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Life Under Pines

These Old Walls By Sundi McLaughlin

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his Valentine’s Day I am sending some love to my little shop. She is needy and difficult. Her bones are old and imperfect. The heat works when it wants and the AC is fed up with our constant demands on her year after year to combat this relentless Southern weather. The building has hosted myriad delights through the years. It has been a shoe store, a bakery (next time you are in, notice the big round burn marks on the floor), but for the last 11 years, it has been my second home, disguised as a gift shop. The shop’s air is infused with the sweet scents of hundreds of tester candles burning, the walls hold years of memories of people laughing at cards, books, kitchen towels, etc. 38 ASOUTHERNSOPHISTICATION

In March the shop was whisperquiet as the country shut down during the pandemic. The back rooms are in tatters from years of abuse. There is a leak that just cannot be fixed, and when the heavy rains come we have a water feature where the mops and brooms normally lean. The floors creak and, every once in a while, the walls crack, but somehow that just lends a charm that cannot be manufactured. For me these signs of aging are like the wrinkles of a favorite aunt, born from years of laughing, loving and, of course, tears. These old walls took me in when no one else would hire me. (Try putting corrections deputy and shell diver on a resume for fun sometime.)

Mary (the previous owner) hired me to manage the shop and that is what I did. I cared for it like it was my own. I would sit behind the counter during those quiet afternoons and chat with customers who would wander in off Broad Street and I found I really enjoyed the work. Twelve years ago our town looked very different. The country’s economy was struggling, as was our beloved downtown. Sunrise Theater was only showing movies three nights a week, the shop next to me, which is now Swank, was empty—in fact the only thing after you crossed the street from the Ice Cream Parlor was a large furniture store on the corner called Lyne’s Den and the Masonic Lodge (which is still here, of course). Our block on Broad was deadly quiet.


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