After making the move from Charleston, SC to Florida, I’ve found myself reflecting on the things that I’ll miss most about low country living. During our time in Charleston, I was fortunate enough to reside in Mount Pleasant’s Old Village, a magical movie-set neighborhood that just brims with southern charm and begs to be strolled in the moonlight. I can’t quite express how peaceful this neighborhood is (mind you not on a Saturday in the summer when tourists flood the city like palmetto bugs) and how much I’m going to miss it.
Picture this… quiet meandering streets lined with oaks dripping in Spanish moss. Hydrangea, lavender and everything else amazingly southern blooming, picket fences and porch swings. The quintessential rocking chair, perfectly poised for front-porch sittin’. Gas lamps burning a welcoming beacon at every walkway. An abandoned brick stairwell from a 1700s rebel officer’s home. The sun setting in a brilliant glow over Charleston harbor, illuminating the Holy City’s steeples as it disappears. Pure Magic.
While there are a million delightful restaurants, sites and adventures to be seen in downtown Charleston, the peaceful magic of day’s past is found in the Old Village.
Pitt Street Bridge (& my puppy’s rump)
If you ever find yourself in town, wander on over to the “Old Bridge” at Pitt Street. Aim for sunrise or sunset and you’ll find yourself in another world. The bridge was original site of a trolley bridge connecting Mount Pleasant to Sullivan’s Island from 1898 to 1927, there was a plank bridge built on Hogs Head barrels across the cove during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Today it is a gorgeous reminder of who came before us. From this waterfront vista, you can see historic Fort Sumter, downtown Charleston, the Cooper River Bridge and Sullivan’s Island through the marsh and bay. It is hands down my favorite place in all of Charleston and well worth a romantic stroll. Wander back down Pitt Street and you’ll pass one historical home after another, many once belonging to officers, politicians and pirates. Yes ma’am, I said pirates!
1. Hot Toddies
Get your mind out of the gutter; I mean the drinks not little trollops. The first place we lived in Charleston was in this itsy little tucked back neighborhood and our very first neighborhood friend introduced me to a new concept. Upon our first meeting, we were instantly invited to come have a hot-toddie on the porch that very evening. It was an unusually cold first winter, she was about eighty years old and the drinks were oh-so-warming. To this day, I do believe she made the best first impression. If you haven’t indulged, google it this winter. Yum.
2. The true meaning of y’all, y’all
Now here’s the thing, my mama is from the south. Y’all has always been part of my vocabulary. But here, it isn’t just a cute little hyphenate. Nope, it’s a way of life. Brace yourself New Englanders, in the South – everyone talks to everyone. I know, right!? I literally can’t walk down the street without stopping to have a friendly chat with some lovely person, neighbor or stranger alike. Being a native Californian, that suits me just fine and I rather enjoy knowing silly little details about folks I’ve never seen before. (See that fella down there, he’s on his way to the boat docks to have himself a po’boy and watch the dolphin roll in). I’m desperately hoping that my new Vero Beach neighbors will be as warm as the folks in the Old Village but I’m nearly convinced that there is no comparison. Everywhere you look, it’s a friendly face with genuine interest in how you are. And while the pace of the line at Starbucks might be maddeningly slow, it is ridiculously refreshing to live with such a welcoming group of people. So for that, I thank you southerners!
“Hey y’all” = come on in for supper/let’s sit and chat for 5 hours/wana go down to the creek (yes, we have a creek) and grab some shrimp and beers?/it’s time for brunch/it’s time for bed kids
“All y’all” = A 4+ group of people is invited over for hot toddies.
“Bye y’all!” = I’ll see you tomorrow, same place same time. No, you don’t need to call first. Yes, the front door will be unlocked and a pie will be on the table – help yourself and bring me a slice out on the porch, will ya?
3. Architecture should be adorable
Our new Florida residence is a lovely little waterfront hideaway, but I already cannot wait to build the next house. My extreme desire to build our next residence is largely thanks to the exquisite home design of Charleston (namely the Old Village, Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms). Take some old world sea-captain stateliness, mix in some plantation grandeur, a little Key-West flair and throw on some adorable shutters and you have the most adorable homes ever built. They. are. exquisite. Perfectly adorable and unassuming but marvelous all at once. Every detail has been paid attention. The front porch (major factor) is curved for the best view and angle for waving at passersby. The gas lamps frame the walkways and doors. Oh god, the doors. BEAUTIFUL. Big bay windows from every room. Balconies and hidden gardens in abundance. Paved driveways, adorable little hedges. Amazeballs kitchens. It’s all designed for understated opulence but more importantly, for relaxed southern living. These folks really know what they want from their daily lives; comfort, kitchens filled with loved ones and yummy food, views for days and yards that welcome the neighbors over for toddies (see number one) and oyster roasts. Relaxed, detailed, seaside. That’s me in a nutshell. And now I know how to express it in architecture. brava.
