blackbirdonline journalSpring 2010  Vol. 10  No. 1
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A joint venture of the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University and New Virginia Review, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 by Blackbird and the individual writers and artists

ISSN 1540-3068


Virginia Commission for the Arts

Culture Works


Louis D. Rubin, Jr. (1923–2013)

With great sadness, we at Blackbird note the death of Louis D. Rubin, Jr. He was a treasured friend, teacher, and editor to many writers who have been published here and to some of us as well. Join us in celebrating his life by reading his work, reading the work of the writers he loved, watching a baseball game, and honoring through example his unmatched legacy of generosity.

Louis D. Rubin
 Photo by Thomas Rankin

The following text is excerpted from “Epilogue: The Route of the Boll Weevil,” which was published in Uptown/Downtown in Old Charleston (The University of South Carolina Press, 2010).

It was after 1:30 before we reached Andrews, a town of just under two thousand population. We were to be at the station for fifteen minutes, the conductor told me, and would wait until a bus arrived from Georgetown, down on the coast. Across the tracks was a swaying, unpainted building that the conductor said was a restaurant. The front porch slanted downward. On it were a swing and several chairs, one of them with upholstery half burned away by fire. Inside, on a plank floor, was a room with an oil heater in the center, several gray overstuffed chairs, and a sofa. Beyond was a long table covered with bright print oilcloth and red-and-chrome chairs arranged around it. A coffeemaker stood on a nearby wooden table with a stack of stoneware cups and saucers.

“All we got is ham,” I was told by a woman who came in from the kitchen. I ordered a ham sandwich. It was packinghouse, not country cured, and was handed to me on a paper napkin. I took it back to the coach.

During the war, the conductor said, Andrews had been quite a busy place. A daily passenger train, not a bus, connected it with Georgetown, where there was a shipyard, and numerous people rode to Andrews aboard the Boll Weevil, then changed over to the Georgetown train. Andrews had been a railroad meal stop for years, he said, but not many railroad travelers patronized the restaurant anymore. I could well believe it.

The bus from Georgetown arrived, with two passengers on it. We set off down the line but soon pulled to a stop at Andrews Yard, where we moved onto a siding. We were to wait until a certain time for the northbound train, no. 26, then if it did not arrive, move on to the next stop and wait there. I went out onto the rear vestibule and down onto the ground. To the east of the tracks was a network of switching tracks, rusted and with weeds among the crossties and along the rails, and not a boxcar anywhere in sight. It was left over from the war, a brakeman standing nearby said; it had been crowded with freight cars in those days.

The anvil of a thunderhead was forming in the sky above a stand of pines to the southwest. We had left the Sandhills and upstate South Carolina and were in the lowcountry now, no more than twenty-five miles from the ocean. The afternoon air was hot, humid, and thick with insects. This time of year there was a thunderstorm almost every afternoon, the brakeman said. A thin young black man, he kicked between the tracks at the dried carcass of a snake. Off in the woods a bullfrog grunted.

The conductor, who had walked up to the locomotive, came ambling back. “Let’s go,” he said. So we climbed back into the coach and the train moved out onto the line, waited to pick up the brakeman, then resumed its journey. What happens, I asked the conductor, if the northbound train shows up on the line before we get to Oceda, the next stop? It won’t, he said. The arrangement was that if it did not reach Oceda by a certain time, it was to take the siding when it got there and wait for the southbound section to arrive.

At Oceda several black people boarded the train. We waited at the siding. Presently no. 26 came into sight, moving at a brisk clip. It clicked past us, red-and-yellow diesel, baggage car, and single daycoach, and up the line, bound for Hamlet. We returned to the line and were off for Charleston.

The sky had grown darker, and soon the rain came, driving hard against the windows of the coach. I could see the lightning flashes, but the accompanying thunderclaps were faint, their sound masked by the air-conditioning and the running of the train. A few minutes more, and the rain slackened off; we had passed through the thunderstorm.

We were coming into the Santee River flood plain, with marshes and creeks and shaded recesses of woods draped with Spanish moss. No doubt there were alligators in the dark water and very likely black bear in the thickets and woods. The river itself was quite wide with a belt of marshland along the banks. Beyond it, on solid ground again, we passed through stretches of farmland with black soil, then more marshes and creeks and cypress trees with knobs. We could not be too far from the area called Hell Hole Swamp, which during Prohibition days was one of the prime centers of moonshine production on the south coast.

