Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Low Country Love Letter
I came to you determined not to love you, those many years ago. I accompanied my parents on a visit to Charleston, where my father was a candidate for a prestigious position at the Medical University. They were wined, they were dined; I was thrown collectively to the wolves known as the children of the faculty entertaining my parents. At least, that's how I saw it. I was the girl from off, (and from a northern "off" at that), injected into the adolescent South of Broad social scene at the insistence of parents. Sitting on the side piazza, the balmy night air was a far cry from the air back home, frigid with the coming of winter. I don't know whether it was the cadence of the talk around me, or the scents of unfamiliar blossoms and sea tinged air that recalled joyful vacation days, but my heart softened. As the gathering shifted to another home, I got a guided tour of a small corner of the city. The cobbled stones of Church Street and the little beach revealed by the Ashley River at low tide enchanted me, though I confess, I don't recall the name of the boy that walked with me. When we flew back to winter and my old life, the scents and sights of Charleston clung to me, and have never let go.
It was here I learned to lure a crab from the creek behind our home into the cooking pot, to cast a shrimp net, marvel at the moods of the wetlands that embrace the coast. Here, I learned that a palmetto is a thing of pride, and definitely not a palm tree; how to tell a white heron from an snowy egret, and what a joggling board is. I became a girl of the beaches: Folly, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms: each had a separate joy and beauty. I memorized which house along Murray Blvd you pointed the bow of a boat toward if you were crossing the Ashley by water from James Island to the peninsula. I learned that pluff mud can get on your clothes, between your toes, and its distinct smell in your nose, but also in your soul. I lingered in Shell House at Ashley Hall, with my friends, girls who became women I still delight in being with and cherish as friends.
I left you, Lowcountry, for my studies at several universities and to travel the world, but when I decided to find a spot to call home as a young adult, out on my own, it was Charleston that again called me. I was welcomed back; the fathers of friends I knew in high school were now the physicians I worked with as I embarked on my nursing career. Their generosity giving supplies, medicines, and money to a small medical clinic in rural India where I spent a summer as a volunteer still warms my heart. And when I came back from that trip, and met the man of my dreams, I remember how several of these same physicians insisted on vetting him, since my own daddy had passed on.
Charleston was the city of our courtship and though I left you again to gather a graduate degree, we came back here to raise our family. Charleston embraced the return, and adopted daughter and the man from off, that she loved. We introduced our son to the beauties of Lowcountry living. His eyes would light up in wonder at the glory of the ACE basin from canoe, or the mysteries of Four Hole Swamp. Together, we would watch from the porch as thunderheads rolled across the sky, "better even than television", he once declared, and he was right. Our home in the historic district was our haven, a multigenerational family, for my mother came to live with us, and my siblings would tumble in for extended visits.
It was here that I found my stride as a pediatric clinical nurse specialist. When I developed an illness that nearly killed me, and forced me to give up my practice, it was in the arms of the Lowcountry, amidst the live oaks and wildlife, that I was able to find a balance. Now in a stable health state, and able to be more active, I've tried to give back in the ways I can. My love of books and reading has lead me to volunteerism at school libraries, at Charleston Country Public Library, Charleston Library Society, Trident Literacy Association, and spreading free books via BookCrossing. I like to "live local" supporting the craftsmen and women of the Lowcountry. I've learned the names of the farmers whose bounty fills our bellies and the artists and artisans whose works grace our home, the coffee roasters and chefs whose establishments are the spots I take visitors to for refreshment. I have my favorite spots to show off on a tour of the city, some of which, like the Unitarian Church graveyard, I recently learned that our son, living now on the other coast, recommends to people he knows who visit Charleston. (Second generation pride makes me smile.) Here, my heart dances and my soul sings, each to many different tunes and melodies, as different as a sassy salsa to a Mozart motet. As I move into another phase of life, as an artist, I even know the names of the hens whose eggs I use to create pysanky (Ukrainian style eggs).
Ah Lowcountry, thank you. Our romance has lasted nearly 45 years, and will go on until my last breath. You may not be the land of my birth, but you are the land of my heart.