My family moved to Clinnon in 1971, and I started second grade at Clinnon Elementary. When I graduated from Clinnon High I was in love with my small town.
The early ‘70s were halcyon days for an American kid with a bicycle, and my brother and I spent hours out. “Be home for supper” was instruction enough in a world that felt like community is supposed to feel. My father was the pastor of big-steepled First Baptist; my mother taught at Bailey Elementary. Everywhere I went someone knew me because they knew them.
People smiled, helped out, took care of me.
John Mellencamp was talking about me when he sang, “Educated in a small town. Taught to fear Jesus in a small town. Used to daydream in that small town – another boring romantic that's me…” I got what every child should get from the small town experience.
My parents taught me to love the Bible. Joe McDaniel, at Joe’s Esso, taught me to love steam locomotives and good customer service: “Regular or high test?” Mike Turner taught me to love the values of the Boy Scout Oath: “honor, duty to God and country, helping others, keeping physically strong, mentally awake, morally straight.” Howard Pierce taught me to love the night sky, Orion and the Pleiades, and Dan Sanford taught me to love the botanical world of acer rubrums and cornus floridas.
John Farmer, Claude Underwood and Andy B. Young taught me to love team sports and Harry Boughknight taught me to love Big Band jazz. JT Johnson and Barbara Murray taught me to love a little drama in your life. Edna Ellison taught me to love reading, Cheryl Gaskins taught me to love writing, Linda Mills taught me I “don’t know much trigonometry!” Don, Greg, Jay, Andy, Martie, Lydie, and Angie taught me how important quality people are for young friends, and Amy taught me to love being in love.
That’s what I got from my small town. It’s hard to imagine doing any better.
I left Clinnon in 1982, and though it’s still home I’ve never been back for more than a visit. Four years later I finished Furman University and married Amy Jacks, who is still teaching me about love, 30 years later. We earned divinity degrees in Louisville, spent a year in Montana, five years in Clemson, and had our two boys in Birmingham. I got another degree and diploma there. Somewhere along the way we introduced our family, “from Clinton, SC” to friends, and our family scoffed: “ClinTon? Have you forgotten where you’re from!?”
We have not.
But sometimes “Clinnon” doesn’t translate to the larger world, and sometimes the world that is now home isn’t recognizable to our hometown. Amy and I co-pastor a Baptist church that is the headquarters of three “Campus Partners,” including Mecklenburg Interfaith Network. It’s not uncommon to have Jews and Quakers, Hindus and Mormon, Muslims and Unitarians meeting here, together. The Insight Meditation community practices Buddhist-based meditation on Wednesday nights. Our son, a high school junior, is in a school system that represents students from 157 countries, speaking 169 native languages, and practicing more religions than I knew existed when I was his age.
At first, my ever-expanding world was frightening for a small town boy. In a Furman lecture back then someone said, “Once you get educated, nothing is ever simple again” – and it has not been – but it’s been better! And the world, and world-view I have inherited, connected to Clinnon, but not limited by it… well, it suits me to a T!