The Battery, Charleston, South Carolina (photo courtesy of http://www.city-data.com)
The drive from Kentucky south was as interesting as my friend told me it would be. The mountains of Tennessee and the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina were ablaze with color in the mid-October sun. Serenity settled into my soul as I gazed at the leaves turning crimson and gold, knowing the trees renewed themselves in spring.
Deciding to take a leisurely trip to my destination of Charleston, South Carolina, I stopped overnight in Ashville. I spent a wonderful evening enjoying a taste of North Carolina bar-b-que, its thin vinegary sauce hot and tangy to the palate.
Rising early to misty fog hanging over the valley, I toured the Biltmore House, then headed to the interstate and continued my drive to Charleston. Leaving the South Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains behind, I entered the Piedmont region of rolling hills before crossing the fall line, the limit of navigable rivers, leading to the sandhills. At least, that’s what the man who pumped my gas told me at a service station near Columbia. The road beyond took me through low rolling hills to the flat coastal planes, tall pines and scrub palmetto trees lining my way.
Once in Charleston, I exited the interstate onto King Street and followed it south toward downtown. Quaint building’s housing art galleries, toy stores, and other emporiums along with the ever-present palmetto palms lined the narrow street. King turned into a residential street, and I was impressed with the homes, some federal in design, some antebellum, and all beautiful. I had rolled the windows down to enjoy the balmy seventy-five degree weather, and as I approached the Battery, the sharp salty air flowing from in from Charleston Harbor filled the car.
Turning onto South Battery Street, the famous Battery seawall located beyond White Point Park was to my right. I decided to check in the bed and breakfast inn my friend recommended, then explore.
The inn was three-story white antebellum home nestled among stately oak trees. I was greeted warmly and taken to my room. The four-poster bed looked extremely inviting, and though I prefer showers, the claw-foot tub looked inviting as well. However, I came to see the sights not sleep in luxury, at least until later.
I walked through the stately oaks in the park to Oyster Point, the tip of the peninsula the city sat on. There were many tourists strolling along the sea wall, and I picked a spot where I could look out over the harbor. Sea gulls soared above me, and I could hear the low growl of a ship’s horn, likely a container ship headed for the commercial docks. On the horizon, the outline of Fort Sumter was visible at the mouth of the harbor.
A sense of history surrounded me, and I expected to see a regiment of British soldiers or Confederates march down the street at any moment. I did a little research about Charleston before I arrived, and I was struck by the fact that most people automatically associated Charleston with the Civil War. The fact was Charleston and the colonists who supported the American Revolution were instrumental in the success of the Revolutionary war.
I walked for a couple of hours long the tree-lined streets, though downtown before I returned to the hotel. After a short nap and a long soak in the tub, I headed for a seafood restaurant recommended by the inn manager and was treated to the best Shrimp and Grits I’ve ever eaten. Succulent shrimp, spicy andouille sausage and the creamiest grits served in a beautiful atmosphere overlooking the sea. I could get used to this. I drove around for a while, getting the lay of the land before I returned to the inn. Tomorrow, I would meet up with my friend’s cousin who would serve as my tour guide.
Cousin Franklin was in his mid-forties and full of more energy than a four-year-old. I’d eaten a light breakfast and now wish I fortified myself for what was going to be a busy day ahead. The first place we visited was the infamous Boone Hall Plantation. The eight mile drive took us over the incredible Ravenel Bridge, a feat of engineering, which represents the modern Charleston and into the community of Mount Pleasant.
Spanish moss hung like gossamer silk from the huge pecan trees on the plantation, and I was mesmerized by the quiet and tranquility on the property. A sense of regret passed through me as we drove past a line of old brick cottages once used as slave quarters. Franklin seemed to sense my unease and told me the reaction was normal. He shook his head, and said despite all the hard work to bring equality to the races, there were still “jackasses with their heads where the sun don’t shine.” Those idiots aside Franklin told me he was proud of the relations between blacks and whites in Charleston. It’s not perfect he said, but there was deep respect, so they were going in the right direction.
We spent the morning touring the mansion, its brick walls filled with the history of the once cotton and pecan plantation. Founded in 1681, the plantation now grew vegetables for sale to the public. On the way out, we stopped at the Boone Hall Pumpkin Patch, open every October, where I bought a pumpkin and six spicy pumpkin cookies, which we gobbled down before we got back to Charleston.
The afternoon was a whirlwind of Charleston history. We spent most of it downtown visiting the Old Slave museum, street vendors making straw baskets, and several art galleries that featured work from local artists. Franklin is an attorney and a supporter of the arts, and his enthusiasm was contagious. After a late lunch, where I had bar-b-que chicken dripping in sweet spicy sauce, Franklin took me to The Citadel. I’d always been fascinated by the red and white checkered courtyards and had the opportunity to walk across them. I found it a bit dizzying.
The day was coming to an end, but Franklin insisted I come to his house for dinner and meet a few Charlestonians. Promptly at seven o’clock, I arrived at his lovely two-story shotgun house a glass of wine shoved in my hand the moment I walked in the door. The evening was a blur of eccentric characters from the elderly grand dame Agatha, another patron of the arts, to Dean, a jazz musician who plays at a local restaurant. I ate too much, drank a bit too much, and laughed harder than I ever had at their stories of Charleston, old and new. By the time, I headed for the inn I began to believe I was a native.
I slept like a baby in the comfortable bed, and despite a slight headache I looked forward to my last day in Charleston. Franklin picked me up again and first on our agenda was a tour of Fort Sumter. We drove to Patriot’s Point and took a boat tour to the fort.
I have to admit the fort was a bit overwhelming. I always react to historical places with a sense of awe, but standing in a place where Americans fired on Americans was eerie. I asked Franklin his thoughts regarding the Civil War. He leaned against one of the cannons and told me he thought all the fuss about pride was nonsense. He said the war happened, and we should recognize it, remember it, but not glorify it. It was war, brother against brother and too many people died. Franklin added, slavery of any peoples is an abomination, but it was a way of life then. It isn’t now. People should be free. He slapped me on the back and said it was time to go tour a Navy ship.
The day flew by as we prowled the decks of the USS Yorktown at Patriot’s Point, the USS Laffey, and the USS Clamagore, a submarine. So interesting to visiting a historic fort and modern machines of warfare on the same day. I will admit to being a tiny bit claustrophobic in the sub, but it was fun.
Franklin and I parted with plans to meet again, and I spent my last night in the city having a delicious meal downtown, then walked around, ending up at Oyster Point, watching the lights from the commercial ships as they entered Charleston Harbor. Tired I finally decided to call it a night.
The next morning as I drove along the interstate I looked to my left and right seeing the Cooper and Ashley rivers flowing past the peninsula and laughed. At dinner, Agatha told me an old saying that the two rivers come together at Charleston to form the Atlantic Ocean. She called the comment vain. I call it the truth. My friend was right, she told me I was going to fall in love with Charleston. I did.
I wrote this ‘travelogue’ as an exercise for a wonderful writing group… Fiction Writers Boot Camp on Facebook. The exercise was to take the moderator from Kentucky where he lives to a destination we love for a visit. For me, the choice was never in quesion, my destintion was Charleson. The purpose of the exercise was to developed strong descriptor skills. The group was created to address the fundementals of writing. https://www.facebook.com/groups/674413989356676/
By the way, Cousin Franklin is a fictional character.
The Ravenel Bridge (photo courtesy of http://www.sciway.net)