Pendleton, South Carolina is a small town hard by Clemson, so the roads leading in have Clemson Tiger paws painted on them. Until recently, I had three friends and some family history there. Now, I feel I know everyone in the town. And, come to think of it, I may.
John “AJ” Sitton was my classmate in The Citadel’s class of 1967. AJ ran with a hell-raising group of guys laboring under the illusion that college was a place to have fun, and they took having fun as seriously as some in the barracks took the military. Any inclination I may have had that AJ was merely a party animal was dispelled when I met his charming wife, Haley, who is as talented as she is lovely. No, I thought, if AJ attracted her, the boy had substance I had not fully appreciated.
The Sittons have so much history in Pendleton and have played such a prominent role in its long life that I’m amazed those tiger paws don’t lead to Sittonville. There are records of the family dating from 1767, with several fighting alongside Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, for independence. AJ’s ancestor John B. Sitton served as postmaster for thirty years and mayor for twenty. I had been threatening AJ with a visit for many years. I knew I had some family history in that area as well, but was hoping his great-great-grandfather, the postmaster, didn’t have occasion to put up a photo of one of my relatives at the post office. When the publication of A Southern Girl was announced, AJ invited me, and on Wednesday, April 23, I made the long-postponed trip.
I said I knew three people in Pendleton, but I had only met two: AJ and Haley. The third is the remarkable and irrepressible Nancy Tate Hellams. Several years back, AJ had given her one of my books and she enjoyed it enough to construct a website for me and the book on Squidoo, where she donates half her earnings to the Pendleton park. So meeting Nancy and Doc Hellams was another incentive to visit.
When I was informed of a Meet the Author party in the planning stages, I envisioned ten or twelve people in the Sittons’ den. Instead, a mob of happy Pendletonians showed up at Boxwood Manor, owned and operated by Annette Buchanan. This historic house and its boxwood-blessed grounds date from 1790. Annette is one of those people you meet and feel you’ve known forever. And she knows her history. From her I learned that boxwoods from her property have been growing in for years in Colonial Williamsburg, a place I know well from my time growing up in Yorktown. Annette fed the multitudes with ease (and some help), and the event could not have been more special to me, as the photographs show.
The following day, AJ and I visited historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, where a number of my Warley ancestors lie buried. I am kneeling beside the tombstone of Lt. Alexander Warley, who once commanded the CSS Albemarle, a Confederate steam-powered ironclad ram. I will return to Pendleton and to Boxwood Manor on June 3 to sign the books that were not yet available on my first visit. Events like this, and friends like these, are dividends from the writing life I never anticipated but am thrilled to encounter.