I spent last weekend playing host to a Rotary Youth Exchange student and it was an eye-opening encounter for me.
Pablo has been in the U.S. since August and I’ve had several opportunities to spend time with him, so he wasn’t a stranger when he came over Friday night for a stay that would last until Sunday.
But it was the best chance I’d had since he arrived last summer to get to know him a little better.
Looking around Friday night for something to do on Saturday, I called up my dad in Robersonville near Greenville and learned of his plans to attend the annual Robersonville Ruritan Auction the next morning.
“That was perfect,” I thought. “It gives me an opportunity to show Pablo where I was born and where my family had come from. It also gave me the opportunity to take Pablo to an auction, something he hadn’t seen before.
On Saturday morning, Pablo, my daughter Pitt and I got up early and headed Down East. We arrived in Robersonville a little after 9 and soon after, headed uptown for the warehouse where the auction was taking place.
There wasn’t a parking space to be found with a block and a half, so I let Pablo and Pitt out at the front door since it was raining.
After I got inside we started walking up and down the rows of items people had brought in for auction. The warehouse was laid out like an old tobacco sale, with items up for bid lined out in neat rows. Two auctioneers started in opposite corners of the building and worked their way up and down the lines of merchandise. There were cars and trucks being auctioned. washers and driers, golf carts, books, records, children’s toys, even bean poles.
The people who donated the items took home the money, but they paid the Ruritans for the right to sell their stuff. Near the front door, they were selling barbecue plates and even a local woman’s club had set up tables with desserts for sale.
Pablo was enthralled by the auctioneer, even though he could barely make out what he was saying.
But then. most of the people standing around the auctioneer could barely understand what they heard.
Pablo shot a video of the auction, which he later shared with his mother in Ecuador. Like Pablo, she could barely make out what he said. Pablo’s inscription under the video he sent to his mother said: “Oh, the South.”
Back at home that night, I took our dog on his nightly walk and I invited Pablo to come along. We walked from our house to the house I grew up in three or four blocks away.
As we walked down the street of my childhood, lined with 1960s brick ranch homes, Pablo said, this was exactly like what he imagined America would look line when he arrived.
“It’s the image you get from the movies,” he said. “I’ve been looking for this ever since I got here.”
Both those Saturday experiences reminded me that what I might take for granted is Southern culture at its best for someone else.