cars and trucks roaming all over Sumter filled with kids and LOTS of eggs
to throw. Many egg battles ensued -- as we were determined to not end the evening with any eggs
left over. Oh, did I forget to mention that one of our illustrious egg throwers had came up with the
brilliant idea earlier that day to go out to the turkey farm there near Pocalla Springs and get some
BIG eggs -- turkey eggs?
Well, someone had seen us go out there and by nightfall, everybody had turkey eggs to throw. I got
hit in the right eye about midnight and it was bad enough -- broken shell pieces in my eye -- that my
team took me to the hospital. All the way there, I tried to think of what to tell my mother because
I just knew she would be in the Emergency Room when I got there.
Sure enough, she was and the lie that came out was something like, “We were at this party, and ah,
we were playing this game, and, ah you throw an egg up in the air, and ah, you try to catch...” “Boy,
don’t you lie to me, I have already cleaned out two other of your friend’s eyes and the police said
they were in a stupid egg fight!”
Lord, who knows how many eggs were thrown that night. Just our truck had about 25 dozen (were
very cheap, by the way). Anyway, that little escapade caused me to be grounded (no going out in car)
for two weeks. Do you know what that means -- NO CAR -- to a high school student?
After I passed by Tuomey, I turned right on Washington and went on out around the curve (where
Broad Street starts) and then turned down Church Street to go by the old homestead.
Some things don’t change. Ahead of me I could see Riley Ball Park five blocks away and in my rear
view mirror four long blocks behind me, I could see Trinity Methodist Church where I went to
church. When I was growing up, being able to see that far up and down Church Street was
comforting to me for some reason.
When I was very young, one of the most exciting things that happen in my small corner of the world
was the nights that they played baseball at the park. I would sit out on the front porch in the swing
with Grandmother and we would just sit there and watch the steady stream of cars parade up and
down Church Street.
Not only that, but dozens of people walked to the game on the sidewalks alongside the street so
there was a combined treat of people and cars to look at. When the game was over (they started
near twilight time), all the cars came back up Church Street with their lights on. It was almost like
a parade of sorts, least ways, it felt and looked that way to me.
I realized later in my life, that those warm summer nights in Sumter watching all those cars and
people parading by is what gave me the life long bug, or the still cherished desire, if you will, to just
sit somewhere, prop my feet up and just watch all the stuff going on around me.
Thank you Grandmother for another special gift you gave me to cherish all my life.
Church Street, for some reason in the 40s, was paved differently in the 400 block -- that section
that ran right in front of “410.” What was so special about it was that it was paved with the
smoothest, purest black tar you have ever seen. No rocks, no gravel, no cracks -- just one long,
almost shinny road -- that was a roller skater's paradise.
Kids came from everywhere to skate on OUR street. In the summer, the City Police would come and
barricade the street off between Crescent and Pine Streets at least one night a week for several
hours. Some nights, they might be a 100 people out there skating and having a great time.
Skates back then were the type you clamped to the bottom of your shoes and had metal wheels
mounted on ball bearing shafts attached to a metal frame that fit under your shoe.
The number one disaster that could befall you, any king or queen of fancy footwork skating, was to
loose your skate key. If you lost that magical device that tightens the skate clamps to your shoes,
you were a dead duck -- out of business. Most of us had the key secured around our necks with a
strip of leather. Bone fide leather bootlaces were the favorite choice to hold the keys around
I figure I must have skated a million miles it seems, on that beautiful one block section of Church
Street. We went though sets of wheels like crazy. The metal wheels were OK but nothing like the
wheels out today for skates or skateboards.
It was great when the street was blocked off and we didn’t have to dodge the cars. When the
street was not blocked off, the majority of those cars that did go by was aware of all the skaters
and slowed down. When delivery trucks came by, we’d sneak up behind them and hold on to the
bumpers and go flying down the street.
Anyway, after turning off Broad Street and driving down Church Street, I noticed two things as I
arrived in front of my old home. One, the 400 block of Church Street was no longer that creamy
smooth, black tar street like it was when I grew up.
The second thing that I noticed that tugged at my heart was that my old home, “410,” just sits
there now all boarded up (has been for over 10 years) and look so lonely.
It seems like it was but just a few years ago that it was alive and humming -- full of people laughing,
joking, and enjoying great meals and saying either goodbye or hello because someone was ALWAYS
coming or going at that place. Mama always called it “Grand Central Station” because it literally was
in motion 24/7.
With her and two brothers and one sister plus us kids, and the hours they worked, someone literally
was coming or going just about any time of the day or night. It was around 1975 before the first
lock was ever installed on the front door of “410”.
For almost 100 years, it had been kept closed (locked) with one of those tiny bow-tie looking metal
things like maybe found on a cabinet door out in your garage somewhere. Uncle Andrew used to say
kiddingly, “Why lock it, anybody trying to break in is just going to run into one of us leaving.”
I could write a story about “410” -- there are so many things to say about it. Actually, I am writing
a book about it -- just working on it now and then when I get time.
Anyway, I felt sad stopped there in front of the old house and just staring at it -- like looking
at a long lost but very close friend. One of the three majestic live oak trees in the front yard is
now nothing but just a gigantic huge stump. I guess old age, rot, and strong winds finally caught up
I finally drove off and turned right at Crescent Street and then onto Peach Street. All along here
to the right (houses here now) was just open land (tall grass, bushes, tiny trees) that ran alongside
Rowland Ave between Peach and Pear Streets one block over when we were growing up. This was
prime cave digging dirt -– soft, sandy, easy to dig and tunnel through.
I had heard many years ago that back in the 70s or somewhere along in there, people had come to
build houses on this property and where mystified as to why one of their bulldozers fell into a deep
hole and could not figure out how it (hole) came to be there. OOPS!
What they didn’t know was that 20 years earlier, we had dug one of our many cave rooms in that
field -- maybe 6-8 feet deep, 10 feet square, complete with a wooden roof, tar paper, and dirt and
grass on the top to hide it. As time went by, I guess we just forgot about it until that fateful day
when the bulldozer found it and dropped head first down into the hole. Oh well, sorry about that.
