“A Shot in the Dark”

24 Jul

This past weekend, I went to see my friend Sean for his bachelor’s party in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The last time I hung out at his farm house in the middle of a corn field, I had just finished my sophomore year. It was a story-worth weekend, and I even wrote a contest submission for Oxford American. The prompt was “what drives life in the South,” and my response follows the photo jump.


I showed up here when I was a kid, uprooted from Wisconsin’s suburbs and planted in a town of 5,000 with a goat pen steps from my porch. This new “home” didn’t have comic stores, professional baseball, or grand libraries. My closest friend was 50 counties away. All the same, something inviting but risky in the South defined how I grew without bounds, like untended blackberries.

On my drive home from college, I pass the Super 8 Motel where I spent my first night in South Carolina. I had a Happy Meal and swam in the hotel pool, on the cusp of a new life. Honestly, I felt like barfing all over the concrete. Later that night, Dad and I scoped out the new house. Grass this thick was in stories about the prairie.

My nerves eased up during our walk between some low-hanging trees. I don’t remember Dad saying much in these quiet moments, until two small shadows bounded towards us.

“Hey, what’s your name? I’m Kimber. This is my brother, Trevor,” a little voice jittered.

I half-swallowed, “Um, Tommy.”

“Y’all moving next door?”

I had no idea what she said.

Dad saved us: “Uh, yes.”

“Great! We’ll be seeing you later,—bye!”

The welcome committee shot off, and two years of cowboy games, green onion picking, and folk songs on rubber band guitars followed.


“Cover an ear: it’s really fucking loud.”

With spindly fingers, I lugged a Smith & Wesson .38, targeting a plastic pot. Bangs were in my eyes, ragged skinny jeans on my legs. Sean, the other ranger, had stubby fingers and a stained “Drive By Truckers” shirt on. His girlfriend, in black, crossed her arms. My cowboy game had grown up a little.

Sean, unlike me, spent his whole life here, from childhood in West Virginia to college in South Carolina. Adventure permeates everything he does, from making curry or teaching. Though 3 feet taller, he’d be a kindred spirit to Trevor and Kimber. One adventure with him brought everything to full circle.

I had finished my sophomore year of college, a fractured time with sagging houses, first cigarettes, heartache, and lots of cooking. I loved it. That summer, I went down to Sean’s farmhouse in Cameron. Strangely enough, it reminded me of Grandma B’s house in Illinois: old around the edges. From the moment I felt the wispy grass, though, I felt whisked to my first impressions of the South.

We and Poppa Phil ate Duke’s Barbecue: a bottomless pit of hash n’ rice and mac n’ cheese, where the “healthiest” choice was cole slaw, but a place where I connected to something greater. The table wine was sweet tea, never more than three-quarters empty. It felt like a home I never lived in with a family I had just met.

We walked among Cypress tress, joking about growing up. Later, fueled on mint juleps, we blared our favorite songs, with Sean on guitar and me on a detuned piano. Hopefully, everyone within a mile could hear us. I’ve never forgotten firing those pistols, the deadly with Sean and the imaginary with Trevor.


After that trip, the South meant more than I realized. Before then, a farm symbolized backwards living and barbecue was meant for ceramic plates. Getting older, I got nostalgic for these things I had only experienced as an outsider, and I’d be naïve if I said the South wasn’t wistful.

The South is also a sweaty barbecue box, 12-bar claw hammer picking, and a connect-the-dots collection of mosquito bites. Like any place, it has its faults, but the bonuses are gems. Most importantly, it’s a place for growing, from the fields to the people. And there’s always a good story.


One Response to ““A Shot in the Dark””

  1. Christine July 24, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    LOVE IT. It was a little surreal to open the blog and see a picture of my fiance.

    Also, GUNS ARE DANGEROUS. Be safe!
    I am VERY VERY jealous that Sean got to see you and I didn’t 😦

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