4. On that note, gas lamps are a necessity
Just as much as I’ve fallen for the amazing construction techniques here, gas lamps will forever be a part of my life. There is just something so old-world and romantic about a flickering light to illuminate your path. Maybe I was meant to live during the Civil War. Wait, scratch that, I can’t do without my excel and Starbucks.
Twinkling gas lamps have this exceptional way of adding a touch of the mysterious to an otherwise ordinary evening. If you are so lucky, stroll down a gas lamp lit street one night and feel the magic. Watch the lights flicker, take a deep breath of salty air and pretend you’re a pirate for just a brief moment.
4. The Civil War isn’t just in history books
I’ve had the privilege in living in not only one but two major historical war towns. A city incredibly chalk-full of historical battle sites, Boston (and the outlying cities) is of course home to the “shot heard round the world” – the unordered shot on Lexington Green that began the American Revolution. And of course on June 17, 1775 the first major fight between British and American troops occurs at Boston in the Battle of Bunker Hill. The city oozes with revolutionary history, it’s truly fascinating. No, seriously.
Travel south and right in my Mount Pleasant backyard, on April 12, 1861, General P.G.T. Beauregard, in command of the Confederate forces around Charleston Harbor, opened fire on the Union garrison holding Fort Sumter. This first fire aimed at Fort Sumter took the
George S. James fired the first shot at Fort Sumter
Civil War past the theoretical, making it a very real conflict and thus igniting our fair country’s Civil War. Captain George S. James has the distinction of firing that monumental first shot. The spark had been lit on the war and there was no turning back from that point on. I had the phenomenal honor of being a MP resident for the 150th anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter last year. What a crazy history lesson that was. The cannon fire began at 4:30 am, just as it had in 1861 and didn’t cease until the Union surrender of the fort 34 hours later, I kid you not. Cannon fire literally shook our house. The south is alive and well, my friends.
Admittedly, I’ve always found the histories of monarchical countries more interesting to study/read tawdry novels about. But after having lived in a place where the past is so present, one can’t help but want to know more. The passion of my southern neighbors (confederate loving or not) made me more than a little ashamed that I know more about Henry VIII than the development of our United States. Note to self: learn about your own country’s history asap.
A History Lesson, or two:
5. Beer & Puppies should be casual
So again, this little bit of enlightenment comes from my specific (awesome) neighborhood. Never have I ever seen a neighborhood with such a relaxed approach to puppy containment and sidewalk drinkin’. Pooches & parents stroll through the neighborhood to the park without a leash in sight and make friends as they go. It’s really such a simple concept – yet so rare. Traffic is generally minimal in our quiet subdivision and there are no mean doggies to worry about. What’s even better? Usually the proud owner is toting a bevvie (scotch seems to be the libation of choice) and are generally happy as a clam at high tide. It makes for wonderful morning walks and evening gab-fests.
6. Eating like a southerner every day = blaaaa
Everyone knows that a Carolina girl can sure fry some chicken. But dear Lord, these people won’t eat greens (not collard) to save their lives. Call me picky, but we have found it exceedingly difficult to find healthy meals in this fair state. Not only are salads totally off the menu, it’s to the opposite end of the spectrum. I’m talking buttery grits, creamed anything and there’s not a pasta in sight that isn’t covered in cheese. It’s a bit disturbing.
Thankfully, Charleston happens to be a fairly active city so at least people get their blood flowing after clogging their arteries. What I’ve learned from this culinary experience, comfort food isn’t for me. My metabolism just can’t keep up with all those biscuits.
7. Football is intense
I think everyone knows that the South takes football seriously. But I could never have imagine just how serious. I’m talking babies in pimped out SC strollers, team flags flying from every vehicle/window/fence/wall, local holidays just so that everyone can travel to Columbia to tailgate for the big game, full-back Tiger tattoos, completely color coordinated wardrobes (I’m talking every.single.garment.), and my special favorite… the Garage Party. The ultimate in college football excitement, the Garage Party is a common occurrence in even the poshest neighborhoods. Now, I never got a definitive answer as to why watching football is best in one’s garage. But it seems to have something to do with the excessive drinking and spilling of beer. Southerners, can I get confirmation on this? Walk down any street on game night and you’ll hear men, women and children alike screaming at big screen TVs in the garage. “Geeeeettt hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiimmmmmmmmmmm! Get em boy!!!” was my neighbors favorite thing to scream. I miss her already. Excessive drinking and shouting aside, it’s nice to feel a part of something. I’ve never been one to cheer for a team whose college I didn’t attend or get super into professional sports, but there really is something energizing about rallying around a hometown team. One thing Southerners do especially well is come together and it seems football is no exception. They’re quick to support their brothers, a lesson we can all do well to learn from.
