"Uncle Clyde, Please! Drive the Boat!"
April showers bring spring flowers... I was driving leisurely southward toward Lake Greenwood, S.C. Ahead was a warm spring shower reaching downward in the distance. Soon we met, and soon we parted as the cascading rain trailed away from me. Quickly, a bright and beautiful rainbow formed to my right. The arch ended through a grove of green pines.
It was a pleasant spring day in South Carolina as I drove with contentment southward to visit my Uncle Clyde. Recently, he had leased a lake front home and acerage on picturesque Lake Greenwood in South Carolina. Three days previously, Uncle had invited me down to go fishing with him for a few days. He didn't have to ask twice. I returned an enthusiastic, Yes! Uncle Clyde chuckled. He knew that one of my passions was fishing.
I turned left onto S.C. state highway 39. I sniffed the air. What is that gentle erotic smell? It was defintely familiar. Then I saw the welcoming host. On both sides of the road were honeysuckle bushes with attractive yellow tubular flowers and small berries. I was entering the village of Cross Springs, S.C. The homes were aged and rustic. They seemed to be well taken care of. Most were painted white. The architecture was amazing. The gables, windows, columns, posts, and banisters were expertly carved. Such craftmanship.. I was in awe.
Soon, I was turning left across an old Southern Railroad track. I turned my head to the right and was welcomed by an amazing nostalgic sight. I felt my pulse race. I turned onto an unpaved parking space. Right in front of my eyes appeared a white 19th century two story country store. The building was lengthly and spacious. The wooden steps were crescent in design. As I opened the door, a bell rang above my head. A plumb, attractive, and friendly woman greeted me with a welcoming smile. Her eyes danced with merriment. I was a little dumbfounded as I gazed around the spacious store. I said to the sweet woman, "I feel as if I have traveled back in time." She smiled and nodded her head. I got the impression that she had heard that before from other travelers. She asked, "Would you like to hear a little history about our store?" I replied, "Yes, please."
"The store has been in my husband's family for four generations. His great granfather built it in the early eighteen eighties. Most people called him "Captain". He was an officer in the Confederacy. Captain was quite a businessman. Over a period of time, he had built a cotton gin behind the store. The railroad had a loading and unloading track. The farmer's cotton was ginned and shipped quickly to the market. Most people around here were farmers. Before motorized transportation, practically everything was stocked and sold here in the store." Consumer shopping was done in a single store. I asked, "What were the items that were stocked and sold long ago?"
She smiled. Again, I had the impression that she had heard this question asked many times before. "Well, In transportation, there were saddles, harness, mule and horse shoes, even an occasional buck board wagon. If the store did not stock it, it was ordered from the wholesaler. There were cast iron stoves, coffee, sugar, oatmeal, fruit and vegetables, dried beans. In dry goods there were bolts of cloth, pins and needles, thread, ribbon, silk, buttons, collars, suspenders, dungarees, hats and shoes. Some essential items were, rifles, pistols, ammunition, lanterns, lamps, rope, pots and pans, cooking utensils, dishes, farm supplies. And, Oh yes, a penny's worth of candy filled a bag." I smiled and thought, "Now that was an interesting and pleasureable trip back in time."
The country store was a social hub where neighbors met. Stories, jokes, and gossip was exchanged. What a joy it must have been for the men folk and women folk to happily greet one another. Sometimes, other than church meetings, It may be several weeks or longer before they drove their wagons into the small dusty village of Cross Springs.
Today, most of the "Old Country Stores" are gone. The ones that are left are stocked sparingly or turned into museums.
What events transpired to end the era of "The Old Country Store?" There were several reasons. First on the list was the introduction of RFD. (Rural Free Delivery) Also, RFD opened the door for mail order companies. In turn, these companies gave consumers merchandise catalogs. Rural and city folks made fewer trips to the country store. They ordered from the catalogs and had their mail delivered. Due to RFD, the government built more roads. The people traveled to larger towns and cities where they could shop at a greater number of merchants to buy and trade.
What a thrill. This dear store-keep lady has given me a history lesson and an enjoyable tour. It was time to leave. One of the modern conveniences was refrigeration. I bought two pounds of hoop cheese, cans of vienna sausage, saltine crackers, a large jar of dilled pickles, sodas, and two large cans of peaches. This food would make a delicious snack for Uncle and I.
To make sure I was headed in the right direction, I asked for directions to "Josh's Landing." Having learned earlier that my last name was Waters and that I was joining my Uncle at his lake home for some fishing, She exclaimed, "Oh, you are Mr. Waters' nephew." We are well acquainted with Mr. Waters'." She gave directions and said, "Good reports from our fishermen." The fish are biting real good."
As I drove into Uncle's drive, I saw him by his dock loading fishing gear into a boat. He heard me walking up, turned, and said, "Hello Butch." "I have been expecting you." "What you say we get some lunch." I said, "That sounds great. I have it right here for us." I began to spread our fishermens'lunch on the picnic table. We munched our lunch while enjoying the beautiful scenery on Lake Greenwood. We began to reminisce about past memories. Uncle Clyde had once owned a gasoline station, convenience store, and a clothing store combined. He had retired and leased this home on Lake Greenwood.