Hey, we were just 10 or 11 when we dug those holes -- what did we know about safety?
Continuing on with my odyssey back in time, I turned left on Rowland, went over to Broad Street,
turned right and headed out to where Big Jim’s Drive-in Restaurant used to be near the corner of
Broad Street and Miller Drive.
Cruising in cars -– the weekend ritual during the school year and just about every night in the
summer time -– driving from Big Jim’s parking lot out to Cole’s at the corner of Bultman Drive and
Broad Street, around the building there and then back to Big Jim’s.
The roundtrip was only about two miles in length but Lord, what a trip.
When I got out to the place where Big Jim’s used to be (some new restaurant is there now), I
turned in and drove around the building and then came back out to Broad and headed on out to
where Cole’s used to be (some drugstore is there now).
As I drove along, I thought about the 50 cent I mentioned earlier and the price of gas when we
were growing up. I figured out if Mama’s old Oldsmobile got about 16 miles to a gallon, that would
have been good for about 8 roundtrips and since 50 cent bought almost 3 gallons of gas, I figured
that must have been good for at least 25 or so roundtrips between the two greatest teenage
hangouts ever in business.
What a deal -- what a deal!
During our high school days, there were just four basic places in Sumter to hang out, be seen, hook
up, or just be there.
The first was Lawson’s Drugstore uptown on the corner of Main and Hampton Ave. We all became
certified drugstore cowboys. I never was sure how or where that phrase was coined (long before
the 1989 movie of the same name) but we liked it and it suited our needs perfectly.
Next, during the week, it was at the Canteen (run by the city I guess) over on Salem Ave and just
for teenagers. Twice a week we got to dance, meet each other, listen to music, whatever.
Then there were the TWO parking lots -- complete with metal sheds, car hops, tray tables, music,
etc. One was at Big Jim’s and the other one at Cole’s.
The more you cruised, the more you saw and were seen.
We knew everybody and everybody knew us. Any stranger than happened on the scene stood out like
a sore thumb. If stares could kill or hurt you, they’d be hollering for help. In a way, it made all ofus
feel safe, I guess -- we never felt threaten by a constant stream of strangers or outsiders as
things are today.
I don’t care if you've lived in Sumter for the past 70 years, if you went out to say where the
drugstore is now where Cole’s used to be and just sat there in the parking lot all one Saturday, I’d
bet you would only see maybe two people that you knew out of the hundreds that would come
Yes, we were lucky, Class of 1960 -- we had the best of times right at our finger tips.
The Korean War was over, Elvis was King, it was only 90 miles to the beach, and a place called
Vietnam was on no one’s list of places in the world they would like to see. And things like drugs -- all
we knew was hearing about people up in New York City that did drugs (what kind, we had no clue and
did not care). Heck, all we cared about was maybe sneaking a smoke and trying to sip a few beers on
Anyway, as I rode around Saturday between the old Big Jim’s and Cole’s parking lots, I was flooded
with wave after wave of memories of dates with old girlfriends (still beautiful, by the way) and
cruising, or just out with the boys when we went out cruising trying to hook up, have fun, sneak a
beer or two, get out and check out the latest things we had done to our cars, and just all around
have a good time.
I also remembered the City Police which watched over all us and kept us in line, and made sure we
towed the line and overall, stayed safe. They were always nice, took care of us and all, but we all
knew that if we stepped over the line like getting caught speeding or drag racing around town, the
full weight of the law was going to come crashing down on our dumb tails.
As I drove along Broad Street, I remembered a lot of us out on the US 76 By-pass around Sumter
drag racing and trying to see if we could beat either Bob Abbott’s 1955 Buick or Zack McCoy’s
Oldsmobile. Bob swore that his Buick was just stock, straight of the showroom floor! Yeah, sure
Those memories made me think about the SC Highway Patrolman who also looked after us --
teaching us things like, “Keep your speed relative to those around you, meaning, if they are doing
50, don’t be a dumb ass going 20 or 80, etc.”
He’d usually show up out at Cole’s and would walk around and chat with us. Between him and the City
Police, we spent many a moment hiding stuff in the car like cigarettes and beer. Anyway, he
honestly cared about us and was always trying to give us driving tips on how to drive safely and not
do dumb things that would get us killed, etc.
I can still hear him telling us, while talking about having the right-of-way when driving, “Boy, it’s
dumb to be DEAD Right!” What he was trying to tell all us know-it-alls was that just because we had
the right-of-way, it didn’t mean that we did not have to LOOK to see if someone was ignoring it and
getting ready to run into our dumb asses.
I have told many people over the years how he probably single handedly saved all of us back then
from getting our dumb, know it all, speeding smart asses killed out on his highway.
Several years ago, Deanna and I were on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean and I was seated in
one of the hot tubs on the pool deck and enjoying the hot bubbling waters and a few cool ones while
I listened to the pool band playing some great Caribbean beach music. Anyway, other people joined
me in the tub and soon we where all chatting away about where we were from, our high school
Somewhere in the middle of all this, I was telling the story I referred to above about the
wonderful highway patrolman who had unknowingly, probably saved all of our asses back them
from killing ourselves in stupid wrecks. As I was talking, the lady next to me gently tapped my arm
with her finger and when I looked at her, she told me with her eyes to look across from me at
the man on the other side of the hot tub.
Sitting across from me was a man quietly crying who had just a few minutes earlier, been smiling
and laughing out loud at something someone had said. I immediately quit talking and asked him, “Sir,
are you all right … do you need any help?”
After a few seconds, he nodded his head no and said very quietly, “That man you are talking about
was my father and you are the first person I have ever met that verified the stories I had heard all
my life about how he cared for and tried to help all the kids along the route he patrolled.”
I was dumbfounded -- I didn’t know what to say. I finally told him that he should be very proud of
his father because I could attest very clearly that he indeed saved a lot of us from becoming
another story on the front page of the Sumter or State newspapers.
