The South Carolina highway between Conway and Marion, like many roads left for dead by interstates in the south, seems lonely and ignored. Few cars travel the faded asphalt anymore, and the shoulders are loose with gravel and overgrown with weeds. The tar filling the cracks in the pavement looks like varicose veins.
I noticed the beat up Buick pulled off the highway from a half mile away and slowed to look for signs of trouble. Instead, something I haven’t seen in a long time slowly materialized.
Three women dressed in bright print dresses were fishing from the bridge. Each of them wore a straw hat; their dark skin glistened in the summer humidity. Simple cane poles baited with night crawlers were resting on the bridge railing.
As I drove past them, one of the three pulled her pole out of the creek and displayed a bream about the size of a deck of cards. I knew it would go into the white five gallon bucket they brought along for their catch. This wasn’t a sport to them; these ladies were getting dinner.
Turner South television used to run spots called My South. Famous and not so famous people tell what growing up here meant to them. Seeing old women fishing off a bridge for dinner is part of My South. Sadly, images I considered permanent have disappeared, maybe forever.
Bear Bryant and Slim Pickens are long dead, and no one has come close to replacing either one. Pineapple and Spam sandwiches, baseball cards in bicycle spokes, lightning bugs, and swimming holes have vanished.
When I order tea in a restaurant, I’m asked whether I want it sweet. Isn’t it supposed to be served that way? Old country stores with bologna by the slice and a large slab of self-serve cheese are nearly extinct. I wonder what happened to the old men who used to sit by the wood stove and solve all the world’s problems.
Family reunions and church homecomings now feature store bought fried chicken, desserts from the local grocery store, and pasta salads. And there are countless women raising families who have no idea how to make cathead biscuits or a pone of cornbread.
Don’t get me wrong, the world is a better place today than it was when I was a kid. We live longer, understand more, and relate better to each other. I am happy to log onto the computer and read about things I never would have known about just a decade ago and I’d have a hard time surviving on three television channels.
But progress is like being married to a nymphomaniac. You have to take the good with the bad. For every positive step we’ve made, there are reminders we’ve lost our innocence. For every innovation, we had to sacrifice a treasured memory.
Fishing off a bridge on a sleepy back road sounds like Nirvana. So does sitting on the front porch watching the sun set and fireflies appear. Most of us are probably happy to have the cell phone and the satellite dish available when we get bored and will travel the interstate when time is of the essence. I wonder if we can still have both. Or have we progressed too far?