I was tooling along Harden Street, away from Five Points and down past the Allen and Benedict college campuses, when I noticed some faded graffiti on the concrete piling of a railroad trestle.
“SUNDANCE,” it said, in big, loopy, spray-painted letters.
I smiled to myself.
“SUNDANCE” has been there a long time and upon recently returning to my native home of Columbia after a 24-year absence, I found the graffiti oddly ingratiating. It might as well have said, “WELCOME HOME, SAL!”
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Columbia and its environs have changed a lot since, in 1990, I headed for Georgia and enough red clay to make a Maytag washer wince.
There are a lot more people – in fact, more than 200,000 more folks in Richland and Lexington counties.
There are a lot more restaurants. Once sleepy little old State Street in West Columbia is now hopping with some great eating spots.
And there are a lot more things to do around here. Zip lines are strung around Riverbanks Zoo. Tapp’s Department Store on Main Street has turned into a remarkable arts center. The Vista is chock full of everything interesting, edible, eye-catching and entertaining.
Why, even the top of the State House has changed. It’s gone from green to brown. Hiller Hardware in Five Points has vanished, along with the red and white sign on its rooftop that advertised a “50 PERCENT OFF SALE ON ALL BRASS ITEMS” for as many years as I can remember. Moe Levy’s on Assembly Street, where you could buy authentic sailor’s wool pants, is a place of the past. (Sigh.) Uncle Sam’s Showplace of Values on Two Notch Road, where penny-pinching mothers took their children for back-to-school clothes shopping, is gone, too. (But no sigh here, since I absolutely hated those annual expeditions.)
Now I don’t know if Alvin Portee is still out and about and running for coroner of Richland County, promoting his candidacy by way of a homemade sign propped up in the back of an old pickup truck.
And I can tell you, for sure, it’s gotten hotter around here.
“If you take a look at the trend,” said Jim Gandy, a well-known meteorologist,“we are warming. So yes, it’s gotten hotter since you left.”
Despite all that, some things around good old Colatown have remained steadfastly and comfortingly the same. Take a recent experience of mine.
In the process of returning home, I had two wingback chairs reupholstered. They were my mother’s and were covered in far-too-formal-for-me chintz fabric. I wound up at an upholstery shop on Farrow Road. It’s a rumpled kind of place, and I wondered at the friend who’d recommended I bring the chairs here.
Inside, the seasoned upholsterer, Levon Stack, took one look at my wingbacks and smiled. “I remember putting this chintz fabric on these chairs for your mama,” he said.
So, the fabric changes, but not the fine and meticulous work of Mr. Stack.
Maybe like my native home, too. The outside covering has changed, but not its inner workings, the stuff that gives a place its one-of-a-kind character.
The Cocks are still fighting for what their feathers are worth and while the State Farmers’ Market has jumped ship from its moorings on the south side of Columbia, the nearby State Fairgrounds remains home to early-October fun, Fiske Fries, and that most familiar Columbia landmark — “the Rocket.”
But mention of the old Jupiter missile which stands sentry at the gates of the fair begs a most pressing question of mine: Does a woman with a syrupy Southern drawl still make announcements for folks to meet their “muther at the Rawket”?
I sure hope so, ‘cause home just wouldn’t be the same without her.
Salley McAden McInerney
Salley McAden McInerney is a former columnist for The State and has published a novel, Journey Proud, which is set in the early ‘60s in Columbia and which is available at amazon.com.