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Smiling faces. Beautiful places.

Posted: May 28, 2013 11:40 a.m.
Updated: May 29, 2013 5:00 a.m.

A friend of mine came through town the other week to stay with me for a night as a sort of rest stop on his current road trip. Naturally, he wanted to see all the many sites and attractions that the area has to offer. As we drove through downtown Camden and I pointed out all the historical houses and then crossed over the bridge separating Camden from Lugoff, he said to me “everyone waves here.” I was a little confused by this statement. So I asked him what exactly he meant by that. I mean, I understood the words and what he was saying but what I didn’t understand is why he pointed it out.

He then told me that as he was driving through town en route to my house every person he passed whether it be walking down the street or passing them in their cars did a little wave. “I didn’t know any of those people,” he told me.

Being from Atlanta, I realize that this would probably seem a little odd to him. Random strangers waving at him as he passed by them. I’d never really thought twice about it. Well, for one thing the people I pass and receive a wave from aren’t random strangers but more than likely people I know or have met in the community. But there have been and will be people who I’ve shared a wave with who are strangers to me. I’ve never given it a second thought, though. It’s just how the people in Kershaw County are.

During his short stay here I also heard him mention to me a few times how much he loved it here and how nice everyone is. While this warmed my heart, it also made me realize how often I take for granted the people around here. I can recall visiting New York and D.C. and smiling at strangers or attempting to engage the person standing next to me on the subway in conversation and how they looked at me similarly to the way one might look at a rabid raccoon that was caught digging in their trash. Basically, they weren’t interested in my fluffy conversation. I think about how different that situation is when I encounter it around here. Waiting in line at the grocery store can go from being an annoying inconvenience to a somewhat enjoyable time (as enjoyable a time can be waiting in line for something) spent chatting with a fellow shopper.

And that’s not just native to our community specifically. I was in Charleston a few weekends ago and ended up eating dinner at the bar at a restaurant squeezed between two separate parties. On my right was a couple from Greenville who will be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary in November and on my left was a pair of best friends who take a trip somewhere every year together. What began as a somewhat awkward occasion (we had to squeeze in a chair and move people around to fit me and my friend) ended up becoming an evening I will hold near and dear for the rest of my life. We spent our dinner laughing and sharing the appetizers we each had gotten and sharing stories. We were quite the crew. Two twenty-something singles, two 65-year-old best friends and a couple who has been married almost twice the time I’ve been alive. One innocent bystander thought we were all one big group by the end of the night.

I sometimes fantasize about leaving the East Coast to move to California or New York City. Then I think about the wonderful evenings I have spent with strangers who I will more than likely never cross paths with again and wonder if it’s possible for those same magical events to occur elsewhere. People seem to stereotype the South and associate it with negative terms. But after meeting people from outside of this area who are playing the role of tourist in South Carolina, I realize that the people who come up with these negative implications of the South have probably never visited. I used to view the state’s slogan, “Smiling faces. Beautiful places,” as being somewhat general and just something that sounded catchy. As more time passes however, I see the truth behind those four words. Our state really is something to be proud of and love. Simply based on the smiling faces and beautiful people that you come across here. I think it’s accurate to say that most people around here hold the mantra “I’ve never met a stranger” very close to their hearts. And I think that’s why people come to visit year after year. Our area makes visitors feel as though they’re not tourists or visitors but rather that they, too, are a part of our hospitable community.

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