I’ve lived in Upstate New York for over ten years now, so it’s home for me now . . . but HOME, for me, will always psychologically and spiritually be in South Carolina. Although I learned today that, on some plane, my roots have gotten shallower and started to fray, as for the first time in three centuries or so, no one in my family is a land owner in the state any more.
A brief explanation . . .
I come from a very, very old and prominent Low Country family, and am eleventh in straight line of descent from the first English settler of South Carolina. The protagonist in my book was named Hutson Colcock Hay III for a reason: those are the names of important families in my lineage.
Our family cemetery has marked graves dating back into the mid 1700s, and probably unmarked or lost ones going back even earlier than that. My grandmother and my grandfather are there. My father isn’t, though: as a veteran, he’s buried in the National Cemetery in Beaufort, SC, right in the middle of a vast field of Civil War graves, each with a name and the letters “USCT” beneath them.
“USCT” means “United States Colored Troops.” These were the black soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War.
My ancestors were major landowners and farmers, and they owned hundreds of the slaves that the USCT soldiers were fighting to free. Most of the family property located around the inland village of McPhersonville, which only shows up on the most detailed of maps anymore, and then only as a very, very small dot.
My grandmother grew up there in the old family house. Her mother died in childbirth, so she was raised by an aunt and uncle. Not a husband-and-wife aunt and uncle combination, but a brother-and-sister aunt and uncle combination. My grandmother ran away very young with a dashing young Cherokee Indian, and had her first and second children very, very young. The oldest, my aunt, was developmentally disabled. She married a man who was also developmentally disabled, and they have two developmentally disabled children.
The second of my grandmother’s children, my mother, played the role of the adult in the family from a very early age.
There was a third sister, born many years later, significantly closer in age to me than to her own sisters. We were very close growing up. I attribute much of my early love of music to her tastes and influences.
Back to McPhersonville. The old family home was torn down when I was young, and my grandmother’s Aunt Hetty and Uncle Dickie (the ones who raised her after her mother died) built a new small house on the property. When they got older and increasingly infirm, my grandparents moved back to the family plot to be near them.
I was born by this time, traveling around the country with parents and sister, following my father’s career in the Marine Corps.
Chunks of the family land had been sold over the years, so that by the time that Hetty and Dickie died, there was really just a relatively small plot on which my grandmother and grandfather lived, the last remnants of the family holdings. My grandfather saw ghosts and spirits there regularly, and would go to walk his dog out in the woods beyond an old storage building we called “The Black Shed,” often coming back in to report that the devil was in the woods again, and then sharing with us what they had talked about. I never went beyond The Black Shed accordingly.
My grandfather died when I was in college. A few years later, my grandmother remarried. Then she died a few years later, and my step-grandfather was the last one left on the family land. By this time, my father had retired from the Marine Corps, and he and my mother lived in a series of homes that they bought, first in nearby Beaufort, South Carolina, then in Bluffton, South Carolina, closer to Hilton Head.
My step-grandfather didn’t want to stay on the family land, so with my mother’s blessing and help, he sold it and the house that stood on it, and bought another very small house on six acres of land in nearby Early Branch, South Carolina.
My father died in an accident in September, 2002. After his death, my mother didn’t want to stay in the home they made together, so she sold their house and moved back to Beaufort, renting a house in the historic Point Neighborhood.
Her step-father (my step-grandfather) was in failing health by this time, so she first had him move to Beaufort to be closer to her, then as he grew increasingly frail, he moved into a nursing home.
His little plot of land and its little house was the last piece of land that our family (well, at least the parts of it with whom I’m still in touch or aware of) owned in South Carolina.
My mother told me that it was sold today to help pay for my step-grandfather’s nursing home costs.
The sale price was $18,000.
I doubt that most people reading this website can really begin to imagine or appreciate what six acres of land with a house on it that would sell for $18,000 is like. There was no internet connection out there in Early Branch. No one was blogging from there. You could watch television, maybe, if you got the rabbit ears on the TV set pointed the right way, but otherwise, it was as rural as rural gets in America, a little house on an out of the way road that most people wouldn’t even see, much less notice, if they drove past it, blasting from someplace to someplace else, not really aware of the people who lived in between those points.
Soon after my dad died, I was up at my step-grandfather’s house, and was really struck and touched by his life there.
I wrote a story soon thereafter about his final days on the last piece of land that my family owned in South Carolina, called “The First Year in Fifty.” Here it is . . .
THE FIRST YEAR IN FIFTY