Ask a South Carolinian about the weather in June with its 95 degree temperatures and 80% humidity and they will simply smile and say, “Yeah. It’s hot. But it’s nothing like July and August.” They don’t complain about it. It’s just how it is. There is joie de vivre here and a smile on everything whether it’s filling up the car with gas or shopping at the local farmer’s market. Weeknights, locals come home from work and gather together for meals in local taverns, or go out on the boat on Shem Creek or the Cooper river. They live the moment.
This was our experience during this past week we spent in Charleston and Savannah, Georgia after flying into Charlotte, NC and meeting up with my cousin and her husband. We’ve now spent three vacations together and loved every single moment we have. It’s more fun than we ever imagine it can be and we spend the better parts of our days laughing, joking and laughing some more, sharing that same joie de vivre. It revealed itself in our first stop, a kind of prophetic sense of place called Peace and Hominy. Real southern barbecue run by a local Charlotte family whose restaurant is filled with life-affirming sayings and a diversity of people from well-dressed Saturday night church goers to tourists like us.
These experiences come with a kind of dallying and ethereal dream-like quality as we work to defeat the time-difference between us. We travel from the west coast and Don and Marilyn from the east coast and flights east are in the early morning hours, drowsy with sleep and hard-charging through airports and baggage claim terminals.
And then we get together and the fun begins. Charleston was singularly beautiful. The 17th and 18th century English architecture, suitable as a stand-in for some London neighborhoods with low hanging Live Oak and Magnolia branches draping their outsides and the alien-looking palmettos lining the streets were a vision in splendor. Porches punctuated with rocking chairs and the ubiquitous sky-blue ceilings that keep the “haints” away, and keep the birds from nesting. Sue found for us the most beautiful home to rent for the week in Mt. Pleasant and it was our gathering and sleeping place, our air-conditioned comfort run by truly decent and kind people who took care to make it feel like home to us.
Qualities of light in the south are peculiar, providing a kind of water-droplet reality to everything. It’s a languid and golden look and adds to the air already thick with humidity and the pace becomes naturally slow. One cannot hurry, no matter the need, in the southern summer. Walking anywhere is to risk dehydration and yet, we do it, content with our lot and happy to see the Spanish moss dangling from the trees and the sea birds screeching from the Ashley and Cooper rivers as they dive for meals into the cool water. Even the dolphins move slowly as they dive low into the colder depths, surfacing only for a long, slow breath and then back down.
Food is religion here, and we prayed dutifully. We sat at table with those who would be strangers and became fast friends. Boundaries of race and ethnicity, at times the ugly hallmark of the south, faded into common humanity and friendship, discussion, talk and understanding. We felt loved–and we gave that in return. We were able to eat at both Husk and Rodney Scott’s Barbecue and better food in the U.S. you simply will not find. I don’t have a “bucket list” per se, but these were places about which, now that I’ve visited, I feel I’m a better man knowing I’ve partaken of such carefully and lovingly prepared food. I’ve been elevated to a place where the meal is communion, a coming together of hearts and souls over genuine and real food. These were dinners of slow roasted meats, dripping their own juices and paired with locally grown vegetables prepared in mouth-watering ways with sauces, cream, seasoning and just plain and we savored each one.
We found a small place not far from the aquarium called “The Craftsman.” Charleston, like so many other cities, has an explosive craft-beer scene and Sue, Laurie and I each had local beers and food that complimented it with a technical and artistic elegance.
We visited places ripe with such American history, standing on ground fought and bled over by patriots and rascals, racists and cowards and we watched at Fort Sumter, ground-zero of the Civil War, as people from all over the country gathered to strike the colors for the evening.
In the morning on Tuesday, we went to the South Carolina aquarium and even there, the dream-like qualities continued as we happened upon a theater-gathering in the operating room where veterinarians, biologists and specialists gathered to operate on a Kemps-Ridley sea-turtle, whose lungs were damaged. Shannon was riveted and even she realized that she was in her happy-place, around animals in their natural habitats and wanting to assist them and nurture them in their surroundings . An odd, life-affirming spirit pervaded as we watched the technical but successful procedure, and we were aware of a kind of kindness we didn’t know was needed–that these animals are endangered and saving one is not only saving others, but reminding us that living creatures are sacred, like love itself and by saving them, maybe we’re saving ourselves in the process.
The sea-turtle’s name is Ron Weasley, by the way. And his prognosis is guarded, but improving.
Revelations in Savannah of heat and humidity, but also of beauty, history and kindness, greeted us for a day we spent on our longest drive of the vacation. Sue’s house-rental hunting was so very good that we were in the center of everything we needed in the Charleston area and rarely drove more than 20 miles a day most days. The exception was down the Interstate into Georgia and this fine city where food was again the centerpiece at Mrs. Wilkes’ (see photo above).
More than all of it, again, is the gathering of family who are now friends with whom we cannot dispense. Our relationship to Don and Marilyn continues to grow stronger and we get excited when we get to see them and sad, to the point of tears, when we have to leave them. They fill our hearts, all of us, with a kind of life-affirming joy that has been as surprising to us as it is wonderful. We have already begun plotting when we’ll be able to see them again, on to the next adventure.