The heart of South Carolina shines in a new light

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJune 25, 2013 

My mother loved the first beach house, going there every chance she had and sharing it easily. At the beach, she didn't worry much about her hair or makeup, or even a lot about her weight (always an issue). It was she, a peaches-and-cream redhead who had to stay out of the sun, who taught me to love swimming in the moonlight while Daddy stood guard with a flashlight on the beach.

Writer Cecile S. Holmes of Columbia goes on to tell that her mother's frisky Scottish terriers took to crab hunting at night on the Isle of Palms, following the round beam of a flashlight.

Her story -- "The Beach House" -- unfolds like a brightly colored towel in the pages of a new book that is a lot like her Daddy's flashlight.

"State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love" shines new light into places as familiar as a clucking fiddler crab shaking its "big" claw at the high and mighty. And it helps us explore unknown places, telling how they came to be, and why they matter.

The book, edited by Aida Rogers and published by the University of South Carolina Press, is a Palmetto State keepsake. When shown through the prism of 35 writers who are careful with facts and open with personal feelings, we see anew South Carolina's familiar arsenal:

The Citadel, the Horseshoe and Carolina Coliseum at "the university," the bomb plant, Hurricane Hugo, the South Carolina Botanical Garden at Clemson, Congaree National Park, Hobcaw Barony, the Sheldon Ruins, the Dock Street Theatre, Connie Maxwell Children's Home, Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Poinsett State Park, tobacco roads and "Mama's House."

But as our own Pat Conroy says in the foreword, South Carolina is a state of surprises. For him, it has been so since he arrived at Beaufort High School in 1961 and met "the madcap, over-caffeinated Bernie Schein who would keep me in stitches for the rest of my life."

I was surprised to read in Ken Burger's essay about the minor league baseball park in Charleston this concise history of the Holy City: "Charleston, broke and beleaguered by the Civil War, simply sat in a pool of pity and stagnated in its indignity. By the 1960s, she looked like an aging stripper without a backup plan."

Some may be surprised to learn of the soothing waters at The Sands in Port Royal as Kendall Bell writes of walking under the stars after a stressful night on the city desk at The Beaufort Gazette.

The book lists pieces of South Carolina's soul no longer tangible: The Edisto Motel, tobacco auctions, Glenn Springs water, the Ocean Forest Hotel, the Carolina Parakeet, The Columbia Record, Pawleys Pavilion, "Bull Street," Big Thursday and The Pad.

But like Daddy's flashlight, it shows a state whose only surprise is how much it offers to have and to hold.

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