Column: Water towers, magic springs and gigantic flea markets

A bunch of us were having dinner recently in what was alleged to be a superb restaurant in Panama City, Fla., but did not live up to the hype, when talk turned somehow to my hometown, Pelzer, S.C.

Roy Roberson, our talented and witty Southeast associate editor who lives barely a cornpone toss from where I grew up, said he had recently passed beneath the Pelzer water tower and meant to shoot a photo to bring to the meeting we were both attending. Alas, darkness overtook him and he missed the opportunity that would have shown said tower in the best possible light.

We sorely regretted missing that picture but soon discovered that Roy was well acquainted with some of the area’s most notable landmarks, which, no doubt, played important roles in my physical, intellectual and social development.

Spring Park, for instance, a small municipal facility in nearby Williamston, is named for the mineral spring with purported medicinal values. I quaffed cool draughts of the funny tasting water as both youth and young adult (the latter times while learning the journalism trade at a weekly newspaper situated across the street from the park).

I never noticed any particular health benefits, but one must wonder what could have happened had I not partook of those cool drinks of bitter-tasting spring water. Perhaps I would not have recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of my 37th birthday.

Perhaps the minerals did away with some awful parasite. Who knows? Apparently, it did no harm though my joints have begun to creak a bit, prematurely, I think.

Roy also has a more than casual acquaintance with the Jockey Lot, where I learned much about merchandising, deal making and where to look if you’re missing a lawn mower from your back yard.

The current reincarnation of the lot is part flea market, part carnival and part hillbilly mall. It covers acres of land that used to be pinewoods and hay fields before enterprising souls found more profitable uses for mere farmland.

But its beginnings were more humble. Before the site turned into a mega-market, it consisted of a row or two of shaky wooden tables and large stumps on which one could find an assortment of hardware, pocket knives, homemade molasses and pickles, and various crafty items. Rickety wire cages held game roosters, tame chickens, hound dogs and an occasional pet raccoon.

My dad once traded four chickens of questionable ancestry for a single-shot twenty-two rifle with which I dispatched many a squirrel.

The county sheriff routinely passed among the traders to see if any items reported missing the night before had somehow made their way to the lot. I never witnessed anyone hauled off to the hoosegow but I don’t doubt that it happened.

I still own a Case pocketknife or two I bought there more than 25 years ago.

Oh, the name comes from a term that may not be too familiar. In the area, jockeying meant bargaining, trying to get the best deal you could for a bit of merchandise. How willing the merchant was to cut prices was sometimes a good tip that he might not have too much invested in his inventory and could be trying to sell out before the constable made his rounds.

Of course that’s just a theory.

We failed to get much past that last landmark since our long-awaited main course finally arrived.

e-mail: [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.