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Jeff Whitten: Santa and crowds
editor's notes

I got a much needed burst of Christmas spirit Monday night, thanks to Bryan County Emergency Services Capt. Asa Clay, whose alter ego for the past 18 years has made hearts merry and bright at this time of year as he sits atop fire trucks.

Yep, it was ride-along time on a Santa run, an experience made excellent by firefighters like BCES Battalion Chief Matthew Schultz, who hails from Chicago, and Ron Becker, who has ties to Clemson, and Nathaniel Gallagher, a former Army chopper pilot now flying for the Coast Guard and volunteering his services with the county.

There were others, too many to name off top of my head, and Firefighters with Richmond Hill Fire Department and Pembroke Fire Department have been doing the same, helping Santa be in a lot of different places at the same time. And so you got Santa and firefighters and paramedics spreading cheer, and residents saying thanks and donating toys right back.

In the year of COVID, it’s a reminder we’re better when we give and think of others, because that’s what this is supposed to be about. A lesson good for the soul, and the heart, I think. And I needed it. Because, not that it matters, but I was in a querulous mood Saturday.

It was not a mood made better by my trying to navigate a buggy through the aisles of the local supermarket crowded with weekend shoppers who if they had any good sense would’ve been home watching college football, or ice hockey, or whatever.

“This,” I said aloud at one point, “is about as bad as trying to drive on I-95 on a holiday weekend,” and a woman within earshot said “Yes it is.” And then it happened.

While all snarled up in a four-or-five buggy jam of people trying to get untangled, I heard some fellow with one of those one-size-fits- all northern accents boom out in that jolly sort of tone I tend to equate with someone about to try and sell me something I don’t want: “I DON”T KNOW WHERE ALL THESE PEOPLE CAME FROM,” he said, adding a few well placed chortles at the end.

Something in me snapped.

“Up north,” I said, through my mask, as loud as I could. “They all came from UP NORTH.”

The eight words made my glasses steam up. And in retrospect I now reckon I probably sounded like an amped up Barney Fife and looked like a demented redneck dentist.

At the moment, however, I was in a fettle. If Richmond Hill gives me road rage, and it often does and I’m considering therapy, that particular supermarket makes me want to move to the next middle of nowhere and put up a fence before it gets developed into another Coastal (bleep) Empire.

“North,” I sort of blurted out again. “North north north.”

And then, as the sportscasters like to say, “a hush fell over the crowd.”

Note: Unless they’re local sportscasters. Then they’ll say, “a hush would fall over the crowd.” I’m not sure why that “would” is used.

At any rate, it got a bit hushed on the mac and cheese aisle there for a second. I felt bad, but the cat was already out of that bag.

Later, when I got home I told my wife about it, though only after I told her I was never going to go to a supermarket on a Saturday again, even if the only other option was dying of starvation or running out of libations, or both.

She didn’t focus on that part. She wanted to know why I thought I ought to holler “north” in the supermarket.

“That was rude,” she said.

“I know, and that’s the problem,” I said. “Southern hospitality has led to too many people moving down here and now they’re running things. We’ve been too polite for too long. We’re like Native Americans who trusted the white man to treat them fairly. Look where that ultimately got ‘em.”

My wife shook her head and gave me what I call her Mr. T look behind her back – i.e., she pities this fool (me) – and I think told me I was probably lucky the man didn’t hunt me down over by the frozen burritos and beat me silly with a bag of frozen enchiladas. “You’re lucky he didn’t follow you home,” she said, looking out the window at the driveway.

She also reminded me I’m from South Carolina, which despite its longstanding place in the American Deep South is technically up north from here.

Everything, as they say, is relative.

Whitten is editor of the Bryan County News. He’s been called every name in the book.

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