Where We Are Going: Charleston, SC, the future

A childhood all grown up

I will have two children: one boy, one girl. Their youth will be filled with walls painted with dinosaurs and plants, toys that only instill a real educational value in their lives and do not merely exist to give visual appeal. We will go to public parks, not only to spend time on swingsets, but to walk trails, find hidden gems, and picnic as a family. We will admire insects in their natural habitat, birds in their trees, and fish in ponds and lakes. My children will spend less time in front of a television set and more time outside, learning how flowers grow and how water evaporates. They will learn how composting works, and they will help me in our backyard garden. My little girl will be in charge of the flowers while my son helps me with produce- taking turns on occasion between the two.

My husband and I will introduce them to one of our favorite places, Charleston. On our first trip as a family we will show them the bay over which once stood two dark grey bridges, now a faint memory past. I will have my husband roll down all of our windows so that we can. breathe in that salty sea air. We will keep at the posted speed limit while more cars speed past us on either side. I will stick my arm out the window, as our children begin to ask over and over how much longer we have to be stuck in the car. In just a moment we would be free of the highway and in downtown Charleston.

As we continue to drive through the city, we will continue to come into contact with more and more pedestrians. Past gas stations, and old ramshackle houses with bad paint jobs and chipped wood. There will be people walking by each other, passing glances as they make their way to crosswalks. The city will grow cleaner and more put-together as we drive on. The houses will loom larger and nicer, the people will be better-dressed, however, the congestion on the street will grow to be greater than it was in the initial layout of the city.

This is when our children will begin to complain of hunger. The lack of knowledge pertaining to time in a child has always been bewildering to me, and it will be then. Driving down by the pier, we will pass old-fashioned pretzel carts, mom and pop ice cream shops, and nicely laid out restaurants that stand in between.

“Mom, I really want some ice cream! Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough! Please!”, my daughter will ask.

“Honey, we ate just half an hour ago outside of the city so we could avoid the lines of people trying to get lunch”, I will answer.

She will leave it alone, for then, but getting dinner that night on the town, she and her brother will make sure that we find that very shop and get them some ice cream. The night will end with my husband and I walking hand in hand behind our children with their half-melted ice cream cones, chocolate and cookie dough mustaches to match.

Back on the road, I will pull out my Canon like I always do, taking pictures of the boats that fill the bay for at least a mile long, taking pictures of the Cooper River Bridge afar off as it peeks around from behind a taller building. I will curtly turn around and sneak candid pictures of our children as they take in Charleston for the first time, forming their own opinions of the city life, the marshes, architecture, and cars that are just ever so slightly newer than ours. Our Subaru will have plenty of wear from camping trips across the country, caked-in mud in the floorboards from dirtied hiking boots, an umbrella here, a frisbee there.

I will persist to take photographs of my second home away from home as we continue to drive through it. Each shot will be unbalanced, imperfect, blurry at best, but each photograph will perfectly encapsulate the whirlwind of the city life around us as we drive through it. After about half an hour’s fighting traffic and pedestrians who take on the crosswalks without looking at their surroundings first, we will cross the last bridge that separates us from James Island where my aunt will still live, a true Charleston loyalist.

“Mom, what is that? It looks like really tall grass, but why is there water, too?” my boy will ask.

“Baby, those are marshes. They flood with heavy rain or when the tide is especially great, and they typically stay full of water. Down here the locals like to ride their boats through the marshes into the ports outside of the city”, I will answer, maybe knowing a little too much for my own good.

My boy will open his eyes wide at the idea, surely imagining himself behind the wheel of such a boat. After driving over the marshes that lie just outside the city, I will look back. A feat of modern architecture, I will see the pillars of cement holding the bridge up that we will have just driven over. By then the bottom of each pillar will be hidden below layers of dirt, water, and weeds from years of rough winds and waves with the changing of the seasons over time.

