As I sit here writing to you from my grandparent’s house in Augusta, Georgia, the sun is shining and it is a cool summer day. Well, at least cool for a Southern summer. Even those who have only passed through the South during the summer know that it is not very pleasant at its peak; the air changes from the spring’s warm and sweet wafting breeze into the hot, sticky, and stagnant breath of summer that we must endure until mid-October, if not later. Luckily for those of us on the coast, we have a seabreeze that keeps the air pleasant. Inland however, not so much; I have the utmost sympathy for those who live in the landlocked part of the South where they are steamed to death with no respite. With the aforementioned, one would imagine such a place would be miserable to reside in. My answer to you is simple: with that mindset, yes it is miserable. We Southerners however, see this as heaven.
Growing up in the South is a privilege and a blessing. It is a part of us that we can never get rid of, despite our attempts to suppress our Southerness for the sake of becoming “mainstream.” You can be a thousand miles away for years upon years at a time, but something as simple as a smell or taste can take you back to a specific spot in old Dixieland. For me, something as mundane and average as a whiff of Confederate Jasmine takes me to a warm afternoon walking on lower Church Street (if you are from Charleston, you know the exact spot I am referring to). Even the smell of plough mud, a nearly black paste that leaches a vile and putrid smelling aroma not unlike sulfur, is a familiar and endearing perfume to me. Driving amongst the marshes of the lowcountry at low tide with the windows down is one of those things that will never leave my mind.
The South is a magical place full of wonder and ingenuity. She can be rugged and harsh, but her inhabitants make her into a place of beauty and attraction. Those who are grown feel this attraction and move here to enjoy the warm weather in their latter years, but they will never know what it is like to experience the new and adventurous Southern summer of childhood. It is her natives that give her the charm and mystery of which she is famous for.
Growing up in Charleston, my experience may be a little different than most in the South, mainly due to the theme of summer being the ocean and beaches rather than lakes and winding rivers, but one common denominator for all the youth of the South is the love of the water. Summer equals water. Ask any child what his or her favorite activity is during the summer, you’ll be hard-pressed to find an answer that does not involve water. Remember that sticky and humid air I mentioned earlier? There are only two ways to avoid it: stay inside with air conditioning, or go outside and cool off in the water. Just a word of caution: I’m about to sound really old, but it really is interesting how times change so quickly. Unfortunately for many children nowadays, the first solution is the most commonly chosen. Kids these days have video games and television that can occupy their time. Anyone born before the age of video games universally remembers this nagging phrase that we heard if we were being lazy: “Go outside right now! It’s a beautiful day and you don’t need to be wasting it!” We weren’t allowed to stay inside and waste the day away; we went out and had fun.
Mind you, outdoor fun by the water had several stages and limitations. Of course we had our beach trips and boat rides in our youth, but they were always with our parents. Now that I think about it, this actually granted more freedom than we thought; how else could a seven year old drive a boat around Charleston Harbor? Anyway, when we were much younger and playing without supervision, the water was a place we were around more than in; swimming was only allowed if a parent or much older friend accompanied us. In these early years, we fished on the dock and we played in the marsh. The next step was being given the privilege to go in the water and being allowed to swim in the creeks. When we reached the age of driving, we took out the boats and went to the beach, finally without our parents. Regardless of if we were around, on, or in the water, we were never away from it.
-To be continued…