This town stole our hearts right away. We stayed outside it on Johns Island for eleven nights. Danny went to Des Moines for work while the girls and I stayed on in this gorgeous, step-back-in-time-with-me city on the seashore.
First, we ate well here and you know how important that is to all of us. We even found an Austin-throwback in Lewis Barbeque, truly Central Texas brisket in South Carolina. The girls licked their fingers while demolishing plates of ribs and I just looked the other way instead of reprimanding them. The environment was very Austin, too and we left feeling satisfied in our tummies but sick in our hearts. I think that lunch was actually the beginning of the end of the adventure for us. We are ready to be home.
We also dined at Hyman’s Seafood and again had fried, green tomatoes which have become my new favorite food to eat. One day while Danny worked away in a Starbucks (with that famous ‘blazing fast Internet’ my man loves so) we walked through Charleston City Market and found a biscuit place and despite the fact that we’d eaten lunch less than an hour before, we managed to put back a few cheddar and chive clumps of dough that would make any Southerner weep.
We explored the seawall and openly gaped at the mansions along it. A super friendly Charlestonian opened her neat garden up to us so we could visit and pet her darling dog, Sammy. She praised our efforts to roadschool and said we could stop back by to use her bathroom anytime we needed it. She also recommended a NYC restaurant to us. We exchanged pleasantries with the owners of PIggly Wiggly who were sipping lemonade on their front porch one evening. Nearly all these houses have weather-worn plaques screwed on their exterior walls: “So and So, Signer of the Declaration of Independence…” or “Lafayette was entertained here” or “oldest house in Charleston…” They belong to an elite club that Kansans and Texans just don’t see on a regular basis. I leaned against a wall of bricks to rest a bit and then saw the sign that said the home was built in 1750. I was rubbing against bricks that date to pre-Revolutionary War days. I sat in the church pew Washington used while he was in town. Robert E. Lee used it years later. We visited the only active tea plantation in the US and watched tea harvested, shredded, dried and bagged. We stood under Angel Oak, a jaw-dropping 400-year-old tree that reminded us of a sea monster. Charleston history jumped up and wrapped itself around us.
A horse-drawn carriage is the only way to tour the city. I couldn’t imagine really experiencing it from inside an air-conditioned bus with loud speakers and plush cushions. So, because my husband lives to humor me, we traveled behind a lovely chestnut named Facebook. That’s not a typo. The salt air kept the mosquitos at bay and our pumpkins were thrilled to be in the presence of a real, live horse and we learned so much from our Marine-turned-guide. Charleston is known as the Holy City because there is a church on every corner. I think we must have passed 30 or so during our time there. We saw the prison built for 90 which, before it closed, regularly held close to 500. After arriving there, most people died within a few weeks. We learned about an orphanage built for African American children paid for by…African American children. The guy who ran it, Rev. Jenkins, asked some local musicians to donate instruments and teach the kiddos how to play. That led to nation-wide music tours to fund the orphanage and educate children! Some argue this group of kiddos helped start jazz but don’t tell the people we met in New Orleans that!
Finally we visited Fort Sumter, by way of boat, with a dolphin escort. The National Park Service is just doing an incredible job, dear readers. Every, single National Park we’ve visited (and, we’ve visited some. Ahem.) has been exemplary. Fort Sumter was no exception. A ranger and a volunteer demonstrated loading and firing muskets for us and shared history of the battle with eye-popping details and perfect timing. Paige was so frightened by the fire power that later she refused to jump in for a picture with the Union soldier. We considered the situation of the Union Commander, a man named Andrews. We looked at his pathetic position, an island with 85 men…surrounded by his former countrymen who now fought fiercely for Charleston Harbor. Charleston’s citizens stood outside their homes and watched the Civil War begin as cannon balls flew through the air, tearing down walls and a nation. And we stood there taking it all in 156 years later.