Posts Tagged ‘Edisto Island’

edistopigNo more Pig chicken. It’s true — come Saturday, the Edisto Beach Piggly Wiggly is closing its doors and the grocery store that has prided itself on being “local since forever” will be gone forever.  Oh, the building will reopen later in November as a Bi-Lo, but it won’t be the same. Several staff members say they’re staying on, but we haven’t heard yet if the deli  will return with fried chicken on the menu. Bi-Lo would be smart to continue the tradition because the Pig has been serving “Mrs. Mac’s fried chicken” since 1967 when former school lunch lady Nel McNaughton took over the deli at a West Ashley Piggly-Wiggly in Charleston. Mrs. Mac passed in 2008 at age 92, and that West Ashley store at Dupont Crossing is gone as well, but the Lowcountry is still eating up her chicken by the 8-piece box full at family dinners and church suppers, club meetings and beach picnics.

When word went out in early September that Bi-Lo and Harris-Teeter had bought a bunch — or should that be herd? — of Pigs in South Carolina, Twitter and Facebook lit up. I was in Florida and called my sister-in-law to hustle down to the  Edisto Pig and pick me up a Pig T-shirt before they all disappeared. By the time she got there that afternoon, the size selection was limited to tiny tots or football players. So now I am the proud owner of a pink T-shirt, XX-L, “Piggly Wiggly Edisto Beach,” on the front, and “I’m Big on the Pig”  on the back.  Makes a great nightshirt.

I am trying to be sanguine about the Pig closing. Some folks say they can’t imagine the beach without the Pig. Well, I can. I remember when that location, years ago, was an IGA, and before that, when Marion Whaley’s little filling station/store a block off Palmetto comprised the beach’s “business district.” Now it’s a restaurant, joining the half-dozen or so dining establishments that have appeared since I was a kid and we fried our own chicken and shrimp.

edistopowellAs I was packing to come up here in September, I got an e-mail from a publicist at Open Road Integrated Media that it was publishing an e-book of an acclaimed 1984 Southern novel. Was I familiar with Edisto by Padgett Powell?

Oh, yes. When Edisto was first published, I was nearing the end of a 5-year sojourn in the Midwest and homesick for the South. But the novel confused me. I liked the wry coming-of-age of 12-year-old narrator Simons Manigault, but his late 1960s Edisto wasn’t the one I knew.  The geography was all cock-eyed. Simons (pronounced Simmons) lives in an isolated house on the beach at Edisto with his mother — the literary “Doctor” — while she’s temporarily separated from his father, but he goes to school in Bluffton? Impossible. Bluffton’s way too far away, practically to Georgia.  Then, at one point, Simons goes to church in Savannah, “the closest place you can find an Episcopal layout.” Not so. Trinity Episcopal has been on Edisto Island since 1744. Then, near book’s end, the Manigaults move to Hilton Head, like it’s just a shortish drive. Uh, no. Most of Beaufort County and St. Helena Sound are in the way.

edistonovelIt is possible that I was just a teeny bit jealous of Powell; he wasn’t much older than me and he was getting these great reviews for a first novel named after the place I loved most in the world. So I became used to explaining that Edisto the book wasn’t really like Edisto the island/or beach. Powell could just as well have called it some other Lowcountry name like Dawhoo or Fenwick or Fripp. And yet the colloquial dialogue rang true, as did Simon’s memory of the old Charleston market before it was prettyfied, and how fiddler crabs look like they’re brandishing little ivory swords.  I recognized the dusty dirt roads and rundown juke joints, the palmettos crackling in a stiff wind, the salt-smelling air, summer heat, mosquitoes.

edistorevisitBy the time Powell’s Edisto Revisited came out in 1996, I was long reconciled to his vision and discursive voice, what Simons himself refers to as “boyish, untethered locution.” The second book is something of a picaresque romp, with the house at Edisto a jumping-off point for an aimless, post-college Simons to roam the South. I love it.

It’s being published as an e-book, too, although this poses a problem for the Edisto Bookstore, where the print versions have been steady sellers for years.  Owner Karen Carter recently tried to order more copies for the store, only to have publisher FS&G say the rights have reverted to the author. Unless Open Road or another publisher decides to release paperback editions, Edisto will soon be out of print, so to speak, unless you have an e-reader. I’m happy I still have my original hardcover copies. Happier still that I have my Edisto past and present. Also the laminated PFC card in my wallet that identifies me as “Pig’s Favorite Customer.”

