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The Man from Seneca

From the February 2, 2004 issue: John Edwards, not just another pretty face.

Feb 2, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 20 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
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I recognized the house right away. It sits on a rise above an open field and is the only pink house in the neighborhood. In one of his commercials, Edwards stands in front of the house and says: "I'm John Edwards. I was born 50 years ago, and this is my first home. The people I grew up with weren't famous and they sure weren't rich..."

The house is boarded up, and piles of lumber lie in rows on the tiny front porch. As I walked around it, a woman next door came out and asked me what I wanted.

"It's all right, Linda," Hamby said. "He's with me."

The old Edwards house has been owned by the family of Linda's husband, Broadus Thomas, since 1939. The Thomases are white, though the neighborhood is mostly black. Seeing Hamby, Linda invited us back to her own house, where Broadus joined us at the kitchen table. The house was neat as a pin.

"The Edwards only lived there a year," Broadus said, jerking his thumb toward the Edwards's house. He's a small, barrel-chested man, with a close-trimmed mustache and a vaguely put-upon manner. "He was only one years old when his momma and daddy moved away. I was in the service at the time, in nineteen hundred and fifty-three, so I never knew them at the time. But I know their people. They're a good family, real down-to-earth."

I asked where the Edwardses moved to after they left the house on Sirrine Street.

"They moved up to a nice house up by the hospital," Linda said.

"Course, when they want to film a commercial," Broadus said, "they don't use that house on the northside of town, even though that's the place they lived most. They use that junk house out yonder--that's what I call it, my junk house. Put junk in it. But see, they want to make ole John out to be Abraham Lincoln."

I said the neighborhood seemed quiet.

"That's because we bought up all the houses," Broadus said. "The junk house, and the four here on the other side. We don't rent 'em. Keep 'em empty. I don't like neighbors."

The Thomases said they've come to know Edwards in the last six months.

"He's just so down-to-earth," said Linda.

"I like ole John," said Broadus, "but Charlie, you got to get him to change that platform of his." Suddenly excited, he leaned toward Hamby. "That ole boy's got no business taking my guns away, you tell him. That's just not right. You start taking guns away from people, Charlie, and you're going to have a police state."

Hamby mumbled something, but Broadus went on. "And another thing. He's got no business coming into this state, this state he was born in, and start talking about banning that Confederate flag. Why's he want to do that? Maybe that's going to help him get all the votes of those negroes, but he's got no business talking like that down here."

Hamby said he didn't much care about the flag.

"And you tell him about this immigration. Well, that's got to stop. Got to. It's just a fact that we can't take every poor sucker in the world into our country. You take him out to the Wal-Mart. It's all Mexicans out there . . ."

Mrs. Thomas interrupted suddenly. "They've filmed, what, two, three commercials out here now. They show up, 12 or 13 cars and a big truck just filled with lighting equipment. It's a sight. The first time they came, we'd just got back from church and I didn't even have time to make dinner."

Stopped in mid-tirade, Broadus sat perfectly still.

"John sat right here at this table and had his make-up done," Mrs. Thomas said. "The make-up lady pulled up all the blinds, had to get the light just right. I stood here watching. I said to John, 'John, you know what?' He said, 'What, Miz Thomas?' I said, 'You're just too pretty to be a man.'"

Hamby chuckled. Broadus peered out the window, his eyes narrow.

"Oh, and he just laughed and laughed," Mrs. Thomas said. "I'll tell you what. He's the handsomest thing ever came out of Seneca, that's for sure."

Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.