Cooperative Grocery (2008)

The making of Cooperative Grocery Store

On Main Street in Abbeville, SC Is a small, white building with the name "Cooperative Grocery" over the entrance. I had learned during the making of the Carolina Hash documentary that one of the Upstate's most notable hash masters - Walt Wilson - lived in Abbeville. In usual fashion I decided to try and find him by asking people around town on camera if they knew or had heard of him. This led me into the Cooperative Grocery with camera rolling. There I ran into three men gathered around a card table standing in the middle of the store that turned out to be a small grocery. Two of these men turned out to be colorful characters - genuine and quintessential Southern, down home raconteurs with a twinkle in their eye ready to spar spontaneously with a cameraman in pursuit of a story about hash. Before I had a chance to launch my question about Walt Wilson and began, "Gentlemen, I'm shooting a film about hash and...." I was surprised by this interruption: "Hash? Well you come to the right place to talk about hash. I make a real good one, but this man is also an excellent hash maker", gesturing to the man seated to his left. With that begins one of the best examples of what can be achieved with spontaneously shot handheld camera style shooting. Without stopping the camera I became engaged in a fast-paced back and forth that put me on a whirl gig of talk that ranged from politics and leg-pulling to comments about folks in Georgia having no idea what hash is - "You say hash in Georgia and folks think you're talking about Castleberry's!"

Eventually I discovered that the silent third wheel in this rapid-fire repartee was the very hash master I had come to Abbeville to meet - Walt Wilson. Once I learned this, the conversation turned to an "Old fashioned Southern Shindig" which was pitched to me as an event - if I had never been to one - I had to come to. "You like to dance to Bluegrass and country music and eat some get outta-here hash? Gotta come on down!" It turned out that one was coming up in several weeks and it would occur around the cooking of a traditional hash by Walt Wilson himself. I noted the date and documented the "Shindig" with footage I never found time to edit, adding the footage to other pieces I had collected, but was never able to find funding to edit. (These pieces mounted up and make up a generous part of The Woodward Studio Limited's folklife video archive, which I ended up donating to the Southern Folklife Collection at the UNC Wilson Library in 2014, regretting that such a wealth of material would remain unedited. Stories like the 200-year-old Sproull Reunion North Georgia Brunswick stew, the Alberta Brunswick stew cooked by Brunswick County Virginia "Stew Wars" champion, Mr. John Clay, Junior, the story of the legendary "Rockfish Bownet Fishermen" on the coastal-feeding spawning ground of the Rockfish (or giant sea bass) on the Roanoke River, the iconic and legendary Hash House in Greenwood, SC and, of course, the "Hash Shindig" of Abbeville, SC.)

"The Cooperative Grocery" did get edited into a short, but the story behind the store did not. The Cooperative was started by Abbeville area farmers to provide a sales outlet locally for produce that was shipped by train to farmers markets and buyers throughout the region. It immediately became the community gathering place where local folk would come to socialize, catch up on news, politics and gossip. This led to a local tradition of men gathered around card tables in the Cooperative Grocery. I became the beneficiary of that tradition, even though the arrival of local A & P grocery store chains and the like starting in the post-war 1940's caused the demise of the need for farmers cooperatives and drove them under. However, the card table tradition at the Cooperative Grocery was strong enough to remain in Abbeville, SC, drawing a whole set of interesting characters."