“Born the son of a mermaid and a banjo player”…..well, that’s how this article was supposed to start; a fictional and humorous story with absolutely no redeeming quality except it was humorous. Instead, I’m going step on the toes of fellow columnist Katherine Brown with a bit of a perspective column. Bill wrote my tag line and how I “grew up in the outdoors”, which is the truth, but most of that growth was because of my family’s store.
April marks the would-have-been 8th anniversary of my family’s store Old Town Outfitters being in business; we were open from April 2003 to November 2009. When we first opened the doors, all of our stock was clearance items from Sierra Trading Post; our displays either folding tables borrowed from friends and family or homemade attempts at looking professional. If not for the 25+ family members living in the county, it might never have gotten done. I will make absolutely no pretenses here: Old Town Outfitters was an honest to goodness mission from God. So if it seems we jumped in over our heads, we did. By the grace of God, we eventually grew into a decent little store, and made friends and memories that will last a life time.
One of my favorite stories from when the store first opened was we had a group of Winthrop students rent backpacks for a class trip. Being college students, some of them left rather nice things in the backpacks after returning them; I still have one of the pocket knives that never got picked up. The other item that I have is 5 pages, hand written front and back, titled “To: My Jason – From: Your Moosehead”; arguably the sappiest love letter ever written. “Moosehead” was a sophomore in high school who, so concerned that her college senior boyfriend would not be able to survive without her, wrote copious amounts of notes to “My Jason”. Strangely, when we called “My Jason” to come pick up his letters, he never returned our call.
Not long after, a rather well-known ice-climber and mountaineer, Tom Dicky, stayed several weeks in Rock Hill while his father was passing away due to cancer. His only escape was to come in and climb on our tiny bouldering wall; I ended up being his climbing partner and we called each other “Young Buck” and “Old Fart”. Tom’s stories bordered on the unbelievable, but when you look at the Climbing Magazine calendar, and the man standing before you is Mr. December, you tend to take his words as gospel. From free soloing El Captain in an ice storm to turning down an offer to lead what would have put the first American woman on top of Everest, Tom had seen it all. When he finally left South Carolina, he gave me his phone number and told me to give him a call if I ever headed west. I went home, and wrote his number on the inside of a bookshelf in permanent marker; 8 years, and I never have lost that number.
I’ve had friends, Shelby and Jerry, share with me their dreams of hiking or climbing outside because they never had done it earlier in their lives. Shelby would have lunch with us at the store after his dialysis and would talk about going backpacking once he got in shape. Jerry trained on our indoor rock wall to eventually climb outside in between his rounds of chemo. I watched them succumb to kidney failure and cancer…and to my undying regret, I never did take Jerry rock climbing at Crowders.
So many memories: my 5 year old brother’s “Man Move”, where he would rip off his t-shirt when climbing with college age students and throw himself onto the wall. How I dreaded having kayak demo days because of who would show up, who I’d have to drag to shore after they tipped out, and who would wear brand new white sneakers and insist on going kayaking but would not bear to get their new shoes wet or dirty. I cringe when I think about having my ears talked off by survivalists that came into the store fearing the zombie apocalypse/new presidents gun control laws/Food Lion taking over the world. Having that sage of wisdom Joe “Guns” Kilpatrick give me relationship advice, a firearms lecture, and an open discussion of repairing nuclear submarines all in the same conversation will forever be etched into my memory. There’s so much that I can’t even remember, and that is perhaps what saddens me most of all.
For those of you who never came into Old Town Outfitters, I’m sorry if you didn’t get anything out of this article. If no one but me gets anything out of this article, I apologize but I felt the need to write it. For me, this article is a “Dear John”, a thank you card, and an invitation. I said my good byes to the life I had when we closed Old Town Outfitters down, but I have a different life now and I think it’s better than before. I can’t help but thank all the people who made Old Town Outfitters more than a store, but into an extended family that will continue long after the doors are locked and the signs fade away. And my invitation is simply this: There is camaraderie and kinship for those who love being outside-talk to those people on the trail, or who you see need help unloading kayaks off their roofs. You might find friends and memories that will last a life time.