“There’s no such thing as being too Southern.” – Lewis Grizzard
Life literally flies by us these days. And some days it just kicks you in the teeth. It seems we’re barely able to keep up with the necessary anymore, things like bills and appointments, or gas and groceries, and a hundred other things that we have to manage our days around, much less the fun parts that should make our lives more enjoyable. It sometimes feels as though our days are filled with either madness or sadness, with just the occasional beam of sunlight bursting thru to bring light – and lightness – back into our worlds.
I guess that’s just life being life.
Personally, I was happy to flip the calendar and start a fresh month recently as May was a month seemingly marked by day after day of distressing news or disappointing updates; it was filled with too much suffering and sorrow, and was capped off by the loss of too many folks I cared about.
But sometimes we need to take a long couple of seconds – along with a good deep breath or two – and realize, not how crunched and crushed we are by the whirls and swirls and heartbreaks and disappointments of modern life, but, instead, how lucky we actually are to live where we do, to have the lives we lead and the support of home folks we can depend on.
For no matter how cruel and cold the world gets – and it can get suddenly and violently viciously mean, as we’ve seen with the sad passing of dear friends, recent heart-breaking criminal matters, the wrath and devastation of nature we endured with Matthew’s recent rains and the high winds of last fall, and too many other cases of loss and tragedy in between – we have something others simply don’t: Each other.
And therein lies both our greatest asset and strength, while also our biggest handicap and hurdle: Our relatively small size. Because while it no doubt limits the opportunities open to us – present or future, personal or economic – the fact is, unlike larger and more populated areas, we know each other.
And that, at the end of the day, is far more valuable than pieces of silver.
You can’t have “community” without first having “unity,” and we really are like family, like few others can boast. When one hurts in Marlboro, we all feel it. When we were confronted by the horrific matter of a missing child following her mother’s murder, we all shed tears and sought out ways to help by volunteering as needed or assisting the LEO personnel involved. And then, most tellingly, we gathered at the Courthouse Square together as a community to hold a candlelight vigil and prayer service for her safe return. And together we shared the heartbreak of having our prayers go unanswered.
When Mother Nature’s storms cause destruction and life-threatening isolation, we all jump in to help as best we can, clearing fallen trees and assisting with clean up activities, loaning out generators and donating supplies, or even taking in displaced neighbors or delivering food or medicines, via 4wd if necessary, to those stranded and in need. Despite our own concerns, together we’ve even reached out to others, raising funds and donating goods for residents of the Town of Nichols, which had suffered far worse flooding than ourselves.
In Marlboro County, we know what it means to say, ”There, but by the Grace of God…”
The simple fact is, we’re givers, folks. And givers care, about others just as much as themselves. Some can easily give without caring, but we can’t seem to care without giving. The Good Lord blessed us below the Mason-Dixon Line with a temperament to match our temperate climate, and that includes a native inclination to show others the proper respect. That’s how we were raised, to show the janitor at school the same respect that you showed teachers and the principal. And we Southerners don’t usually rise to far above our moral raisin’.
That’s why I thank God I’m from the South, especially South Carolina, and particularly Marlboro County. Because there’s an inherent goodness that resides in the South, an apparent genetic predisposition to being kind to and considerate of others that makes us special, that sets us apart from the ordinary. And we have it in spades, by the truckloads.
That’s kinda special these days.
I’ve seen a couple of internet posts that used the hashtag #MarlboroStrong, and that’s true. We are. But in our case, that just doesn’t cover it, doesn’t say enough, not even close. We’re actually much, much more than a phrase or an expression; in our case we represent so much more than just a slogan on a computer screen or a T-shirt.
