The problem with having a land line is that no one ever calls it any more.
Oh sure, the phone rings, but when I look at the Caller ID it is typically from someone wanting to sell something or for me to donate money or to give answers in some sort of poll. They come in a variety of forms: “Unknown Name,” “Caller Blocked,” “Toll Free Number” or “Out Of Area.”
Unless I recognize a phone number, the call is unlikely to be answered. There are times, however, when the number is a local one, and I may answer to see if it is someone whose name is not recognized by Caller ID.
So it was a few Saturdays ago when the phone rang. The caller’s name was not given, but it was an Aiken number, and I answered.
“You’re to blame for it,” came the voice at the other end.
I was taken aback. I’m to blame for lots of things, I’m sure, but I usually like to be told in advance what error I have committed. For example: “That column you wrote last week about the Navy. It was lousy. Can’t the paper find someone better to write for it?”
In the case above, I am immediately confronted with what is seen as my shortcoming. I am at ease because I know where the caller is coming from. But a blanket, “You are to blame …” just took me by surprise.
The caller went on to identify himself as Jim Osbon. He reminded me that we had met at a book signing for Allen Riddick’s book “Memories of Growing Up and Living in Aiken, SC.” In that book Allen used several local writers and his own work to compile memories people had of growing up in our fair city. Jim had a couple of contributions, and I had one, as well.
We sat next to one another at the book signing, and now Jim was calling to let me know that he had just completed a book of his own. The “your fault” thing was that a column I wrote some time ago prompted Jim to write the book. I deny ever writing a column in which I encouraged Jim or anyone else to write a book.
Nonetheless, Jim wanted me to know that the book he had just completed was a historical fiction book that took place in Aiken. He titled the tome “Sand River.”
Jim delivered a copy of the book to my house, and I recently completed reading it. It starts in Aiken of 1948 with a fictional family. Most everything in the book is true with the exception of the characters that Jim created and the events of their lives. The rest of it might just as well have come from the historical pages of Aiken and Aiken County.
The book tells the story of a changing city from 1948 to 1956. It was a place that went from being a sleepy Southern town with the mysterious charm of its Winter Colony to a city bursting at the seams with the arrival of thousands of construction workers and later permanent Savannah River Plant employees. They altered the course of Aiken and continue to leave an indelible mark as impressive as that left by the Winter Colonists with the massive homes on Colleton Avenue and throughout the Horse District.
Jim weaves an interesting tale of the orphaned Casey Gannon and his love for the city that adopted him. The plot of the story aside, it is an interesting read for anyone who wants to get a glimpse of what Aiken was like 65 years ago. Jim tells of how a slumbering town woke up to find itself in the midst of the nuclear age.
There were challenges and opportunities that came with the arrival of SRP (now SRS), and “Sand River” shows how city leaders approached being thrust into a brave new world that grew out of splitting the atom.
As one of those who arrived in the midst of the SRP boom, I was interested in reading the perspective of a person who had been born and raised here. There are plenty of historical Aiken people in the book – Mayor H. Odell Weeks, Sen. Strom Thurmond, J.O. Willis and Eulalie Salley, to name a few. They give it the feel of realism that those who have lived here for a long time will appreciate.
For those who don’t go back so far, “Sand River” is still a good read to discover what Aiken was like and how it was changed. It paints a portrait of this town that once was but has matured into the vibrant 21st century city that we know today.
Yes, I was initially shocked about being told I was to blame for this literary creation. After reading “Sand River,” however, now I’ll tell Jim what I think about his comment. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.