For years, I have let it be known to friends that I wanted to go back "home" to Honea Path. I remember the place ideally from my youth. It was a place where a kid could ride his bicycle around town and up to the dime store to buy baseball cards without incident. No parent was worried about such things.
Neighbors knew you, and I will never forget how they would bring all types of food over when someone in your family died or was sick. I was surrounded by great role models, like Tom Moore and Ross Wright, my neighbors growing up. I worked in the mill that is now closed. In that mill I met other role models who taught me about hard work and drive and putting aside differences to get the job done. People knew you, cared about you, but kept out of your personal business.
The politics was legendary for a small town. Honea Path had a Sheriff, a Clerk of Court, a Congressman, a Governor turned United States Senator and two different influential members of the General Assembly who imprinted their mark on the state. Most of the time the politicians acted like the mill workers, they worked to get the job done.
Honea Path is still filled with good people. The Mayor seems solid. The town council has fine people on it, including an ex boy scout leader of mine. The town fire department is one of the state's best. The lack of major crime everyday and traffic jams are a welcome relief from Columbia. I have good neighbors. There's a great Mexican restaurant.
Maybe it has been all the years away, or the fact the closing of the mill changed the culture, but there is an aspect of politics and culture that does make me feel like a stranger in a strange land.
In this region of Anderson County there is a bitter political undercurrent, led by Anderson County Council Member Cindy Wilson. That movement calls itself conservative, but in Lexington County they would be called malcontents. They complain about everything. They are a group that call themselves for taxpayers but support impact fees to hamper development. Wilson ignores the fact that economic development here is at a halt. She spends most of her time and energy trying to get credit card statements from the county administrator she apparently loathes. Wilson took her case the South Carolina Supreme Court recently. If only she would use that effort to get Honea Path some good paying jobs.
I have to admit that Wilson is an elected official. And, her elections seems to hinge on two things that seem essential to the culture here these days, appealing to the old small town southerners with common courtesy and to the bitter undercurrent with red meat. She fans the flames of resentment and bitterness to get re-elected and stay upon her quest to oust Joey Preston from the Administrator's post.
What has surprised me is that undercurrent's lack of civility. "You were raised better than that," is something my mama still says to me when I get uncivil. There is decidedly less of that old civility in the culture in this part of Anderson County today. Ms. Wilson's supporters seem to actually follow around their opponents, or claim to just "see" them with this or that person and try to make controversy. There are parts of the midlands of South Carolina, and the lowcountry, where such just might get one on the receiving end of a cold stare or worse.
Not here. The civil folks don't want to get involved. The undercurrent laps it up. That bitter undercurrent can be found throughout politics and even everyday conversation. I was surprised at how several people asked me about some personal business without really knowing me at all. I know how ole Tom Moore would have replied. It would have been different then the kindly shaking of the head Mr. Wright would have done as he walked away from the conversation.
The is still a strong element of the old place I called home, the place of Ross Wright and Tom Moore, left in this part of Anderson County. They still will help when you are down and stay out of your personal business. God bless those people. They are why I am going to stay here and why I am proud to call this place home again.
But, the undercurrent seems to get all the attention these days with Cindy Wilson as their leader. That crowd has replaced bringing food to you when you are down with following you around to see who you eat with. They have replaced working things out between good people with bringing lawsuits. They have replaced working together to get the job done with destroying the community to make a point. They have replaced helping a neighbor with getting entertainment out of a neighbor's plight. They have replaced staying out of a man's home life with disrupting his home for political gain.
If this region of Anderson County wants to rebound, either with new high paying jobs, or just as a bedroom community, then the bitter undercurrent needs to be addressed and defeated politically. There is a lot of work to be done. That work can not be done as long as malcontents are allowed to have such a prominent role. While those malcontents have their right to make their voices heard, when they start shaping the culture, it is time for those who are more civilly minded to stand up and take the culture back. The road back to Honea Path being a place of political legends and a thriving economy is only a ballot box away. We don't have the luxury of worrying about people's personal lives. We don have the luxury of settling scores. This part of Anderson County is at a crossroads, and we must either take the road back to the future so to speak, where we embrace the civility that made this town semi-legendary, or we will slip down the road to going the way of the old railroad towns that decay and rot away until there is a just a shell left.