Book Review by Jim Long
Growing Up Southern: A Memoir, by Bobby F. Edmonds, hard laminated cover, 6”x9”, 232 pages, 160 b&w photos, 67 color photos, printed by Sheridan Books, published by Cedar Hill Unltd., 1000 Cedar Hill Road, McCormick, S.C., $20 plus $5 for shipping.
Talented local writer and historian, Bob Edmonds, who has chronicled the story of his native McCormick County in numerous volumes like McCormick, the Place, has now cast a loving glance back on his own personal history. His latest book, Growing Up Southern, A Memoir is a wonderful, moving recollection of what it was like to grow up in the South in the days during and just after The Great Depression.
Growing Up Southern is not a depressing volume about those dark economic years. Instead the writer’s fondness for his upbringing and his depiction of everyday people living admirably in the harsh world of the Depression make for an uplifting book. As Edmonds writes, “This generation endured so much, won so much, preserved so much, built so much, gave so much and yet asked for so little”.
The memoir takes us to the era of gas ration coupons, the WPA and the CCC, horse drawn wagons, possum hunts, cotton gins, Lone Ranger on the radio and ice not from the trusty Fridge but from the local Ice House. Edmonds remembers the days of his youth with such clarity and detail, you feel transported back in time. For readers who grew up back then, the book will no doubt stir up memories both sweet and melancholy:
“The water well was located on the west side of the front yard. Two large oak trees provided for a shady yard during hot summer weather. More folks passed along the road walking than any other means of travel. Many a wayfarer stopped for a drink of cool water and a break in the shade of our front porch. Folks bragged about the good water from our well far and wide. My uncle said the very comfortable front porch hampered Daddy’s crop yields.”
For younger folks, those twittery, texting natives of the Digital Age, passages like this offer a view of a gone away world, perhaps as alien to them as a black and white television set. (If they pay careful attention to Growing Up Southern they might learn the definition of the great but fading Southern term “saucered and blowed”.)
The book follows Edmonds from his boyhood into adulthood. Along the way we learn about his many lifelong interests and hobbies. These are so numerous and varied as to make the reader feel a little lazy by comparison. There is his love of music, raising cattle, photography, writing, local history, maintaining his hundred year old family farm, saving historic buildings, and his work to help build a new public library for the citizens of McCormick. Long-time residents of the county will also remember Edmonds and his wife Kathryn as owners of a successful restaurant on Main Street, housed in the old Hollywood movie theatre.
The author’s love of photography, his passion for building preservation and of course his love of writing, clearly point to a recurring theme of the book. We must remember the past and celebrate it because it makes us who we are. Edmonds is intent on capturing those moments of yesterday with his words, saving them like the cherished family photos he uses throughout the book:
“Practically all of the roads in the county were dirt and maintained by the chain gang.
A wagon road, about a mile long, provided service from our home to the county dirt
road. During the winter months, my brother, sisters and I carried a kerosene lantern
to light the way before dawn to meet the school bus at the main road. We hid the
lantern under a big Mulberry tree and picked it up after school.”
The book is filled with these word snapshots. Interestingly, these roads would become a constant in the writer’s life. In 1951, Edmonds began work as a clerk for the SC State Highway Department and later he managed the county roads of McCormick as Resident Maintenance Engineer for 20 years.
Above all Growing Up Southern is Edmonds’s love letter to his parents and the generation of people who lived through one of the hardest times in American history. He relates his own history armed with a sense of humor, a gift for storytelling and a reverence for the past. His readers will see their lives or the lives of their parents and grandparents mirrored in its pages.
Jim Long is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter currently working with Pearson Education. He has also written for Educational Testing Service, The Psychological Corporation and Harcourt Assessment. He lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Growing Up Southern is available in McCormick from Strom Drug Store, McCormick Messenger, Books on Main, Chamber of Commerce, Willington on the Way, in Greenwood from McCaslan’s, or from the author.