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The Art of Small Town Values

  • Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A recent visit to Lake City’s second annual Artfields visual arts competition and festival was intended to be a pleasant opportunity to enrich my appreciation of unique art and culture. Instead, the experience of witnessing a near horrific incident at the town’s railroad crossing and a young man’s courageous act reinforced my belief in the beauty of the human spirit.

Like so many small towns around the state, I originally thought of Lake City as a collection of empty storefronts and struggling local businesses. But unlike other places, Lake City is hometown to Wall Street financer, Darla Moore.

Several years ago, Darla Moore spoke at the SC General Assembly Women’s’ Caucus Luncheon, and shared her bold initiative to re-invigorate Lake City’s economy by transforming the town into an arts mecca.

As a former small town mayor, myself, I can only imagine the spirited discussions at the Lake City Council and Chamber meetings when presented with this grand idea of converting their quiet downtown into a thriving arts colony.

With Darla’s support, Artfields is giving the town a new purpose, empowering its citizens like a shot of Adrenaline. And, that enthusiasm is contagious.

During the festival, freshly painted clothing boutiques like Mosaic and Seven gracefully entice out-of-towners, as only southerners can do, with sweet gestures of homemade cookies, pink lemonade and original art hanging on the shop walls, like the water-media piece, Fish Are Flying, by Columbia artist, Toni Elkins.

Farther down Main Street, the “Saturday- trim” regulars at Joe’s Barber Shop are equally optimistic about the festival’s positive impact. I found myself lingering at this iconic and nostalgic spot, splitting my attention between admiring Allen Lewis’ oil painting “Old Man in a White Cap”, and clicking a mental snapshot of the real- life Norman Rockwell image. A cloaked man and a young boy, probably his son, sat side-by-side in worn leather barber chairs as buzzing electric razors skimmed the back of their necks. They must have sensed the intensity of my stare, because in unison, the man and the boy lifted their heads and politely welcomed this stranger with a warm smile and a friendly wave – American art.

I could go on about the trendy restaurants, Table 118 and Downtown Bakery; bright, colorful murals adorning dusty deserted warehouses; stopping at the railroad crossing and bending down to pet an adorable brown Lab puppy; bumping into Columbia acquaintances and former Clarendon County State Senator, John Land and commiserating with him about “our lives after politics” and past heated legislative budget debates over the town’s infamous Bean Museum.

Near the end of this idyllic day of creativity and community bliss, I witnessed an almost terrifying event that could have abruptly undone all of the well-intended plans for the town’s future.

Heading out of Lake City, I waited to turn right at the railroad crossing that intersects Main Street. Just a few hours earlier, I had stood at that same crossing pausing nonchalantly to pet the cute puppy.

Now, blinking red lights and ringing bells warned of an oncoming train. Several cars hurried through the intersection, even as the cross bars started to lower. An older model car followed behind them and sped up abruptly as it approached the tracks, in what I assumed was another attempt to outrun the approaching train. BAM! The cross bar slammed down on top of this final car, pinning it just inches from the tracks.

A teenaged boy, slight in build, suddenly leaped from the passenger side of the car and without hesitation ducked under the horizontal bar and ran straight towards the tracks.

I then realized what he had seen from his vantage point - two distraught elderly ladies, both of whom reminded me of my grandmother, stuck on the tracks. One was desperately struggling to maneuver her walker over the rails, while the other stayed by her side.

The young man grabbed the two women and the walker, guided them off the tracks, and out of harm’s way just as the monstrous train came barreling through the intersection. He rescued them with only a second to spare.

Then, just as quickly, this seemingly unfazed hero returned to his car and drove off, without any acclaim or acknowledgment. His was purely – a random act of kindness.

On the drive back to Columbia, I reflected on the day’s events, thinking that perhaps there was a meaningful correlation between Artfields’ impact on Lake City and the bravery of that young man.

Perhaps, his actions were inspired by seeing his community roll up their sleeves and work together for the common goal of creating hope and opportunity for his future.

While I could have just been content with the delightful memories of my visit to Lake City – enjoying interesting works of art, sipping pink lemonade, and waving to the friendly guys at the barber shop, I am haunted by that incident at the tracks.

Besides the obvious of needing additional safety precautions at that railroad crossing, the town leaders should make a concerted effort to identify the courageous young man. He was, about sixteen or seventeen years old, African American, slim, handsome, and dressed in a sleeveless white shirt, shorts and a baseball cap.

Although I may have just described the appearance of any ordinary young man in any town, this particular young man’s extraordinary actions are worthy of reward. His display of valor and virtue of the heart were the true treasured arts on display in Lake City.

Submitted by Joan Brady. Ms. Brady is a former state representative from Richland County, former member of Richland County Council and Mayor of the Town of Arcadia Lakes. Email her at carolinacreativestrategies@gmail.com

The News invites anyone that recognizes the young man from Ms. Brady’s description to please call (843) 355-6397 or email us at news@kingstreenews.com

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