David Lauderdale

Snapshot of a Bluffton life no one wants to see fade away

Bluffton is a state of mind, a bend in the river, an eccentric aunt who might storm out of her grave if you tear her house down.

Bluffton is a tree growing through the bottomless bed of a plumber's pickup truck that's been put out to pasture in the back yard.

It's a 30 mph speed limit sign, a four-way stop, holy honey and oysters.

It's a couch in the woods, a sandbar on Sunday, a crunchy patty of sausage from Scott's Meats.

It's oak limbs hovering like osprey wings over a slippery cove.

It's spiritual music flying away from the brick walls of Zion Baptist Church to soothe old town's soul in perfect, hand-clapping rhythm.

Images conjuring a treasured era when Bluffton was a one-square-mile town with a newspaper called The Eccentric have been gathered into a new picture book. The images were captured by the camera of a relative newcomer, Marge Agin of Palmetto Bluff, with a dusting of words from old-timers like Tommy Heyward, Mary O. Merrick and Emmett McCracken.

McCracken, a third-generation Blufftonian, wrote the foreword and thinks Agin "nailed the Lowcountry" in the book called "Bluffton Changing Tides." Its coming-out party will be from 4 to 8 p.m. today at the Four Corners Gallery, owned by the book's editor, Charlene Gardner.

McCracken helps lend the book its taste of a gulp from the May River. Its briny waters still define Bluffton, even as the town has gobbled up thousands of acres of skinny pines that used to feed the smelly "Union Bag" plant in Savannah -- acres now filled with streets, houses, schools and a long string of orange barrels to keep cars in line as U.S. 278 is expanded once again.

McCracken recalls a time of men driving cattle down S.C. 46 or knitting shrimp nets on the front porch.

"Bluffton," goes an old line he heard as a child, "is a place where the rich come to play, the old come to die and the poor come to make a living."

"Maybe things have not changed as much as we sometimes think," he writes.

McCracken sees the photographs, many of them stylized to be more like paintings, as "vivid reminders of why we came here and why we stay."

For natives, he said, "they remind us of what many of us took for granted for so long, believing we were just shy of Heaven and silently doubting things could get much better, despite pronouncements from the pulpit.

"Sitting in a pew in the Church of the Cross on a Sunday morning, viewing a flood tide on the May River and a bright sun on the rich green marsh, one needed little convincing that God had been good to us. One just needed to move the service along so one could get on the river!"