Charleston may be the capital of the South Carolina Lowcountry, but since it will soon sink into the Atlantic Ocean under the weight of all its visitors, here’s a way to tell you’re in the real Lowcountry down near Beaufort, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island.
▪ You know there are no frogs in Frogmore Stew.
And you eat it anyway. And get in arguments over whether it should include new potatoes.
▪ Your dog is a Lab.
In the beginning, an actual Labrador retriever came to the Lowcountry. But he did not retrieve many ducks because he was very busy, and very happy, adding to the mix of local dogs, which now are each and every one a Lab Mix. They have been carefully bred to retrieve tennis balls on random occasions.
You like this because the people of the Lowcountry themselves came to be like a Lab Mix. Lowcountry newcomers would have us believe they’re purebred. They try to show us their papers. But we don’t care. Locals know a Lab Mix when they see one.
▪ You’ve been taking the same paperback to the beach since “Gone With The Wind.”
And everyone even visiting the Lowcountry is a Pat Conroy expert. They pretend to have read all the novels of Beaufort’s favorite adopted son. But in truth, they may not know the difference between “The Prince of Santini” and “The Lords of Beach Music.”
▪ You’re not alarmed if your golf ball lands on the back of an alligator.
If it stays there, you count it as a hole-in-one and play through.
▪ You know that Hilton Head Island is an island.
Since everything within a day’s drive is named “Hilton Head This” and “Hilton Head That,” visitors now think they’re on Hilton Head when they’re not. Helpful hint: You will cross a tall bridge over the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.
▪ You have shot at an armadillo in the dark of night.
And a tree frog has been flattened in your front door sill. Your cat brings you lizards. You have chased a mole with a water hose. And you have wept as a baby loggerhead turtle flaps toward the sun rising over the Atlantic Ocean.
▪ You know life in the fast lane.
As a child you counted the turtles on stumps while on the long and breathless ride from Estill to Bluffton for summer vacation on Mullet Street.
And on the way home, now tanned and sandy and maybe in love, the game itself is tired. This time, the winner is the first kid to spot the Estill water tower.
▪ You talk funny, and nobody cares.
You can speak Gullah and Charlestonese, and you call each other “Bo.”
You know that Beaufort is Bewfort, and you don’t care how they pronounce it up in North Carolina.
And Okatie is not O’Katy, regardless of what Siri calls it.
The beautiful Combahee River is obviously pronounced Cumbee.
▪ You don’t collect Spanish moss.
But you have tried to describe it. It weeps. It drips. It cascades. It silhouettes and pirouettes. It flows like the ancient mariner’s beard. It veils its mysteries in a shroud. And it has no roots, except in our imagination.
▪ You’ve been down the river.
We know that “the rivah” isn’t simply a rush of salty water. It is a gulp of Lowcountry life, with dolphins blowing and sandbars calling. It’s crabs in the trap and shrimp in the net. It’s dock diving and body painting with pluff mud. It’s cackling fiddler crabs and soaring eagles. It’s flounder gigging and hush puppy frying, oyster shucking and story telling. It’s egrets posing for Manet paintings. It’s why you want to put up a sign that says, “This is My Lowcountry. Keep Out.”