If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I’m a regular blood donor, a practice I began in honor of my dad, but continue because I find some satisfaction in knowing I’m doing good for someone. I’ve been due to donate for a few weeks, but my recent bout with the flu precluded that.
However, last week the folks at The Blood Connection told me that they were interested in collecting not my usual pint of B-negative (a blood type that I find delightfully appropriate to my personality), but a batch of my platelets, which are useful for cancer patients and other folks. I’m fine with that, but alas, the gear they need for that is not available in Mondoville. The only places around here that do this sort of donation are both about an hour’s drive away. One center is in Greenville, and the other is in the medium-sized (by South Carolina standards) town of Greenwood. Greenwood is only about 35 miles away, while Greenville is more like 50 or so, but Greenville is served by the Interstate, while Greenwood isn’t. Greenville also has some really cool used media stores and the source for one of my favorite hot sauces.
But I chose Greenwood. Why? Well, I hadn’t been there in about 45 years. My father was born there, and my grandmother lived there for most of the period in which our lives intersected. But in the mid- to late-70s, my grandmother and dad became estranged, and they remained more or less separated until her death in 1992.
So the last time I saw my grandmother was in late 1976, when she returned to Greenwood after essentially disowning my dad in Nashville. (Granny and my mother were continually at odds, a product both of my grandmother’s misplaced snobbery — she could have taught Amanda Wingfield a thing or two about clinging to past glories, even as she was getting blasted on terpin hydrate with codeine — and my mother’s intractable stubbornness. Granny told Dad to decide between his mother and his wife. Dad chose Mom, and that was essentially that. My grandmother would occasionally send hostile letters, which my mother would save. We were dysfunctional well before the murders, it seems.) The one time my folks came down to visit us in South Carolina, in the fall of my first year at Mondoville, Mom and Dad went to take a look at his old hometown, but I was working, so I didn’t go. And over the ensuing decade and a half, I just never found myself with a need to go there, so I didn’t.
But now I had, if not a need, a reason to go there, so this afternoon, I drove the backroads from Mondoville to the town I hadn’t seen in decades. It’s a pretty drive, if you like rural scenery. I passed through two communities that fall under the heading of “wide spots in the road,” and another that is something of a historic location. Occasionally, small tracts of homes interrupted the vistas of farmland and piney woods, particularly near Lake Greenwood.
Eventually, I found my way to Greenwood proper, and went to the blood center. After checking in and doing the usual blood pressure and hemoglobin checks, I was escorted to where the action was. The center is very pleasant, with about a dozen donation bays, each of which has its own TV and headphones. Never having done a platelet donation before, I took some interest in the apheresis machine to which I was connected. My blood was pumped into the machine, which contains a centrifuge to separate the platelets from the rest of the red, red krovvy. At the end of the process, the machine pumps the red cells back into the donor.
The business is considerably longer than a typical whole blood donation — I spent about 75 minutes hooked up to the machine. After noodling a bit on my phone, I donned the headphones, switched on the TV, and discovered that I could watch the titanic struggle between my beloved Kentucky Wildcats and the visiting Ole Miss Rebels on ESPN. On top of that, the phlebotomists brought me a large bowl of popcorn, so I can attest that the process was about as pleasant as one might ask.
After I was disconnected and got my snack, I headed out to the car and headed for Memory Lane. Okay, it was actually Bailey Circle, where my grandmother had lived. The phone directed me to the street easily enough, and all these years later, I recognized the house immediately.
The house appears to have been divided into four apartments; even when I was a kid, there was a woman named Edna who lived across the entry foyer from my grandmother, who occupied the rest of the house — I remember watching a classic college football game in Edna’s living room. When we would visit, I believe I slept in the second-floor bedroom on the right. My dad would allow me to “slide down the banister” (but due to my everpresent clumsiness, he basically held me and lowered me along the rail. Dad was no fool.)
I know my grandmother, and my great-great-aunts who lived there as well in the 1960s (“Auntie” Etta Calhoun died in 1967, and Mary Calhoun (“Aunt Bay,” from whom the Spawn got her middle name, died in 1969.) would have been appalled at the fact that the house has fallen into a little bit of disrepair — and even more by the dead water heater on the porch. But then, I’m somewhat the worse for wear myself.
Just around the corner, I found the church my grandmother attended, where I believe my dad was baptized.
The church, with its sanctuary, Sunday School wing (which doubles as a preschool these days), and fellowship hall, takes up a full block. I considered trying to go in, but there weren’t any other cars around, so I figured the place was locked up. Perhaps another time.
From there, I found my way to a CD and vinyl shop. It’s a small storefront in a strip mall that has a slightly scruffy vibe, but I’ve always seen that as a plus for stores of that type. The atmosphere inside is similar. The scent of incense hangs heavy in the air, and I think I may have seen some black light posters in the back. I would be willing to wager a significant amount that many of the patrons may be fans of herbal jazz cigarettes. But again, I find these to be positive attributes in a store of this type. The woman at the counter was very friendly, and seemed genuinely pleased to hear about the background of my visit. “Welcome back,” she said, and told me that Greenwood actually has a lively bar band scene. Of course, as a reminder that we’re in the South, there was a flyer for a local charity’s raffle. The grand prize? A Glock.
The selection of CDs was surprisingly diverse for a store its size, and a wide variety of genres was represented. There was a nice-sized section of blues stuff, and even a few rows of comedy albums, along with the usual rock, hip-hop, and country. I found a few albums that interested me, and wound up picking up a classic hard rock album featuring one of my favorite drummers.
I’m always happy to find a store like this, particularly in a small town. As a kid and teenager in my various outposts of suburbia, slightly seamy record stores were among the few places that music-obsessed dorks like me could feel comfortable as we hunted for stuff that was never going to show up on the top-40 stations. When I started looking for jobs in college, my dream was to work in a store like that. So thanks for being there, B&T Tapes — long may you wave.
By then, it was about time for me to get back home, but I had one more place to find. The Greenwood branch of my family — my paternal grandmother’s side — were Calhouns, as I noted above. What remained of the family fortune after The Late Unpleasantness was squandered well before my time, or even my dad’s, but a few traces of my family’s former influence remain in Greenwood. Specifically, Charles and Nelson Streets are named for my late great-uncle, Charles Nelson Calhoun, who is buried in Greenwood. He was something of a character, and again, I can envision Auntie and Aunt Bay clucking over their nephew’s tombstone:
Another street was named for my grandmother. I mentioned that her aunts were named Etta (actually, her first name was Mae, but no one used it) and Mary. My grandmother was named for them both.
And from there, I made my way back to Mondoville. The light on the drive home was a gold I tend to associate with autumn, although we’re on the verge of spring — indeed, some buttercups are blooming in my yard. But the gold light seemed fitting for a day on which I visited pieces of my past.