Spring is Here
By Bill Shepard
Song of Solomon 2:11, 12 KJV
“For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”
Though the bite of winter remains, proving it does not surrender without a fight. March is here and springtime is near! I have said it many times, and it merits repeating; there is no place on earth where springtime makes its entrance more beautifully than in the place of my beginnings, Darlington! You, who live there need not be told that, and if there are those who have not discovered that truth, I invite you to take a stroll through beautiful Williamson Park. It has been many years since I first discovered that truth, but the peaceful beauty of the place has followed me throughout my journey. I have vivid memories of walking along that winding road, fishing cane in hand and a can of fishing worms in the pocket of my faded overalls. I was en route to my favorite fishing hole on Swift Creek. Move over, “Barefoot Boy,” you had nothing on me!
In my mind, I carry a picture of the purple and white wisteria draping from the tall cypress trees that stand majestically throughout the dense swamp. I understand that much of the wisteria has been stripped from the trees; it was so pretty! The dogwoods, when in bloom, add to the scene, making its beauty a challenge for any artist to capture. One does not have to ravel far from the beaten path to behold the beauty of the colorful azaleas that adorn the yards of the houses that stand all along the way. This park, like many others, was hewn out of a wilderness by the WPA workers, using a pick, shovel and wheelbarrow, in a time long ago. They could not have known of the lasting beauty of the place they were creating.
March is here and in my part of the world it arrived as “gentle as a lamb.” According to an old saying, it should leave like a lion! I have yet to see one kite sailing in the blue yonder! In the time of my youth, the sky overhead would be filled with the flying ships of various designs, and the store windows in town would have displays promoting the sale of more. I could not count the hours I spent, lying in the tall broom sage fields with a string held tightly in my hand, while on the other end, my kit struggled to go higher and higher. There were not many store-bought kites in the sky over that part of the village where I spent my childhood years. We made our own and took great pride in so doing. Dried sticks from the pasture, paste, made by fixing a little of Mom’s flour with water, and the process began. A page from a newspaper if available, if not, a large brown paper bag could be used for the covering. Rags, torn from a discarded bed sheet, would serve perfectly for a tail for my kite. Now, to get a nickel to purchase a roll of twine from the neighborhood store, and I would be ready to join those already gathered in the sprawling cow pasture near the village. What fun, and it didn’t cost a cent. By the time March was over, the tall cypress trees inside the swamp would be the graveyard for the kites that had gone astray. There they would stay, blowing in the wind, until the rains of April and May took their toll.
March winds left other memories forever etched in my mind, memories not as beautiful as those already mentioned. I have written before of the dreaded fires that seemed to happen every year during the month of March. There were no fire hydrants on my part of the village. IF a house caught fire and if the fire truck responded, the best it could do was to spray water on the surrounding houses in an effort to save them. All the houses had roofs of cypress shingles and when dry, they were tinderboxes waiting to be lit. As a small boy I recall being awakened at night and watching a neighbor’s house and all its contents go up in flames. Flames reaching to the sky, through billows of black smoke, are not a pretty sight to behold and especially for the young and frightened. It has been many years since I experienced such scenes, but the memories are as real as yesterday. A house burned left a vacant lot that remained that way; some, even to this day. Once a house was on fire, only the chimney was left standing.
So March has furnished me with some of its ugly memories as well as its lovely ones. I choose to give though to the beautiful. I just saw a pretty red bird fly by my window. She will build her nest among the azaleas and raise her young. I can expect to see the wrens any day now. They come back each spring to build their nests on my back porch. There is a colony of them. So tiny! The jonquil, narcissus, red-bud, and yellow bell are awakening in my yard and the birds are singing. I have yet to hear “the voice of the turtle.” I will keep listening!
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. Signed copies of Mr. Shepard’s books “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised” are available for purchase at the News and Press office. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.