During my summer vacation months, I would work at Uncle's gasoline station. I enjoyed the company of Uncle Clyde. He was a good boss. I enjoyed the work and meeting our customers. I also enjoyed the pay. The year was 1959. I was fifteen years old. "Now, get a grip on this. "We were selling regular gasoline for 22-23 cents per gallon. We sold cans of oil for 15-25 cents per quart. Now friend, that would make you smile if you could fill up a sixteen gallon tank for $3.68." I pumped the gas, washed the windows, checked the oil and all fluid levels. I checked the air in the tires. During this summer month, oil companies were having a gas war with competing oil companies. Gasoline stations were in hot competition with each other up and down the Spartanburg S.C. highway. The gas prices were ridiculously low! My Uncle had someone construct and paint a large picture on plywood board. The painting was a huge red mushroom cloud bursting skyward. Below the plywood he had written with white paint, "Gasoline seventeen cents per gallon! At seventeen cents per gallon one could fill a sixteen gallon tank for $2.72! "Boom" We were at war!" You could travel from east coast to west coast and back for around $30-$35. I topped my tank off the other day. Ten gallons cost me $39.80! Some people cannot afford to travel on taxpayer paid highways to visit granma and granpa in other states. Enough! "I am grindng my teeth down." "while pumping gas at Uncle's station, I discovered I needed eyeglasses. When pumping gas near the pumps, I could see clearly. When on the other side of an automobile, I was squinting my eyes to read the numbers. When I got home, dad took me to have Dr. Baker, the optometrist, check my eyes. I was near sighted. As teenagers will do, some called me "four eyes." I got into more than one fight when some guy called me that. "I hated it!"
After lunch, I had gear to store in Uncle's boat. Uncle had already stored his. He used the 16' aluminum boat while his other boat was being repaired. We had a right smart of equipment. I should have noticed that Uncle had stored most of it in the stern. He had a fifteen horse power marine motor and battery that I would guess weighed 65-70 pounds. He said something that I would recollect with frightful memory. He said, "I have been doing some work on this boat, and I want to check it out when we are on the water." I really didn't think to much about this statement at the time. My Uncle took the drivers seat in the stern.
"Okay, Butch," That was my nickname. I was named after my dad's school mascot at Gardner Webb College, Boiling Springs, N.C. In dad's school annual was a photo of "Butch" on the first page. He was an English Bulldog. In the photo, his legs were slightly bent and wide apart. His chest was muscular and protruded outward. He had a sweater on with the name "Butch" emblazoned on the front. He wore a silly looking school beanie hat. His jaws were hanging low. He had this goofy stupid look on his face. It's as if he was saying, "I'm the big man on campus." Dad loved Butch's picture. "So, when I was just a small lad, I was nicknamed Butch. Most of my relatives picked it up. Uncle was ready. "Butch, push me off and then you jump in." I forgot to mention that Uncle could be overly zealous at times. This was one of those times. The bow was partially on land. A strong rope was attached to the bow. I gave a mighty push. Maybe to much of a push... The boat went quickly into the water. So quickly that I did not have time to jump in. My Uncle began screaming. "Help!! pull me in Butch, pull me in!" Too much equipment had been packed in the stern. Along with Uncle's weight and the weight of the motor, battery, and gear, water was coming over the stern. The boat was sinking! I grabbed the rope and began pulling with all my strength. My herculean effort created a small wake as the boat and Uncle Clyde, who was holding onto the sides with wide eyes and a terrified look came speedily onto shore. "Thanks Butch, I was sure the boat would sink along with all our equipment and the motor." From adrenaline and fright, I was bending over catching my breath, "Whew" That was close!
We motored to a special fishing spot. The fish were biting good. My Uncle Clyde was not only zealous at times, but he was frugal all the time. In other words, "He would squeeze the buffalo until it grunted." "Butch, go easy on those minnows. They cost five cents a piece." There were three dozen. 60 cents per dozen. "Uncle, next time, I will buy the minnows." Really! My Uncle enjoyed talking. No wonder the lady at the country store knew him so well. While she and Uncle talked, (I should say while Uncle talked) all she could do was smile and nod her head.
Uncle was primarily a self-educated man. He was very intelligent. He invented things. He had applied for patents on several of his ideas. There was a large work shop behind his house at Gaffney, S.C.
We caught a lot of fish. This evening they would be fileted and make their journey into hot oil. Golden brown along with the hush puppies. I fixed the slaw. Grated cabbage, Duke's mayonnaise, (Has to be Duke's)
chopped green pimento olives, some salt, and plenty of pepper. Remember, We had a lot of fish, so we tried not to waste.
We were zipping across the water with speed on our return trip to the dock. "Remember when I had mentioned that Uncle was overly zealous?" "Well, here is a perfect example." The boat was hitting the small waves and making a smacking sound as the bow pushed into the water. The boat would go up and then down. I was sitting on the middle seat holding firmly on the sides with both hands. My long auburn hair was blowing in the wind. We were going fast! Thank goodness I had already outgrown my freckles. If not, "I would have had them stretching backwards. All of a sudden, I felt a hand leaning against my shoulder. "Uh Oh! I hope this isn't who I think it is." As the driver of the boat, Uncle had left the pilot's seat. He was moving past me. "Boom, Slam." We were zooming and smashing into the water without a driver! "Uncle, I screamed in alarm. "Why arn't you driving the boat? We are in danger! What if we run into another boat or dock?!!" "Oh don't worry he says. "I made sure it was running straight before I came up here to check the motor's steering cable while we are running in a straight line. "Oh no." I remember now. He did say that he had been working on this boat. I stumbled quickly to the rear and began driving the boat. "Sit in the middle Uncle. Hold on and don't move."
We unloaded our gear, cleaned the fish, and fried them along with all the trimmings. They were delicious. Uncle looked at me sheepishly and said, "You know Butch, that was a stupid thing I did." I wasn't going to let him off the hook so easily. "Yes Uncle Clyde, that was a stupid thing you did." "Don't do it again." That wasn't the last time I went fishing with Uncle Clyde. He was my favorite Uncle. On this fishing trip, we bonded closer. Even though it was a frightful experience...
* This adventure happened in the spring of 1973.