FORT MILL — Talk long enough with friends of Charlie Short, and he starts to sound an awful lot like a storybook character. Short’s story ended Dec. 23 at age 86, but those who knew him best promise to keep on telling it.
“His stories seem far-fetched,” said son-in-law Charles Clonts, “but you’ll find out that most of them are true.”
Like the one about a 15-year-old who, the day after Pearl Harbor, lied about his age to enlist in the Army before his mama “un-enlisted” him. Short eventually grew old enough to join the Navy, where he served in the Philippines during World War II.
“He could tell you stories that would curl your hair,” said Benny Patterson, who served for years with Short in an American Legion Honor Guard and as a Shriner.
Short, a world-class iron worker, particularly liked to tell how he travelled to New York to put up a major bridge only to return to Fort Mill, “and they were still working on the new bridge on Doby’s Bridge Road.” Short worked on the World Trade Center towers in New York, communication towers for Saudi Arabian royals and a Cold War-era early warning system in the Northwest Territory.
He helped break down a World’s Fair, and he put up skyscrapers in Charlotte.
“He always had an adventure,” said son Mike Short.
Charlie Short also participated in one of the more recognizable chapters in Fort Mill history. He, his brother and a friend once decided – on a dare – to see whether the old cannon in Confederate Park would fire. It did, and each year Mike Short continues the July 4 tradition of firing the cannon. Residents and visitors crowd into the park and line the streets around it; the tradition has evolved into a major town event.
“They had no idea what would happen with that cannon,” said daughter Debbie Clonts. “They could have blown the whole town up.”
Stories abounded as friends gathered to remember Short last week – from photos of what appears to be an ice horse to Short buried up to his beltline in snow, as well as one unfortunate encounter with a public beheading. And then there’s the time Short snuck out of a hospital with a broken back because nobody there was doing anything about it.
But some of the most cherished stories are far more tame – the Fort Mill home he never sold even when the family moved, the lone time anyone can remember Short raising his voice, the almost daily morning coffees with his son for close to 40 years, and the celebration of a great grandson’s birthday just prior to Short’s passing.
Debbie Clonts recalls a friendship that nearly predates her and a weekly phone call her dad would take for decades – often for an hour or more at a time.
“That’s the kind of friendship it was,” she said.
Friends spoke last week of a man who didn’t mess with others, but wasn’t to be messed with himself. A man who didn’t speak unkindly of others. A sentimental man easily touched by meaningful moments, but rock solid when the time came for being strong.
The accounts varied wildly, but seemed to lead to the same conclusion.
“I’m going to miss him,” Mike Short said.