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Westwords, Chapter 5

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About 94,000 words First Serial Rights 1990 Lewis W. Heniford

August, 1943

Thoughts of home had grown over these weeks.

West had developed a routine of waiting for the ten-of bell before getting up. Dressing required mere seconds. He only had to add pants and loafers to the T-shirt and briefs in which he slept. Then he was ready to brush his teeth. His developing whiskers required only irregular shaving, at odd moments on odd days. West had habitually crossed the landing to the toilet, urinated, splashed water on his face, combed his hair to one side or the other as fancy had struck, and sauntered over to English class next door with time to spare. He had not felt the need for breakfast in this comfortable routine. Or, when he had wanted something, he would take one of the candy bars stored in his drawer and go to class munching that. West had finished classes by noon, could eat before going to the library, and could spend the rest of the day there. He would have a quick supper and return to the library until closing.

West had often thought: if the folks at home, if the teachers at Loris High, if Jeannette and the others, if they could see me now! Studying really had become an experience. Being prepared for each class, enjoying questions from the instructor, gaining pure knowledge--it had become great!

Certain student and staff faces had become familiar in that routine. A camaraderie had developed from successive meetings , and the familiar faces, without interrupting work, reassuringly had returned his smiles. He had made many acquaintances, but he felt homesick.

At the end of summer school, he took the Trailways Bus to Fayetteville, where he connected for Loris.

The town into which Vincent Sloan Newcomb had brought West's mother in 1923 had had fewer than a thousand citizens. Now, twenty years later, in 1943, it had about twelve hundred. Along the railroad, Loris stretched about a mile. At right angles to the railroad, it stretched along the dirt road about two miles. The swamplands, so characteristic of that corner of South Carolina, came close by, yet without the depth and breadth found elsewhere in Horry County. Flat farmlands chiefly surrounded the town, interspersed with piney woods. Ditches were adjacent to all open fields or homesteads around the town to be sure that heavy rains would drain into the swamps instead of flooding useful, arable land. In town, too, ditches large and small protected homes and businesses. Flash flooding from inch-per-hour downpours did occur. Many houses stood about three feet off the ground as further protection when the ditches did not drain the water fast enough.

Controversy marked the earliest history of the community. Possible origins of the town's name divided people. Was Loris named after a pet St. Bernard owned by the Mrs. Chadbourn whose husband had founded the Wilmington, Chadbourn and Conwayborough Railroad to service lumbering interests and, thereby, had made possible the way station that became the town? Was its name from Loris, a popular novel in the time when the rail surveyors mapped the route? Was its name a corruption of the popular name for girls: Delores? Was the exotic loris, a lethargic lemur of the Indian subcontinent, the source of the name? Townsfolk cherished the mystery.

Anyway, the community flourished. In 1890, the crossing of road and rail had four stores and a train depot. In 1903, the town incorporated within a one-mile radius. By 1906, the Horry Herald described a thriving community with a high school, two churches, ten stores, livery stables, a tobacco warehouse, saw mill, cotton gin, and tar plant. The bank, built the next year, in 1907, was the first brick building, but a hotel, also with the distinction of brick, and with two stories, soon followed. Telephone service arrived early in 1909. The first newspaper succeeded for a while before 1914, when it closed in financial difficulty; another later replaced it.

The citizenry enjoyed a sense of progress, of being caught in the pace of the new century. It speculated that the town might even become the county seat of a breakaway portion of land and population wrested from the politicians in Conwayborough. For thirty years, this idea recurred, finally being put to rest by the improved transportation and communication that made Horry County seem less huge and, to the folks in Loris, less distant from the center of power. Citizens of the small community held only their allegiances to family and to church above their allegiance to hometown. They immodestly declaimed the virtues of Loris at hearth and at altar and tried to spread the word of its excellence across the county and beyond. A competition with adjacent towns spurred civic endeavor for business, industry, farm produce, for any prize or accolade.

Nevertheless, this August, the mood except on Saturday evenings and during Fair Week was slow and peaceful. A traveler looking from the train window would see little of the town's actions, perhaps more of its character, as in a nearly-still life. A traveler looking from horseback, wagon, or automobile would see the quiet, placid American South. The townspeople shaped Loris; but, even more, it shaped them. From this slight ridge a few feet rising from the South Carolina swamplands, the town looked out--and down--on the rest of the world.

After eight weeks in Chapel Hill, he knew that he was approaching home a changed person.

His pride in being different faded fast. First conversations with friends explored the past summer's adventures. Soon, he ceased referring to college life because no one showed real interest in Chapel Hill. Jeannette, Beth, and Nilla--everyone, even Nora Nell--talked, instead, of local daily activities, expressly who did what with whom. He dwelled on close friendships and avoided being different.

