Growing up in a small Southern town



My Grandparent’s old home now the Recreation Dept of Orangeburg. We in the family referred to it as the “Big House.” 

Those of y’all from Orangeburg who read my blog will recognize this house. It is on 367 Green Street. This was my grandfather Livingston’s house. He had no surviving male children–his only son–my uncle Bill–was killed in a plane crash in 1938. So I carry the middle name of Livingston which I use on my formal note cards to honor my Grandfather Livingston who was a wonderful man. (Thank you Ned Pendarvis for your thoughtful comments about what your father, Mr. E.O., Mayor for Life of Orangeburg, said about my Grandfather).

This house was built in 1929/30 after a Christmas Day fire in 1928 burned down the original house built on the property by my Great-grandfather in 1880. My Grandfather’s houseman, John Henry, who worked for the family for fifty years, grabbed the turkey and that was all that survived the fire besides all the family.

Unfortunately, the city of Orangeburg seems to have cut down the wonderful magnolia tree in the front year. Granted it had gotten way too big but they could have trimmed it back. It was planted by my great-grandfather in the late 1880s.

I spent a much of my childhood at my grandparents house. I loved them very much. We called them “Gram” and “Pop”.

Your correspondent, Charles McCain, standing in the side yard, to the right of the Big House. I had just caught all these fish at Pinetop (where we lived–my Grandfather’s country place which he gave to my mother)

My Livingston grandparents always made their love for us apparent and it was a joy to be around them. This was in contrast to my extremely formal grandfather on the other side of my family, Charles S. McCain, from whom I received my first name. He was dying when I was born and my parents told me they were naming me for him and going to call me Charlie which is what his oldest friends called him although no one in the family dared call him that. (My mother wanted to name me Thomas.)

While I never met Grandfather McCain, he did not have a warm and fuzzy nickname because he was not warm and fuzzy. He was simply known as “Grandfather McCain” and I think when my older cousins visited him on they called him Mr. McCain.

For the many who don’t actually know me, I grew up in a very small town in the South Carolina low country named Orangeburg. The town is not named for oranges which are not grown in South Carolina. It is named in honor of the Royal House of Orange. While this is actually the royal family which ruled- and still rules the Netherlands– William and Mary of Orange ruled England temporarily from 1689 through 1702. Hence “Orangeburg.”

The College of William and Mary is named for them as well.

From time to time I will post excerpts from a manuscript about my youth in Orangeburg I work on occasionally between my Royal Navy novels. This manuscript is titled “My First Big Night of Sin: My Southern Youth Remembered. (copyright 2014 by Charles McCain). I will also repeat these as vids.

I remember:

When the Carolina Theater was in City Hall. It cost thirty-five cents for a movie ticket.   A coke was fifteen cents, Popcorn was a dime. As kids we  went to the movies every Saturday afternoon. Often times people were working in the offices, all of which had glass doors. We’d put our noses up against the glass to see what they were doing.

When the movie was over, I would go over to Fisher’s Rexall on Russell Street and Middleton Street, go behind the counter and use their phone to call my mother to come pick me up.  

(The Carolina Theater leased the City Auditorium and that was one of only two movie theaters in Orangeburg. The Stevenson Auditorium has taken the place of the Carolina Theater, I think but maybe the auditorium is a completely new building. I remember Mr. Stevenson who was the City Administrator for decades and went to our church with his family. (His son, Doug, emailed me when he bought my first novel)

He was a very, very nice man and had been a submarine officer in World War Two in the Pacific and had gone through some tough times being depth-charged by Japanese destroyers. He told these stories when he was talking to us at Vacation Bible School).

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: