Romance & the Key to the Hardaway Site: Part I

Preface: It is widely known that many (most ?) of us were uncertain about a career field even as we approached our junior or senior years in college, although we ultimately chose a major in which we thought we might have some interest.  Still others of us identified multiple fields of interest and agonized over which career path to follow. Where we end up in life is often a crap shoot.  I was personally torn between my keen interests in the biological sciences and archaeology.    

Many years ago when in my prime as a wandering teenage hedonist, I found myself at an Easter weekend house party at Crescent Beach, South Carolina, one of the small, unincorporated beach communities located north of Myrtle Beach just off Highway 17.  I hail from Myrtle Beach, graduating from Myrtle Beach High School in 1961, and had seen my share of house parties at the beach.  Lest I stray from one blog topic to another, let me move this story along … At some point during the constantly shifting rhythms and cadences that characterize house parties, I serendipitously found myself in the company of a girl who immediately thereafter stole my heart.   

Following a truly wondrous courtship I finally was invited to the girl’s home in Spencer, North Carolina.  Now it happens the girl’s name was Jane Spencer.  Jane Spencer from Spencer, North Carolina.  It was quite natural for me to assume that this glorious creature had assets well beyond what I could perceive with my very own senses.  The town was obviously named for one of her forebears and the succeeding generations had lived and died in their namesake village.  I couldn’t avoid leaping to the conclusion that I had fallen in with an heiress of significant standing in the community not to mention among the virtual army of investment bankers who were likely to be standing in line for the opportunity to manage the fat trust accounts that she would one day administer in our mutual interests.  Such were the musings of one delusional and totally vulnerable hedonist headed for a just comeuppance.  

Lo and behold, I was a dreamer!  No, there were no wall safes, or stately mansions, or domestic servants, but there was a singularly special family ensconced in a very modest two-story home on a street named Iredell where the phone number was Melrose 3-20453.  Jane’s mom was a gem, but the dad…well that’s where this blog really begins…  

Jane’s dad, Carl was known far and wide as the “Indian man”.  Now, in truth, he was much more than the “Indian man”.  He was an artist of wide acclaim, because of his skills with woodcarving knives.  Carl also painted canvasses in oil and acrylics and was a master with charcoal.  His talents in another art form, illustration, were widely viewed throughout North Carolina in the form of syndicated cartoons and columns bearing his illustrations of historical and cultural figures.  He did this kind of thing for 40+ years and he was very good.  But, what he was really good at was finding arrowheads and other artifacts in fields throughout the piedmont and along stretches of the Yadkin River when the river level would drop due to sustained periods of drought. 

The Spencer home doubled as a museum to the casual observer.  Although it had a living room, bedrooms and so forth, it also had a large room at the rear of the house in which Carl displayed the artifacts he had collected over the decades.  Scout groups and school groups were continuously parading through the house with Carl leading the tour.  It was extraordinary to witness. 

If Jane was reserving final judgment on me until after she had a nod from her mom and dad, my fate may have been sealed the moment I arrived at their home.  Having hitchhiked from Myrtle Beach, I was attired in standard beach attire: a pair of cut-off shorts, sockless Weejuns and a v-neck sweater with the sleeves cut off at the elbow.  Though my manners were impeccable, I recognized expressions of shock and horror when I witnessed them.  Neither Mom nor Dad had any insights into coastal culture nor were they likely to be impressed with beach-grunge couture.  Needless to say, I didn’t make it past the front porch.  After a few minutes of polite, but strained conversation with the Spencers, Carl revealed his passion for Native American culture with an emphasis on artifacts.  Without the slightest hesitation I pounced. 

During a portion of my youth I was blessed to have had the singular pleasure of spending my summers with an uncle who owned a farm in the upper piedmont of South Carolina.  This Uncle was fond of walking through plowed fields and the eroded landscape of the region in search of Native American artifacts.  He took me on these “hunts” every weekend.  This went on for years!  I can honestly say that at that age (9-13) few things excited me more than finding arrowheads.  By the time I was 14 I had amassed quite a collection.  Carl, and indirectly, Elizabeth (Jane’s mom), was about to be outmaneuvered by this seemingly uncouth looking, overly tanned young hooligan from Myrtle Beach.  As soon as Carl revealed his interests in Native American topics, I carefully and very respectfully began to speak his language like no one else he knew.  I realized I had recruited an ally in the quest for Jane’s eternal affections when he smiled and began to tell me about the Hardaway site.  Hot damn!  It was an utter miracle and I knew I had snatched this one right out of the hot coals.  I had experienced close calls before, but not when the stakes were as high. 

As time progressed Jane and I settled into a pattern of courtship and I began to visit with the Spencer’s more frequently…clad in long pants and socks of course.  The day finally came when Carl asked me to go with him to the Hardaway site.  Carl had spoken about his friendship with Joffrey Coe, Chairman of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at UNC, who was leading UNC’s investigations at the Hardaway site.  He showed me a letter from Dr. Coe in the “To whomever it may concern” style.  The letter made it clear that Carl Spencer was authorized to visit the Hardaway site at his pleasure.  Carl and I took that trip to the Hardaway site sometime in the early 1960’s and I shall never forget it.   Stay tuned to the final chapter of the Hardaway story in an upcoming blog. 

Postscript: Those of you who have never experienced the extraordinary thrill of gazing upon an exquisite artifact lying before you on the ground; you will have to accept on faith that it is an experience you will cherish. Over the years I have walked miles through bare fields, making occasional finds of projectile points, scrapers, and other types of artifacts.  It is rare, but once in a while I would encounter a site where artifacts seemed to outnumber common stones in a section of a field.  I have found artifacts on the beach and in dredging spoil pumped from riparian or coastal wetlands (prior to the 1970s).  All of the physiographic provinces in North and South Carolina have yielded artifacts to me, but I would have to say the piedmont of North and South Carolina seems to be the richest hunting grounds.  In my experiences the exception might be Wilson County, North Carolina where a friend and I discovered a mini-bonanza of artifacts in plowed fields during several “hunts” a few years ago. I can experience similar highs from any number of pleasurable outdoor activities including fishing, wilderness hiking, wildlife stalking, foraging for special meals and, of course, spending quality time with family and friends.  However, in all honesty, the thrill of finding something a fellow human being had fashioned from crude tools millennia ago is unlike any other experience.