A Wednesday in September

"The River of Muscadines"

Enoree River -- the river of muscadines

Wednesday promised to be an aggravating day for me.  The afternoon schedule include my annual eye exam and then a dental appointment.  I knew that before it was over, my pupils would be dilated, blurring my vision and increasing my sensitivity to light for several hours.  And I knew that my mouth would be numbed and drilled on. 

Simply, ugh.

Yet it was warm (not hot!), sunny and calm, a glorious September morning.  I decided to go to the river. 

My family’s ancestral stomping grounds–both the paternal and maternal sides–run along the Enoree River from the vicinity of Youngs community down through Enoree and Lanford Station, ending up near Cross Anchor and Horseshoe Falls.  Sometimes it calls to me like a siren’s song.

I went to the falls first and had them all to myself.  Wearing a skirt and flip flops, I walked the path down to the creek, ditched the flops and waded into the water.  Minnows scattered before me  in the clear water around my feet.  I hitched my skirt up around my thighs with my left hand and balanced the camera and truck keys in my right and photographed the falls from several angles. 

Horseshoe Falls

Images played in my mind–flickering, jerky home movies of my mama and daddy.  Mama with a picnic spread on a quilt, the Skotch cooler full of sandwiches and cold drinks.  My little brother Joey, maybe a year old,  playing on the rocks.  Jeff, also still a toddler, standing still for once, mesmerized while my daddy took a stick and dipped up a water snake that he had just killed with his pistol.  The snake was limp and kept sliding off into the water.  Daddy, young and slim,  had his pistol in one hand and the stick in the other. 

Next I drove down the road to the Enoree.  In childhood, this short drive was sullied by litter, a dumping grounds for household garbage, old television sets with shattered picture tubes, cans and broken bottles.  Now it is prisine.  There is a small but tidy parking area with a sign that marks the way to put in kayaks and that gives a brief history of the area’s Revolutionary War significance. 

Again, I waded into the river, clear water rushing under my feet.  My  eyes are peeled for snakes and, unlike my daddy, I am not packing a revolver.  Just my camera.  Snakes, I  love ’em. 

Purple Muscadines

After this I made a quick trip up I-26 to the farm store at Live Oak Farms, where I purchased an organic blue corn taco kit, a pound of butter made locally from Upstate cows and a hunk of local white cheddar with green olives in it.  I enquired about muscadines for my jelly-making enterprise.  She didn’t have any, but soon I was on my way to a small farm between Cross Anchor and Pauline where the owner and I picked three gallons in 15 minutes working in the warm September sunshine, careful around a host of lazy bumblebees.

That night, with the whole left side of my face numb and my eyes dialated, I made bronze scuppernong jelly, gloriously golden. 

When all is said and done, I will have made bronze scuppernong and purple muscadine jelly, peach and pear jam, all from fruit grown within a 30 mile radius of my home.  Why go to all the trouble when I can buy all the jam and jelly I want from the supermarket?   Like my trip to the river, it connects me to the earth, to family, to my past and that of my ancestors.

Purple Muscadine and Bronze Scuppernong Jelly

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This ain’t the Low Country

It happens all the time. 

You meet someone somewhere–at a convention, a vacation, a meeting, a resort, even on line or while conducting business on the telephone.  They ask, “Where are you from?”

Any more, I sort of hate to say South Carolina.  Because inevitably, there is a squeal of pleasure, “Oh, we LOVE South Carolina,” and they go on to prattle on about Charleston or Hilton Head or Pawley’s Island or Beaufort.   About seafood and beaches and live oaks and palmetto trees and golf courses. 

I have to grit my teeth and politely say, “We’re from the Upstate.”  You know, near Greenville?

The Upstate, it seems, is invisible to the world.

We have our own topography, red clay and hills, lush and green and punctuated by cow pastures, chicken farms, hay fields and deer leases.  Flowing with brown silty rivers and creeks with the occasional rocky shoal. 

We have industry and farming and our own regional accents.  We have a rich history of Piedmont blues musicians and textile league baseball.  We are dotted with former cotton mill towns and historic sites from the Revolutionary War.  We have miles and miles of beautiful lake shores, campgrounds and state parks.  We are covered with liberal arts colleges and state universities.

Aside from the expected–a local variation of barbeque sauce–we have a regional cuisine.  It is pinto beans and cornbread, fatback and fried chicken.  Peaches in the summer and collard greens in the winter.  It is potatoes instead of rice.  And a squash is a yellow crookneck, not a zucchini and not one of those Yankee things that looks like some kind of little pumpkin.

We have a sense of self, an identity, a pride.

We are the Upstate.

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