The house in which I was raised consisted of four rooms: a living room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. Why isn’t the bathroom ever counted? My brother Edmund and I shared the same bed until we were teenagers. Two years older than I am, he eventually carved a bedroom out of our basement, giving us both a bit more space.
Dinner conversation at our house was not scintillating. Much as I love my parents, our world was not that of literary figures who sit in a spacious dining area discussing Great Ideas or even lowly politics. I guess we talked about church and sports. Edmund and I were all boy.
What I remember most, when I think of our tiny childhood home on Thurmond Drive is the one block long street we lived on and the woods behind our house. Our neighborhood consisted entirely of boys—the Staleys, the Twelkemiers, and the Aldridges. Thurmond Drive was a hill with no traffic, so down that slope we raced bikes, soapboxes, and anything else a boy’s mind could imagine.
Behind us, the woods wandered off to infinity, as far as we knew. The Horse Creek Valley of western South Carolina covers a lot of terrain. We picked blackberries, blueberries, plums and some nuts. We hiked back to the Clay Pits and beyond. We caught turtles from the swamp and unsuccessfully tried to tame them. We rode our bicycles through the woods, beyond Beverly’s store to the old Carolina Springs pool. When it was still open, we dived off the high platform. Later, after it was deserted, we shot fish somehow locked into the old pool with whatever guns we had with us.
We visited Mrs. Womrath in her old plantation home. Slave dwellings still existed on the site and my memory is that some were still occupied. A half-dozen of us boys, ages 10-16, sat in her formal living room, politely listening as she told us stories of her past. I think she had been in the silent movies, but even with Google, I have never been able to verify that. I was the youngest of the neighborhood boys. We had climbed the wooden steps to her grand plantation porch and knocked on the massive front door. She entertained us as if we were visiting celebrities. I remember her showing us oriental fans that would make the Antique Road Show hosts drool. We were in the presence of elegance.
Not much seemed to happen inside our happy little home on Thurmond Drive. We watched TV. We ate good meals. We read books. Even the books led us to other places. Robinson Crusoe introduced us to the South Sea Islands. Robin Hood guided us through Sherwood Forest. The Jungle Book took us to India. We boarded Huckleberry Finn’s raft and sailed with him and Jim down the Mississippi. Jack London led us to explore Alaska.
The house on Thurmond Drive was a launching pad. Love inside. The world outside. It was a good combination.