When it happened, the tub encounter, I was totally blown away how the threads of our lives
sometime cross paths with others in ways that seem to defy the odds.
Here I was in a dumb hot tub on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean Sea telling a story
about something that happened almost 50 years ago in a tiny town in the middle of South Carolina
and the main player of the story turns out to be the father of the man sitting across from me in
the hot tub.
Maybe it was supposed to be that way, I mean, us there together so he could hear something he had
searched for all his life.
A horn blowing loudly in the lane next to me on Broad Street brought me back to my senses. Some
kids (boy and girl, no helmets on) on a motorcycle were just sitting there after the light had
changed and were arguing about something and not moving and the car behind them had run out of
patience. Oh well, some things never change.
I made one more pass around the old Big Jim’s place and then headed back out to the hotel. We had
a sit down dinner planned for us out at the Sumter Sunset Country Club later that afternoon and I
wanted to rest up a bit (and have a few cool ones) before I went.
While sitting there in the hotel room with my feet propped up on the window sill, I drank a few
beers and just stared out the window at the traffic going towards and from Shaw Field.
50 years, I kept thinking -- 50 years had gone by so fast. Then I realized that for most of us (in
the class of 1960), this was not our 50th reunion but in a way, our 62nd because a lot of us had
done all 12 grades together. Note to Marian and Cissy -- maybe we ought to have a 63rd 1st grade
reunion next year?
See what happens when you sit in a hotel room by yourself and drink beer?
Later on that afternoon, I rode out to the dinner at the Country Club with Ransom. Not only was he
my oldest friend, but he was also my best man at my wedding 48 years ago. I can still hear him
laughing and telling me (in the ante room there in the church in Asheville, NC while I smoked one
cigarette after another), “You can quit right now … walk right out that door … you can escape!” I
will be forever grateful that I did not take his advice.
The Class of 1960 reunion committee had outdone themselves this year. Marian, Cissy, Jay, John,
and others -– they all went above and beyond the call of duty to make this reunion our best. The
setting was perfect and everything was wonderful. It was great seeing everyone cleaned up a bit
(not quite as casual as was our cookout attire). All the ladies were beautiful and the same smiles and
twinkling eyes that drove all of us boys crazy 50 years ago were still doing their magic.
One sobering thing that caught my eye right after we entered the club was a small display set up
very discreetly but respectfully on a table we all had to walk past. There on a stand, was a list of
all of our Class of 1960 classmates who had passed away.
Forty two names were on that list. Seeing those names and remembering all of them back in high
school brought tears to my eyes. Some were very young and died in tragic accidents while others
died later in life from natural causes and/or cancer of one type or another.
Either way, they were physically gone from our lives but with the power of memories, each of them
will live on as we see and hear them in our minds. They are not forgotten -- they are remembered
and loved by all of us.
The room where we all came together for dinner and dancing was huge. There were a lot of very
large round tables set up and then over to the side were a wet bar (cash -- no freebies this night)
all set up and some tables used for the music that was playing. With each dinner table set for eight
people per table, lots of storytelling, laughing and joking was in full swing.
Even with all the tables, dozens of people were standing up talking and/or wandering around from
table to table and catching up on things with old classmates. One of the topics that I heard more on
tonight versus the night before was on the subject of teachers.
I think the one thing I have remembered constantly over the years since leaving high school was
Miss Osteen (English) getting on us about what we did as a person and that “A first impression is a
lasting impression.” As the years rolled by and I wandered around in my adult life, I saw first hand
and was affected by those words so many times.
Most of the times, I was for the better for it -- great friendships formed, deals were made on the
spot, was chosen for rank or advancement and increased responsibilities and leadership, etc. -- all
came my way because of the first impression that I had made on someone or group. Sadly, and true
to Miss Osteen’s lasting words, some first impression of me hurt me or caused things to lets just
say, “Start off on the wrong foot.”
Even though I have always tried to conduct myself in a gentlemanly or professional way, I have
never tried to go out of my way to make someone like me, or do something I do not normally do just
to make someone like me. I can remember closing my eyes one night when I was about 10 years old
and saying to myself, “I like who I am.”
Every night since then, I have been able to say that. To that end I have always said, and anyone who
knows me can attest to it, “My name is Mike Bailey and if you like me for who I am, that is great. If
not, I could care less.”
Thank you Miss Osteen, for always, and I mean constantly, trying to give us the words, the tools to
help shape our character as we approached adulthood.
I remember the first day I walked into Miss Catherine Bass’s Latin class. As she went through the
class roster -- saying the names, looking at the student that answered up -- she paused when she
got to my name and then said, “Your brother wouldn't be Storm Bailey, would it?”
When I answered yes, her eyes frowned up real tight as she said, “Oh Lord, another one.”
I was immediately flooded with two thoughts. First, I was tickled to death that she had compared
me to my big brother -- my first real hero (in my eyes). Then it dawned on me, I was probably going
to be in for a rough time in her class.
She was on me like a June bug on a cabbage plant from day one. She just assumed I was going to be
as disruptive that I had heard that my brother had been when he passed by her way (class) years
ago. I guess Mama had finally heard enough how Miss Bass was constantly dinging me about things I
might do (I was petrified by then to do ANYTHING in her class) because she came to the school
one day to have a meeting with Miss Bass. Let’s just say, she went into “Night Supervisor/Call a
Doctor at Home mode.” My remaining days in her class immediately became quite as far as her
getting on me was concerned.
I must say though, that through it all, I did appreciate the truth and life lessons learned from
remembering the phrase that we had to memorize when reading about Julius Caesar when he sent
his famous message to the Roman Senate to tell them that he had been successful in his battle
with King Pharnaces II in 47 BC during the Roman Civil war.
His message was simple, direct, and totally complete in its meaning. "Veni, vidi, vici" -- I came,
I saw, I conquered.
As the years rolled by after learning this, I realized that the phrase related to so many things that
occurred in my life, and I suspect, in the lives of many of my classmates who also had to learn that
phrase in Latin.
