My Grandmother use to tell me when I was younger, you can’t change where you grow up, but you can change who it makes you as a person. Hometowns have always been a sore subject for me, I grew up in the small town of Hopkins but attended school in Columbia. I used to be too embarrassed to tell people I was from Hopkins. Most people barely even knew where it was or had never even heard of it before, but it always made me anxious to tell people about my hometown. Hopkins wasn’t the most glamorous town to live in, it really wasn’t even much of anything, but it was rare to see a real house on the corner or a nice car in the driveway. Most of the people in Hopkins were lower-middle class, hardworking blue-collar families, conservatives, “rednecks”. Growing up in school in Columbia, I was always surrounded by the upper-middle class, and to tell people that I lived in a single wide trailer seemed like the death of me, what would they think of me? What would they say when they realized my life wasn’t as glamorous as I played it out to be?
Most 7-year olds were wishing for the next big toy coming out, or the new Nintendo game being released, but I remember wishing that I had a pretty house to come home to, not a trailer with a rusted old roof on the top or a slanted front porch with the boards caving in. I was ashamed of people coming over to my house, thinking of me as poor or dirty. On the way home from school, riding the bus, I’d sit and listen to the other kids talk about the different houses we made stops by, “My house has a pool just like that”, “My house has two stories, and a garage”, I wanted more than anything to feel like I fit in, I tried so hard to pretend my family was well off.
The education system is subpar in Hopkins, and my parents vowed to do whatever it took for me to attend school in Columbia. I can’t tell you what I remember learning at Southeast Middle school in Hopkins my 6th grade year, but in 7th grade, my parents started paying for me to go to South Carolina Science Academy, a charter school located downtown on Marion Street that taught mandarin and offered scholarships for less than well off kids looking for better education. My final year of middle school, I was promised a spot on the transfer list for Dreher Highschool as a Mandarin Transfer. I remember feeling excited, but nervous. Most of the kids at Dreher came from wealthy families, and the only reason I was there was because I was a “transfer” kid.
You were lucky in my hometown if both of your parents graduated high school, my dad dropped out of school in 11th grade, but my mom wanted to continue to peruse her education as a certified nursing assistant. My mother was in college when they got pregnant with my older sister at 19, she had to drop out of college and she started cleaning houses, and my dad started working construction. In second grade, I remember being asked about my parents’ occupation and freezing up. “My parents are doctors”, “My parents are lawyers’, I wasn’t ashamed of their occupations but it’s rare in Hopkins if you happen to have a 6-figure job, most of the people in this town never graduated high school, or even think about attending college.
My dad worked such long hours that sometimes he wouldn’t come home for close to two days, but he worked hard to give me everything I wanted. I was the only kid on Roberts Road with a trampoline, a full swing set, a tree house and a pink electric scooter. In Hopkins, I felt like the coolest kid in the neighborhood, I could be myself, it made me grateful for the sacrifices made by my parents to ensure that no matter where we came from, I had the experience the nicer things in life.
The first day at Dreher, I felt like the sore thumb that stuck out. I had a thrifted lily Pulitzer dress on, a brand new vera Bradley backpack and knockoff jack roger shoes. My parents couldn’t afford to buy me real jack rogers, so they tried their hardest to help me “play the look”. I remember sitting next to a young girl in my second period English class who took one look at my knock off shoes and laughed. The very thing I had worked so hard to keep a secret, had come out. My heart ached for my parents who worked so hard to give me nice things, just for a rich white girl to pick on the minute she saw them. I wished in that moment, that I was invisible.
I fell into “playing the look” a lot more quickly than I’d like to admit, I stopped telling people I was from Hopkins and instead I told them I was from Columbia. I made sure that when making plans with friends from school I would have my mom drop me off and pick me up, and eventually over time I had completely mastered a new personality, a new “persona”, The Camryn Dreher Highschool knew was a spoiled rich white girl, a “daddy’s money” girl, I was uncomfortable being myself. I had witnessed not only the effects of status at Dreher personally but had witnessed it happen to those who weren’t fortunate enough to hide it from the rest of our peers.
