The canvas of my life is coated with characters.
With bold strokes, family, friends and other folks take their brushes and paint their personalities onto the recesses of my mind. I am changed and challenged by their artistry, as their passions and pains are etched into my heart.
People wield that kind of influence, especially when they allow you to travel the roads of their souls and discover what hurts and heals them.
For more than 16 years as a journalist at The Sun News, I was blessed to tell stories about interesting finds and fascinating folks via a feature column called “Back Roads.” I have returned now as an independent columnist to showcase individuals making this region a treasure cove of charm, intrigue, excitement, hospitality, humor, fun and fundamentally a cool nook in which to live. Welcome to “Carolina Characters.”
Every other week, I will meet you here in The Sun News to tell tales that give you an intimate look into the lives of next-door neighbors, passersby, somebody you heard about but never set eyes on, strangers, acquaintances, and maybe even kin.
This, for the most part, will be a happy space. Now, that’s not to say some stories won’t have sad parts, but my aim is to showcase the goodness abundant around us. Distant off dirt roads, hidden behind towering pines, tucked inside bustling shopping plazas, on display at down-home diners, and just out and about are people that help season the South. I will be the saltshaker and sprinkle them into your lives.
In essence, “Carolina Characters” will be an exploration of the extraordinary aspects of everyday, ordinary people.
And to be quite honest, I have been doing this since I could talk and write my ABCs. Don’t believe it? Just ask my mama, Catherine Wilson. She won’t lie to you. Instead, she will tell you without blinking that she believes her youngest daughter always talks too much and asks way too many questions.
“Gee, Joey (my nickname given to me by my late dad, Heyward Wilson),” she often says. “Do you ever stop talking? Give me a break.”
I often choose to ignore Mama and continue my path of questioning until she bursts into laughter, gives me her I-dare-you-to-say-another-word-so-help-her-Jesus look, or she sighs deeply and then says, “OK, hush up that big mouth and I’ll tell you.”
Mind you, this is the same woman who calls me in the wee hours of the morning and talks to me for hours until the sun kisses the sky and my morning breath cries out for Listerine.
In other words, my mama and I are “Carolina Characters.” We all are. Yes, Northerners, I’m talking to you, too, because if you have ever stepped on Carolina soil you have at least a wee bit of Southern in you. The South is like Texas Pete Hot Sauce – you may not like it, but you can’t deny its got flavor.
My spirit, though born in New York City, loves South Carolina. I grew up on the dirt roads of Boyer, a small community outside of the town limits of Holly Hill.
Nothing but nosy, excuse me, I meant to say nothing but inquisitive folks live there, with many of them being family. What I learned about news, they taught me. Most will say too well.
My world was built on a foundation of faith, family, and finding out what was going on in my house and their house. The vast majority of my curiosity can be credited to my grandma, Virgie Lee Brown.She was a grits and newspaper woman. Every day, she would feed me grits, which was usually served with fish she caught. My favorite was bream, followed by catfish and eel fish. She fried it all to a golden crisp in cast iron skillet.
She was the one who would have me sit in my red rocking chair and listen to her read aloud The Times & Democrat. She read the front page, the local news, the obituaries, and every single police blotter item. She even read the sports page, and I was amazed at the world I discovered at her feet of a woman who only had a third-grade education. That is when I fell in love with news and the people who made it.
My mama’s oldest sister, Helen Johnson, was our clan’s resident storyteller, main gospel singer, and comedian. Her house was the happening house. During my childhood, I met most of the characters I fell in love with there. One of them was Mr. Good Time, whose real name was John Summerson Jr. He was Boyer’s B.B. King, except he put a hurting on a nameless harmonica, not a guitar named Lucille.
I miss those times, and I especially miss those people, many of whom have passed away. Still, I have lots of family and friends left. And once again, I have you. Oh, the places we’ll go! Oh, the people we’ll meet! Together, in this space, we will stride while enjoying the people that give Carolina its pride.
Oh before I go, I know those who remember me are wondering what I am currently doing. Yes, nosy knows nosy. So, here we go. I am currently working as a Teaching Assistant at Coastal Montessori Charter School in Pawleys Island. I love my job. My co-workers are fabulous. The students have stolen my heart. And yes, I am still living in Myrtle Beach. And no, the drive isn’t that bad. And yes, I am still single. Satisfied? Of course, you are not. Carolina Characters always want to know more.
Contact Johanna D. Wilson at JohannasCarolinaCharacters@gmail.com to suggest subjects for an upcoming column.