A couple weeks back, a gentle reader chided me for polluting the former Jowers property down in Burnettown, S.C. It was fair and accurate criticism, considering that I admitted to sinking bricks, old love letters, the contents of a sheet-metal shop and a fair bit of broken-down machinery into what we Jowerses always called “the swamp.” These days, I suppose knowledgeable folk call it a wetland.
The old Jowers swamp isn’t like the swamps you see in movies, with bearded rednecks paddling between the moss-draped cypress trees, looking for a place to harvest an alligator or dump a body. Our swamp was a patch of bog about 50 feet wide, running between the Jowers house and the Carter house. Both are still standing, but the Carter house is a burnout, left over from the Burnettown arson spree of the early ’70s.
In his last few years above ground, my daddy Jabo Jowers tried to pretty up the swamp. He dredged the 2-foot-wide creek and built a spillway at the north end of the property. With the spillway in place, the creek widened out nicely and made a fine little waist-deep play pond for me and my friends, along with the water moccasins, leeches and muskrats.
As part of Jabo’s swamp-improvement project, he straight-piped our unreliable septic tank into the creek, downstream of the spillway. While he was in a straight-piping mood, he ran another pipe down from his electroplating shop to the same spot in the creek. And to cut down on odors that might draw in federal agents, he ran another pipe from his moonshine shed to the downstream side of the spillway.
In the course of one swamp upgrade, Jabo added excrement, cadmium, zinc, cyanide, copper and freshly distilled alcohol to our little wetland. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but with the knowledge I’ve gained since, I suspect that there are some mutant life forms downstream of Jabo’s spillway. If anybody living north of what used to be 144 Carline Rd. is reading this, heed my warning: Do not eat the five-legged frogs.
You environmentally concerned folk, don’t go hatin’ on Jabo. He’s been in the ground for more than 30 years now. He was just one man with a fourth-grade education and above-average get-by skills. As far as I know, he only spent one night in jail in his whole life, and he only killed one person—his friend Frank—and that was in an accidental car crash. The little that Jabo knew about chemistry, he put into his electroplating and moonshine businesses. If anybody’s mad about decades-old pollution in and around the Jowers swamp, go ahead and blame me, even though I was a teenager in high school and Earth Day hadn’t even happened yet. The little I knew about chemistry, I got in the form of cheat sheets from my then girlfriend Bobbie Ann Redd, who was in the chemistry class right before mine.
To his credit, Jabo had a conscience about his unhealthful enterprises. Back when the local TV stations ran public service announcements warning people not to drink moonshine liquor—moonshiners distilled their liquor in old car radiators full of lead, and lead could make you go blind—Jabo would jump out of his Barcalounger and scream at the TV: “You lying sonofabitches! We do not use car radiators anymore! We build our condensers with pure copper pipe! If anybody’s going blind from moonshine, it’s because they’re buying their moonshine from the wrong goddamn people! Serves ’em right.”
Let me gently suggest that educated and environmentally friendly folks in Nashville go easy on folks down in Horse Creek Valley, who got enough bad press when Erskine Caldwell wrote about them—and their curious ways—in God’s Little Acre. Pat Conroy piled on with his painfully accurate assessment of Horse Creek Valley in 1973, in his story “Horses Don’t Eat Moon Pies.” Conroy wrote: “The Valley is the nasty little secret of Aiken County...a series of depressing mill towns that cluster along the polluted edges of Horse Creek, a blighted ribbon of water that serves as a large intestine between the towns of North Augusta and Aiken....” Add to that the problems with incest, cited by a teacher’s aide at my old high school. The principal of the school told Conroy, “We marry ’em, then teach ’em. We’re the only high school I know of that has to have a midwife at graduation.”
Sweet Baby Jesus! I never knew about the incest or the midwives. You kids in Horse Creek Valley, listen to me: Don’t have sex with any family closer than a first cousin, and stay away from the three-nippled people.
These days, things are better in Horse Creek Valley. For instance, Langley Pond used to be so full of dye, chemicals and human crap that nobody dared stick a toe in it. Well, except for one kid, who I watched go into the pond wearing blue denim cutoffs and come out wearing the same pants, only they’d turned tie-dyed yellow and green. Today, Langley Pond is cleaned up. It’s a big venue for rowing matches. And there’s a big waste treatment plant in North Augusta.
Horse Creek Valley’s 400 miles away, and it’s slowly catching up with the times. I doubt that the Valleyites will do us Nashvillians any harm. Well, unless you go down there and start smart-talking the rednecks. That might just get you thrown into the swamp.
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