Written by Michele Roldán-Shaw
Eccentric: a person whose behavior is habitually unusual or whimsical
Eccentricity: the quality or habit of deviating from what is usual or customary
Bluffton Eccentric: any Blufftonian known about town for their endearingly quirky behavior.
or the final installment of this series, I resolved to do two things. The first was talk to one of my favorite Bluffton Eccentrics, Ben Turner, a good friend who embodies many qualities of the best sort of eccentric. The second was to wrap up my findings by putting forth a field guide to eccentrics that will help readers identify these creatures when spotted in their natural habitat. Although it is in no way an exhaustive list of traits, habits and species of eccentric, it should at least encourage people to get out and make observations of their own.
Ben Turner is a Bluffton original who has been on the May River just about since birth. He now runs a business called Native Guide Kayak Tours, which gives customers the chance to paddle out with Ben and hear his quirky insights on the local environment. Anyone who has ever held a conversation with Ben knows that the things he says—referred to by close friends as “Benisms”—are not always phrased in the exact manner you would expect. Yet somehow, you always know what he means. (My favorite recent example of this was Ben’s statement “Dogs give you unconstitutional love.”) During our interview about the nature of eccentricity, Ben mentioned that a psychologist friend of his had once jokingly suggested he might suffer from aphasia. I’d never heard of such a disease, but Ben, with his characteristic squinty-eyed grin, said it was “the condition of having been dropped on one’s head as a baby.”
“It’s kind of like mental dyslexia,” he further elaborated. “When the words come out, after I’ve thought about them, they’re not the words I thought about. The phrase is slightly askew.”
The American Heritage Dictionary defines aphasia as “partial or total loss of the ability to articulate ideas or comprehend spoken or written language, resulting from damage to the brain caused by injury or disease.” It did not, however, cite any cases of babies being dropped on their heads.
Suspected pathologies aside, Ben’s particular way of expressing himself is only one of the things that make him eccentric. He defined eccentricity as “self-assurance, being relaxed about the way you are, or maybe just old enough not to give a darn,” attributes which might all be applied to him. When asked where to draw the line between eccentric and stone crazy, he supplied the best answer I’ve heard so far: when it becomes harmful to others.
Because Ben is Bluffton born-and-raised, I was especially interested to hear his opinion as to why the town is considered a cradle of eccentricity. He pointed out that pre-Civil War, this was one of the most educated areas of the country and many of the old-time eccentrics were descended from well-tutored ancestors. At some point, however, Bluffton became a rural backwater where people could basically be as weird as they wanted and get away with it. The combination of those two factors ended up producing a unique brand of person.
“Most of the eccentrics were highly educated,” said Ben. “They were heavy readers and they weren’t slackers. They made their own decisions, even when people said ‘But we’ve never done it that way before.’ They may have taken ideas from books about ancient civilizations and even though they weren’t new ideas, they were unknown to the people in the surrounding area so they were labeled eccentricities.”
Though he’s a bit unsure of the future of Bluffton eccentricity, saying that too many outside influences and electronic devices are affecting our children these days, he’s adamant about the town’s willingness to accept those eccentrics who may happen to blow in on the wind.
“As long as you do what you say and say what you do and don’t lie about who you are, and you’re not a scoundrel, you’ll be accepted,” he concluded.
Despite many long-time Bluffton residents’ assertion that all the eccentrics are gone, I believe I have proven definitively with this series that there are still plenty of habitually whimsical people lurking in and about the town. Here is my field guide, which you may want to laminate and keep copies of in your home, office and vehicle so that you will never be at a loss when it comes time to make a positive ID.