Disclaimer to Charlestonians: I will never ever pick a side so let’s just pretend I’m wearing whatever colors you want me to be, k?
8. Mornings are magic, so wake up already
I’ll just put it out there, I’m not a morning person. Once I’m up, I’m totally fine. It’s the actual getting out of bed that kills me. It’s so dang cozzzyyy in bed. Why would anyone ever leave it? Thankfully, I have this really whiny puppy who insists on waking up and going for a walk before the sun comes up. I can’t tell you how many sunrises I’ve seen in the past few years, but they’ve been enough to make me not want to miss another. Here’s the key; the world is still at sunrise. It’s truly a special time of day. No one is out (except maybe my neighbor Sally who is awesome to share a sunrise with in case you’re ever in town at 6am), the birds are just starting to sing, and the world is covered in a silvery fine mist that makes every leaf seem enchanted. Try it, would ya? Set your alarm for 15 minutes before sunrise tomorrow (that is, unless you have children or puppies who perform this function for you), brew a cup of bold roast and just wander in the pre-dawn splendor. This is an especially good time for quiet reflection but don’t ruin the peace with list making. Just soak it in. You never know how that morning magic will change your day, or your life.
9. Support Local
I’ve always been inclined to root for the underdog. In sports, elections, boat races, you name it. So it was no big leap for me to want to support small local businesses as opposed to big box stores. Charleston takes the concept of supporting local to a whole other level. They are fiercely loyal to local teams, boutiques, farmers, grocers, artists, performers, any one who claims southern ground as home. I think it all comes back to the sense of community that these southern folk were raised with. Everyone takes care of everybody else and the cycle perpetuates. It’s wonderful. Restaurants are owned and operated by local chefs, menus consist of locally grown produce and meats, festivals celebrate local artists and performers, and patrons flock to stores owned by born-and-bred South Carolinians. The concept that I’ve always been eager to embrace has been expanded upon ten fold. As a result, we consumers receive better service, better products and fresher foods and locals have something to be proud of.
Not to mention, the relationships that are fostered from supporting local artisans are a major bonus. It’s a special kind of awesome when Tony at the breakfast place has your order ready for you when you arrive and Joe at the meat market calls you when the best cuts of filet come in. Personalization is fabulous. Living with that kind of hospitality year round makes me realize that I need to always provide that same level of service to my own clients. I think we are fortunate to live in a time when customer appreciation and high levels of service are coming back into fashion and I hope dearly that I can help move that forward in my own small way.
10. Take time
My years in Charleston were spent building and growing a business, so needless to say I had very little sleep and even less time to spend on myself. My hair got unruly, my nails went unpolished and my exercise dropped off the map. When every minute is scheduled out, even the smallest task can seem to suck your day away. Twenty minutes to get coffee and a bagel is just not going to work for me. Before Charleston, my adult life was spent in Boston where things move at the speed of light, just the way I like it. However (and this is a big however), southern living is trying desperately hard to teach me to slow down. I’m happy to report that I’m making progress, albeit in small steps.
But here’s the thing, the people in line at Starbucks that want to chat – it turns out that they’re actually really nice! The deli manager who likes to talk about craft beers and gun ranges before he slices your turkey – he’s pretty cool to share a burger and watch a game with. The shop girl who won’t stop babbling about how awesome my shoes are (yes, they are awesome, thank you for noticing) – she lived down the street from me in Boston. All the people and all the slow situations that initially made my skin crawl from sheer inefficiency, are actually pretty cool. Let’s be honest, I’m never going to have hours to just wile away at the market. But I’m learning to be more patient with daily adventures. Because really, if I’m rushing through my day, what’s the point? To the same end, slowing my pace has helped me carve out some time for myself. I still don’t have time for that coveted activity that is actual store shopping, but I’ve made room in the day for making dinner at home and hitting the gym. And who could forget all those early morning puppy prances? It’s not perfect balance, but it’s a start. And I have the southern way of living to thank for making me realize that I need it. It turns out, there is something to be said for going slow enough to actually enjoy yourself.
So thanks, Charleston. While my time with you was brief, it is with a heavy heart that I leave you. It’s with heaps of appreciation that I’ll be bringing some of that Southern Hospitality with me down the coast.