Lowndesville, SC (03/28/2008) -He's the unofficial historian of Lowndesville, South Carolina, a wide spot in the road at the north edge of Abbeville County, on SC-81. He's been here most of his 82 years, with the exception of the time he spent in the South Pacific during World War Two as a member of the US Army.
His childhood sweetheart has been his bride for 60 years and it's still a debate as to whom is the boss of the house, but there is no doubt at all who carries the wit and humor - Ewell Hanna is what most would call a character.
We met him while photographing the local war memorial. It's a small monument and lists many of those who served in uniform and most of those area natives who died serving the country in several wars. It stands proudly in front of the local community center, a building that during the 40 years after the Great Depression served as the town school. It's obvious the buildings' best days are well behind it, and the little town isn't the most properspous we have seen in our travels around America. In Ewell's words, "The place was nearly destroyed by a fire many years ago, and it has never recovered."
Although clouded by age and cataracts, Ewell's eyes twinkle as he reaches out with a firm handshake and hearty hello. This little town is his pride and joy, second only to his family. He immediately begins to regale my son and I with stories about the days when there were many grocery stores, five doctors, a large hotel, and a couple of banks. Most of the babies in the area were delivered at home with the assistance of a midwife, and making a living meant you tried your best to make the farm provide food for the family and a few extra dollars.
The banks failed during the depression, and the doctors left for greener pastures. But several of the buildings remain to remind all of the many residents of more prosperous days. Ewell invites me to walk across the street to view what remains of the bank. It hails from a time when brick vaults were adquate, but it was the reliablity of the bankers character that was most important.
I'm then escorted back across the street for an introduction to the local postmistress, Joy, whom I later learn is a niece to the elderly Ambassador for the village of Lowndesville. I suspect many of residents here are related to him in one way or another. I also suspect the few business owners along this small stretch of SC-81 are used to Ewell showing up at unexpected moments for an introduction to another new friend.
It's difficult to keep a schedule when in company of Ewell. He readily admits that he likes to talk with friends and that most strangers he meets become friends quickly. "I treat people like they treat me," says Ewell, "and I'll always be honest with you - but if you betray me you'll not be here much longer!"
I get a sense of old fashioned honor when talking with the elder. It's evident why so many of the locals smile when his name is mentioned. Thomas 'Squarehead' Nelson, who operates Dixie Wrecker Service, told us there isn't a native in three counties around that doesn't know Ewell. Nelson became part of our Lowndesville circle of friends when my son's motorcycle failed to start due to an electrical problem. Ewell called upon Nelson to come into town and help us out and, "treat them right . . ." It seems that any friend of Mr. Hanna is a friend to all in the area. That turns out to be a good thing for us. Squarehead comes over with his roll back wrecker and hauls the Honda away for a quick repair. We are surprised, and very pleased, when the bill comes and it's far less than we thought possible. Friendship is strong currency in this part of South Carolina.
When it came time to bid farewell to my new friend we exchanged a few confidences about life. Something that all Veterans seem to be able to do without much provocation. He gives me a bit of advice that I'm going to take to heart, "Live as long as you can, and don't give up till you got nothing better to do." Well said, Ewell, well said indeed.
Post Script: Ewell had nothing better to do on the 15th of July, 2011. You may find details HERE.