Why would anybody vacation on Folly Beach, a barrier island off of Charleston, South Carolina, in mid-November? I just got back from two weeks there; three days were wet and rainy, no higher temperature than the 50s, with a chilling wind. The festive juice and snack stands were closed. The beach was empty but for bundled up dog walkers.
I went with my 82 year old mother who was born and raised on the barrier islands of John, James and Wadmalaw. She married a sailor who carried her far away to the bluegrass of Kentucky. I remember as a child frequently hearing her yearn for the smell of the marsh and the crash of the surf; she kept that Low Country accent and I learned of her childhood back in the alligator infested waterways.
Dad died at 46 and Mama immediately moved back to South Carolina with my two younger sisters – I came home for a short Navy leave and found the old house deserted and ransacked because she just abandoned it but left all of my things and no message.
She lived on Folly Beach as she was able on Dad’s Veterans benefits and low-paying jobs. As soon as I could, my new husband and I bought her a house on Folly. She had a job at Pete’s Grocery and raised hot peppers in the back yard. After Hurricane Hugo, I flew out from California and help her recover from three feet of water in the house and the ruined furniture and appliances. She had two Boogie Boards and used them often, and gathered oysters in season, too.
Years passed. When my sisters moved out, she moved to an elder-friendly apartment and got involved with the local Salvation Army church. She got a uniform and went bell ringing, the whole thing. She missed the surf, but James Island still felt like home.
One day my youngest sister, who now lived with her family in Pennsylvania, called me in to say they were moving Mama up with them, that her health was too poor for her to live alone any more. I began taking Mama on vacations, starting with the auld country of Scotland. We went to Hawaii, Australia, Holland and Florida in alternating years. This year I strongly felt Folly was the right destination.
We went when there were no crowds, when it was not too hot and muggy. Most days were beautifully sunny and in the 60s or 70s. Every day she would stop and get teary, saying, “I can’t believe I’m back on Folly.” We went to Magnolia Gardens where she’d fieldtripped as a schoolgirl. We went to the Charleston Tea Plantation, a place she’d always wanted to see. We visited family, we drove around for the scenery. We communed with the majestic Angel Oak. She ate fried oysters for supper four times and we remarked on the height of the tide in the marsh each time we drove to a restaurant. When we went to church she wore her uniform and many friends remembered her with hugs and cheer.
The place we rented supplied no beach chairs. The first day to the beach, we stood on the sand and eyed a large log of driftwood dubiously. Then a young woman got up from a beached Hobie Cat where she and another young man and woman were lounging. She smiled and invited Mama and me to have a seat on the boat. Mama was thrilled at their friendliness and generosity; we went back to that perch nearly every day for an hour or a few and she basked in the wonder of the waves and the pelicans and the intrepid surfers in their wetsuits.
Seeing Mama happy every day was well worth the vagarities of the weather. She felt like a local again, not a tourist. There were no crowds and the restaurateurs and shopkeepers were glad to see us. Borrowed wheelchairs made her inability to walk far moot. Her friends let her know she would never be forgotten. We won’t forget our marvelous November trip to Folly Beach, the Edge of America.