THATS by David Lauderdale: Emporium of Lowcountry life closes its doors

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 26, 2011 

  • The title song from the 1976 musical "Green Pond" by Broadway composer and Walterboro native Mel Marvin and New York playwright Robert Montgomery:


    Green Pond

    There's ticks and chiggers,

    Mosquitoes, chameleons,

    Peeper frogs and skinks in the yard at Green Pond.

    There's six fans, thirty chairs,

    Fourteen coffee pots,

    And not a single sofa in the house at Green Pond.

    The alligator skull is called Ollie,

    And the turtle shells once had names,

    But they've all been forgotten

    By the people at Green Pond.



    Green Pond, I've come to you again,

    Hello, my childhood friend, thank God you're here.

    Green Pond, I've brought my friends along.

    We need your open arms and country air.



    There's crows in the fig tree,

    Moss on the myrtles,

    And a lot of grass to cut in the yard at Green Pond.

    There's artichoke relish, pimento cheese spread,

    And two watermelons in the fridge at Green Pond.

    There might be some boiled peanuts

    For the friends who drop on by

    To hang out on the rocking chair porch

    With the people at Green Pond.



    Green Pond, God bless your open arms,

    And all your Southern charms and country ways.

    Green Pond, I love your song,

    And may you live in peace all your days.



    There's T.S. Eliot, Pablo Neruda,

    And Woody Allen in the john at Green Pond.

    There's no television, or air conditioning,

    Or upstairs neighbors in the house at Green Pond.

    We'll have a lot of personal evenings,

    Breakfast will be three cups long,

    And a change of plans is easy

    For the people at Green Pond.



    Green Pond, take us in your open arms.

    We need your peace of heart, for peace of mind.

    Green Pond, help us get along,

    For we have lost what we hope to find

    At Green Pond!

If "Lowcountry" were in the dictionary -- it's not -- the definition could simply read: Wood Brothers Store.

The alarming thing for those who love the Lowcountry is that the store is for sale. Orange barrels block its entrances on U.S. 17 in Green Pond, about halfway between Beaufort and Charleston. Since June 1, 1964, motorists had pulled in for gas, clean restrooms and a treasury of merchandise that celebrated a Lowcountry way of life now being redefined by modern conveniences, chain stores and newcomers.

It clung like pluff mud to a curve in the road in the heart of the ACE Basin -- one mile from the Ashepoo River, six miles from the Combahee River and eight miles from the Edisto River.

Writer Roger Pinckney XI of Daufuskie Island laments: "You could buy oars, crab pots, decoy strings, snake boots, boiled peanuts, deer corn, cast iron pans, cane syrup and stone ground grits. So sad."

Donald Wood, 68, and Richard Wood, 66, whose parents opened a general store in that vicinity around 1935, say plenty of people have told them, "Don't let that thing close."

The brothers didn't grow tired of mixing with customers: the Green Pond locals; regulars from Beaufort, Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and Savannah on their treks to Charleston; and tourists on the New York-to-Florida pathway that has run through the Lowcountry since horse-and-buggy days.

But at their age the store was too confining, Donald Wood said. The brothers tried leasing it for a couple of years, but it closed in September.

Donald Wood said he hopes it will sell to someone who wants to keep it pretty much as is, but the chances seem slim.

Pots and pans

"As is" means it would offer as many sizes and shapes of Lodge cast iron cookware as France has wines. It would have a large line of Bayou Classic outdoor cooking pots and propane rigs, one so big it was really there to create conversation. The same could be said for the framed photograph of a man from Edisto Island holding a live 6-foot diamondback rattlesnake. Some say it came off Hutchinson Island and others say it came from the Cheeha Combahee Plantation in Green Pond.

At one time, Wood Brothers had a snow sled for sale. It was to give people something to talk about, Donald Wood said, but somebody actually bought it.

"As is" means the wives of the owners would keep fresh flowers in the women's restroom -- roses, zinnias or greenery cut from the yard.

It means someone with "Wood" at the end of their name would always be in the store, even if the owners were out on a call with the volunteer fire department.

It means there would be a complete line of hardware, with oddities that have accumulated over the years, like stovepipe fittings, washtubs and washboards.

It means there would be a large collection of Lowcountry cookbooks put out by churches, clubs or fire departments as fundraisers.

It means you couldn't buy anything stronger to drink than a Coca-Cola. And it would never be open on Sunday.

Boiled peanuts

It would offer boiled peanuts made in the back from peanuts grown in Colleton County. They'd be stacked on the counter in 1-pound brown paper bags.

Donald Wood says: "I would ask customers looking at them, 'Where are you from?' and if they were from north of Maryland I'd say, 'Let me let you taste one before you invest your money.' Boiled peanuts are not like strawberry shortcake. You've got to acquire a taste for them, and the cutoff place seems to be right above Maryland."

It would be known for steamed hot dogs and a few other prepared foods, none of it fried.

It would be a place to get hunting and fishing licenses, cast nets and fishing tackle, including cane poles rigged with hook, line and sinker.

It would offer state highway department maps of all the Lowcountry counties, as well as stone-ground corn meal and soft-serve ice cream. It would sell Maurice's mustard-based barbecue sauce by the gallon jug.

Human drama

Walterboro native Mel Marvin, a New York City composer, spent a lot of time on the Marvin family place near the store.

He dreads the thought of the Lowcountry losing its sense of place, a concern shared by his cousin, the late landscape architect Robert Marvin.

"Everybody knew the Wood Brothers Store, and everybody went there, and you always met someone you knew," Mel Marvin said. "You'd find out what was going on with them, and other things, too."

Sometimes the human drama was played out under oath. For more than 30 years, Richard Wood was a magistrate and his courtroom was in the 6,000-square-foot store building.

Marvin's credits include a musical called "Green Pond" that was in the inaugural Spoleto Festival U.S.A. in Charleston. It flowed from a summer the families of Marvin and lyricist Robert Montgomery spent in Green Pond. The title song ends:

Green Pond, take us in your open arms.

We need your peace of heart, for peace of mind.

Green Pond, help us get along,

For we have lost what we hope to find

At Green Pond!

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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