There were extensive tracts of open marsh grass and streams, with the tracks running above them along a wooden trestle. This was the upper reach of the Cooper River, which together with the Ashley formed Charleston Harbor. As often as I had gone down to the Charleston waterfront and watched the ships, tugs, trawlers, and small craft, the upper Cooper was unknown territory for me. Herons and egrets were in place along the brackish marsh; here and there were duck blinds camouflaged by reed grass. I could remember, as a child, paddling along the marsh creeks on the Ashley River in a leaky wooden boat. Clouds of tiny white insects might rise up when I rounded a bend, or an occasional startled heron or marsh hen that would fly up suddenly and wing away. 

But now we were moving down onto the Charleston peninsula. When a child I used to wonder where the route of the Boll Weevil led after it left the pink stucco station at the ballpark. How did it make its way through Charleston Neck and North Charleston? The path it took through the city had remained unknown to me.

Back then the little train had seemed so familiar, so ordinary, totally without surprise or mystery. Yet there were places that it went, areas it traversed that I did not know, even in Charleston itself.

We passed the U.S. Army Port of Embarkation, where in the first summer of the war I had a job as a checker, supervising a gang of workers unloading freight cars. Then we were in North Charleston, crossing the main street. I had worked there one summer as a reporter on a little weekly newspaper housed in a ramshackle old store, not a mile up the way.

Now we were rolling past the navy yard, where during my childhood my father would take us on Sundays sometimes to play aboard the wooden hull of Admiral Farragut’s old flagship at Mobile Bay, the Hartford.

The twin arches of the Cooper River Bridge were in sight to the south, spanning the harbor. Then we were moving past Magnolia Crossing, past the cemetery, where my father’s mother and father, whom I had never known, were buried, and out into the marshland and open areas along the river. Beyond the bridge as we drew nearer, I could see masts and funnels and gantry cranes. Then the tracks curved away to the westward, but before the train reentered the Uptown city I caught a quick glimpse of Downtown Charleston, and the harbor beyond. From where I watched now I could see them both, Downtown and Uptown, not as separate entities but as parts of one place, a city that I knew and loved.

So this, when seen inbound from the north instead of outbound as I had always assumed it would be, was where the Boll Weevil went! Of course it was changing! How otherwise could it remain itself?


Train no. 25 slowed to a crawl as it moved across the intersection at King Street and along Grove. The Rutledge Avenue crossing barriers came down, and the alarm bell clanged. The train passed by the grandstand at College Park and came to a stop at the stucco station.

I lifted my suitcase down from the overhead rack, stepped along the aisle into the vestibule and down onto the concrete walk alongside the track. I walked through the baseball parking lot over to Rutledge Avenue, crossed Grove Street, and waited for the bus.

An odd thing happened then. A boy came wheeling along the sidewalk on a bicycle, a baseball glove looped through the handlebars. I started to speak his name: “Billy!” Then I realized that this was a much younger boy who happened to resemble someone I had known ten years earlier, for the Billy I remembered would be a grown man in his middle twenties. The Rutledge Avenue bus came along, and I got aboard and headed downtown to my aunt’s.

That was in July of 1950. A week later I went back to Baltimore on the Havana Special. In early September the college year began. That fall I met the girl who would become my wife.  end

Louis D. Rubin, Jr. was a literary critic and historian, editor and novelist. He is credited with helping to establish southern literature as a recognized area of study within the field of American literature, as well as serving as a teacher and mentor for writers at Hollins College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and for founding Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, a publishing company nationally recognized for fiction by southern writers. His works include Thomas Wolfe: The Weather of His YouthThe Faraway CountryThe Curious Death of the NovelThe Wary FugitivesGallery of SouthernersSmall Craft AdvisoryBabe Ruth’s GhostSeaports of the South: A Journey, and A Memory of Trains. His novels are The Golden WeatherSurfaces of a Diamond, and The Heat of the Sun. He was the recipient of the 2004 Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle. Rubin was a founding member and a chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

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