City Portrait: Greenville, South Carolina

Andrew Stephen Cebulka
by Ashley Warlick - South Carolina - August/September 2011

The hippest little city in South Carolina

More on Greenville:
Greenville: Where to Eat
Greenville: Where to Drink
Greenville: What to Do
Greenville: The Residents
More photos of Greenville

Say you marry your first boyfriend. You know about boys before that, the way you know about internal combustion engines: You can recognize one when you see it, and you have expectations it will take you somewhere. A boy ought to spin you around, buy you dinner, bring you flowers every once in a while. Say you meet a boy, and he does all that, and you go ahead and get married. You’re young. It’s not like you can say you know what you’re doing, but nobody’s going to tell you otherwise either. You’ve got a plan.

This is my first real hometown. Not somewhere I was born, but somewhere I picked myself. We moved to Greenville almost twelve years ago for the reasons people move places. There was a job at Furman University in a campus like a park, with a student body as nice and earnest as a professor’s dream. My brother lived here, finishing a degree at Clemson. Our daughter was young, I wanted to be near family again, and coming off a long run in Pennsylvania, I wanted to be back in the South, where I grew up.

It seemed like a nice town, rich in dogwoods and azaleas, in shade. A Southern town ought to have a lot of azaleas, a good barbecue joint with a Sunday church crowd, and some dead heroes in the cemeteries whom people still claim as their own. We bought a house just off the end of Main Street from a man who said the iron insets in the gates on the white picket fence had come from his family’s side of the Faulkner clan, and when I met his mother, I could ask. It was just what we were looking for.

When we moved in, our neighbors Lamar and Bob brought us a bottle of wine and a card printed with a poem by the late South Carolina poet laureate Bennie Lee Sinclair, because they had heard I was a writer. Lamar was in set design; Bob mostly liked to watch my brother work on his car in our driveway. This, not far from the ultraconservative shadow of Bob Jones University. We could spot the girls in the grocery store with their skirts past their knees, and the boys buying flowers every Friday, even though there was no dating allowed on campus. It seemed sweetly confused, like whatever’s going on over there was as private as what’s going on in my neighborhood. I liked the idea, even back then, that this town had room enough for both.