It applied to our efforts to tackle new jobs, responsibilities. It challenged us to persevere, to not
give up, to keep going even when it looked like the odds were against us and that we would fail.
Thank you Miss Bass, for making us say that phrase over and over for we did learn it, we did
remember it, and we did persevere in our pursuit of happiness and success in the world.
As we continued our discussion about our teachers, a lot of us remembered the music that was such
a large part of our time in high school.
Mr. Pritchard and Mr. Jordan gave so freely, but demandingly, of their time and love for music.
Through their efforts with the band and the chorus, we seemed to always be surrounded by
stirring musical explosions and songs that lifted our spirits.
Oh, they could be hard as nails on you when a note or riff was done wrong, or we sang off key, etc.,
but when all was said and done, we knew that excellence (from us) was all that they desired.
Every time I hear band music, I am immediately drawn back to the time when I heard it being
played at our school or at a pep rally, or a football game. The snare drums, more than anything
totally captures me -- the rapid-rife riffs resonating all through my body -- teasing me, almost
challenging me to stay calm and not tap my foot or clap my hands in sync with the rhythm.
I think most of us when we hear drum rolls and marching band music today, we like it and relate it
almost immediately back to the time when we were in high school and the band was playing at a
football game -- proudly egging on everyone, fans and players alike -- “Uh huh, oh yeah, we’re bad,
go kick some BUTTS!”
Thank you Mr. Pritchard, Mr. Jordan -- you helped keep our school spirits held high and gave a lot
of us an appreciation for all types of music we still enjoy to this day.
Speaking of singing, etc., I remember one year we had to be on stage in the auditorium for some
event -- not sure what, singing, graduation practice, whatever -- and we had to wear robes. One of
my fellow classmates (nameless to protect the innocent) asked me a few days before the event, if I
could get a large hypodermic needle. They knew that Mama ran the hospital at night and just
figured I could get one some how.
“Sure, no problem … what do you need it for?” “Just bring it with you when we go onstage ... meet
me out in the parking lot with it.”
Back then, in the 50s, there were no throw-away needles like they are today (I don’t think). All I
had ever seen, including the several that were always kept in the cabinets in our kitchen at home,
were the removable types -- the needles were actually screwed on and off the syringe part, cleaned
Sure enough, I found one that Mama had brought home that must have been for giving a horse a
shot with -- it was so huge! Anyway, I took it with me on the night in question and met my friend out
in the parking lot at school.
Do you know how much vodka you can inject into a big orange, especially after you had cut a pencil
size hole in the top and squeezed and sucked some of the juice out?
After a while, we went inside with several oranges filled to the top and once inside, my friend
walked straight over to Mr. Jordan and innocently asked, “Mr. Jordan … is it all right if we have
an orange with us while we practice?”
“Sure, no problem, might help your scratchy voice,“ was his quick response with a big smile on
Lord, it was a hoot. After passing out the extra oranges, we made our way up on the stands on the
stage and took our positions. The rule was, to suck the orange very gently and slowly -– else you
would feel the effect too quickly. Of course my illustrious friend who came up with this brilliant
idea was the first one to ignore their own rule.
When this well lubricated friend finally stumbled and fell/slid off the back of the stands, dead
drunk, the jig was up. What I really remember the most about that event was thinking, “Thank God
Mr. Tiller was NOT teaching at Edmunds High School!”
Speaking of parking lots, ours at Edmunds was at times, social central. With more and more of us
starting to drive, the parking lot became the de facto meeting place for a lot of before and after
school. Making dates, breaking them, swapping out/copying home work assignments, checking out
the latest gadgets or additions to our cars, etc. We also greeted those that arrived at school
I never was quite sure where all the kids lived that rode on the buses. I felt sorry for them
because they were missing (had missed) growing up in a tightly stitched (with streets with
sidewalks on both sides) town. Here, until high school came along, we had freely roamed
everywhere by walking and riding our bikes to see our friends.
Ransom drove one of those buses and loved it. It seems so strange now -– him a student himself,
driving one of the buses. Now days, at least were I live, just about all the school bus drivers are
ladies in their 40s and 50s with a few middle aged men doing all the bus driving.
Not only did Ransom drive the bus for kids to and from school, but he also drove one when we used
the buses for some of our great school outings. I remember one time, we were coming back from
Columbia and he was “letting it roll,” so to speak.
I’m not saying how fast we were going but after cresting the hill where US 601 crosses US 76, he
shifted into neutral and took his foot off the gas as we began the long decent on 76 to the bridge
over the Wateree River.
After free coasting three and a half miles without touching the brakes or the gas, we roared
across the bridge whooping and hollering on our way back to Sumter. I am quite certain that feat,
dare I say record, still stands today. Who needed rides at the fair for a thrill -- we had Ransom
at the helm of a wild yellow bus!
Yes, bus rides on school outings were great, especially at night time and returning home after an
away football game. Sneaking a ride on the band bus was the most fun (until caught) but hey, they
made lots of noise/music and that just made the whole experience that much better.
During my high school years, I had the opportunity to be a part of and witness two events that
related to money and its value –- the results of which made indelible impressions on me that I still
carry, remember to this day.
The first event was one of the most important lessons or messages that I learned in high school. It
was presented during a class where we were studying economics, etc., that day/week. Anyway, the
teacher had invited a special guest to come talk to us and during his presentation, he held up a
single dollar bill and asked, “How much is this dollar worth?”
“One dollar,” “Two 50 cent pieces,” “100 pennies,” “10 dimes,” “Four quarters,” Twenty nickels…”
With every answer eagerly thrown out to him, he shook his head no and kept indicating with his
hands for us to keep giving him answers.
Finally, when we had exhausted all that we could think of, he held the bill up, pointed to it with his
other hand and said, “It’s only worth what someone will give you for it!”
Not knowing what to say or do, we just sat there in silence for a few seconds. Seeing our expected
reactions, he again held the bill up and said, “It’s worth two hamburgers, 10 Cokes, five candy bars,
seven gallons of gas” -- the list went on and on.
