No more Pig chicken. It’s true — come Saturday, the Edisto Beach Piggly Wiggly is closing its doors and the grocery store that has prided itself on being “local since forever” will be gone forever. Oh, the building will reopen later in November as a Bi-Lo, but it won’t be the same. Several staff members say they’re staying on, but we haven’t heard yet if the deli will return with fried chicken on the menu. Bi-Lo would be smart to continue the tradition because the Pig has been serving “Mrs. Mac’s fried chicken” since 1967 when former school lunch lady Nel McNaughton took over the deli at a West Ashley Piggly-Wiggly in Charleston. Mrs. Mac passed in 2008 at age 92, and that West Ashley store at Dupont Crossing is gone as well, but the Lowcountry is still eating up her chicken by the 8-piece box full at family dinners and church suppers, club meetings and beach picnics.
When word went out in early September that Bi-Lo and Harris-Teeter had bought a bunch — or should that be herd? — of Pigs in South Carolina, Twitter and Facebook lit up. I was in Florida and called my sister-in-law to hustle down to the Edisto Pig and pick me up a Pig T-shirt before they all disappeared. By the time she got there that afternoon, the size selection was limited to tiny tots or football players. So now I am the proud owner of a pink T-shirt, XX-L, “Piggly Wiggly Edisto Beach,” on the front, and “I’m Big on the Pig” on the back. Makes a great nightshirt.
I am trying to be sanguine about the Pig closing. Some folks say they can’t imagine the beach without the Pig. Well, I can. I remember when that location, years ago, was an IGA, and before that, when Marion Whaley’s little filling station/store a block off Palmetto comprised the beach’s “business district.” Now it’s a restaurant, joining the half-dozen or so dining establishments that have appeared since I was a kid and we fried our own chicken and shrimp.
As I was packing to come up here in September, I got an e-mail from a publicist at Open Road Integrated Media that it was publishing an e-book of an acclaimed 1984 Southern novel. Was I familiar with Edisto by Padgett Powell?
Oh, yes. When Edisto was first published, I was nearing the end of a 5-year sojourn in the Midwest and homesick for the South. But the novel confused me. I liked the wry coming-of-age of 12-year-old narrator Simons Manigault, but his late 1960s Edisto wasn’t the one I knew. The geography was all cock-eyed. Simons (pronounced Simmons) lives in an isolated house on the beach at Edisto with his mother — the literary “Doctor” — while she’s temporarily separated from his father, but he goes to school in Bluffton? Impossible. Bluffton’s way too far away, practically to Georgia. Then, at one point, Simons goes to church in Savannah, “the closest place you can find an Episcopal layout.” Not so. Trinity Episcopal has been on Edisto Island since 1744. Then, near book’s end, the Manigaults move to Hilton Head, like it’s just a shortish drive. Uh, no. Most of Beaufort County and St. Helena Sound are in the way.
It is possible that I was just a teeny bit jealous of Powell; he wasn’t much older than me and he was getting these great reviews for a first novel named after the place I loved most in the world. So I became used to explaining that Edisto the book wasn’t really like Edisto the island/or beach. Powell could just as well have called it some other Lowcountry name like Dawhoo or Fenwick or Fripp. And yet the colloquial dialogue rang true, as did Simon’s memory of the old Charleston market before it was prettyfied, and how fiddler crabs look like they’re brandishing little ivory swords. I recognized the dusty dirt roads and rundown juke joints, the palmettos crackling in a stiff wind, the salt-smelling air, summer heat, mosquitoes.
By the time Powell’s Edisto Revisited came out in 1996, I was long reconciled to his vision and discursive voice, what Simons himself refers to as “boyish, untethered locution.” The second book is something of a picaresque romp, with the house at Edisto a jumping-off point for an aimless, post-college Simons to roam the South. I love it.
It’s being published as an e-book, too, although this poses a problem for the Edisto Bookstore, where the print versions have been steady sellers for years. Owner Karen Carter recently tried to order more copies for the store, only to have publisher FS&G say the rights have reverted to the author. Unless Open Road or another publisher decides to release paperback editions, Edisto will soon be out of print, so to speak, unless you have an e-reader. I’m happy I still have my original hardcover copies. Happier still that I have my Edisto past and present. Also the laminated PFC card in my wallet that identifies me as “Pig’s Favorite Customer.”