Monday, December 06, 2004


Dad's little stretch of Main Street

The following story in SOUTH CAROLINA HOMES & GARDENS is getting lots of play, locally. So I've decided to share with those of you not fortunate enough to be in Carolina ;-) If you do live in - or are traveling through - the Palmetto State, pick up a copy of the magazine, if for no other reason than to see a fantastic picture of Dad as a young man. Incidentally, he would have been 75, yesterday. Story follows:

by W. Thomas Smith Jr.

DAD LOVED THAT LITTLE STRETCH OF MAIN STREET FROM GERVAIS TO LADY. It was his block, he claimed. But he gave it to me.

My fondest memories of Dad and Main Street are associated with the beginning of each Christmas season in the late 1960s; particularly those cold midweek evenings when Dad would come home from work, pack the family in the car, and take us to “look at the Christmas lights.”

My sister, Annette, and I would stand on the backseat floorboard, as Dad drove slowly from Laurel Street, south along Main, beneath a seemingly endless canopy of green garland extending from one side of Main to the other. Each festoon, ruffling in the night breeze, was afixed with swaying, red-plastic Christmas lanterns and lights of every imaginable color.

Mom was in the front holding my little brother, Jim, who, like the rest of us, was “oohing” and “aahing;” while on the radio, Johnny Mathis was crooning his unmatched rendition of White Christmas.

It was as if we were moving through a twinkling tunnel with the lights reflecting off of every storefront window and parked sedan, Annette’s face, and the perpetually waxed hood of Dad’s car.

“How ‘bout that,” he would say, as Annette and I squinted our eyes to create those blending color effects. “Aren’t these the prettiest lights you've ever seen?”

Block after block we drove deeper into that mystical winter wonderland – as Johnny continued, “… with eeevvvvrrrry Christmas card I write.”

Our journey ended at the Governor’s grand Christmas tree at the 1200 block of Main where it ends at Gervais and the State House: Of course, Dad’s favorite little stretch of downtown Columbia.

On the right of the street was the drab-looking Wade Hampton Hotel, a storied high-rise named for the state’s best-known Civil War general and the site of some of ol’ Strom’s alleged trysts with a few of the local ladies. To our left was the Capital Newstand and next-door the Capitol Restaurant - or as Dad would say, the CAP-a-dull KA-FAY.

The restaurant was another of our Christmas season haunts, where on Saturday mornings, Dad, unbeknownst to Mom, would let us drink fountain-Cokes for breakfast and eat packets of sugar before we had our grits and eggs. Dad, whose favorite foods included pork skins and “salty mackerel,” figured as long as Mom was feeding us well at home, we could eat what we wanted with him at the Capitol Cafe.

As I got a little older, Dad let me work with him during the holidays. He had a tire dealership on the corner of Gervais and Park, just two blocks west of his favorite little stretch. There I spent many a December afternoon, faced pressed against the cold windowpane, straining for a glimpse of the Statehouse tree, as I listened to Dad and a couple of his cigar-chompin' buddies discuss the time they had a “drink of licka” at a “Santee hot suppah” where “old man Jimmy Byrnes” said this-or-that.

Eventually, Dad would say, “Sport, you ready t’ go?” and I’d jump in the car.

On the way home, we’d stop by the Capitol Newsstand so Dad could pick up a pack of Winstons, a copy of The Columbia Record, and I could steal a quick look at the lights.

Dad was a striking figure walking down Main Street: He seemed so tall and straight-backed; always dressed in a dark suit, white shirt, and a tie; his wingtips shined like black glass. He would always stick his head in the door of the cafe or run into some old friend or business acquaintance on the street. “How you doin,’ pahdnuh?” he’d smile, shake hands, or pat on the back. “Now y’all have a good Christmas.”

Back in the car, as we the turned the corner toward home, Dad often pointed toward the Statehouse. “That's where ol’ Gen’ral Sherman's shells hit,” he’d say.

I remember once telling Dad how much I loved our section of downtown. His huge hand rubbed the back of my head and he smiled, “Well, sport, this is kinda like our own lil’ spot, idn’t it?”

Years later, in the winter of his life, Dad spent Wednesday afternoons, rain or shine, delivering weekly newspapers from one end of Columbia to the other. His favorite stops were, of course, along the 1200 block of Main. There he’d see old friends, and make new ones.

On Saturday mornings, Dad and I returned to downtown Columbia just as we had decades earlier. This time I was behind the wheel as we drove down traffic-less streets, always slowing along the 1200 block of Main as he reminisced about his days as a young man, the Christmas lights, the Capital Cafe, the newsstand, and old friends now gone.

Dad, too, is now gone, and I somehow feel I've inherited the little stretch.

Recently, my nephews and I were strolling back to the car after one of our periodic visits to the Statehouse. The oldest boy, Michael, looked down his Granddaddy’s favorite block.

“You know,” he remarked. “I love this little stretch of Main Street.”

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

© 2005 W. Thomas Smith Jr.


<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?