Boom, like a lightening bolt, he had given us the ultimate short course in economics -- in just 10
words –- what money was all about. But the clincher came when he ended his short demonstration
with the quote, “It is also worth NOTHING if no one will give you anything for it.”
To really get my point just, think of a 401K account as just a stack of one dollar bills and ask
anyone with a 401K plan, “What’s it worth?”
Hopefully by now, they will tell you that it is worth more than it was two years ago. Sadly, along
those lines, a lot of our fellow Americans got nothing or maybe only 10 cents for each of their
dollars in their life long, worked and saved for, 401K plans.
Almost every time I hold a dollar bill in my hand, I remember learning what it is really worth.
The second event that occurred was also during this same time -- 1958 or 1959, not sure -– when
Shaw Field was all but closed down because of major renovations being done to the runways, flight
lines, etc. Up until this time, there had been a sort of love/hate relationship between Sumter and
its military neighbor, Shaw Field Air Force Base, just 10 miles west of town.
From my perspective (and remembrance), Sumter parents, as a general rule, would NOT let their
daughters date any of the airmen at the base and basically, they (airmen) never tried to hang
around with any of us at our hang outs. It was sort of like a Mexican stand off –- Sumter halfway
accepted the base there, gave lip service to the money the airmen spent in town and in general only
gave cordial thanks back to the base.
In the long run, we (students at large) basically had nothing to do with the base. Oh, I know that
was not the 100% situation all the time and/or for all of the people involved. I know people visited
Shaw regularly, played golf there, swam in the pool, etc. My Uncle Andrew (while working at the
Buick place) brought home pilot after pilot to our house to have dinner.
To me, in my eyes -- overall -– the situation (military base/nearby city) was the typical love/hate
relationship shared by just about every other military base/nearby city situation across the country.
Anyway, because over 90% of the base personnel left for temporary duty elsewhere for close to
a year, business revenues in Sumter dropped like a rock. At the time, I worked out on Broad Street
in my Uncle Lyon’s Newsstand. Sales plummeted through the floor. He, Uncle Lyon and other
businesses in town, soon started to learn just how much money -– dollars -- Shaw Field pumped into
the local economy.
About a month after all the work was completed and the base personnel level was back at full
capacity, the Air Force did something that I thought was the best show and tell demonstration of
what a dollar was worth that I had ever seen -– including up to this day.
Every man, woman, and child that was on the Shaw Field military payroll was paid in cash with brand
new, crisp Two Dollar Bills for I think, at least two pay periods.
From what all I heard (as saw), within days every cash register in Sumter, including the one I ran at
the Newsstand was jammed, and I mean JAMMED to the gills with those bills. In one week, every
business in Sumter knew without ANY doubt just how much money came into their hands from
Boom –- the love/hate relationship died a quick death and within a few short years, the city and the
base forged a binding, trusting, and sharing relationship that continues to this day.
Sumter, just like me in my high school class, had in a sense learned the hard way, “How much is this
Meanwhile, back at the ranch -- I know it seemed like (at the time) we had some of the hardest,
meanest teachers in the world messing with our minds and giving us homework, making us memorize
crazy things, making us figure out long it takes to melt an ice cube if you just set it in a
refrigerator (thanks Mrs. Purdy, for that gem), etc.
However, I think the bottom line -- after FIFTY years to contemplate the motives and actions by
them –- is that they honestly cared about us and tried very hard to make us learn, be responsible,
have character, and be ready to tackle the difficult years that they knew were ahead of us.
With that thought in mind, I now thank all of them for trying to keep my wild, smart-ass basically
on the road to better things and success in life.
There were times though, like repeated visits with Miss Burnett, sweeping out the gym, cleaning Mr.
Gilliam's multi-colored chalkboards, raking up the “Official Edmunds High School Smoking Area,”
and other odd jobs to work off punishments my smart mouth usually rewarded me with, that I
wasn't too sure I’d even make it out of high school, let alone make it in the real world.
While we did talk a lot about high school memories Saturday night, I was again amazed at how many
memories we talked about while standing around before and after our dinner that were related to
days before we went to high school. Yeah , I know, I have already said this twice before.
I remember talking about when we used to go to Memorial Park down around Hampton Street and
Park Avenue when we were in grammar school for the “Trolley Car Parades” in the summertime.
We made trolley cars by taking shoe boxes and cutting holes in the sides, covered the holes with
multi-colored tissue papers, and then lit a small candle and placed it in the box with the top on it.
We then tied a piece of string to the trolley car and pulled it along behind us.
It was a beautiful sight -– all the boxes made up so differently, some two stories high and all
twinkling with candles flickering inside as we pulled them. When you looked out and saw maybe a
hundred or more of them together, it was awesome.
Today, kids just sit around and play a video game and never use their imaginations like we used to
do, and had to most of the time, to keep ourselves entertained.
When I look back on my 12 years in school -– basically from when I was 6 to 18 years old, I fondly
remember and am actually thankful for all the time that we did fend for ourselves, did create
things to play with, and did get physically tired playing outside.
Playing outside -– funny how that activity process has changed. During our school years, parents had
to call us, beg us to come inside to eat supper, maybe do homework, or go to bed after having gone
back outside after supper to play in the dark, catch fireflies, whatever. Now days, it seems like
parents have to force, if they can, kids to put the video stuff up, cut the TVs off, etc., and go
outside to play.
Anyway, the girls used their imaginations to play with doll houses, dolls, or played dress up with
clothes found in their attic or closets, cut out paper dolls or real cloth to actually sew together to
make real clothes, and had tea parties that rivaled the Queen and her court.
I should also point out that they too utilized the outdoors just as we did. They played just as hard
at ball games, bike riding, and cave digging, yes cave digging, as we did. Marian Burke Brown
cheerfully reminded me of this at our cookout on Friday night. She told us about all the tunnels
they used to dig in the soft Sumter dirt and was amazed as us boys were that none of them got
killed in a cave in.
