Slices Of Life: Charleston, South Carolina | My Family Travels
A Bird's Eye View of Charleston, South Carolina

My momma passed a hand over her eyes the other night and mumbled, “I need to get out of town.” She’s an artist, you know – one of those pensive, sensitive types. She needs to keep her chakras in balance, her fingers splattered with ink and oil paints, her music entrancing. She needs the beach.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’m one of those types, too.

We decided on Charleston. My great-aunt lives there, in her dream house – well, her dream house minus my great-uncle. He died of skin cancer last year, weeks before the house was completed. The space he left behind saddens her, but it’s still a Southern belle of a house – a gorgeous whitewashed manor that begs for debutantes to come gliding down the wraparound porch steps, dainty as snowflakes.

We spent a day wandering around town, a day at the beach, and a day just to unravel our tense shoulders. We bought shrimp fresh from a little sloop off the pier and had a Lowcountry broil, corn on the cob included; we poked around quiet, dark hotels and climbed to its rooftop cupola to see Charleston from a bird’s-eye view. We tasted. We touched. We explored. I visited my first Piggly-Wiggly; I waded in the frigid Atlantic on a stormy day in my new high-waisted, red polka-dot bikini; I connected with my great-aunt as I have never connected with her. With my eyes focused for the first time through the lens of her huge, sunlit, empty dream house, I saw her – I understood her just by seeing her in a space that is simply and beautifully her own. I found her.

And I found that I liked South Carolina. I liked the lush heaviness of the trees – the massive knobbly trunks you couldn’t wrap your arms around; the slow drip of cascading leaves; the play of sunshine, like a spray of bright coins, across the streets. I liked the way beautiful college girls with their honey-skin and skimpy sundresses walk the streets with old ladies sporting sun-kissed, age-spotted limbs. I liked Charleston: a city of continual surprise, with its converted movie theaters and white-washed French coffee bars and windy beaches. Charleston, a jumble of old and new: historic hotels, hushed and dark, jammed up against rollicking gas stations turned into diners.

I liked that the Civil War hangs on Charleston’s shoulders, a heavy burden carried mindfully. I liked the Lowcountry: the Gullah slang, the accent that to me sounds like speaking with a mouthful of marbles; the marshes and creeks and sputtered-out neon signs and rusted beach cruisers and the sleepy hang of cool, wet air. I liked the tiny houses that look like frosted wedding cakes – all shades of icy pink, washed teal, mint green, sunset orange so deep you could sink into its smolder – and the heavy whip of waves against the gray shore.

I thought South Carolina would be Georgia, just further in the sticks. I was wrong. I liked, then loved, that Charleston is a study in contrasts: old money and new money; liberal progressivism banging elbows with conservative down-South values; Southern pride in the form of American flags draped over walls and roofs. I came to explore – I came with the hope of finding a new skin – and yet I found that I could lose myself gratefully in the marshes and the weave of bridges and the slip of boats between islands. I could wind my way up and down the coastline, in and out of the hushed historic buildings, through the cool sweeping forested streets, and find everything.

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