Mr. Bethea top-notch country guy

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By Robert Howey

Few Thanksgivings pass without a thought of a past family tradition dating back to my childhood. On Thanksgiving night, we would pack into the family car and head out to, as some folks say, “the country.”

When we moved from Normandy Road to Sherwood Circle when I was in the fourth grade, we thought we were moving to “the country,” but amid pines, oaks and dogwoods, we were still in the city limits.

When we motored out S.C. 903 on those Thanksgiving nights years ago, we were in “the country,” the home of Mr. Willis Bethea.

Thoughts of those past turkey day nights tug a little harder at the heartstrings now since earlier this month Mr. Bethea died.

Mr. Bethea and his wife, Sally, were family friends. I recall several city homes they lived in before moving to “the country.” The Betheas, like our family, had five children, all pretty close in age.

I recall several memorable visits to the Betheas, but the Thanksgiving trips come to mind as the best. The highlight of the night was a barbecue. I’ve had my share of barbecue through the years, but that “pig” stands as some of the best. It wasn’t just the food. The Betheas wanted you to make yourself at home. If you didn’t, they weren’t happy.

If you wanted to watch Thanksgiving night football, there were TVs to check the action. If you wanted to visit and catch up on old times, you could do that, too. Whatever, you were welcomed.

If you ever saw that movie Cheaper by the Dozen with Steve Martin, the Bethea home was like that. Plenty of children and some animals running through the house at times, all in good fun.

I thought of those days at Mr. Bethea’s service, a fitting tribute to a man, who in his 91 years, got the most of life. That was reflected in the eulogies.

A grandson talked of following in his grandfather’s footsteps as a cadet at The Citadel. When he told his grandfather of his decision to attend the state’s military college, Mr. Bethea pondered, “Why?”

I had similar thoughts moments into my first day at The Citadel in 1973. My eyes peered into a late summer Citadel blue sky and asked silently, “What in the world have you gotten yourself in now?”

I chuckle when I recall my father, a USC graduate, needling Mr. Bethea that following a campus visit to the chapel during my four years on the banks of the Ashley, he saw his name carved in one of pews. Not really, but it always produced one of Mr. Bethea’s hearty laughs.

The weekend of Mr. Bethea’s funeral, I relayed the news to my middle brother, Bill, who noted he enjoyed visiting Mr. Bethea’s NAPA Auto Parts Shop, which is now Lee’s Cleaners.

“It was fun just going there and being part of a friendly atmosphere,” Bill said.

As fate had it that afternoon after Mr. Bethea’s funeral, I picked up some cleaning at Lee’s. While there, I ran into Truman Knight and we talked a little college football as business was conducted. As we left, we were bade a hearty good-bye from the owner. The business isn’t the same, but the friendly shop atmosphere is close to the building’s former owner.

Men like Mr. Bethea are rare – good father, devoted husband, hard-working businessman, solid citizen and a quality friend you could always count on.

I cherish those memorable visits to the Bethea home, but just as important I’m thankful for guys like Mr. Bethea. Not a Thanksgiving passes without a grateful thought of Mr. Bethea.