Bennettsville boy makes good

And no, I’m not talking about Hugh McColl, or even yours truly, who was considered to have done fairly well in the wider world until I got laid off. (You doubt my celebrity in the place of my birth? Consider that I was once invited to address the Rotary at Bennettsville’s now-defunct Farron’s Restaurant — which was not defunct at the time. Of course, the invitation did come from my uncle.)

No, I’m talking about Aziz Ansari, whose celebrity now exceeds Hugh’s, and even mine.

The above moment in the pilot of “Parks and Recreation” was a sort of milestone for our hometown. It was, I believe, the first time a recurring character on a prime-time network show said to the world, “I am from Bennettsville, South Carolina.” The fact that he followed it up with “I am what you might call a redneck” hardly takes away from that proud declaration. We Marlboro Countians have a great appreciation for irony.

The irony goes deeper, however, than the assertion that the Indian-American is from Bennettsville and not, as Amy Poehler’s character had guessed, a Libyan.

The fact is that Aziz — since he’s a homeboy, I feel free to call him “Aziz” — has greater claim to Bennettsville than I do. Sure, I was born there (while he was born in faraway Columbia), but only because my mother went home to have me while my father, a newly minted Naval officer, was attending a school in San Diego. I grew up thinking of it as home because it was the place I returned to each summer to visit my uncle and grandparents between new postings to places where I would live for a year or so and never return to.

The one time I lived in Bennettsville almost year-round was the 1967-68 school year, when I was in the 9th grade at (also now defunct) Bennettsville High School. So if you walk down Main Street, you may not be able to find anyone who knows me, although you may run into an older person who will remember me as the boy who yelled right out at the preacher in church, completely cracking up the congregation, in the middle of an otherwise stultifyingly boring sermon in 1957. No, I’m not making this up. I have it on good authority that when my name comes up in B’ville, if it does come up, the conversation inevitably moves to the yelling-in-church incident. I’m quite the local legend for that. It probably surprised no one that I became a writer of opinion; I am after all The Boy Who Didn’t Know When to Shut Up.

But Aziz actually grew up there, and attended Marlboro Academy, which (irony again) is where most of the white kids went after BHS was finally completely integrated at the start of the 1970s. (When I was there I had black classmates in homeroom and P.E., but we were then under the “Freedom of Choice” system in which everyone declared which school they wanted to go to each year, and only the very bravest African-Americans dared to say that they wanted to go to the “white” school — something I didn’t really appreciate at the time; I actually thought the school was integrated.)

So his Bennettsville credentials may be more solid than mine, but at least I can say I was a Green Gremlin (possibly the quirkiest, coolest school mascot ever), and he was not.

So there.

Anyway, have any of y’all seen his new show on Netflix, “Master of None?” It’s pretty funny. Not something you want to turn on until after the kids have gone to bed, but funny. Check it out and we’ll discuss it here…

9 thoughts on “Bennettsville boy makes good

  1. Jeff

    I’m sad to hear that Farron’s has shut down. I worked in Society Hill from 2000-2007 and had plenty of good meals at Farron’s.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah, I remember going there sometimes after church at Thomas Memorial Baptist with my grandparents.

      The most memorable thing about that Rotary lunch — the fatback. We served ourselves from a buffet, and one of the items offered was fatback. It’s the only time I remember being presented with fried fatback as a dining option since my childhood — oh, it’s probably been on other buffets I’ve seen since then, but I didn’t notice it.

      Anyway, at the time, it was the first time (that I could remember) that I’d seen it since it used to appear on my grandmother’s kitchen table, and for nostalgic reasons, I took a slice.

      And it was awesome — the tastiest part of the meal! Which was a huge revelation for me.

      I had always turned up my nose at it on my grandmother’s table, thinking it gross. But she frequently cooked it and served it anyway, because one of my uncles loved it.

      As an adult, I had developed a taste for fat. It’s like, I used to be grossed out when I’d leave a fatty piece of meat on my plate, and my Dad would announce, “That’s the best part!” and eat it himself. Eventually, I realized he was right…

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Trivia note: Several years ago, my law partner and I flew into the Marlboro County Jetport to meet a client. At small civil aviation terminals, they have courtesy cars for folks who fly in. Typically, the more money (and busier) the airport, the nicer the courtesy car will be.

      At the Marlboro County Jetport, the courtesy car is (or was) a mid nineties Chevy pickup truck that used to be some sort of fleet vehicle for Dr. Pepper. I know this, because it still had “Dr. Pepper” painted on both sides. So we (both wearing nice suits) hop out of the plane, get in the Dr. Pepper Truck, and drive to meet our client. Our client happened to be an inmate at the Bennettsvile Correctional Institute.

      So two guys in suits (in a busted-loooking Dr. Pepper truck) pull up to the front guardhouse and claim to be lawyers, let’s just say the guards were….skeptical.

        1. Bryan Caskey

          I actually used a photo of Saul in a presentation that I did this Tuesday. Joe Pesci as “Vinny” also made an appearance.

  2. Burl Burlingame

    One of the great reveals on “St. Elsewhere” was the the Japanese-American woman Doctor as “Wendy Armstrong from Tallahassee Florida”

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