EDISTO ISLAND, S.C. – It is with a keen and joyous anticipation that I am planning a long-overdue visit to Charles Town, the venue of some of my happiest boyhood memories.
I am the great-grandson of William Lyne Wilson, U.S. congressman, university president, Postmaster General and important figure in the establishment of Rural Free Delivery and, until his passing at 57 in the fall of 1900, a resident of Charles Town.
During summers in the 1930s and ’40s, I made annual trips to Charles Town with my mother, Ann Davenport Wilson Hatch. We stayed at times in the old Wilson home on Mildred Street next to the Zion Episcopal Church cemetery and in the home of my great-aunt, Mrs. Milton “Mamie” Rouss on Samuel Street.
I looked forward each summer to renewing my friendships with boys whose last names I remember as Riddleberger and Sydnor. At 80, I dare not trust my memory of their first names.
We rode bicycles everywhere, even all the way to the banks of the Shenandoah, where we swam and ate our picnic lunch in the shade of the riverside trees. Down a block or so from my Aunt Mamie’s house we could cross a large open meadow to reach some caves. The Carlsbad Caverns they were not, but they were “our” caves, and that was good enough.
The last time I was in Charles Town, I discovered to my sorrow that the “open meadow” is now filled with residential streets and homes, and that one must look very carefully to find the old cave openings.
We’d also pedal some distance out to the old rock quarry, abandoned when the diggers struck water. It quickly became a wonderful swimming hole. I seem to remember that we could see an old truck down there under the deep water, and that we boys assumed that quarry had filled with water so quickly that there was no time for anyone to get the truck out.
And I soaked up as much as I could understand of the saga of John Brown. I could quote verbatim the words of the historical marker on Samuel Street that notes the nearby location of the scaffold upon which he was hanged.
Just recently, while reading a relatively new biography of Brown, I turned the page and was thrilled to find a photo of that familiar marker with the book’s author standing beside it.
William H. Wilson, my Uncle Bill, lived in the old Wilson home on Mildred Street all his life. Until he received a substantial legacy in his late middle age, he worked as a painter. It was in his print shop, upstairs across the street from the courthouse, that I became virtually intoxicated by the smell of printer’s ink. That led, I think, to the fact that in addition to my career as an Episcopal parish priest, I have written newspaper columns in nearly every community where I have served the church.
I remember how busy Bill got after the first racetrack came to town. He printed thousands of the little tip sheets gamblers used to guide their dreams. When he could finally afford to stop working for a living, Bill quickly became a master gardener. The backyard of the Mildred Street house soon boasted the most prolific vegetable garden I have ever seen anywhere anytime.
After living as a widower for seven years, in 2007 I married my dear wife, Anne. She has never set foot in Charles Town. And so my opportunity to preach at Zion Episcopal on Sunday will give me the added joy of showing her a beloved locale of my life’s journey.
Life is so very, very good!
– Feedback on this column? Reach the Rev. Bert H. Hatch at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Robert Snyder at email@example.com.