Unfolding the Map
"Drivin' into Darlington County..." sings Bruce Springsteen. We drive into Darlington County with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) and confront a man's peaceful contemplation of his own mortality. Wish I had that kind of peace of mind. To contemplate where Darlington is in our journey, click on the thumbnail of the map, and leave a comment if you have a way you face your own mortality.
"'Travelin' alone! Ever ascared alone?' I shrugged. 'Me, I ain't never ascared,' he said. 'Looky here.' From his left breast pocket, he took a worn bullet: a .22 long rifle. 'I carried a live forty-five round in the war and never got shot by friend or foe. Always carry me a round over my heart, and ain't never ascared because I know when I die it's agonna be from this. And quick. Lord'll see to that -- when it's my time.'
"'You mean you'll put it in a gun and shoot yourself?'
"'It's a sin to do that, ain't it now?' He waited for an answer.
"'I've heard that's the case.'
"'Nope, this here little lady will go off by herself some way or t'other. When it's my time. Won't know it neither.'
"'What if it goes off by accident before it's your time?'
"'You ain't alistenin'. Ain't no accidents in the Lord's Plan. When she pops off, my ticket's agettin' punched. Oughter get yourself one. They make a man right peaceful.'"
Blue Highways: Part 2, Chapter 14
Darlington, South Carolina
Every week, I read a website called "Badass of the Week." I don't know why I like it, other than that every time I read it, I learn something about some person in history. It might be someone whose name I know but didn't know much about them. Sometimes it's someone completely new to me. Regardless, I learn new things, which is the hallmark of a good website.
The reason I'm not sure why I like it is because of how its written. As you can see from my "About Me" page, I am a PhD in Political Science. I have pretty cultivated tastes in literature, the arts and other "highbrow" types of things. But for the life of me, if I want to, I can laugh heartily at a fart joke just like anybody. I love slapstick comedy. I have a sense of the absurd. And "Badass of the Week" fits all of that. It is written in a juvenile fashion, with lines about some person's "titanium plated testicles" and things like that. It is so completely juvenile that I find myself laughing both with genuine amusement and with a slight sense of guilt that I am laughing.
The reason I mention this, is because I would classify the guy in LHM's quote above as a badass. Here's a guy who not only has carried a bullet around in his breast pocket for years, but is fully convinced that if the bullet goes off next to his heart, that it's his time to go.
When I was young, and hunting with my father, I didn't realize just how dangerous bullets in themselves are. He never bothered to explain that to me. I thought that the only way a bullet could go off is if you put it physically in the gun and pulled the trigger to release the hammer and set off the gunpowder reaction. So I was pretty careless about bullets. I remember dropping them once in a while and not thinking anything of it.
The first time I understood how dangerous that could be was when I watched a movie titled Hope and Glory. It was about kids in wartime England during the Blitz, and in one scene, a couple of kids threaten a third by holding his head in the potential path of a bullet that was clamped in a vice at the end of a table. The one kid was threatening to hit the back of the bullet with a hammer. It then clicked into me that any sharp blow to the base of a bullet chamber, whether in the gun or not, could cause the bullet to fire.
And here's a guy, carrying it around in his breast pocket, fully convinced that it will eventually be the bringer of his doom when his time is up. And he's okay with it. When LHM suggests that it could go off by accident, and that might be before his time is up, he is perfectly content with the idea that any time the bullet goes off is the right time, because the Lord wills it so.
On one hand, it makes one crazy. My reaction would be to just get rid of the bullet - why tie your doom to an object that you keep with you? Why not just accept that your life could end naturally, or because you weren't looking while crossing the street and walked into the path of a semi-truck, or that a freak lightning bolt struck the tree you were sheltering under? But that's because ultimately, I'm afraid of death. But this man feels in control. He knows what will end his life, more than likely, and he's not afraid of it - not one bit. In my mind, that makes him a badass.
On another brief topic, Darlington was the subject of a Bruce Springsteen song from his Born in the USA album. I remember mid-1980s evenings at a Milwaukee pub, O'Donoghues, where Jimmy the bartender loved it when we played music, and we played a lot of songs from the Born in the USA album, including Darlington County. I share it with you here.
If you want to know more about Darlington
City of Darlington
Darlington News and Press (newspaper)
Darlington Raceway (home of NASCAR Southern 500)
PeeDee Foodie (blog post on a Darlington restaurant)
Visit Darlington County
Wikipedia: Darlington County
Next up: Newberry, South Carolina