In South Carolina

I have a cousin who owns a place on Key West, so technically, it would have been possible for us to make a trip across the United States that is longer than the one we’re on. On the other hand, that cousin isn’t in Key West this time of the year and we did see him in Montana. The reality is that we have only two children and they live just over 3,000 miles apart and we decided to go on a road trip and drive between the homes of the two. Yesterday afternoon we pulled into our daughter and son-in-law’s back yard with our camper. We’re going to take a while to rest and visit and enjoy our grandson.

Many years ago, I was at a church meeting in Texas. I was speaking to a server in a cafe who asked my name. I said, “Ted.” The server didn’t understand me at first. I ended up spelling my name to her: “T - e - d.” “Oh!” she said, “Tay-ed!” After that experience, I tell people that one of the delights of traveling in the south is that when I go there, my name has two syllables. Up north, it is a very short name with only one. Students of language would note distinctions in dialect between various places in the south and a true South Carolina native might take offense at my comparing a Texas accent to the way they speak in South Carolina.

When we are in the south, I am reminded how much we are people of the American West. Our lives have been lived in an entirely different region. There are lots and lots of differences in culture between the Pacific northwest and the Atlantic southeast. We did, however, learn a bit about southern culture when our son lived in North Carolina where he attended graduate school. During that time, we were able to visit him and his wife three times - twice by taking long cross-country road trips and a third time by driving up from Atlanta, Georgia, where we had been attending yet another church meeting.

My joke when our son live here is that we had raised him with the rich southern culture of South Dakota and so we needed to sent him up north to learn about northern culture in North Carolina. There is about as much northern culture in North Carolina as there is southern culture in South Dakota. The names don’t tell the whole story.

On this trip we’ve already had glasses of sweet tea - something we never drink in our regular lives. We enjoy ice tea, but don’t add sweetener, but at least once on each visit to the south, we have a glass of the concoction they make by adding sweetener to the tea as it is brewing. And we’ve already made a stop at a Waffle House. The chain of breakfast cafes is a southern phenomenon. There aren’t any Waffle Houses where we come from, but there are plenty of them down here.

The big difference of which I am aware right now is the humidity. The simplest outdoor task leaves me dripping with sweat. We are running the air conditioner in our camper in the middle of the night - not so much for the temperature, as to remove some of the moisture from the air. The water is dripping off of the roof of the camper as the air conditioner dries the air inside our sleeping quarters.

Culture, of course, is much deeper than just the weather, a few foods, or the way we pronounce certain words. And we have much more in common with each other than the few differences we experience. One of the joys of traveling for us, however, is noticing and enjoying all of the signs that we are in a new place - one that we don’t understand as well as we might. There are always new things to learn.

Dalzell is the name of the town where our daughter and her family live. It is right next to Sumpter, which is a bit east of Columbia. It is roughly in the middle of the state of South Carolina. South Carolina is one of the original 13 colonies that made up the United States. European explorers arrived in the area in 1540 with the deSoto expedition. The explorers unwittingly introduced new diseases to the region for which the indigenous people had little or no immunity. Permanent settlers from England arrived at the port of Charleston in 1670. They were wealthy planters who brought with them slaves and planted large cotton farms. The history of settlement in this part of the country is much longer and more complex than in the western states where we have lived. There had been Europeans in this part of the country for hundreds of years before the first settlers moved into the pacific northwest. And the Black Hills of South Dakota, where we lived for many years was one of the latest parts of the continent to be settled by non indigenous people.

The story of the American South is in part the story of the Civil War. Differences in economies, culture and traditions, including the practice of slavery boiled up into an attempt by southern states to separate from the American union. The bloody and messy war that followed was fought primarily on southern soil. South Carolina saw plenty of bloodshed not only in the Civil War, but also in the American Revolution when British troops fought against the settlers. it isn’t that the story of the west is free from violence. The near genocide of Lakota people in South Dakota weighs heavy on the story of that place. But there is a collective memory of loss and tragedy in the south that shapes the story of those who live here.

Our visit gives us an opportunity to see things from a slightly different perspective. It is a gift our children have given us by traveling and visiting other places and inviting us to come to visit them and learn about their lives and homes.

Today, we are happy to have completed a long trip and comfortable to simply rest and look about. Our adventure - and our journey - continues.

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