When I think about it now, it was amazing that none of us got killed -– the tunnel digging was so
dangerous. I’m talking about tunnels 5-10 feet under ground, maybe 2-3 feet in diameter and
anywhere from 2-10 feet long -– and all through soft, almost sandy like soil. What made all of this
even worst was the fact that in general, no one even knew where the caves were. I think if any of
our parents had ever actually seen what we were doing, we’d all probably still be in “time out.”
While the girls did their thing, and not to be outdone, especially when it came to digging, we boys
were also on the prowl for things to do.
We also dug huge caves with tunnels connecting lots of then all together. We also built bikes,
played Army, cowboys and Indians, played stick ball, softball, football -- the list was endless. What
we didn't have (store bought) we made ourselves or used things that resembled the items we
needed to complete our play time like the seed pods on Magnolia trees -- perfect hand grenades
when playing Army.
We built wagons and soap box derby like contraptions using wooden produce boxes and used wheels
that we either made or real ones that we were lucky enough to find discarded somewhere. And
after a quick coat of paint, we raced them out on the street with one person steering and
Since there were no hills in Sumter, we dreamed that one day we would get the chance to start off
at the top of the Overhead Bridge and race like the winds down it and coast to victory just like we
had seen kids do in the newsreels at the Rex or Sumter Theaters about the Soap Box Derby that
was held in Ohio every summer.
The fastest any of us ever got to go was every now and then when the ice truck would stop on our
street and we would quickly loop a rope over its bumper after the driver closed the rear doors and
walked back around to the front of the truck. We'd usually go about a block before we let go one
end of the rope as we then held on tightly for the eventual crash against the curb that brought our
racers to a grinding halt.
We had kept meaning to add brakes to our racers but since speed never was a common reality for
us, we just never got around to adding them. Besides, grinding to a halt with your wheels jammed up
against the curb was a lot more exciting.
We made our own bows and arrows, slingshots, and fishing poles from the abundance of bamboo
that grew around Sumter.
Bamboo -– gifts of the Gods to us boys. With it being readily available (people would pay us to dig up
and cut the highly invasive plant out of their backyards and gardens), we built forts, ladders, tree
houses, bridges, airplanes, you name it, we probably had something built out of bamboo that
Speaking of bamboo, we also had another trick up our sleeves that the girls would have no part of -–
There was a huge patch of bamboo growing up in an area between Charlotte Ave and behind Saint
Marks Methodist Church there on the corner of Broad and Church Streets. I am not talking about
the average, 15-20 foot tall, 1 inch diameter bamboo that grew wild all over Sumter but instead,
30-50 foot tall, 2-3 inch in diameter BIG bamboo.
We would climb up high in tree on the edge of the bamboo thicket near Charlotte Ave, and go out on
a limb that extended into the thicket and then jump on to one of the tall large bamboo canes.
Holding on for dear life, we would ride it forwards as it bent with our weight and then kept
switching to new canes as we made our way through the thicket.
If you could ride the canes all the way to the end and pop out of the thicket at the back of the
church property without falling off and busting your tails, you were flying high and king of the
30 years ago, I was in Sumter visiting Mama and I was talking to Uncle Andrew about an idea I had
about an outdoor Christmas light display I wanted to build and needed some bamboo poles to make
it. "Come with me," was his only words.
At the very back of the yard at "410" was (always been there) a bamboo thicket that was not only
in our yard, but over into Miss Osteen's yard (yes, Miss Osteen at Edmunds) and another yard that
belonged to someone living over on Pine Street. Uncle Andrew spent just about his whole life trying
to keep the bamboo out of his garden there at the back of the yard and he jumped at the chance
for me to "cut a few out of his way."
Anyway -- I wish you could have see us headed home on I-20 with about 25 30-40 foot long bamboo
poles tied across the top on my car. The large ends were pulled down across the hood and even with
the front bumper while the top ends trailed far behind us with red flags flapping like crazy in the
winds as we zoomed along the expressway. People looked at us real runny -- some ever shook they
Bottom line, all those years later Sumter bamboo was still providing solutions to those who
appreciated its usefulness. After making it home with them, I taped a 100-light string of bright red
lights to each cane and then stood all the canes up in a holding device I made -- letting them fan out
into a huge circle with them all at different angles to the center. At night, it looked like a gigantic
fireworks explosion -- it was awesome and the hit of the light display that season.
By the way, the canes are still tied up to the ceiling of my garage. Who knows, I might need some
aged bamboo one day. :-)
Before Mike Gilchrist moved into the house he lived in off of Church Street, the lot used to hold an
old horse barn and then out in front of it, all the way over to Pine street, was an open field that had
another of our favorite play things growing there -- Kudzu!
Yes, wild, green, super fast growing Kudzu -- hated by the adults and loved by the kids. Because
there were no trees on the property, the Kudzu grew all over itself. By the time we came along, the
vines had built up so (on top of older dead vines) that it was a solid green sea of leaves that were
almost six feet high above the ground.
Even though underneath the solid green canopy was just a tangled mess of old vines, it was very
open and airy -- you could generally see 20-25 feet in any direction with sunlight randomly
breaking through the leaves to show the way.
We loved it because we cut tunnels all through the old growth and had our own private maze with
secret paths, rooms, etc., to play in down under the tops of the leaf coverage. All that came to a
grinding halt one summer when we were attacked by swam of yellow jackets that had decided to
move in and build a nest in the shady, soft soil.
Imagination -– in both us and the girls -– it fueled our minds.
We used that same pattern of self sufficiency, imagination and creativity in school when we
created decorations for Junior-Senior night, or pep rallies, or entries into science fairs, etc.
Bottom line, we used our own imaginations to do things, build things and were forever on the prowl
for something new to catch our attention or spark our creativity to go make something we
As dinner time approached Saturday night, our stand up class reunion conversation parties broke
up and I headed back over to the table where I was going to eat dinner.
