If you’ve been in Effingham more than a few decades, you’ve likely heard the refrain of long-time residents: “We gotta keep all those folks from Chatham from coming up here and messin’ up our county.” Crime and crowding are often key flashpoints in the conversation. On the other side are new residents who ask for a little grace, given the fact that they are paying taxes and increasing the property values of those long-time residents and landowners.
No matter where you are in this tongue-in-cheek feud, I’m sure we could all agree that the Salzburgers — who traversed up the Savannah River to found this area circa 1733 — did us all a favor. They established a county based on Christian family values, hard work, and solid education that is highly sought-after by anyone tiring of city life and the secular cultural shift.
I have never been interested in the back-and-forth of the “Effingham family” versus “newbie” feud, no matter how lighthearted or serious it is. Maybe that’s because I am more newbie than anything else. (LeFavi is not a Salzburger name. No, really, it isn’t.) Maybe I just never thought the issue was that significant, that it was just something many historic communities deal with. But, I have changed my mind, thanks to an experience I had a few years ago.
On a recent trip to Italy, my wife Sue and I decided to visit my family’s hometown. We arrived at the airport and were met by two full families all dressed to the nines. That was our first tip-off that we were in for something unique.
Each family fought to have us over for a special dinner every evening. They would not let us drive anywhere. These incredibly generous people actually opened a closed restaurant one night just for us, and the chef and owner served us the best meal we have ever had in our lives. We were treated like a king and queen returning home. And I had never met these people before. That didn’t matter. My name was LeFavi; that’s all they needed to know. It was a family thing.
So, this welcoming committee took me to the hometown, Militello, where all LeFavis are from. And they beamed with pride when they brought me to Via LeFavi (“LeFavi Way”), the street that led to the olive oil farm my family was known for.
But here is what was so interesting — even somewhat stunning — to me: When I was walking down Via LeFavi, I didn’t feel like an outsider. I felt not only a sense of being intimately connected to my past, but also a sense of responsibility — maybe a responsibility to those who came before me (even though I didn’t know them personally, either).
Strangely, I found myself looking around on that street, thinking, “Someone needs to tell that guy to clean up his part of the street,” and “Shouldn’t those doors over there be painted?” and “Why can’t these holes in the street be fixed?”
I was riveted to some degree by my own sense of ownership or possession, though none of it belonged to me. Again, I don’t think that was out of a distorted belief that I actually owned anything, but rather that I had a true appreciation and respect for what my family worked hard to create. I somehow felt a need to protect that.
I started to wonder, if that is the way I feel about what my family labored to develop for themselves and those who would come after them, despite not knowing them or having any ownership in the property, imagine how the Salzburger families feel when they have a personal connection to much of this land and the surroundings for over 200 years! Of course, they feel a sense of responsibility to protect it in any way they can. It’s a family thing.
Now, let me say that I think that everyone who wants to positively contribute to this county should be able to do so without the slightest roadblock. Let the best ideas for the prosperity of this county win. But, when I hear someone complain about the “old guard,” I guess I see that differently now. If it were not for the old guard, my children would not have had an excellent education and upbringing. Sure, Effingham County isn’t perfect, but all in all it is a pretty great place to live.
So, long live the Salzburgers. My hope, whether my family is here 25 years or 250 years, is that I can do something that gives honor to the men and women who worked hard to provide me with a great place to live, worship, and work.
Yep, “Salzburgers in paradise.” With apologies to Jimmy Buffet, I say to all of them, “Thank you.”
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.