Last week our family returned to a familiar haunt, and our collective “Happy Place”, Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Rex and I first took David and Kim there in the summer of 1987, when Kim was one, and we returned every year until she graduated from high school. That first year was the only time we went alone – we loved it so much that we got the rest of our extended families to join us off and on during the next 17 years. Once we went with another family, and once it was just us and my sister and her kids, but most of the time there were at least 19 or 20 of us spending the week together. One year there were 23 of us!
We started out renting a small condo, and then we rented two condos that belonged to friends of ours in Asheville. After a few years and a few more kids, we graduated to houses, none quite perfect, until we stumbled upon a fabulous 10 bedroom, 7 bathroom house right on the beach! From then on, that was ‘our’ place, unless we didn’t have enough people to justify the size and expense (that only happened once) and the year that it was being remodeled (yay!) when we had to rent two homes to fit all of us. We loved our beloved Eugenia house, and we became completely spoiled by its size and access to the beach.
The thing that we all love about Kiawah is its non-commercialization. There is no putt-putt, no fudge or taffy, no Ripley’s Believe It or Not, no traffic jams, no crowded beaches, no high rise hotels, no chain restaurants. What there is is nature – marshes, swamps, sub-tropical jungles, a gorgeous, wide, white sandy beach, turtles laying eggs, dolphins, alligators, birds of all kinds, shells, kayaking, tennis, golf, and swimming. There are playgrounds and family activities, bike trails, movies watched from the pool, fireworks on holidays, unbelievably beautiful and HUGE homes (in addition to tiny beach bungalows), and safety. Kiawah is a gated community – you have to be staying there or visiting someone who is to be there. From the time our kids were old enough to ride their bikes without training wheels and find their way back home, we were able to let them go off on their own without worrying about them. And mind you, that was long before cell phones were a thing…. When the kids became teenagers, we let them go out at night, knowing the cousins had each other’s backs, without fearing for their safety.
It’s always an experience to travel with your family after your family is made up of what we lovingly called in-laws and outlaws. That original family unit already has its habits and its buttons (as in, knowing which buttons to push and on whom…) and its traditions – adding spouses and children changes things exponentially! In our case, we even blended families – Rex’s parents, his siblings and their families, his cousins and their families, my sister and her family, along with assorted friends that different kids brought along – it could have been disastrous! Somehow, though, we made it work, because we love each other and we love Kiawah. It didn’t take us long to develop a rhythm – we even had a set menu that changed little through the years! We drank beer on the beach and had margaritas in the afternoons – did I mention that we loved that we rarely drove anywhere once we got there? We played games in the evenings after dinner and we straggled in for breakfast in the mornings. We had strict sunscreen application routines, and everyone had a job getting things to the beach – chairs, coolers, beach bags, sand toys, games, hats, etc. – and for getting them back and hosed off in the evenings.
Many years we played energetic games of volleyball and paddleball on the beach, and we almost always had one day reserved for golf. Countless books were read on the beach, and no topic went undiscussed under the sun. We compromised on radio stations and somehow, we always ended up doing the Hokey Pokey on the beach – the WHOLE family, in plain view of anyone else out there. That tradition was so loved that every single cousin who has gotten married (six of eight, so far) has played the Hokey Pokey at his or her wedding reception. We played Charades and Taboo and Spades and Crazy Eights and Tripoli – oh, the Tripoli games! – and loads of other board games. We cooked almost every meal – eating out was not really an option – and had fun doing it. We grilled, made s’mores, fought over how many shrimp we could eat (we always had two shrimp nights – boiled and grilled), ate pound cake for breakfast, devoured hams, turkeys, and gallons of pimiento cheese, and lived for Grandy’s Southern food night – pork chops, rice, butter beans, and cinnamon apples. We made homemade ice cream and baked brownies; we had burgers and dogs and steaks, and of course, we had mac & cheese in the box! Mostly we just enjoyed being together in a little corner of paradise.
One of the main reasons I can remember all of these details is because I made albums of our annual beach trips. Back in the day, of course, they were traditional albums – I started with an 8.5 x 11″ book, because I had no idea we would keep going back. Soon it was filled, and the next album was a 12×12″ book, which is also full. I would take them with me to the beach every year so that we could look back and reminisce – and laugh at hair styles and clothing choices, watch the kids grow taller, and sadly, watch our bodies get bigger and older – oh, well! That’s life, and I still enjoy looking back at good times. Don’t tell my family, but I plan to get these albums converted into digital books using Forever’s digital conversion services so that other family members can be reminded of our good times. I love that this option is available to me!
It’s been 12 years since Kim finished high school, and we had all been talking about getting back to the island. We’ve lost our parents, we’ve gained several new sons and daughters, and now we even have grandchildren. The wonderful house on Eugenia was sold, torn down, and replaced by a humongous and spectacular new house. Nevertheless, the time had come to introduce a new generation and our new family members to our sacred place! We tried hard to make it so the whole gang could come, but schedules didn’t work out this year, so we decided to make it work no matter what. We ended up with our kids, their spouses, and their kids, along with my sister and her son Kevin and his wife, Laura. And then Laura’s mom and her two sisters decided to come and rent a second place – so fun!! You know what it’s like when you have a memory of something good from your childhood, and then when you revisit it as an adult, you wonder why you thought it was cool? I will admit that I was a teeny bit worried that the kids would not be as fond of Kiawah as adults as they had been as kids, or that they’d see it differently through the eyes of their spouses. I needn’t have been concerned! We are already planning our next trip back!
The house we stayed in this year was beyond gorgeous – and it was HUGE – and it had a pool (now we are really spoiled) but….it was not close to the beach. Making the trek with babies and gear and people was not ideal, but it was worth it. Thankfully we had a pickup truck (our rental!) which made it easier, but it was different. Some of our beach time became pool time, but it did make it easier for me to work (this was a working vacation for me!) since I volunteered to be the nap time monitor. Our menu had to change (we now have a gluten-free person, a vegetarian, and a shrimp allergy to deal with) but it was still pretty similar. All in all – the trip was such a success! Now I’m trying to talk Rex into retiring to Kiawah….I’ll keep you posted!
I thought it was perfect that while I was back at the beach, Shelley’s awesome Start2Finish video reprising our signature “Going Global” portfolio aired. Same thing – going back to something fun and familiar, but new and different. If you haven’t watched it yet, stop reading and go watch! And then post your globe for us to admire. Here’s my latest one:
Content used: By the Sea Alphaset by Cottage Arts
Font: KG Corner of the Sky