The past lives on in a rural assisted living center, and much like elders unless you have reason to visit both remain invisible, a country you’ll never see. Yes, I know. Too much to do as you hurtle through the years. I don’t recall all this invisibility when I was young. “Seems to me,” as the old folks were wont to say, grandparents, aged parents, and aunts lived with family members once upon a time. I recall how great it was to sit at their knee and hear tales. New worlds entire opened up when they spoke. Not so today.

Open no more

These days older folks do a lot of sitting. A lot. TV tries to entertain them but fails. Seems to me too that a lot of old things sit and sit along lesser roads, lesser in that not many people travel them. Well back roads are grand avenues, places where the past still lives, and such is the case with a lonely road I took through western South Carolina almost to the Georgia border. Let me explain. I could see Georgia from South Carolina across a great expanse of water once known as the Savannah River. Yes, we even put rivers in rest homes, dammed they are and damned too.

My guide into the past was SC Highway 23, which runs through the Sumter National Forest west to Highway 28 whereupon at an old store called Bracknell’s you can cross the rail tracks and make your way down to Clarks Hill Lake. At that road’s terminus two states stare across the lake I skied upon in my youth. I never got to see the river run free through my homeland. Born too late.


I ended up at the impoundment about dark but on the way in I saw the past. I stopped at a cemetery where a mausoleum like my parents’ sits. I wanted to know who rests there. A preacher and his wife do and just behind their mausoleum stands the marker of a girl who died at five. Just five. Makes you wonder doesn’t it.

Heroes? Long gone

On I traveled and near the lake I spotted an old fire truck, one from 1946 I’m told. How many fires did this old truck snuff out? Where are the men who manned it? Where are the heroes? And then I caught the lake at sundown, when a dying sun fans out its colors and the light turns sweet. Beneath all that sweet sun-colored water runs the ghost of the mighty Savannah, and for a minute I tied to see the river running free but couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

Looking into Georgia

Something about the back roads proves therapeutic. Something about the back roads energizes me. I’ll never tire of this vast assisted living center where the past sits and sits waiting for a visit from others. It makes me think about beauty, lives cut short, forgotten heroes, how things once were, and as much as anything it’s calling my name for, I, too, will one day become a back road sight in a cemetery along a lesser road called Highway 220. When I do, I hope some future journalist-writer will ramble, and like that bear that went over the mountain, see what he can see and tell his busy brethren just all that they’re missing.


Image credit: All of the photos used in this story are by the author, © Tom Poland.

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of fourteen books, 550 columns, and more than 1,200 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, Reflections of South Carolina, Vol. II, and South Carolina Country Roads. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground.

He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks to groups across South Carolina and Georgia. He’s the editor of Shrimp, Collards & Grits, a Lowcountry lifestyle magazine.
Governor McMaster conferred the Order of the Palmetto upon him October 26, 2018 for his impact upon South Carolina through his books and writing because “his work is exceptional to the state.”

Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He grew up in Lincolnton, Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina.

Visit Tom's website at Email him at [email protected].