Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Jumping Off Place

For some time now, I’ve had something of a love affair with the Palmetto State. There are two main reasons for this: South Carolina is home to Myrtle Beach and some of my favorite people.

I truly love to be at North Myrtle Beach. Our family considers it a necessary destination at least once a year, but that’s never enough. Each year, we buy a white picture frame and have it personalized with the year and a smattering of our favorite memories or catch phrases from the week. We didn’t get there in 2010, now known to all of us as The Dark Year.

The rituals we’ve come to love are familiar and have been ingrained in our coastal consciousness. The minute we pass the first palm tree on that 10-hour drive (somewhere between Florence and Marion), we begin to get into “beach mode,” and it’s only a matter of time until we finally hit US-17. Soon enough, we’re jumping from the car and rushing toward the Atlantic, dipping our toes in the sand before heading to Hoskins for our inaugural meal.

Honestly, I didn’t realize families even visited other beaches until I graduated from high school and moved to Nashville. Everybody kept talking about going to “the beach” and I didn’t recognize any of their destinations: Orange Beach? Gulf Shores? Destin? None of those are places in the 29582.

Sure, those sandy white beaches in Florida and Alabama are fine, and you fans of the gulf can have them.  You will never lure me from the midnight blue waters of the South Carolina low country.

South Carolina also boasts some pretty awesome people, their curious selection of a governor notwithstanding. In fact, some of my very favorite people are South Carolinians.  It’s no secret how I revere the great Pat Conroy, supreme novelist and Beaufort resident, whose tributes to the low country are unparalleled. Reading his work is, for me, a religious experience.

If you’ve been to Charleston, you know there is nothing quite as lovely as a slow walk along The Battery. But Conroy turns an afternoon in Charleston into a diaphanous, other-worldly stroll. The voice of Tom Wingo, affable protagonist in The Prince Of Tides, tells us in his unforgettably tender first line, “Geography is my wound. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.” Naturally, Tom is referring to the low country; his amazing story—and Conroy’s masterpiece—unfold from there into magnificent, heart-breaking prose.

Upstate, I have family: wonderful, enjoyable, hospitable family.  In fact, this weekend, my great-uncle Ray will celebrate his 90th birthday. Family and friends will gather, not far from his little white house, to celebrate with him.

Everyone who knows Uncle Ray loves him. He’s one of those good, godly men whose life is worthy of emulating. During one of our visits a few years ago, he pointed to his well-worn bible, and said to me in his pleasant drawl, “Kristi (which comes out more like Krees-teh), the answer to every problem you’ll ever have is right here in this book.”

I was especially amused once during the brouhaha caused by The Passion of the Christ movie. My husband asked him if he planned to see it, and Uncle Ray replied without incident that he didn’t need to; he’d read the book.

I love to hear my mom tell stories of the summers she spent with Ray, and her beloved Aunt Sue, as a teenager. She tells us of the time she tried to show off for a cute boy by riding a skateboard down a steep hill—a task she hadn’t done before or since. She was banged and scrapped up, hide torn from the entire side of her body.

She tells that when she ambled back up to Ray and Sue’s yard, she was taken care of, nursed back to health (and pride) after the skirmish with the skateboard.

My mom felt safe and cared for by Uncle Ray back then, and she still does. She carries an unsullied respect for her favorite uncle, an honor she reserves for few people, because few people deserve it more.

My favorite Uncle Rayism involves the time told me that his great-grandchildren were such big fans of he and Aunt Sue that they would, “follow [them] to the jumping off place.” I love that: the jumping off place.

And in a way, I think some folks have followed—and continue to follow— him to the jumping off place. His 40-plus years working for R.C. Cola is a highly-regarded rarity these days, as is his involvement at the little Baptist church to which he remains so committed. But his legacy is his family, and inside that white house in Greenville, SC is the headquarters of a mutual admiration society: he adores his family and his family adores him.

I’m sad that I won’t be headed to the Palmetto State this weekend to hug my uncle, to celebrate his birthday and let him know what an amazing guy he is. But I imagine I’d have to wait in line. All the other attendees will be telling him their own version of how he has impacted their lives, and the line to following him to the jumping off place is pretty long.



  1. Love!!! Makes me want to pack my bags and drive off in the sunset!