As a child in a predominately poor town, it was hard not to label the people I watched grow up around me. I’ve watched the people I grew up with fall through the cracks of the system. Dropouts, meth heads, thugs. It wracked my brain how people end up in awful situations when they started out with such a promising career. The answer varies, but one thing I was taught growing up in Hopkins was “You can’t choose where you grow up, but you can choose who it shapes you to become. I’ve realized over the years that Hopkins isn’t a bad place to grow up, it’s lead me to meet some of the most amazing people in my life.
When I was at the shy age of 10, while visiting our family creek, I met a small girl by the name of thailer, her skin was golden like the sun, her long brown hair flowed down her back like a river. She was the first neighborhood friend I ever made in Hopkins. Overtime, she opened up to me and she’s become one of my best friends. Thailer was the first person to encourage me to pursue my lifelong dream of being an attorney, and she’s also helped me through some of the hardest times in my life.
My grandma didn’t grow up in Hopkins, but she’s spent 40 years in this town. She’s known as the Junkman’s wife. She doesn’t come from very much but she’s the happiest she’s ever been living here. She truly has impacted everyone who lives on Roberts Road. She was a true example of not everyone who grows up in a poor community, has to match the stereotypes that follow it.
Every summer, on a cool breezy day my grandma would come over with a bag of snap peas and sit on the front porch swing and tell her life stories growing up in the city of Columbia in the 50s. I always noticed how her hands brought to life, the story of her life. Her hands wrinkled and worn, but full of love and hard work. She reminds me of how different times are now compared to how they were when she was my age.
The Junkman of Hopkins, that’s what they called him, my grandfather. When he was just shy of 8 years old, he dropped out of school to go to work. He could never read or write, but somehow, he always had a yearning to learn. He was like a tumbleweed, drifting through the wind, desperate to find his calling for the world. He finally found it, taking the broken parts of children’s bicycles and playsets, and putting them back together, just like they once use to be, in a sense, putting back each time, a piece of his own childhood he lost, back together again.
Money isn’t everything, and neither are appearances. Hopkins has its flaws, but the community of Columbia can never outshine the community of Hopkins. Hopkins has arguably seen its darker days, but everyone rallies together because we’re a family here. I can wallow in the fact that a lot of people won’t ever get to experience the love this community has brought me. The town I once hated, was the only place I felt welcomed at the end of every day.
It’s true the saying “everybody knows everybody in a small town”, and sometimes it was incredibly annoying. I remember one night, Thailer and I snuck out and ended up at the Mt. Elon Church playground after midnight. I felt alive, the thrill of just being able to do what I want, and no one knew about it. We watched a singular car pass by, and 10 minutes later our parents were calling us telling us to get home immediately. It was crazy, but in a sense, it made me feel even more loved. In the city of Columbia, I was just another pretty face, but in Hopkins I was Barry and Amy’s daughter and that to me spoke volumes of how close our community was.
Sometimes I wish I wasn’t as well known, last year when I hit the darkest place in my life, everyone knew.
You couldn’t mistake the ambulance, the Richland County cop cars, or the firetruck that sped down my driveway with their sirens on. I couldn’t hide the embarrassment or shame I felt when the word spread fast and my dad was haling ass in our driveway, barely putting his car in park, completely devasted and in shock seeing me being wheeled into the back of an ambulance.
A few years ago, if you would have asked me where I was from, I would have told you Columbia. The present day me will tell you that I’m proud to be from Hopkins. My hometown is not perfect by all means, but it taught me to be grateful for everything I have in life, that no one loves and supports you as much as the people in your hometown, and that just because you come from a poor hometown, it doesn’t mean that’s all you’ll ever be. I am the first of a select few in Hopkins to have a high school diploma, pursue a college education, will probably be the first person in Hopkins to obtain a degree in Political science, and the first attorney from Hopkins, but I don’t think I would have made it this far if I wasn’t from Hopkins. Hopkins has a significant impact on my life, it’s shaped my knowledge in breaking the stereotypes of people who have grown up here, it’s given me the opportunity to meet all types of different people with different lifestyles and opinions, and it’s made me a better person. It’s given me the opportunity to make a difference for all of the other Camryns in small towns like mine. Hopkins isn’t much of anything, and you can’t find it on most of the South Carolina State maps but Hopkins is my hometown, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.