I have a few favorite places in the universe. With only one or two exceptions, they're firmly linked in my mind to times with my kids. When the older ones were small, I would sometimes pick them up from school on a Friday afternoon and make a beeline north from Raleigh, NC, to Washington, DC. I had a lovely friend, Margaret, who lived in the southeast quadrant of the District, in a lovely reclaimed row house three or four blocks from the Metro. We'd arrive about 9 or 10 p.m., and I'd park the car somewhere on the block -- and not move it again until we had to leave on Sunday. We spent whole Saturdays in the Smithsonian, Sunday mornings cooking breakfast for Margaret, sitting and talking, pretending we need never leave, and Sunday evenings driving back to Raleigh after dark.
Margaret was a remarkable woman, the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries to China. They were among the last to leave during the Chinese civil war; Margaret's father was one of the few westerners trusted enough by both sides of the conflict that he was allowed to take food and other essentials back and forth, between and behind lines. I loved Margaret and her stories; Bri and Sean loved Margaret because she loved them back, unconditionally and without expectation. I did okay on the "unconditional" front, but I had lists of expectations -- and every child needs someone who loves them just for who they are, not who they have the potential to become.
Another favorite place was the San Francisco Bay Area. Last year, I drove back with Sean and spent an afternoon driving around my old neighborhood in San Jose. It's still there, just bigger. It still felt like it could be home; the little house where we lived when Bri was born was still there. (It wasn't yellow anymore, but it was there!)
And then there was Folly.
Folly Beach is one of the barrier islands on the South Carolina coast at Charleston. When Bri and Sean were in middle and high school and Mitch was very small, my dear friend Sara (Mitch' godmother) lived there. She's a pediatrician, and at the time, she was practicing in Charleston and staying in a little place on Folly. The tourists hadn't discovered it yet, for the most part. There were some summer places, but mostly, it was little houses and little businesses. It was quiet enough we could leave the kids at the house on a Saturday night and walk up to the local bar, three blocks or so away in the center of the island. They would watch rented movies, and we would have a couple of beers, shoot a little pool, dance to the local band, and walk home. Folly Beach was farther away than D.C., but we never left before dark on Sunday anyway. Usually, we arrived back home around 3 or 4 a.m. on Monday -- always with sand in our shoes, and often in our shorts.
Late last fall, I made a quick trip back to Folly. My sister had to make an unexpected trip to Charleston and needed someone to drive her, and after several days of doctors and surgery and stress and worry, I had to do a little something for my head before going back home. So I drove 20 miles out of my way to spend a few minutes on the beach at dusk, then have supper and drive back. It was worth the time and effort, every bit of it.
Folly has changed, of course. Its little commercial district is a little slicker, a little more "high-end." I couldn't identify the house where Sara lived; it may not even be there anymore. I know the dunes that were washed out during Hurricane Hugo (1989) have been replaced by another row of summer houses. Silly people... But the soul of the place is still there.
In a couple of months, I'm headed again for Folly. I'm attending a writers' retreat -- four days of blessed, beautiful work. Four days of focus on what's real and important and essential to who I am and what I do; four days of walking the shoreline at dusk, getting sand in my shoes; four days of breathing in salt air and letting it flow back out as perfectly chosen words.
Three or four years back, I started drafting a story set on Folly Beach. It's finished in my head (in fact, it's one of those stories that began with the end), but I haven't been able to track the middle yet. Maybe this spring, back at the source, I will.