Archive for July, 2013


Rockland Plantation was built in the 1800’s as a summer plantation for the wealthy families in Charleston.  When Mama and Daddy announced to us that we were moving to this huge house for good, we were overjoyed.  We counted the cavernous rooms – 21 in all!  Rennie and I were only 9 years old and not attached to our friends or school at Lake Katharine in Columbia, so a move at that point in our young lives was absolutely no big deal.   We wanted horses and boats and the river and this huge and cumbersome old house which had seen more hurricanes than any old house in the area.  Plus the allure of the ghost stories attached to the house brought us close to what we called “the vapors” more times than we could count.  Legend had it that the former owners had cremated the old patriarch on the land and buried the ashes in the grand fireplace in the main room.  We steered clear of that room the entire time we lived there – that is, until we climbed up on the roof after stealing beer and coconut cake then puking down that very chimney.   Someone had to clean up the vomit that trickled down into the empty fireplace, and that someone was us.

Undoubtedly the distance of thirty miles from downtown Charleston to the stone gates of Rockland seemed like 300 miles to the cotton growers of the day; I know the drive seemed endless in Daddy’s little VW bug when we drove it to Ashley Hall each day once the island school closed for good. But I am getting ahead of myself, because we did not get to the prestigious girl’s school, Ashley Hall, for many years – not until we were in the 9th grade, and that was only because, as I said, we were forced, by virtue of the times, to skedaddle off the island and travel the interminable 30 miles each day in Daddy’s small car.  And the worst part of it was we had to pick up the Sinkler’s kid – nicknamed – and I kid you not – Wee –ah.  For some reason this toddler had to go into Charleston most days with us.  She smelled terrible.  The Sinklers were wealthy, so I have no idea why their child smelled so dreadful, but Wee-ah smelled like a mixture of baby shit and old tennis shoes, and she smelled that way each and every time we picked her up.  Frances Sinkler had the most awful laugh I have ever heard, but because the Sinklers had more money than God and lived in a beautiful, stately mansion on a huge acreage on the island, it didn’t seem to matter that their kid smelled like shit and Frances Sinkler sounded like a castrated hyena when she laughed.

Mama had cooked hot lunches for us all each day when Rennie and I went to school at Wadmalaw Island Elementary School for 5th, 6th and 7th Grades with Miss Merle and Miss Mary.  We were in a class of five students for each grade:  Punky, Johnny, Crystal, Rennie and me.  We learned difficult and sophisticated mathematics, mythology, Latin, Greek and Shakespeare under Miss Merle’s strict tutelage, while the younger grades were managed by Miss Mary.  The school closed in the 1960’s instead of integrating, being the last 2-roomed schoolhouse in America to keep its’ doors open as long as it did.

We worked hard at Wadmalaw Island Elementary school.  Miss Merle had us terrified of growing up too fast.  She told us that only “fast” girls wore lipstick, so our Tangee Natural, so treasured from our Christmas stockings, got tossed.  We were not allowed to wear patent leather shoes when Mama took us into Charleston for our weekly Cotillion class and we towered over the boys learning to do ballroom dancing – they might see up our skirts!

At school, Chrystal picked her nose and we gave her the affectionate moniker, “Boogarilla.”  But nothing topped the gross-out factor like Johnny, who had the disgusting habit of daily farting on his hand and smelling it.

Shrimp docks brought the island its’ little industry, and the docks were a stone’s throw from our house.  Or, as the gull flew, the docks were a few hundred feet from our dock on the creek which led out to the Inland Waterway, and eventually to the Atlantic Ocean.  The smell of plough mud, shrimp, and crab shells wafted through everything on the island.  The sensual smell of that mud mingled with the sun and earth and then combined with the astonishing fragrance of gardenias was mind boggling, in the literal sense of the juxtaposition of those two words.  These smells are forever etched in my hippocampus as sense memory, and the images, brought to mind, bring Rockland Plantation into any room I inhabit, day in and day out.  It was the most beautiful place on this earth.  It always will be.  It exists in my mind, and it is as real today as it was then.  There was poetry at Rockland, palpable, memorable and infinitely real.

It was the flowers that come to mind most often – flowers not tended by anyone but God; banks and banks of azaleas, hydrangeas, gardenias and magnolias which agreed to bloom year after year, causing me to weep when I saw the first stirrings of buds.  The flowers bloomed for themselves, for their own delight, for the delight of all who saw them.  These flowers moved me to a silence beyond all words, and I would climb an oak tree and hear celestial music, see sparkling lights and glittering deities, and I knew beyond all reckoning that I was safe, that all was well in the world, and that the same powers that watered this very tree and these very flowers watered me.  And I was to know – at quite a young age – that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and that nothing, absolutely nothing happened by chance in God’s world, and this realization would become both my nemesis and my liberation.  It would later lead me to my life’s work…








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