His mother listened intently to anything, including reports of his life at college. She really liked his encounter with the President of the University of North Carolina. She told the neighbors about that.

His father and brother stayed busy with farm matters. Vince and his first son shared many likes, but chiefly they enjoyed manual labor.

Vince Junior was developing into "a fine physical specimen," as some of the grownups put it. He had the roman nose and strong jaw of his mother's line and the tallness of his father's. His height was already near six feet, and he had a few years yet to grow. His frame was solid. Muscles defined his neck and shoulders and chest, in fact, his whole body. The arms bulged. Calluses shielded his hands. His sun-burnished skin had so darkened that the freckles across the back of his shoulders hardly showed through the tan. Everyone agreed: he had grown quite handsome, with that godlike body and devilish grin. He was aware but modest about his manliness. A great self-confidence evolved from the outer and inner respect he had earned. He was, folks said, a comer.

Following a few pointed reminders of the need for help out in the country and of the scarcity of farm hands--all of which brought no response from West--father and brother worked without asking him directly to help. He made himself scarce before his father and Vince Junior set out in the mornings and when they returned filthy, tired, and happy in the evenings.

Often, to be out of their way, he telephoned his mother that he would eat supper at Jeannette's. "Mom, she doesn't mind. Her mother said it would be okay."

Jeannette added, "Tell her I'll send her a slice of cake I just baked."

"Would a slice of fresh peach upside down cake bribe you?"

"All right," his mother said. "But I'll send her a cup of sugar tomorrow, you tell her. She's already used up her canning ration on baking cakes for you, I'll bet. And I'll send some cream from the farm. Now, you don't stay too late and wear out your welcome."

Next day, his mother spoke to him of staying away from home so much. "You could be of help to your father."

"I know."

"Well, I don't ask for help in the house, except for making your own bed."

"Mine and Vince's. I've never had my own bed at home. I've always had to share."

"We all have to share. And I do think that you ought to offer to help your father. He works all the hours God sends, sixteen hours a day, six days a week. That's pretty hard for a man who's worked indoors for so many years. I worry about his health."

"Dad looks okay."

"Have you really noticed? Someday you'll wish you'd helped him."

"I worked on the combine at the beginning of the summer."

"How many times?"

"I don't like that kind of work."

"That kind of work makes it possible for us to keep you in school. Don't you appreciate that?"

"Yes, Yes--oh, why can't you leave me alone!"

"You want to do things you want to do, the way you want to do them. That's the Lord's truth, my baby. When are you going to think of someone else?"

"All I do is think of other people. I think of other people so much that I don't even know who I am!"

"Sometimes we look at other people and actually do see them. Sometimes we only use them as a mirror to see ourselves."

West began to cry. He had not cried at school in Chapel Hill. Now that he was back in Loris, old reactions troubled him, and he could not curb the tears. He had thought he had escaped this, outgrown it, but all the old irritations reappeared, woven into the fabric of home life. Dammit, now that he was fifteen and a freshman in college, he ought not to have to cry. He forced the tears to stop.

His mother neared and embraced him, pulling his head down onto her shoulder. "It's not so simple, is it? I want you to grow up so you won't have to cry. And I want you not to grow up, so you still do have to cry and I can comfort you. And then, I want you to grow up and know that we all continue crying, throughout life. Honey, it's not wrong to cry, if you're crying a man's tears, not a child's tears."

He marveled at her. "I am not going to cry again. Ever."

"You will. I wish I could always soften the pain. It's just that you have to grow up on your own. That's the Lord's way."

"I can take care of myself."

"In good time, all in good time." She cuddled him, reassuring them both.

West surprised his father by offering to help on the family farm, about four miles out of town.

The day on the wheat combine went as miserably as West had expected. The household rose at five-thirty, so the men could reach the fields early. Morning chill and dew, both uncomfortable to West, gave way to searing midday and afternoon sun. He gave little attention and lacked enthusiasm for the work. He had to place bags to receive the flowing grain, guard against spillage, and shove each bag in turn to Vince Junior, who closed it and lifted it off the machine onto the ground for later collection. Vince Junior laughed and yelled back and forth with his father, who was driving. He proudly hoisted the hundredweight sacks. West struggled merely shoving them. Dust enveloped the workers throughout the day. West could feel grit in his mouth and nose and eyes and ears. During the few stops, he rested silently and somewhat apart. Following a couple of halfhearted attempts to bring him into the conversation, both his father and brother ignored him and talked between themselves about the importance of farming in times like these, about hunting and fishing. West ignored these topics and let his mind roam back to Chapel Hill. He spoke just enough to be civil, just enough not to provoke his father. The day dragged on. Sharing none of their satisfaction at helping the war effort with this harvest, he was little help and poor company.

He knew he would never work with them again.

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