An hour in my past

Since I moved to South Carolina eight years ago, I have had a crush on Abbeville.

It is a town with storied history. Just beyond the center of the tiny downtown lining a quarter-mile circle of jagged, uneven brick pavers is a tree-spotted hill where in 1860, men met to plan what would become the first move of the American Civil War – South Carolina’s secession from the Union. It was on May 2, 1865, in the front parlor of what is now known as the Burt-Stark Mansion – on the other side of the town circle of brick – that Jefferson Davis officially acknowledged the dissolution of the Confederate government, in the last official cabinet meeting.

Abbeville is known as “the birthplace and deathbed of the Confederacy.”

As a native of a Northern state, it continues to be difficult for me to view what happened on Secession Hill as much more than treason. I do not support the efforts made by the men whose lives are commemorated on the Confederate monuments in the middle of the town circle, but I respect their courage, resilience and willingness to fight for their cause.

While I still get chills of respect when I see these places, this is not why I like Abbeville.

I like Abbeville – simply – because it reminds me of my hometown of Portville, NY. It isn’t the people and it isn’t the size. It’s definitely not the weather. As a kid, we would go to nearby Olean, NY, when we needed something other than gas and milk. When I moved to South Carolina, I lived in Greenwood … and that was like Olean – too big, too busy, too loud. Abbeville, meanwhile, is about the same length of time away from Greenwood as Portville is from Olean.

It was this proximity combined with my appreciation for towns with a couple of gas stations and places with history that led me to finally move my family to Abbeville two years ago … a decision among the best of my life.

SO I’VE DONE MY SHARE of exploring of this town. I’ve taken my children to the historical landmarks. I’ve visited the mass grave of the Long Cane Massacre. I’ve stopped on the road and felt sad in front of the home where a family had a day-long standoff and shootout with law enforcement a decade ago over the government moving to take some of their land to build a highway; two deputies were killed in this and they named the highway to Greenwood after them. I’ve patronized nearly every locally-owned business at some point or another. I’ve met really nice people and have successfully avoided some.

But I never knew the hills of Abbeville until tonight. 

I drive home and go up and down hills. I take my daughter to school and go up and down hills. I stop at the same gas station for Mountain Dew on my way to work each day and go up and down hills.

I never noticed them while driving.

Tonight, though, on my bicycle during a 10-mile loop from my house outside of town, through town, then back to the outskirts, I discovered these hills. In fact, I felt every contour, every bump, every break in the pavement. I was cloaked by the wind generated by the pumping of my own legs attached to pedals. My wrists ached from squeezing the brake levers as I went down the steep hills, still too unfamiliar with the roadscape to allow myself to hit the 30 mph mark. Sweat poured down my back as I climbed their counterparts.

Perhaps the greatest part, though, was the memories it conjured of my days as a regular cyclist. In all of the Carolina towns in which I’ve lived since college – about a half-dozen – cycling triggered an intimate relationship that festered into my time in the car. I used to look at bumps and craters on the shoulders of roads when I was in the car – imperfections and deteriorations I’d have never noticed had I never felt them on a bike. Tonight I felt the same, except with those in the town in which I hope to die someday.

I’m finally starting to know my home.

“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.” – Hemingway

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