PICKENS — If you drive into Pickens, you’ll see the old high school football stadium. It’s overgrown with weeds now.
If you take the time to get out of your car and peek through the padlocked gates, you’ll see there’s crabgrass growing up through the remnants of what used to be field paint. Royal blue and red — Pickens High colors.
The roar of an enthusiastic crowd used to fill the skies here with sound nearly every Friday night, and the air was permeated with the smell of funnel cakes and burnt cotton candy.
The skies above Bruce Field are silent now — the stadium empty — and the only thing that the sharp autumn air brings with it is nostalgia.
Four years ago in 2011, the Pickens Blue Flames moved across town into another school, a larger school reminiscent of a college, and into a brand new football stadium.
After serving Pickens county for 141 years, the old high school was torn down to the dismay of many, more than a few of them being Pickens High alumni themselves. These types of changes in the town are becoming quite common, and the townsfolk are taking notice.
Not too long ago, if you lived in Pickens, you had to drive to neighboring towns to get to nearly anything. The people of Pickens were content with driving to Easley to shop at a Walmart, or to Greenville for a night out on the town.
Little did they realize, however, that soon they would barely have to leave their town for anything. Within the next few years, not only did the new high school crop up, but so did a Walmart, a Wendy’s, a Bojangles, a Zaxby’s, a Verizon Wireless, a Japanese sushi restaurant, and a Starbucks — all in a town that was used to peaceful living and surviving on family, Southern living and basic necessities.
A picture of typical Pickens life is found at the Pickens Jockey Lot on the Walhalla Highway. They’re open from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays year-round, and if you show up, you’re in for a treat.
In the springtime, if the wind is blowing just right along the dirt paths, it kicks up enough just dust to form a slight haze around the open-air market and covers your eyes with a web of hair.
“You didn’t bring no hair-tie, honey?” asks a kindly-looking elderly woman standing alongside a basket laden with greens.
Her thick South Carolinian accent is affectionately referred to as “Pickenese” around the area. After grabbing my attention, she immediately moves in for the kill, trying to sell me collard greens, snap peas, onions, and anything else that she thinks that I may be inclined to buy.
Further into the jockey lot you’ll find treasures — both hand-made and not — piled high on booths underneath the open-air shelter, and while these people take great pride in selling these items, they’re always up for a haggle war to settle on a price.
And later on, if you get hungry, just follow the smell of beer brine and salt and grab a gargantuan helping of steaming boiled peanuts — the Pickens Jockey Lot specialty.
This is the side of life that the people of Pickens had grown used to — had enjoyed, for the majority of their lives. The peaceful, country living that most people outside of the area don’t understand.
To be surrounded by nothing but nature — to drive for miles and see nothing but trees, grass and fields that are home to cattle, horses, and other livestock.
To see wholesome gardens grown by their own hands and reap crops worth taking pride in. To sit in a rocking chair on a front porch with a fresh brewed cup of coffee in hand looking out over the view of Table Rock, rather than at a nondescript table gripping a syrupy frappuccino.
This is the life that is disappearing from Pickens County. However, until every morsel of that life is gone, one thing is certain: you can find them at the jockey lot.