A rough ten minutes later and we will be outside of my ancient aunt’s neighborhood. The mismatched pavement will give off a different feeling as we move from one texture to another. The dark grey pavement on the main road will unevenly and abruptly merge with the bright white pavement that starts at the front of my aunt’s neighborhood. Each driveway is either a similar white, smooth pavement, or is made up of gravel and slightly larger rocks. Once in awhile you will see a driveway made entirely of old seashells, which break down a bit more every time someone drives over them.

We will park in my aunt’s driveway, behind her old Honda that she has had since I was a child. She will not be able to drive anymore because of her cataracts and poor night vision, but she will never get rid of that old Honda her late husband, my uncle Emmett, bought her all those years ago. Her driveway has always been and will still be made up of half loose rocks and half smooth-white pavement, and we will park in the middle of both. The tree that once stood firm and thick on the right side of the driveway will have since been cut down, and only a stump will remain, the work of her son, my cousin, Michael. In the winter months, Charleston does not greatly change, however, old, brittle, dead trees only lead to larger problems, and Michael will have cut this tree down to prevent it from ever falling onto Kitty’s house.

Upon stepping into the house, Aunt Kitty will side-hug each of us like she did my sister and I as young children. She will tell us to avoid the rug under the door because it folds over itself every time she opens the front door- a problem she has never found a solution to- a new door with a larger gap between it and the floor which would allow room for said rug. She will show us to our rooms as we each unpack. Aunt Kitty has always loved a good conversation, and now that her husband will have been gone for several years, she will have not received many visitors since. She will stay by my side while I unpack, thriving off of the new company, asking me how the children are doing in school, how our jobs are going, how her sister, my mother, is doing. She will then proceed to tell me about the most recent politics taking place in Charleston, how they affect her, how she misses working at her church, and how she misses her husband. The age gap between my aunt and uncle was always substantial. I believe they were at least nine years apart, he older than she. They had fallen in love young and fast, much like my husband and I. What can you say? When you know, you know. They had one child, their son Michael, who I always believed was named after Saint Michael, the archangel, who was actually an angel, never a saint. Saint Michael was the first to combat Satan, a champion for the church and Christians everywhere, and finally, he called Christians from Earth to Heaven for their final judgment. One can say Aunt Kitty was partial to the angelic figure when it came to naming my cousin. Her Michael goofed around in school and life until he graduated, worked for a pool cleaning company and met the future love of his life. They would have a child one New Year’s, and from then, Kitty would be in love.

Kitty has always greatly loved her family, but never more than the church. She has been devout to the Catholic church all of her life, helping with finances, visitors, dinners, and so on. When her husband, Emmett, was alive, he worked many nights throughout the week like a security guard for the church. Kitty would spend her nights alone with Michael, almost as a single mother, making ends meet until her husband would be back home again. Self-sacrifice has always been evident in their family. Sacrificing love for the church, something they both loved greatly. Kitty never outgrew her love of the church, or her husband.

Every time my husband and I visited Charleston before we had the kids, she showed us pictures of Michael as a boy with Emmett, his father, standing beside him, a regal giant. Kitty still made a point to show me these same pictures while my husband helped our children unpack their suitcases for our stay over the long weekend. As per her usual, Aunt Kitty offered us frozen lasagna for dinner in hopes to catch up with all of us before we would head back home Monday morning. We were not able to visit every year, especially because my husband and I were trying to introduce our children to different parts of the country before they were older and in college, too busy to have the time. As a child, I was never given such an opportunity, so I wanted more than anything for my children to be able to look back and say that they had been to the Grand Canyon, to Niagara Falls, to the great Redwoods in California. I want them to experience life while there is little stress weighing down on theirs.

After the bad frozen lasagna dinner with Kitty, we all headed out to watch the boats off of the mainland with their lights that beamed and reflected on the water further and further as the number of said boats grew the farther out you looked. This would be a tradition that would remain in place as we visited Charleston with the kids for years to come.

About the Author: My loves are Jesus Christ, rock climbing, photography, classic novels, the Nationals, Scooby-Doo, and the Killers. For more, follow me on Instagram here.