Growing Old In Newtown

Growing Old In Newtown
In my previous article, I shared my intentions to present to you some excerpts from my forthcoming autobiographical book, “Growing Old in New Town,” that is scheduled to be released this fall.  This memoir is a collection of short stories, adventures, and challenges that I experienced while growing up in New Town.  It chronicles my life from the ages of two to thirteen.  Today, I want to share Chapter 1 of my book, New Town:  First Place in the Hall of Shame, which gives a brief description and background of my beloved New Town, the community of my upbringing.
It would be completely inappropriate to begin my childhood memoir without first giving a graphic illustration of the community and environment from which I sprung.
President Barak Obama, though he did not coin the phrase “Corridor of Shame,” certainly brought national notoriety to our rural area and little town by his usage of it.  What he failed to mention, however, was that the worst little community in the little town of Dillon, in the Corridor of Shame, was an area called New Town.  How could he have known?  New Town was and is an incongruous name, because there was absolutely nothing brand new about New Town.  There was a school facility that had been built in the early 1950s, but there were not any new business establishments, recreational facilities, or paved roads.  As a matter of fact, the only thing actually new about New Town was the many families and faces that were giving up on living out “in the country” and moving to the New Town section of Dillon.  Talking about a great migration, this was not a transcontinental, interstate shift.  Instead local black people relocated from the most rural farming areas in our county to live in neighborhoods closer to the city limits.  In those days, many blacks were confined in an extremely racist, manipulative system called sharecropping, and escape was their dearest aspiration.  Often New Town was the first leg of the journey to a more promising future.  New Town, or at least 80 percent of it, was not a part of the city of Dillon; therefore, it did not share in the benefits of garbage collection, city water, sewage, mosquito spraying, and the few other advantages that the legitimate city dwellers had.

Roads:  Dust and Holes
One of the things I remember most about New Town was its dirt roads.  I can remember the dust clouds that would form and move with the wind, contaminating everything in their path when a car would speed by our house.  
We would hate to have clothes hanging on the line or be playing outside when a car would come barreling down our road.  It seemed as if some people would deliberately drive faster just to whip up a greater dust cloud.
Then there was the problem of the rain.  Oh, I loved the sound of the rain on the roof and windows of the house, the smell of the earth having been drenched and cooled by its showers.  Nevertheless, the conditions that it left our dirt roads were very problematic.  Potholes, mud puddles, and literal ponds were common throughout most of New Town.  Some of these ponds were as big in diameter as swimming pools.  We often played and waded in them.  It was the particularly large ones that made travel most difficult and destructive to our few cars.

The Outhouse – A Rank, Rancid Reality
When I was growing up in New Town, there were only a handful of homes privileged with indoor plumbing and bathrooms.  To be completely honest, I did not get the opportunity to use a bathroom until I started school in the first grade.  Even then, I found it quite difficult at first learning how to flush the commode and turn off the faucet.  At home, our “restroom” was the outhouse.
There were two types of outhouses in New town.  There were the clean and well-kept ones, where lime and other odor suppressors were used.  Then there were the neglected, filthy ones that so reeked that the stench of human feces and urine remained in your nostrils and clothes when you finished using it.  Shamefully, the latter was our kind.  Our outhouse was often in such a wretched state that we would ask our neighbors to allow our relatives and guests from the North to use their neatly kept facilities.  These dirty “toilets” (as we referred to them back then) caused much of New Town to carry a fetid smell, especially when the wind was up, resulting in pinched nostrils and grimacing faces.  This was a problem that would plague us until the early 1970’s when finally an ordinance was passed prohibiting the further use of the outhouse in the county.

The Murder Capital of South Carolina
For many years, New Town had the unenviable distinction of being the murder capital of the state, even rating very high nationally.  This infamous rating was earned because of the many slayings that routinely took place in our little community where many people had a reputation of being violent, quick-tempered, and hair-triggered.  It was said that one stood a better chance of surviving in the streets of New York or Chicago than in New town, especially on Friday or Saturday nights.  This was when most of the stabbings, cuttings, shootings, and killings took place in the various night clubs like Jimmy’s, Bubba’s (the owners were brothers), and quite a few others.  Though New Town in general was well known for killings, there was a little section called the Bottom that was the most notorious area.  They nicknamed this little community “Tombstone Territory” because of the extremely high rate of violence and murder that took place there.  Often people were hurt or killed in some of the little clubs that operated illegally selling “stump hole” or “moonshine” liquor.  In many of the homes, illegal activities also went on without any interference from law officers who were often on the take.

A Community of Despair
Perhaps the worst things about New Town was that for the most part it offered little hope or inspiration for achievement.  There were no visual symbols of progress except for the school that was situated at the southern end of the community.  In truth, New Town was a stagnant web with little chance for most of its young people to escape its merciless entanglement of racism, segregation, ignorance, and poverty.  Amazingly, despite all these dream-slayers, there were still a few young people who managed to escape – perhaps through college, through the military, or through migrating north.  However, far too many back then just continued to live in the vicious cycle under the generational curses that had condemned their parents and grandparents.  We were considered the bottom of the barrel, the scum of the town, the untouchable caste.  To be from New Town was not an honor, and to actually admit that you were from New Town, when you left, took much courage.  My eldest brother did not possess this “sterner stuff,” for when my second oldest brother followed him to college, the people there greeted him as “Goings’ brother – you know – the one from Camden, New Jersey.”  Evidently, he did not want to be associated with the “negatives of our nativity.”  I do not intend to lay any blame upon him for his disowning of my beloved New Town, but as for me, I am proud (and he probably is too, now) to have been reared in New Town, despite all of its negatives.  It is because in this shabby place, I came of age and arrived at the revelation that it is not where one was born, or hails from, that determines his or her worth.  What matters most is where one arrives in the journey of life.  New Town, as bad as it was, was good for me.

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