Within minutes of sitting down, I was acutely reminded of another factor that was present all
around us at the time when we were in school but we basically ignored it and really did not dwell
on it. This factor, environment if you will, was brought out to me crystal clear when the lady
sitting next to me, Hollis Davis’s daughter, asked me a simple question.
After I had sat down and was waiting on our main course to be brought to our dinner table, I had
seen her looking all around the room, like she was trying to locate someone. Finally, she turned to
me and innocently asked, “Why are there no black people here at your reunion -- were there not
any in your class?”
I spent the next 10 minutes explaining to her that at the time, all of our schools in Sumter were
totally segregated and that all the black students went to Lincoln High School down past Trinity
Methodist Church on Liberty Street while we went to Edmunds High School out on Haynsworth
All that seems so strange now but that was 50 years ago and that was just the way we lived.
Earlier, before we had begun to get down to the serious task of eating a great meal, the reunion
committee had several gifts to pass out like for “who had travelled the furthest to get there,” “who
had been married the longest, etc.” I got a gag set of “Retired Business Cards” for having been the
last one (last year) to retire.
The best gift that they passed out was not a gag gift but one that was totally sincere in the great
appreciation we all had for one very special lady, Marian Burke Brown.
This one wonderful and loving person has unselfishly tried to keep tabs on all of us for the past 50
years. Long before the age of e-mails, etc., she kept after all of us -- making lists of who lived
where, etc., writing letters, keeping us informed and also, instrumental in organizing every reunion
our class of 1960 ever had.
I salute you my special friend and love you dearly for looking after all us wayward vagabonds after
we the left the nest, so to speak. Thank you Marian, for helping bring all of us back home so that we
all might once again, enjoy the friendship and memories we all forged together so very long ago.
One of the things that made me feel so good at this reunion was seeing how so varied and fulfilling
all of our lives has been.
Everywhere I went in the room Saturday night, and the night before at the Pavilion, I ran into my
classmates excitedly talking about the jobs and careers that they had, the adventures they had
experienced, the thrills of flying jets, racing cars, having children, travelling and living in foreign
countries, having grandkids -– the list was endless of our combined lives and accomplishments.
Oh, there were talks about sadness, deaths of our fellow classmates, personal bad times, etc., but
all in all, I was filled with a sense that above all the difficulties in life that we all had to face, that
we, the Class of 1960 met them all head on and persevered, we endured, and we got on with our
lives and were happy.
Last week before I headed for Sumter to attend our reunion, I read the comments written to me in
my high school annuals. I quickly saw a common thread through out all of them and it was the basic
expression of “hoping you’ll be happy in the future.”
The future –- now -– 50 years after all those wonderful comments were made. Speaking for myself
and based on what I saw and heard this past weekend, I think we all were happy -– that our journey
from home and into the world as fresh, young travelers through life in the great scheme of things
was a success.
I realized this as I danced with a wonderful and beautiful lady, Pat Hudson Pulaski, and saw her
smile and felt her gentle touch on my shoulder. That bond we formed all those years ago when we
were sweethearts for a time during junior high school was still there -- warmth, trust, respect, and
just being happy with our lives and the paths that we had taken.
I saw that also with another of my old flames, Judy Weatherly McLeod, a very special and beautiful
friend even to this day. I was warmed with the knowledge of how special and exciting her life has
been with Ray as they traveled all over the world while he was in the Military and the life that they
had forged together which now included beautiful and loving children and grandchildren.
It was good seeing old flames -– those to each of us or flames to others. At the times we were
going steady, in love, etc., we could not imagine how it could possibly be if we were to break up
and go our separate ways.
I saw lots of people on both nights, who were at one time, going steady with each other but whom as
time went by, did break up, did move on, and later formed new bonds with new people.
My last flame in high school was a beautiful red head that I met for the first time when she
literally jumped through the window of my car at Cole’s and said, “Hi, whatca doing?” Carolyn King
(now Richardson) was just a sophomore when I met her but we fell in love, shared great times,
fought, teased each other, and shared dreams like we all did.
As time went by, we too broke up and went our separate ways. She too, just like Judy, fell in love
again with a wonderful man, forged a wonderful, adventuresome life and is also now rewarded with a
great life and happy grandchildren.
The point of all this is that I saw clearly at our reunion how important all those loves of our teenage
years were, how they had also helped shape our hearts, our minds, and our futures in so many ways.
I also saw that life had gone on and that we had followed new dreams and were rewarded for those
new adventures with excitements and pleasures that we enjoy today.
When I talked with just the guys we discussed some of the crazy (and dangerous) things we did
after we got to high school (like rolling car or truck tires down Broad Street), I saw the same
excitement and devilishness in their eyes we all shared so many years ago.
It was the same with the ladies -– still alluring with beautiful smiles and twinkles in their eyes -- all
signs that they too were still happy with the lives they had found after they too had struck out and
sought their own futures.
I saw all these things with everyone I talked to on both nights. Hardships and rough times aside -–
we all had them -– we all seemed content and happy with the paths we all had taken.
It seems like it was just 50 minutes ago and not 50 years ago when all we really had to worry about
was what to wear to a dance, what time did the movie start, who were we dating Friday night, and
did we have enough gas to go cruising.
As Saturday night came to a close, I began to realize two things.
First, I started to see how in a strange sort of way, that our high school years was really like a
caring, demanding, but nurturing mother.
Earlier, I mentioned that the car parking lot at Edmunds became social central at times. In reality,
it was the whole school -– all the students, all the teachers, and all the years that were social
central. In a sense, it was a giant mixing bowl filled with people, places, events, troubles, challenges
and we were all throw in into the fray, as it were, and in May of 1960, we all were released.
However, it was that mixing time -– our sophomore, junior, and senior years -- that we learned how
to get along with other people, interact with them, fall in and out of love with them, laugh and cry
with them, run, race, walk, and play with them, talk, listen, and share ideas and dreams with them.
