PATHWAYS by Don Miller

Excerpt from PATHWAYS

I have a habit of “woolgathering” when doing repetitive tasks. I have always allowed my mind to wander to wherever it might and today’s woolgathering session (insert weed eating) took me back to my childhood home. I have read so many stories by southern authors where hometowns are described as “sleepy, little southern towns.” I cannot describe mine that way. I did not live in a “sleepy, little southern town.” With no signal light or post office, I lived in a scattered, unincorporated rural area that was made up of even smaller, scattered unincorporated communities with the now socially unacceptable name of Indian Land, South Carolina. Home was a brick veneered single story home located on the corner of one of the many unnamed dirt “river roads” that followed a meandering path to the Catawba River and the Charlotte-Lancaster Highway. One of just a smattering of single family homes, with the exception my grandparents’ home and farm and two uncles’ homes and farms, we were the only ones living on the Catawba River side of the Charlotte-Lancaster Highway, on the mile long stretch between “the old cotton gin” and the Van Wyck highway.

Indian Land is located in what is called the “panhandle” of Lancaster County, which to the northwest, juts more like a small accusatory finger than a panhandle into North Carolina, with the “Queen City,” Charlotte to the north and the small railroad town of Waxhaw to the east. To the south, inside of the borders of South Carolina, you will find the city of Lancaster and to the west Rock Hill. To get to Rock Hill, some five miles away as the crow flies, you must cross the Catawba River which early in my life required a scary ride on a ferry. Today it is a congested eighteen-mile car ride that makes me wish for the ferry.

Many small communities were scattered along Highway 521, the Charlotte-Lancaster Highway, and Highway 160 which runs west of 521 to and through Fort Mill, SC and on to Rock Hill. Names like Osceola, Pleasant Hill, Pleasant Valley, Belair, Miller Bottoms, Possum Hollow (pronounced Holler), Yarborough Town and Camp Cox were just some of these small communities that populated the area. During my childhood, the population density became much sparser as you traveled away from these highways, with homes giving way to farms of varying sizes or large tracks of forested areas where wildlife outnumbered the people in the area, especially the area that bordered on the Catawba River. The now socially unacceptable yet historically accurate name of Indian Land comes from the fact that the area continued to be populated by Native Americans, mainly the Catawba and Waxhaw tribes, well after Europeans had arrived in the area. The Catawba Indian Reservation is still, to this day, located across the river from Indian Land but so thorough was their assimilation into the population, the most “Indian” sounding names might be Smith or Jones.

I would not characterize Indian Land as being “sleepy” either. Off of the main thoroughfare, 521, it was as slow and sleepy as a hibernating bear but the two-lane blacktop that connected the trade center of Charlotte, NC with the textile town of Lancaster, SC was always bustling with traffic, especially during those periods of time designated as “rush hour.” At the time there was no industry other than agriculture or a couple of general mercantile stores so people commuted to the larger cities. In addition to commuters, traffic included everything from John Deere tractors to tractor trailer trucks along with the Ashe Brick dump trucks that made their back and forth sojourn from the red clay dirt pit located a mile or so east of 521 to the brick-baking ovens located in the small town of Van Wyck to the south.

What I miss the most about my home, other than family who have passed away, are those dirt and gravel roads that cut through the area leading to the forests, fields or to farms, many on the river bottoms that lay near the muddy rock-strewn waters of the Catawba. Those roads were slow and easy on both the legs and eyes, leading me to adventure or work or sometimes both at the same time. Those dirt roads no longer exist anywhere other than my memory as Charlotte has sprawled across the state line, devouring farm and farm lands like a monster in an old Japanese horror movie. The house that I grew up in along with so many other familiar structures no longer exists and the land it sat on is now covered in condos belonging to an upscale retirement community. Most of the cotton fields that fed the area cotton mills are gone, as are the mills themselves. They are not only gone from my little part of the world but they are gone from the country itself and I feel great sorrow because of it. When I visit family there, if I close my eyes and concentrate enough, I can still see those dirt pathways and in my head, at least, feel the powdery dust between my toes. I now realize that no matter how far I have traveled, I have never been far from them and home.

WASTE NOT

Excerpt from the book PATHWAYS which will be released through Amazon in late November.

When did we become such a disposable society? I wish people would quit disposing in my front yard. When did planned obsolescence become…planned? I remember ranting to a science class about wasting resources before I even knew what planned obsolescence meant. Does that make me clairvoyant? No, it probably makes me Clarabelle the Clown. Just because we can throw away a plastic bottle should we? Why do we change fashions every season? Hems go down, go up, then go down again while ties get wide then narrow then wide again. How many of you actually wear something until it wears out? Blue jeans maybe. How many of you really drive a car until the wheels metaphorically fall off. I’ve tried often. Linda and I bought an ’86 T-Bird with sixteen miles on it. It was a beauty. Two hundred and sixteen thousand miles later, thinking we had “licked all of the red off the candy” we traded it for a Mustang. A local teenage boy bought it…and the now father of three is still driving it. Presently I am actually attempting to see who can hit a quarter million first – me or my ’97 Cherokee “Bessie Mae.” We just cracked one hundred and ninety thousand on the “Bessie Mae” but I may be slightly ahead. Am I the only one to name his cars?

My grandparent’s generation were the ultimate recyclers and repurposers. My grandmother was also huge on sayings, “Early to bed, early to rise”, “a fool and his money” and one that I heard maybe daily was “Waste not, want not.” She lived it. Old plastic Clorox bottles were carefully cleaned, holes punched in the bottom and a hole cut about a third of the way up from the bottom. Why? It would become a martin house that would join a colony of Clorox bottles suspended over the garden providing homes for birds that became part of Nannie’s insect control. Buttons were cutoff of unrepairable clothing that would be later repurposed into patchwork quilts with matching pillow covers. The buttons themselves were put into an old Quaker Oats container for future repurposing when I didn’t play with them. My first set of drums were old Quaker Oats boxes and a really magical “comeback” toy. Shoes were “half-soled” repeatedly, old overalls that had finally given up the ghost were cut into patches to extend the lives of this generation’s overalls and blue jeans.

Fall would herald another type of recycling. Dried corn and beans were gathered, the best put into burlap cloth sacks and suspended from the high rafters of the crib. There they would wait until the spring to be shelled out and replanted to provide the next year’s bounty. Potatoes were spread and separated from each other on old newspapers in the darkest corner of the crib waiting to be made into chowders, salads and mashed potatoes. Those that survived the winter were cut, dividing the eyes, and replanted in the spring to start the cycle of life all over again.

Late in the fall an odd-looking truck would show up. It was the miller’s truck, not to be confused with the Miller’s truck. This was cutting edge technology for the period. Instead of taking your grain to be ground up, the truck showed up to grind your grain. This would be preceded by a flurry of activity as corn was shelled from the cob, dang that really hurts your fingers. Corn was ground into cornmeal and grits and no I had never heard of polenta. Even the cobs were ground into a fine powder that was mixed with water to be fed to our hogs. None of this could be done until my grandmother had chosen her feed sacks. This was the ultimate repurposing. She would use the emptied feed sacks to make “sack” dresses that she sewed on her foot-operated Singer treadle sewing machine. Rarely, until later in life, did my grandmother wear anything other than homemade dresses, many made from old feed sacks. Later they would be repurposed into cleaning rags or tie ups for the tomatoes. If they were a particular favorite they would be put into her scrap bag to become a part of a quilt. I am lucky to have several.