What's Your Legacy?
As with most of my stories, this one begins with a little trip. But it ends with a big lesson.
We enjoyed this trip for several reasons, one being that we didn’t use an interstate for the first 30 hours and then it was only a six-mile stretch. I commented to Jenni that I felt like I was finally seeing South Carolina after all these years. Backroads are fun, monotonous, safe, dangerous, beautiful, boring, but always entertaining. We like to drive through old business districts and historic residential areas to get a feel for the small towns. It typically turns out sad that they’ve decayed and mostly been forgotten but hats off to those who have tried to redevelop what they have.
On this journey we happened across two 7-story towers in Buffalo, SC that could have been on an Ivy-league college campus if they weren’t the bookends for a textile mill that had long been demolished.
Shortly after leaving Buffalo on SC215 we passed an old general store, long since closed down, but with a vibrant US flag waving proudly from the porch. I was intrigued but kept going. Frankly, U-turns have just become more difficult driving our van Wanda. She can’t do a 180 degree turn like our Honda Civic.
But the more I thought about what I had just seen, and the fact that I may never drive SC215 again, I knew I had to turn around. Of course, that is usually when the opportunity to turn disappears. But I was patient and found a driveway so I backtracked to this piece of Americana.
I was able to get all of Wanda off the highway safely. I then hopped out and took a few pictures of what I imagined to once be the hub of activity at this little crossroad in the country. I pictured the same type stores my father would take me into when he was making house/ranch calls as a country veterinarian in South Texas. In one direction we had Kubala’s Store, closer to home was Kneifel’s Corner (later known as Schlarbaum’s Village) and my all-time favorite was the store at Cotton Patch. I can still remember the screen door slamming, a sudden quietness as the domino players paused to see who had arrived, and the feel of the well-oiled wooden counter where you could get a bag of Planter’s Peanuts and an ice cold ‘sodie’—usually Dr. Pepper but occasionally a Big Red (it’s a Texas thing)—while the adults talked about the weather and crops.
There was no visible sign to tell me the name of this place. I got back in Wanda and turned the ship around to head home. The next day I posted one of my pictures in a Facebook group for historic landmarks in South Carolina. (South Carolina Picture Project if you are interested—and you should be.) I expected 40-50 Likes and thought no more of it. Later that day when I checked my phone I saw that the post had gone crazy with comments and over 1,500 Likes. It had been shared almost 200 times!
But then the REALLY cool thing happened.
I was contacted by the family who owns the old store and got to learn some about its history. It was owned and operated by Mr. Dan Whitehead and his wife Montez. In a time when brand identity wasn’t as necessary it was simply known as Whitehead’s Store, but I’ve heard others refer to it as Whitehead’s Mercantile, Mr. Dan’s Store, and so on. Even though both have passed away, and the store has been closed many years, their daughter-in-love Ginger Whitehead still takes time to decorate the front with seasonal wreaths and flags; hence, the beautiful Old Glory flying the day we passed. I could tell from our text conversation that Mr. Dan was a very special man. Then I started reading the HUNDREDS of comments on the Facebook post.
Mr. Dan would deliver groceries back in the day, so take that Amazon! But the special part was that he was known to bring a bag of candy for the children at his delivery, especially if the family was struggling. Others remembered his ice-cold soft drinks, being able to run a tab for groceries, and buying their first chewing tobacco (at a VERY young age!). I found it heartwarming that many of the memories that were shared involved going there as a small child with a grandfather, sometimes riding in the bed of the pickup. In all instances, Mr. Dan was recalled to be a very friendly, giving person.
And that leads me to the lesson I learned on this little trip.
Wouldn’t it be grand to live your life in such a way that people remembered the good you did, and the smiles you created, decades after you are gone? Could a photograph of something you created and the mention of your name open a floodgate of fond memories and stories?
For me, I hope so. Only time will tell.