St. Helena Island native, daughter capture memories in 'A Place Called Home'

abredeson@islandpacket.comJuly 12, 2013 

Sonny Bishop has fond memories of swimming and boating on Wallace Creek as a young boy. He recalls the "whoosh" sound of the steam engine that ran the machinery on the family farm.

The St. Helena Island native brings memories such as these to life in his newly released book, "A Place Called Home." Bishop collaborated with his daughter, Elizabeth Bishop Later, on the book, which tells the story of a place called Yard Farm. The St. Helena Island property, formerly known as Fuller Plantation, is rich in Lowcountry history. In the book Bishop shares what he learned about his family and their land from before the Civil War through 1970.

Later, who now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, said she wanted to write the book because she is always homesick. She said her father has so many great stories, and she wanted to get them down on paper for others to enjoy.

So the chief nursing officer at Ogden Regional Medical Center sat down with a recording device and listened as her father told stories about his family, their land, St. Helena Island and the surrounding areas.

Bishop said Later did a good bit of research to add context to the stories. Since he has a large collection of photos, they spent a lot of time going through them, picking out which ones to use in the book. It took three years to complete the book.

"What I hope is that people who live in Beaufort, people who visit Beaufort, people who have lived in Beaufort before but don't live there now, will be able to pick up the book and read it and go, 'Oh yeah, Beaufort is home to me,'" Later said. "Even though they may live somewhere else, there's just this connection to Beaufort."

Four generations of Bishops have lived on the Yard Farm. Sonny's grandfather bought the 183 acres in 1932. After he died, Sonny's father and uncle took over the land.

Then they ran into some hard times. Hurricane Gracie hit in 1959, destroying more than 1,000 acres of crops. They recuperated by the mid-1960s and then lost 1,500 acres of winter crops in a freeze. And in 1968 farmers in Beaufort and Charleston who were borrowing money from the Charleston Production Credit Association were told they would lose the majority of their operating loans because money was not available at the federal level, Bishop said. By 1970, the Bishops closed down the farm. Sonny's father and his uncle had to declare bankruptcy.

"It was a blessing in disguise," he said. "But at the time we didn't want to give it up because it had been in the family for so long. We were able to keep 15 acres of it, which really helped. But knowing all we know now, there was no way in the world we were going to be able to recover. There was no money to operate on. The cards were stacked against us in the beginning."

In 1962 Sonny and his wife, Mary, built a house on the property. They raised their two children on Yard Farm and still live there today. In his early years, Sonny was a farmer. He worked for years as a teacher and was an assistant headmaster at Beaufort Academy. He also owned Bishop Enterprises, a furniture refinishing business. After retiring, he decided to go back into business, this time doing lawnmower maintenance and sharpening carpenters' tools through his business, BE Mobile Service.

The book also goes into the importance of home and why Yard Farm is so special to the Bishops.

"We all have a home, no matter who you are," Later said. "Home means different things to different people. To some people, who have moved around a lot, it really is kind of where their family is. Our family enjoys a sense of home being a sense of place because our family has always lived on that same piece of land. ... When you have challenges in your life or adversities, we tend to want to go home, whatever that is. And so many of the stories in the book talk about how that sense of home, that sense of family, that sense of place kind of brought the people that we talk about through some of the challenges and adversities in their lives."

Some of Later's favorite memories of Yard Farm include spending time with her grandmother, eating figs straight from the tree and swimming off the sandbar.

She said now Yard Farm is a refuge from the busy pace of the world. Her brother and his wife still live on the property, but she and her husband and children live in Utah. She said she spends most of her time planning her next trip home.

"There's something about Beaufort and St. Helena Island that really draws you back," Later said. "I think when you grow up there, you just develop this love for the place."

Follow Amy Coyne Bredeson at twitter.com/IPBG_Amy.

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