By Gray Bostick
One of the blessings of being born and raised in a small Southern town is the close relationships that develop, friendships that have no end.
Such was the case with Mrs. Sarah Bristow, a longtime family friend who recently passed away and moved on to her Heavenly rewards. And few were more deserving.
To be honest, I can’t recall actually meeting Miss Sarah; she always seemed to just be there, a kind and caring influence, full of life – and ready to share it. One of the rocks upon my youthful foundation was built, Miss Sarah was also a lighthouse beacon of how to treat others with respect. A co-worker of my mother for a couple decades at the Midgley Agency, where she worked for 30 years, she was also often the subject of a suppertime tale, or, frequently, someone being included in plans that were being made.
A proud and proper Southern lady, I don’t recall her ever being publicly upset or angry with anyone, only her pleasant demeanor. She just loved people. Miss Sarah had a passion for life, and all it brought, good or bad, and very much enjoyed sharing her time with others. In fact, she was the one who taught me how to swim down at the Family Swim Club, and I still recall how proud I was to have learned, and the fun we had afterwards.
But Miss Sarah’s enthusiasm for life wasn’t limited to family and friends — and its roller-coaster ups and downs perfectly prepared her for another of her allegiances: being a Gamecock fan. To say she loved her Gamecocks is a gross understatement. I recall one Saturday several years ago when, while out taking a ride, I cruised by her house and saw her out in the yard, sitting on the edge of her seat under a USC umbrella. Intrigued, and overdue for a visit with her, I circled the block and stopped by her home. I walked up and asked how things were going and, with a radio playing, what she was doing. “Listening to the USC-Clemson game,” she explained. “It got me too excited watching it, so I thought I’d better listen out here.” And it wasn’t long before I heard her say “Them durn Tigers!” in exasperation — an expression she commonly used when expressing frustration, usually with clenched fists and a short little stomp.
That was often seen during the best part of Miss Sarah’s year, each year: when NASCAR racing started a new season. And Richard Petty was THE MAN to her. Period. End of story. “The King” never had a more avid fan, and, as such, she had a distaste for his competition, primarily David Pearson. She loved racing so much that she attended the Daytona 500 for about four decades, most of those years in the same seat. And once The King retired, she switched her allegiance to Rusty Wallace, so instead of hearing “That durn Pearson!,” we were often treated to “That durn Earnhardt!”. (It’s ironic that I began writing this on 4/3/21…Petty was #43 and Pearson #21. Coincidence?)
But Miss Sarah didn’t limit her love for auto racing — which has just one winner and 30+ “losers” each event (a frustration her inconsistent Gamecocks prepared her well for) — to the “big” names and tracks of NASCAR; she also loved short-track racing just as much. She would often get with my mother to coordinate a ride to one of the short tracks, Pop was racing at, and we had loads of fun with her travelling to Dillon, Rockingham, Sanford, Hartsville, two tracks in Fayetteville, and even an occasional foray down to Myrtle Beach Speedway to watch some racing.
Even cooler to us kids, whenever NASCAR was running an event at Darlington or Rockingham, Miss Sarah would have our parents write an excuse for us to miss school and haul a carload of kids to the track for Friday qualifying.
But despite her fondness for football and racing, as well as gardening, hunting, fishing, travelling, and all water-based activities, Miss Sarah’s most important and most deeply felt emotions were reserved for her family and her faith. One of the things I most respected her for was the way she shared her love with those that mattered, unconditionally; she was simply kind and understanding – just as the Bible instructed. And rare was the Sunday that you wouldn’t see her, in her preferred seat in a particular pew, long before the service started, ready and eager to worship her Lord. I’ll never forget how quickly she was to come up and welcome Judy to our church, First United Methodist, when she initially began attending with me. And I can’t recall a single Sunday that she didn’t make a point of speaking to her, often addressing something she found appealing about Judy’s attire or hair, or something Judy had written or photographed. Her Christmas Eve drop-in celebrating the birth of Jesus was, for years, the social event of the season for many.
In short, Mrs. Sarah Hubbard Bristow was REAL. What you saw was what you got. And I’ll truly miss her.
At my age, I’m losing far too many dear old friends, much too fast. But God promises us a reuniting – if we live right and have Him in our heart. He wants us to share our love for and concerns about our brothers and sisters – just as Miss Sarah did, just as she exemplified. Thank you, Miss Sarah, for all you have done for me, and many others, and for showing me the way life should be lived; Thank you for a half-century of kindness and consideration. Put simply, thank you for being my friend; you’ll never be forgotten.