As I mentioned earlier, from a social standpoint, our times in the mixing bowl dealing with our love
life -– going steady -– was an enormous additive to our struggle to maintain our balance as we
migrated through the maze of emotions that engulfed us as we fell in love, loved, and sadly,
That combined with all the other ingredients made for many sleepless nights and troubled days. I
think what got us through all that were our friends -- those that simply stood with us and helped us
carry the burden for a while. This too in itself became another of the invaluable tools we learned
from our nurturing mother.
Mother, our school social environment, watched over us, guided us, disciplined us, held us
accountable for our actions and rewarded us when we excelled at whatever had been placed before
us. Instead of just giving us fish to eat, she carefully taught us all how to fish so that we might
take care of ourselves for the rest of our lives.
As time went by, we developed in to the happy and fulfilled people we eventually became after
leaving the nest, so to speak. I realize that some of us have had to take extra or advance classes in
fishing but in the great scheme of things, we all earned our wings and have flown high and true ever
Secondly, I realized that my trip home had been far more than just attending a high school reunion
-- complete with a dance band that played some music selections that I am quite positive never,
ever made it to the airways in our fair town of Sumter.
My trip had been one of a journey to reach all the way back and connect to the things that had set
my life beyond high school into motion.
I had re-bonded with my oldest friend Ransom and saw how our lives started off playing together in
the dirt driveway between our two grandmother’s houses. Saturday, when I had stopped by “410,” I
had looked down that long, dirt driveway and realized how much it had played a part in my life.
I can still hear my grandmother telling me when I was acting like I was sick to “Go outside boy, and
eat some dirt!”
She was convinced that if Ransom and I “ate some dirt,” we would be cured from whatever was
ailing us. Funny thing though, I have had more than one doctor tell me later in life that is why I was
probably as healthy as I was because of something it did (eating dirt) to enhance my immune
system. Who knew? :-)
We played in that driveway, made mud pies and tried to eat them (had to keep grandmother happy),
we raced our bikes up and down it, complete with ramps to jump over and the soft sand to catch us
when we miscued and wrecked our bikes. We played Army along side of it. We hid in the bushes
when grandparents or parents or aunts & uncles were looking for us. We raked all the leaves off it
in the fall. We drew pictures in the sandy soil. We liked it -– it was our friend.
Before Mama would let me get my driver’s license, I had to be able to back her car up at full speed
from where she parked it in the back yard, all the way out to the street without “touching a single
leaf on any of the bushes and trees alongside it.” She could do it -– all 180 feet of it at 40 miles an
hour –- and never touch a leaf!
By the way, I think she still holds the land speed record for driving a car between Sumter and my
home in Marietta Ga. She covered the 303 miles in 3 hrs and 10 minutes. “I was just letting it roll
along…” was her only comment.
Later, when I had my license and drove Mama’s car, we’d race down the driveway, slam on the
brakes and slide the car around on the sandy soil just like they did in the movies. Poor Uncle John,
he never could understand what was messing up his driveway. He was the one who maintained it,
with help from us at times to help spread out new sand when he had a load of it sent to the house.
I think that the driveway at “410” became a road map for me in ways that I didn’t fully understand
until recently. It symbolized and was a pattern in many ways, what I did in life or what I expected
It was ALWAYS there -– steady, dependable at all times as it provided for a playing surface to
several generations of kids that passed through “410.”
It was a pathway to the outside world, and never failed those that depended on it.
It was true in its course -– always pointing to, connecting the same things together -– the busy
street out front and the security and peacefulness of the backyard.
It served a purpose, it had meaning, and it was steadfast in its mission in life.
When the festivities at the Country Club started to wind down a bit Saturday, I felt complete.
Speaking of winding down, I can remember in times past, they almost had to run everyone off -– “Go
home, we have to close!” I was amazed at how many people besides me I heard that made the
comment, “It’s almost my bed time,” as they looked at their watches around 9:30.
Yes, I felt complete -– my journey home for my 50th high school reunion had been wonderful and I
was pleased with all the rewards -– meeting old friends, renewing friendships, sharing in great
memories, and still looking forwards to making more.
Sunday morning, I packed my things and slipped away from the hotel and headed home. There’s that
word again -- home -- probably one of the most powerful words in our vocabulary. It represents so
much to each of us and in lots of ways it represents the same thing -- peace, security, warmth,
The last words my mother spoke to me while holding my hand was asking me, ”Is it OK if I go home,
I want to see Papa?” I nodded my head and whispered, “Yes, Mama, it’s OK to go.” With that she
smiled, closed her eyes and seemed to fall into a restful sleep. Several days later, she was
gone … home.
After leaving the hotel, I drove towards Camden on my way back up to I-20 and took a small detour
I wanted to see Ballards Hill on the old Camden Road just past Hillcrest High School. As I reached
the top and then wound my way down the steep roadway back to the new dual-lane road that US 521
uses along there, I couldn’t help but thinking how in a small may, my life started out here.
In 1916, when Mama was 10 years old, she and her other younger brothers and sisters rode in Uncle
Ben’s 1913 Buick Model 31 Touring car up Ballards Hill on their way to Sumter where they all were
moving to. They were leaving the farm life over in Kershaw County alongside present day Tombfield
Road and moving to the city because Granddaddy had been given the opportunity to own and run a
general store down by the Atlantic Coast Line train depot in Sumter.
While everyone else -- Grandmother, Granddaddy, and the older kids rode with the 16 2-horse
wagons carrying all their possession to their new home (“410”) in Sumter -- Mama and the other kids
hung onto the old car and laughed and had a great time as the old car sputtered and backfired as it
chugged its way up and over the hill.
Uncle Andrew once told me that until he flew in a B-25 Mitchell Bomber in WWII (he was a crew
chief), coming up Ballards Hill in that old Buick was the most exciting thing he’d ever done in
When I reached the bottom of the hill and rejoined the new road to Camden, I couldn’t help but
smile as I thought about how Mama’s trip to her new home almost 100 years ago had set the stage
for my trip back home.
Thank you, the Class of 1960, for being a part of my life.
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