Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, August 20, 8:10 p.m.
I hadn’t been to Saluda, 40 miles away, in many years. Over 20 years of covering NASCAR, it just wasn’t a direction I went. I drove through McCormick on the way to Atlanta, through Chester on the way to Charlotte (and Rockingham), and I knew many small towns like Saluda on the road.
Eden, North Carolina, across the border from Martinsville. Griffin, Georgia, south of the speedway in Hampton. Alton Bay, New Hampshire, at the bottom of Lake Winnipesaukee. Corning, New York, near Watkins Glen.
But I hadn’t been to Saluda, where once my fertilizer-selling father served the peach farmers thereabouts.
I volunteered to write about a football game between Strom Thurmond of Johnston (as opposed to Olin D. Johnston of Thurmond) and Saluda at Bettis Herlong Jr. Stadium, whose home grandstands were once a part of Carolina Stadium in Columbia before the Gamecocks upgraded it to Williams-Brice. I believe I last watched a game there in the fall of 1981.
I’m happy to report the cattle barn is still there, looking much the same as when my father, who was also an auctioneer of some renown, occasionally filled in for his friend Tom Coleman, who owned the place back then and, as my mother recalled today, looked a great deal like Walter Matthau.
When I arrived Friday night, absurdly early as always, I noticed a file folder on the desk that read:
Ralph Shealy Jr.
Shortly afterwards, Ralph Shealy walked in. Back in 1981, he was the editor of the Saluda Standard-Sentinel. By now, he may just be the Standard-Sentinel. He is definitely the fine public-address announcer of the Saluda Tigers. I don’t remember the details, but I once spent half an afternoon chatting with Ralph, whom I didn’t know well but liked a lot.
As it turns out, I still do. I spent more time with him than I did in 1981.
That’s because the game between neighboring Saluda and Thurmond was supposed to begin at 7:30 Friday night and wound up beginning on Saturday morning at 11. Ralph and I were penned in the press box, as much as if there had been an electric fence instead of an electrical storm. At one point, a cloud that looked like angry God in robes hurled a lightning bolt at a light standard, knocking out the power for about three seconds and making me decide I’d better wait before I made a run for it.
In 1973, Clinton High played at Saluda in the upstate Class 3A championship game. I was in the 10th grade and still playing J.V., but Clinton won, 14-13, because all-state nose guard Roscoe Watson hurdled the protective line and blocked the extra point. He swatted that kick like a fly that buzzed too much for his taste. On Friday and Saturday, the son of the Saluda kicker was in the press box.
Tom Coleman, the auction barn’s owner, had a son playing quarterback, and he and my dad bet a small fortune of friendly money on the game. Ralph told me Ben Coleman, the quarterback, lives in Baton Rouge nowadays. He’d be around 60.
I had a grand time, even though the parking lot was eight inches underwater when I finally got to the car, and I had a better time Saturday than anyone on that side of the stadium because Thurmond defeated the Tigers, 38-7.
Small world. Folks in small towns remember what happens on the local ballfield for a long time.
Please visit the KindleScout site and consider nominating my fifth novel, Cowboys Come Home, for publication. You’ll find sample chapters, a short synopsis and a Q&A. Take a look at it here.
Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy either Forgive Us Our Trespasses or Crazy of Natural Causes, and you’ll get a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs, absolutely free. Tell ‘em Mr. Monte sent you, y’hear?
Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Crazy of Natural Causes is on sale at $1.99. Links to print copies are below.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.
The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.
Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).