by Nancy Jarrett
Until I was older, I didn’t know just how blessed I was to grow up in the South, because I didn’t know what it was like living anywhere else. I took for granted that the beauty of our surroundings and our unhurried way of life was the way it was everywhere in the world. No one in South Carolina lived far from majestic mountains or pristine beaches, a placid lake or a lazy river, and during a day’s drive, we’d see splendidly diverse scenery.
When winter’s nippy days and frosty nights began to change slowly into the warm days of spring, peach and apple orchards turned into a sea of delicate blossoms, heralding nature’s awakening. Crabapple, wild cherry, plum, and persimmon trees exploded with fragrant blooms to bring new life to the woodlands, and our native white dogwoods awoke and flowered with magnificent brilliance from the mountains to the sea.
During the warm weather months, typically from early April until well into October, nature’s arrangement of wildflowers grew in abundance along the roadside, defying the dry, hard soil without preference to location, and fragrant Carolina jasmine, honeysuckle, and morning glory twined around trees and cascaded over fences. Live oaks, characteristically draped in a gray-green mantel of Spanish moss, mingled among myrtle and palmetto trees in the coastal regions; cypress trees, showing off their knobby knees, dominated the inland swamplands; towering trees in the forestlands sheltered willows, laurels and mimosas while protecting our abundant wildlife. And from one border to the other, white dinner-plate size blossoms on our giant magnolia trees gave out a lemony fragrance that was a Southern hallmark. In the autumn, a profusion of color lifted our spirits as the leaves on sweet gums, sycamores, hickories, maples, and poplars turned to shades of gold, red and orange, and just the sight of them imparted nature’s reminder that cool weather was finally on the way. Then we welcomed our short winters when nature rested and prepared itself for another spring.
The Southland was primarily rural, and farming was a way of life for many Southerners in varying degrees of success. As we’d drive around the countryside, we’d pass neatly plowed rows of rich soil planted with cotton, tobacco, corn, grains, peanuts or sugar cane. Cone-shaped haystacks from last year’s grain crop dotted the pasturelands where cows, horses, and goats could be seen grazing peacefully or lying under a shade tree. Modest country churches with their steeples rising high above trees sheltering small fenced-in cemeteries, unpainted one-room mercantile stores offering porches and wooden benches for sitting and watching the world go by, glossy-leafed magnolia trees adding an air of grandeur to even the most humble country home, aging soft drink signs nailed to anything vertical, and roadside fruit and vegetable stands tended by farm people were all a part of our rural vistas.
Country houses ranged from large, well-kept homes with wrap-around porches belonging to gentlemen farmers to sun-bleached wood shanties with lean-to rooms occupied by sharecroppers. Small kitchen gardens were usually nearby, most having an amusing scarecrow attempting to keep the birds away, and every country home needed a water-pumping windmill and a one- or two-hole outhouse.
Farmers who worked the land wore wide-brimmed straw hats and bib coveralls as they tilled the ground behind a mule-drawn plow, and women in homespun dresses and bonnets could be seen hoeing the garden or hanging out the day’s wash. They were a breed all their own, and they kept the South bound together with their toil, sweat and faith in God for good weather.
Easily, the highlight of our drives was those wonderful Burma Shave signs on the side of the road. Red lettering on white wooden planks nailed to poles about four feet from the ground were evenly spaced about 100 feet apart, and each group told a story that amused us. “Special Seats... Reserved in Hades / For Whiskered Guys... Who Scratch... Their Ladies... BURMA SHAVE.”
This excerpt is from Nancy Jarrett’s book titled Southern Born, Southern Bred. The book chronicles her seventy-five years living in her beloved South, with memories dating back to The Great Depression Era. Her journey began in Florence, South Carolina, where she spent her childhood and teen years before moving to Columbia, South Carolina, in 1947.
Nancy writes: “Three major threads run through my book: first, my family and the people I met along the way; second, my faith in God and how it sustained me through trials and sorrows; and third, of course, my love for the South, its beauty, its history and its traditions.
“If you love the South, sweet tea, gracious manners and magnolia blossoms, I invite you to travel with me down a road that is sometimes highway smooth, other times country road bumpy, and along the way perchance you'll stumble onto some old memories of your own.
“I was born in Florence, South Carolina, in 1927, an unexpected child to Clarence and Valerie Byrd, who were nearly 40 years old with two children, Frances and Carter. I was educated in the public schools, but didn't pay as much attention as I should have and had to wait until an advanced age to fulfill a life-long dream of writing a book. That took place, of course, after giving up on an acting career, a singing career and finding a prince to marry. I majored in secretarial skills in high school in case it came down to my having to earn a living. My career activities included working for a small-town newspaper, writing commercials for radio stations, and, ultimately, working as administrative assistant to the president of an insurance company. Not many achievements, but I had fun along the way. I was married to Tom Williams. We had one son, Andy. My present husband, Harry Jarrett, and I are growing old together.
“As for book orders, I keep copies on hand which I get from the publisher at a modest discount. I'd like to handle any order myself, because I can sell them for much less. I charge $16.00, which includes tax and shipping. Orders from the publisher cost $22.00, which includes a 6% sales tax and outrageous shipping charges.
“Incidentally, this is a non-profit effort on my part. Last year, I contributed to my church's student building fund and was able to buy hundreds of toys for needy children that were distributed through a local charity organization just before Christmas.”
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