Cook: Good starts and bittersweet endings

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 25, 2011

When you move to a new town, the people who first reach out in friendship get a permanent place in your heart.
When Ed and I bought a little brick house on Maupin Avenue more than 30 years ago, Mary and C.V. Stevens were among the people who did just that.
We had lots of good neighbors. But the Stevenses, who lived a few doors down, helped us find ourselves.
Older than us by about 50 years, they often invited us to have a seat on their front porch in the evenings. Their relaxed pace and gentle conversation made that porch a haven.
So it naturally flowed that when we first sat in the pews of First Presbyterian Church at their invitation, that fit us just fine. That church home became a haven, too. The Stevenses set our lives on a good course.

Sometime during those early years, Bill and Elinor Swaim reached out too. They invited us to dinner at their home and made us feel a part of Salisbury ó something that can be hard for newcomers.
How hard? In my first years as a reporter, I asked Mayor John Wear during an interview if he was from Salisbury. He said, no, he hadnít been here long ó only about 20 years.
At the time I thought 20 years as a resident was pretty darn close to being ěfrom Salisbury.î I was all of about 25. I was surprised Dr. John Wear, the mayor, still thought of himself as something of an outsider.
Now I get it. Having been here nearly 34 years, I know. You need to have much deeper roots to be a real Salisburian.

Maybe the Swaims sympathized because they, too, had moved to Salisburyó in 1962. But we had other connections. Their son David and I had met during a term-in-England program while in high school ó one of those small-world coincidences ó and First Presbyterian was their church, too.
When the Swaims died within a few days of each other recently, both in their 90s, it seemed fitting that they would depart this world together. World War II separated them as newlyweds for about four years; maybe they were determined to spend as little time apart as possible after that. Especially in their later years, you seldom saw one without the other.
Still, each had a separate realm. Elinor was a strong, independent woman ó ěan iron fist in a velvet glove,î as daughter Moffitt Churn put it ó who accomplished more than the people of Salisbury might ever realize. She was on local, state and national library boards, served as a leader in the Presbyterian church and the Republican Party and championed the arts.

When you go by Rowan Public Libraryís headquarters on Fisher Street, think of Elinor. Her successful leadership of the drive to pass a bond for library expansion is her most tangible legacy, beyond children and grandchildren. Itís a first-rate facility that serves thousands of people each year.
Occasionally I would answer the phone at the Post to hear Elinorís unmistakable voice ó something between a lilt and a drawl. Despite having one of the busiest schedules in town, she always talked in a measured way as she explained her news or offered a story suggestion. I found myself hanging on each word, waiting for the next one. Maybe she knew I was a slow note-taker.
She was a people person. For decades at First Presbyterian, she interviewed new church members and wrote them up in the newsletter ó she liked to hear peopleís stories.

Think of Bill Swaim whenever you come across a Carolina Maid dress.
And maybe when you think about the Easter Bunny.
One of the stories the Rev. Jim Dunkin shared at the Swaimsí funeral involved Moffitt as a young child. She told Bill her best friend said her father was the Easter Bunny. She asked Bill for verification.
ěWell, come to think of it,î Bill said, ěher dad does look like a rabbit.î
He never seemed to be in a hurry, but he was a quick thinker.
He was the quieter side of the couple, but he knew his business, rode it through the ups and downs of textiles and never panicked. He was his familyís rock ó serious, well-grounded.
Thatís the way he served as a county commissioner too, a determined conservative.
The family said he mowed the grass in wingtips. He had three pair.
He could be tight with money, Moffitt said near the close of the service, but when it came to the grace thing, he was downright extravagant.

So great a cloud of witnesses. Gone are Bill and Elinor Swaim, C.V. and Mary Stevens and so many others weíve known and been touched by through the years.
Time has carried us forward. We go to more funerals now, ponder deathís mystery a little more. These passings are sad. But remembering people with such full lives ó their kind gestures and light humor ó can be a sweet celebration.

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.