Come with me on a trip to the countryside. It will take most of a Tuesday morning, when the sky is Spanish-moss gray and the rain is falling so gently that you hardly have to use your windshield wipers.
Really, the trip might do you some good.
With Newberry in the rearview mirror and on our way to a small town called Silverstreet, fields of young corn stretch out, mile after mile, on Highway 34. The delicate blossoms of Queen Anne’s Lace decorate the roadsides. So, too, dandelions.
The rain subsides and we pass through Silverstreet, which is still asleep, save for the post office where a light is on and some 100 mailboxes fill one wall.
Then we miss our turn on Old Town Road because the green and white road sign is covered in vines and so we go five more miles down the road before deciding to stop at a country store and call Larry Newman and tell him we’re lost.
He tells us it’s not so bad. All we need to do is backtrack a few miles and by the time we get where we need to be he’ll be standing by his mailbox. We won’t be able to miss him.
And sure enough, there he is. A tall, wiry drink of water with white hair that reaches his shoulders.
We roll our windows down and he tells us where to park and once we do that we enter into a world like no other. A place some folks call “Tiny Town.” A place where Larry and his wife, Trish, and his children and grandchildren, have built a miniature western village complete with a bunkhouse, an outhouse, a chapel, a bank, a jail, a livery stable, a general store and a Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Oh, and a café and an undertaker’s office.
You lean over and poke your head inside one of these delightful structures and bump your head on the doorsill when you back out. After all, these places are built for little people, not big people.
You rub the back of your head and you find yourself mesmerized.
You think about what it must be like to be a kid running around in such a place, pretending to be a sheriff or a cowboy or an Indian or a banker or a jailer or a school teacher or a preacher.
Then, if you’re me, and meant to write about this place, you search for the right words to describe it and how it came to be.
You won’t find them but Larry does.
“Children’re my life. I don’t have no money to speak of, but I’ve got a fortune in children.”
And all eight children, 13 grands and two great-grands have a fortune in this 75-year-old.
Larry was born in Camden, grew up in Columbia, became a welder and worked for a spell at the Fujifilm plant in Greenwood where he recovered wood from shipping crates which he took home to the Newman’s 10-acre spread.
There, on a flat expanse stretching out behind his farmhouse and shaded by pecan trees, Larry began building.
That was 1991.
“I just started tinkering with wood. It was kind of nice to be working with something besides steel. My daughter was 6 years old and she wanted a playhouse, so I built her a playhouse. Then the boys wanted a fort, so I built ’em a fort. Then we were watching ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and they wanted a church and a schoolhouse. Then they wanted a little general store. And I also built them an outhouse. It’s got its own corncobs but it doesn’t have a Sears Roebuck catalog. The outhouse was gonna be it.”
But then came a stagecoach office, a two-story hotel and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Larry wanders over to the little church, complete with a steeple and a bell. He pushes the front door open and points out small benches made of split red oak that line each side of the aisle leading toward an equally small altar. The benches are smooth and pretty. Larry’s blue eyes twinkle.
“I about burnt up a sander on those things.”
Larry said he and his children and grandchildren spent many weekends working on the Western town.
“In about three or four years, we had it all built. I reckon I was trying to give them a work ethic instead of sitting behind a computer 24-7. I started teaching ’em how to nail when they were 8 or 9. It didn’t take ’em but a couple of times hitting their fingers to learn.”
But why a Western town?
“I grew up in the late ’40s and ’50s. You’d get around the radio at 5 p.m. and ‘The Lone Ranger’ would come on. Then there was Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy. You know, cowboys always had a moral to their stories. A message to children to be good.
“I reckon we could use a little more of that these days.”
And you reckon it’s about time to leave this magical place.
But before you go, you meet Larry’s two dogs, Buster and Sissy. Inside his farmhouse, they do their trick. Larry asks them sit on the kitchen floor. He places a piece of chicken in front of each of them. He tells them he’s gonna say the blessing and they sit quietly, heads bowed, until he says, “Amen!” and then they jump for their treats.
Back outside, you chat just a little bit more.
You hate to go.
“We decorate the place at Christmastime. People come from all around. My wife, Trish, she loves this as much as I do. She starts decorating at least six weeks before Christmas.”
Then Larry talks about how he and Trish used to buy the kids cap guns and cowboy hats from Walmart and how they graduated to BB guns.
“Kids’ll take care of themselves if you let ’em. I’d teach ’em how to shoot and respect a weapon. And my wife made a rule. If you shoot it, you eat it. As far as I know, there’s never been any birds to suffer around here.”
Larry stuffs his hands inside his jean pockets and says there’s always a lot of work to be done around the place, but it’s all been worth it.
“The memories, you know. They’re a gift you can’t live without.”
And you know you could easily keep talking, but it really is time to go.
Larry smiles and tells you to be safe driving back home because “it can get kind of crazy out there.”
But not here.
Salley McAden McInerney is a local writer whose novel, Journey Proud, is based upon growing up in Columbia, S.C. in the 1960s. She may be reached by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.