This is perhaps best illustrated by the thoughts Marlboro Sheriff’s Deputy Bob Hale recently posted on Facebook following his duty serving as the lead escort of a funeral procession. Hale related that, as he was leading the procession from Bennettsville to McColl, he lost count of the number of cars that he met that responded as true Southerners do when meeting a funeral procession: by pulling to the side of the road, turning on the emergency flashers, and stopping out of simple respect, while the family passes. That’s a strictly Southern thang, like opening doors for strangers and saying “Bless y’all’s hearts” and “ma’am” and “sir”. Stop for a funeral up North and you’ll very likely very soon either be in an accident or cursed at, maybe even incarcerated or detained for being a public danger or nuisance, and held pending a psychological examination
But as Hale noted, it only made him more appreciative of Marlboro County to see such respect displayed, and he felt a sense of pride that only grew when he noticed one gentleman on the route, who had been mowing grass, stop as the procession approached, cut the mower off, then remove his hat and place it over his heart as the motorcade passed.
“It filled me with hometown pride,” Hale noted. “It may seem like a small thing to some of you but in an occupation where I consistently see the bad and evil, I appreciate someone showing respect to another person or family (that they probably don’t even know) more than you can imagine. My point is Marlboro County is filled with great people, it’s just the bad and the negative always garner more clicks, likes and shares.”
Hale continued on to note that he’d been so moved by the man’s sign of respect that he stopped in on his way back to Bennettsville to express his appreciation and thank him personally. Respect shown yields respect given. (https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=1798417846841929&set=a.281114355238960.88753.100000211945875&type=3&theater)
THAT is Marlboro County, folks.
And I got even more affirmation of our uniqueness when an old college roommate, whom I hadn’t seen in about 30 years, made it a point to stop off in Bennettsville on his return to Greenwood after visiting a relative undergoing medical treatment in Fayetteville. His time was very limited as he had other plans at home for that evening, so our visit was much-too-brief, and we just sat on Mom’s porch and reminisced a little as we shared a few laughs and a glass of sweet tea. (Of course, as many are aware, a TRUE Southerner is subject to using glasses of sweet tea as a measure of time, as in, “Oh, he only stayed long enough to have a glass of tea.” And given the propensity of Southerners to take our time and for a planned short stop to become an hours-long stay, most visits involves multiple refills, allowing enough time to talk about yourself a little and to also check on your visitor’s “mama n ’em,”).
Regardless, it was an especially cool visit as, despite our not having seen each other in about three decades, due to Southern openness and geniality, my old college pal Chris spent almost as much time talking with my Mom as he did me, particularly after discovering that there might be some familial relationship between a distant relative or friend of hers and some of Chris’ “people,” aka, ancestors. So I basically got to fully enjoy the time-honored Southern reunion trifecta: a wide front porch in summer, ample iced sweet tea at hand, and two folks citing names to each other, followed by, “She musta been kin to…” or “I ‘magine I know some of his folks” or “That mighta been Sara’s youngun, ya reckon?”
There was even more when the next day, out of the blue, I received a text message from Chris which read:
“Bennettsville, SC…A place you can ride up on and see combines creating mini dust-bowls as they harvest the winter wheat. A place where you can avoid the hot May sun and sit under porch ceiling fans with The State of South Carolina as a pull chain and meet with old friends and say hey to a few new friends, sipping good old fashioned Southern Sweet Tea with the former mayor, sharing an old story or two and making up a few new ones. A place where you can see two men walking quickly down the street with a black bag and a rake with 6″ needle sharp tines and say ‘There go two hardworking guys hurrying to their next yard job.’ A place where you can park on the wrong side of the street and not worry about the two or three cars that pass because you know they’re all gonna slow down to wave anyway, be they Black or be they White. A place where you can just kick life out of gear and idle for while…as only Southerners can. And should.”
There’s a lot of comfort in reading those words, recognizing that someone completely unfamiliar with Marlboro County and its people sensed from just a short visit something special, even inspiring. It makes me proud of my hometown, and, in particular, of being a Pee Dee-born and bred Palmetto boy. Because at the end of the day, all we really have – and all we really are, or need – is kin and clan. And I’m very glad I’m one of “us”.
“Southern born and Southern bred, and when I die I’ll be Southern dead,” is how the old adage goes, and there’s none more true to the heart of this Sandlapper lad than that. I just hope I don’t live to see the end of true Southern hospitality, courtesy and respect.