Charleston, South Carolina

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Early May took us to Charleston, South Carolina.  It was our first visit to this city of refined southern charm and beauty.   We traveled there to celebrate in a small family reunion, of sorts – ten of us gathered from around the country.  My husband’s great-grandfather once lived in this city, and his great-great granddaughter now attends college there.

My sister-in-law found our large shared house on one of our favorite sites – Vacation Rental by Owner.  The site is well-categorized with sortable searches by location, size, and price.  We’ve used vrbo.com on several occasions for vacation rentals and have always been pleased with the results.  This particular house was magnificent, well-furnished, and professionally decorated with an ocean theme throughout.

Located in Folly Beach, the beach house sat on a hill the second row in from the ocean.  An upstairs porch ran the width of the house.  Each morning and night we saw, heard, and smelled the awesome salty breezes of the Atlantic Ocean.

Early morning we took a harbor cruise out to see Fort Sumter where, 150 years ago, the shots were fired that started the Civil War. The War, as true southerners still call it, was to be over in a few months time, or so people thought.  As we know it lasted four bloody years.  I walked the battlements, picturing the scene as it must have been in April 1861 before the bombardment.  Even in the late spring heat, my forearms prickled with an eerie chill.

Back in Charleston we rode on a guided tour in a mule-drawn carriage through the city’s historic district and passed by stately old homes.  The day was warm, in the low 80′s, but clear and pleasant.  As we rode near Battery Park, we observed a solemn celebration of Confederate Memorial Day celebrated each year on May 10th, the day Stonewall Jackson died.

In an awesome marketplace, we watched artisans weave exceptionally crafted Charleston Sweetgrass Baskets and others string stone beads for necklaces.

Later a pretty young student (thanks, Abby!) guided us through the grounds of the beautiful College of Charleston.

On another day, we toured Middleton Place, a rice plantation set on the banks of the Ashley River.  The plantation was burned by the Yankees in 1864.  Much of what didn’t burn was toppled several years later by the earthquake of 1886.  In recent years, a painting was discovered in an Italian villa.  It seems that a Middleton bride was an Italian Contessa.  On a visit to Middleton Plantation in the 1840′s she had painted a scene of the buildings.   You can imagine the joy at its discovery and upon its return to the plantation.

Dining was fun and down home – at Bowen’s Island Restaurant with its all-you-can-eat Oysters, at Justine’s for southern soul, and fresh seafood at the Crab Shack and at our beach house.  Why is it that food tastes so much better when eaten in a place far from home?

At the Public Library and Charleston’s old Court House, I scrolled through spools of old microfilm to copy family history.  We took pictures of the house where my husband’s great-grandfather once lived, and then said a prayer at the church he once attended. At Magnolia Cemetery we found his grave, and said another prayer.  Near his grave lay the dead of the sunken Hunley, yet another reminder of The War.

Back at Folly Beach, the ocean called one last time. We strolled barefoot over smooth sand letting the warm waters of the Atlantic wash over our feet.

Reluctantly, we said goodbye.  We knew we’d return.

Flying American

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“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” ~ Henri Matisse

Last week we had a sudden death in our family. I needed to travel from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin so I went online to make airline reservations.  Since I had to fly in two days, the fares were close to $1,000; normally it’s a $300+ flight.  Someone mentioned a “bereavement fare.”  I called the airlines, gave the information they needed and was booked on a flight at a closer to normal fare.

Soon after the funeral bad weather thundered across the Midwest.  Massive storms dumped snow and ice.   Shortly before I was to leave for a 2-hour drive to the airport, American Airlines called with news.  My flight was cancelled and I was re-scheduled on a Tuesday flight.  I stayed in my hometown another night.

On Tuesday, the first leg of my trip was delayed.  That delay jeopardized my connecting flight.  The agent at the counter quickly put me on standby for an earlier flight.  Subsequently I was seated on that and made my connection.

Several years ago my husband traveled a lot for his job.  His words of advice came back to me.   “You just go with the flow.”   So during my Tuesday travels I did that.  I also watched other travelers (a favorite activity of writers, I think).  While many sat back with books or laptops, or simply rested, others whined — about everything.  I heard way too many gripes about airlines overbooking, lost luggage, and delayed flights.

It is because of those complaints that I’m writing this post.  Throughout my journey I saw only kind, professional helpfulness.  My sincere thanks to American Airlines and its hardworking employees.  Thank you…

  • to the ticket agent who walked me through the bereavement fare and booked my original flight
  • to management for the call notifying me of the weather related cancellation and rescheduled flight
  • to the agent who offered a standby change so I could connect to my final flight
  • to those who de-iced the plane, the mechanics and ground crew who kept things safe
  • to the flight attendants who brought me a sense of security
  • to the pilots who kept the flights on course
  • and finally, to the baggage handlers who brought my suitcase home safely.

You all made this emotionally draining trip easier.

Some folks seem to believe that the purchase of a ticket in life buys nothing but smooth sailing.  It usually does but sometimes bad things happen beyond control.  When they do just go with the flow and thank the person who guides you through, whoever that may be.

For now I’m saying thank you to American Airlines.

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