Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bethune, SC

If tears could build a highway
And memories a lane
I'd walk right up to Heaven
To see you again.
written in cement in Bethune, South Carolina
(Bethune Pottery)

My family and I lived in a small town when I was a child (9 - 13 years old) in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina.  Bethune had a population of about 500 people.  We moved there because my father's employer moved him around as part of his career.

Here is a photo of our family taken about 1968 of the us on the front porch by my Uncle John that we used as our Christmas card that year, (as always *click* on any image for a better view):

"Bethune Gothic"
Sitting: Stephen Mix, Amelia Mix, Robert Mix (holding lunch)
Standing: Lin Mix, Joseph Mix

I bring up this topic today because of my visit to see people there I have not seen in some 45 years!  Most preparations have been made by my former classmates.  As I write, I am preparing to make the three hour or so drive over from I-95 in NC where I am now (my journey up and down the East Coast along I-95 has had its moments to which I will cover in the near future).  This promises to be an interesting and fun day!
*  *  *

Those years there were among the happiest of my life.  The people (kids in my school class) were very nice and decent kids.  Even though we had just moved down there from Massachusetts (where my father's company was headquartered), and so being a Yankee (um, recall that in the mid-1960s the War Between the States was a mere 100 years before...), the locals treated us very nicely (well, most of them...).

Small towns in the South in the 1960s were typically rather poor by US standards.  You will need to look on a good map of use a search engine to find it.  Bethune had one stoplight (at the junction of US 1 and SC Hwy 341).  Two small elementary schools with one high school.  The one cop also had to split his duty with nearby McBee, seven miles away.  There was little crime, so Officer Falkenberry was not overworked.  Recall those days: Vietnam protests, "sex & drugs & rock 'n' roll", hippies..., much of that had not arrived to Bethune yet, although the social changes DID get there later on.  After the 7th Grade we moved away as my dad got a promotion to HQ up in Boston.

And as the years went by, I lost track of my friends there in Bethune.

Until recently, when one of them found me via Facebook.  O, ye doubters of Facebook and technology!  Responsibly used, even Facebook is of great value!  (LOL)  So, as I had plans to pass relatively close on I-95, some of them helped me to plan a small reunion this Sunday.

So, for now I pause in writing this piece, all that follows will be what happens (happened) later today...

*  *  *

Today was a beautiful day to visit.  In addition to seeing whatever friends I could from the 45 or so years ago, I wanted to see certain places that I remember well.  Here is the house we lived in (for real, of course the picture at top was a joke, it is our family though).

602 S. Walton St., see number written vertically in blue at far right.  The trees are different, and the house appears to have improvements, but that's the place!  Note sandy soil at lower left, almost all of the soils around this part of SC are sandy, but they still grow plenty of corn, soybeans and cotton.

Most of Bethune is centered on Main Street and US Highway 1 (Columbia, the capital of South Carolina, is 52 miles away on US 1).  It is (and was) the main intersection in town.  Here is a photo of Main St. (SC Hwy 341), recall that Bethune is very small!

There is one stoplight in town, you can see it some 50 yds. from where I took the picture, way beyond is a blinking red light (you can just see it to the "left" of the car with headlights on), where US 1 crosses (and has the right-of-way).  You can also notice the railroad crossing signal, this was the Seaboard Coast Line when we lived there (now part of CSX).  Yes, my brother and I would put a couple of pennies on the rails when a train would come...

Welcome to Bethune:

*  *  *
I arrived in town early, before I had scheduled to meet whomever would come (3:00 PM, so it would not conflict with church or lunch), that is why I took the above pictures.  But, each arrived, in two cases with spouse, neither of whom I had met.  We met at the eating part of the Exxon (not visible in the photo I took of Main St. and US 1 I took above).  Meet five of my friends from the Bethune High School of 1974 (even though I went on to another school after we moved from Bethune):

Left to right: Libby Catoe, Leroy Stevens, Starling Stokes (green shirt at back), Larry Farmer (with SC Gamecocks hat), Ronnie Newman (partly blocked by Larry) and Libby's husband.  All of them (ex. Ronnie) still live in Bethune, Ronnie lives in Columbia, SC.  Two more were hoping to come by, but had commitments they could not abandon.  (Maybe next time!)  We talked mostly about other friends, people and teachers we had, o so many years ago.  There have been a couple of people I know who have passed along, and another one or two with health problems, but this is what people in their fifties all experience...

It is very important for me to now mention something.  These five classmates, from long ago, are among the finest & kindest people I ever had the pleasure of being friends with. 

I moved there from the north (ie, I was a Yankee, yes in the South they have long memories), yet I was treated wonderfully, much better than at the school I then went to up north for five years (Grades 8 - 12).  I now wish I had come to Bethune years ago...  These valued friends today added a LOT of value to my life!  Thank you very much for your kind hospitality.  I will never forget today.

*  *  *

We chatted awhile, but Leroy had to leave.  He had work to do, on Sunday!  Leroy owns a business (which I will describe below).  After he left, the others mentioned his incredible work-ethic.  It was normal for him to work (at least some) on Sundays.

Some 30 minutes after he left to go back to work, we saw him drive his backhoe by on US 1, on his way to pick up some clay.  HE went, not one of his employees.

Leroy owns Bethune Pottery, he makes lots of lawn ornaments and similar products out of a mixture of cement and clay.  (I did not ask anything about his production processes, other that he uses molds that he gets from various places)  His business is the largest "small business" in Bethune, he employs about 10 people.  Here is a fun little item from a Yahoo pottery group about clay coming from Bethune and mentioning Leroy's business:

The Augusta (Georgia) newspaper had an article listed by Google, but I could not bring it up.

After our snack & chat, Larry and his lovely wife Jean led me out to Leroy's business.  Here is an overview picture:

If I understood correctly, his is one of the very largest businesses of this type in the South!

While we there, Leroy had come back.  Here he is off to get more clay, but using his tractor and a wagon...  The man, my old friend works (Sunday today...)!  And his success proves it.  And, he REALLY WAS working today, the photo is not a posed shot, I had to STOP him to take the picture.

*  *  *

If you haven't figured it out yet, I was and am very moved by re-starting my friendships from such fine people from so long ago.  These people, from a remote place not well connected to most of my readers, I deeply thank and welcome their friendship again.

Fare well Bethune, until I have the chance to back.

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