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Touches of history and 'Heaven'

Posted: December 30, 2010 10:33 a.m.
Updated: January 3, 2011 5:00 a.m.

On a recent November morning after the General Election, I set out from my home in Columbia to go to my 64th high school reunion. All graduation classes from Midway High School have been meeting together annually for several years. This year the reunion was being held in a church at Shepard.

As I buzzed along I-20 that cool November morning, the high sun produced a kaleidoscope of color as it shone brightly on the autumn leaves. As I looked at the panoramic sweep of those trees bedecked in their autumn’s splendor, I thought of what the poet wrote, “Poems are written by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.”

I also remembered the song, “Carolina,” that day, especially this line: “Nothing could be finer than to be in Carolina in the morning.” It occurred to me that surely all of this beauty was “touched by Heaven” and was Heavenly if not actually Heaven.

That morning I had turned on my radio and as I listened, I noticed there were no negative political ads cluttering up the airways. I thought that was just “Heavenly.”

Since I was on my way to my high school reunion and in the frame of mind described above, I remembered one of my high school teachers, Emma Dolan, and her literature classes and a few lines from the “Rubaiyat” by the Persian writer Omar Khayyam. “A Book of Verses underneath the Bough, A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou Beside me singing in the Wilderness -- Oh Wilderness were Paradise enow!” Those were the ingredients which produced a Heavenly moment for this love-struck individual about a thousand years ago.

It occurred to me that “Heavenly” touches and smiles, a courtship and the words “I will” and “I do” have produced many moments, hours, days, months and years that have been “touched by Heaven” for many of us. My wife and I have enjoyed 61 years generously sprinkled with just such moments and a life together blessed by Heaven.

Being a historian, when I travel I just can’t help but inject a few “touches of history” into my trips. I remembered President George Washington traveled along this same route in 1791 when he made his tour of the Southern states. As he traveled from Columbia to Camden he did not speak very highly of the sandy oil and pine barrens he encountered for about 20 miles. In Camden he became much more impressed with the area.

Upon his return to Washington after completing his tour, he must have felt a great sense of pride in now presiding over this new country he had fought to create. Upon his return to his beloved Mount Vernon on the Potomac, he had to feel his spot there had been “touched by Heaven.”

As I crossed the Wateree River, I thought of all the thousands of fishermen, including the Indians, who had fished those waters for hundreds of years; all the fish stories of the big catches or the ones that got away. These fishermen must have experienced some “Heavenly” moments along the banks of the Wateree.

As I crossed Big Pine Tree Creek, a “touch of history” entered my mind as I thought of Mulberry a mile downstream. I just know Col. Chesnut while riding around his plantation on horseback at times must have viewed it as his own little “piece of paradise.”

His slaves never had the same view of Mulberry, however. Many of them did have pleasurable moments as they, too, fished the waters of the Wateree and Big Pine Tree Creek after completing their work in the fields. A good mess of fish cooked by the fire in their cabins brought joy to them on many nights.

Today Mulberry is somewhat of a “Mecca” for Civil War buffs who are fortunate enough to visit it. They have that “touched by Heaven” feeling when they see and tour the plantation.

As I turned off I-20 to go into Camden, another touch of history struck me, the terrible Cleveland School Fire of 1923, only four miles away. For all who were there that night, they experienced a “touch of Hell” instead of Heaven.

On this particular Saturday in November, Historic Camden was holding its annual Revolutionary War encampment weekend. A sea of tents filled the broad vista from the highway to the Kershaw-Cornwallis House as I passed. These enthusiasts were visiting one of their Revolutionary War “Meccas.”

These tents covered ground in earlier times where Kershaw County school children, including me, attended the County Fair. Many were the “Heavenly” times we had there over the years.

I know many of the Camden High School football players and teams who practiced and played on some of these grounds viewed the area very positively, especially after a win. Buster Beckham and his undefeated teammates must have thought it to be a magical, “touched by Heaven” place, a field where their dreams were realized.

As I turned at the Mills Court House to head north on a shortcut to Highway One, history again overtook me; in this instance, a very recent history. I thought of Senator Vincent Sheheen’s return trip home to Camden after his 18-months-long unsuccessful campaign for governor. I know he was deeply disappointed, but I also know how he feels about his hometown, county and its people, and Amy and his three boys. I know he feels like he returned to a place “touched by Heaven.” Many of us share the same feeling!

As I passed by the Camden Airport I thought of the Southern Aviation School there in the early 1940s and the young British pilots. As they soared into the air above earth, they must have felt a little closer to Heaven.

As I was leaving the airport I noticed the cut-over area in the wetland beside the highway and concluded it must represent the ruins of a Carolina Bay. Since I was headed to Shepard for my reunion, the Savage Carolina Bay there came to mind.

A year or so ago Betty and Alfred Smyrl, Joan and Glen Inabinet, and I toured the Savage Bay. On that day amid the water grass, cypress knees and trees in the bay there in the middle of a sand hill, we understood why Henry Savage would buy a portion of this bay and seek to preserve it. We, like Mr. Savage so many years ago, found it to be a magical place “touched by Heaven.”

By this time I reached the church at Shepard and my high school reunion. I stopped my historical and touched by Heaven musing for a time.

As the Midway School alumni gathered and as we began to remember, to reminisce and to share school stories and experiences, I once again remembered that magical time in my life, my high school years, and “knew” that for me they had the touch of Heaven and that I have indeed been truly blessed.

I hope all of you have had magical times and experiences and moments in life that have been “touched by Heaven” and I hope to see you there.

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