My mom recently got a new job (a bit out of nowhere!), and my parents are moving from Charleston, SC to Phoenix, AZ, in the very near future. I’m really excited for them – it was definitely time for a change, and it will be so much more convenient and fun to have them on this side of the country (and to have access to all of those Arizona/New Mexico/Utah spots that I’ve been adding rapidly to my adventure list), but Charleston! This marks the end of an era.
I grew up outside of Philly, about as far west as you could get and legitimately still call it Philly. We actually never really thought of it that way growing up – we rarely went into the city, unless it was for random sports games or the Franklin Institute (guys, the walkthrough heart is STILL THERE?!?!) – but when I moved to Scotland, that became the easiest way to describe it. Philadelphia, halfway between DC and New York… and that would get some glimmer of recognition. Pottstown was home in the literal sense, and I grew up next to farm fields and in the rolling hills of Chester County, in a rural but suburban 90’s life.
It’s funny, that word ‘home’. My ski name tag has (obviously) my name, but we also had to put a hometown on it. I hadn’t put much thought into it and so it says Truckee, since that’s my current mailing address, but everyone else has places all over the world. People now ask me if I grew up here and went to Truckee High, which is I suppose a conversation starter itself, but it’s never a short and simple answer. Where is home? Where I live? Where my friends are? Where my family is? Where my heart is?
I’ve lived a lot of places over the years, and each one has felt, at some stage, like ‘home’ in all of those senses. I will always associate with Pottstown as my roots, and that will probably be the place I spend the longest chunk of time in my life. Scotland was my home for almost seven years, and while I may still eat with my fork and knife reversed, now answer without hesitation to ‘Taawr-uh’, and talk about ‘bins’ and ‘plasters’ and sometimes write or spell things funny, I’m very obviously not British. California is definitely ‘home’ now, and is perhaps the one place I’ve lived that’s combined everything I loved about everywhere else into one, but after a year-and-a-half here, I’m still not really a local, and I never really will be.
Which leaves Charleston, my beloved Charleston. We started visiting the city and surrounding islands back somewhere around ’93, when my parents decided to forego the traditional Jersey Shore vacation and venture somewhere farther afield that was a bit less full of people we went to school with. We spent some time – often extensive time, relatively speaking – there over the years, and I remember desperately (desperately) wanting to move south somewhere around the 4th grade timeframe. My parents eventually bought a house there right before I started high school, and from then on, we spent almost all of our school breaks and chunks of the summer on Seabrook, in an upside-down cottage an 8-minute walk on a long boardwalk through the marsh to a wide, white beach.
There was always something about the Lowcountry that, from the first inhale of that salty, pluff mud air, forced this wave of calm over me, where instantly, any of my uptightness or anxiety or world woes melted (like my hair) into the oppressive humidity. When my parents finally left Pottstown and moved down for good, it became the place I returned to on my transatlantic hauls, for breaks, over summers, and when I took my two-month PhD ‘hiatus’. I started to build my own life there, and when I moved back to the States permanently, I stepped off the plane on a December afternoon, took one long, pluff mud whiff, and abandoned all plans to move to Boston and decided that even if it were for a short time, I would park myself on Southern Ground.
Charleston became my parents home, and then the place I was crashing temporarily, and then my home with Leah and roomdog in Avondale while I waited for R, and finally, our home downtown. I made friends of all ages. I made a name for myself at MUSC. I established myself in the community. Part of me never wanted to leave; part of me always knew that while there was nothing better than running around Hampton Park in the spring or biking around Sullivan’s or watching a Pelican’s Nest sunset on a Friday after work, it was too small of a place to stay forever, and eventually, I would have to go.
It’s been hard going back; there’s been an unexpected difficulty in having to balance the associations and sort out whether it’s vacation or home. Every place is now full of pleasant memories that I want to hang onto and sullied by not-so-pleasant ones from the final days that linger unresolved, and I’ve struggled more than I thought I would with that mental competition.
Perhaps it’s good that it’ll no longer be so easily accessible – maybe it can become a place I go from now on with one objective (rather than 10). Maybe now that there is no reason, I won’t go again? Maybe it’s one of those places that – like St Andrews and Dundee – might be better kept hidden for awhile, until it fades into just snippets of memories that, when I’m in some other stage of life, I can go back and look at it with fresh eyes. I’m not sure I’ll be able to stay away that long though. Charleston long ago seeped into my soul and thinned my blood, and that part of me that wishes I were a true GRITS will probably never really go away.
Charleston, ya’ll. Thanks for the good, the bad, the ugly; the Lowcountry sunsets and crystal clear days, the sweat-drenched afternoons, the abrasive sand and wind, the flash floods, the starlit porch evenings, the brutal thunderstorms, the ‘bless her heart!’s, those awful bugs and allergies, the alligators, cornhole Sunday afternoons, country music on the radio, the hurricanes. Carolina will always be on my mind.