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ladiesnight“To live well yourself is the best revenge.” Grace Stanton, the heroine of Mary Kay Andrews’ beach-alicious new novel Ladies Night (St. Martin’s Press, review copy), certainly has the living well down pat: She writes a popular lifestyle blog from her posh Florida home. But the revenge thing? After she catches her husband Ben with her naked young assistant (and it’s exactly what it looks like), she drives his precious Audi convertible into the pool. The “he had it coming defense” doesn’t go over well with Judge Stackpole, who orders her into “divorce therapy.” Meanwhile, Ben has taken custody of the house, the blog, the bank accounts (and the skanky assistant), and Grace has to move in with her mom above the family bar, The Sandbox, on Anna Maria Island.

Trading betrayal stories with the other wronged spouses in her therapy group actually proves a good thing once their strange counselor-divorce coach goes AWOL, and the four women and one man move to The Sandbox for drinks and strategy sessions. Even as Ben tries to ruin Grace’s online reputation with readers and sponsors, she starts the true Grace blog, chronicling her efforts to restore a cracker cottage. She rescues a little dog and falls for the divorced father of a little boy. Still, obstacles to living well abound, including Judge Stackpole, who seems to delight in sticking it to Grace and the other group members. Mmm. Time to turn some tables.

Ladies’ Night is funny, smart and hopeful. Just add lemonade, or maybe your favorite adult beverage. Cheers!

timebetweenI was little worried when I first heard that Karen White, who often writes about Charleston, S.C., was setting her new book, The Time Between (NAL, digital galley) on Edisto Island, my family’s home turf. It’s kind of like when they replaced the old drawbridge to the island, making it easier for tourists to find us. We used to be a secret.

Happily, White gets most of island life right, although locals don’t spell out the full names of Edisto spots in casual conversation, like Island Video and Ice Cream. Nor am I fully convinced that sisters Eleanor and Eve spent their childhood on Edisto as the daughters of a local shrimper. That was before the accident that left beauty queen contestant Eve in a wheelchair. Eleanor, once an aspiring concert pianist, feels guilty about Eve, as well as for her attraction to Glen, Eve’s high school sweetheart husband. She gets a chance for redemption when her investment banker boss Finn Beaufain asks her to help care for his elderly aunt Helena, who has lived on Edisto since she and her sister escaped from Hungary in 1944. Eleanor is soon trekking back and forth between the big house on Edisto and the shabby home she shares with her careworn mother, Eve and Glen in North Charleston.

The set-up is ripe for old secrets, family conflicts, new dreams. Did I mention that too-good-to-be-true Finn is the handsome divorced father of a little girl overcoming a grave illness? Or that enigmatic Helena’s sister died in mysterious circumstances? Eleanor narrates most of the involving story, with occasional chapters from Helena and Eve’s perspectives. Eve’s thoughts aren’t really needed, but every story should have a character as tart-tongued and strong-willed as Helena. And Edisto, of course, makes a picturesque and perfect setting, IMHO.

Open Books: Readers of this blog know that Mary Kay Andrews is a longtime pal of Caroline Cousins. I hope to actually meet Karen White at a booksigning later this month. And this is just the beginning of posts on the wave of summer fiction, including new books from Dorothea Benton Frank, Claire Cook and Mary Alice Monroe. I’m writing about them a few at a time from beach at Edisto. 



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moonoverI had the perfect excuse to put off packing this weekend to go back to Edisto — I was reading Beth Webb Hart’s engaging new novel, Moon Over Edisto (Thomas Nelson, purchased e-book), which is set on the South Carolina lowcountry island I call home about half the year.

Happily, Hart is not what I call a “drive-by” author, one who chances on a picturesque setting and decides to write a book about it. Hart knows Edisto and the territory in and around Charleston, and has written about it in previous novels such as Grace at Low Tide. Unlike one famous novelist, she’s not about to put a Wal-Mart on an island that doesn’t have a single stoplight. Better still, she understands how landscape shapes lives, how place imprints on memory.

A successful New York artist, 39-year-old Julia Bennett put Edisto in her rearview mirror when she was 19 after an unbearable betrayal. But now, just as she’s preparing to spend a fellowship summer in Budapest and planning her December wedding, she’s plunged back into the “Southern gothic dysfunction” of her family. There’s no one else to look after her three young half-siblings while their mother Marney — Julia’s late father’s second wife — is in the hospital. Certainly not Mary Ellen, Julia’s mother and the first wife, who is still striving to create a life for her divorced self in Charleston. Nor will Meg (“call me Margaret”), Julia’s younger sister, be of any help, what with three kids of her own in Mount Pleasant, a jam-packed schedule and a grudge that won’t go away.

The story shifts among the perspectives of Julia, Mary Ellen and Meg, along with a few interspersed narratives from Etta, a prenaturally wise 9-year-old. Julia does return to Edisto, but only for a week, and a lot happens then and in the following months. There are also storylines involving Jed, the first boy Julia ever kissed, now a Charleston surgeon, and Nate, Mary Ellen’s gruff dog-loving neighbor, and a fisherman named Skipper.

Moon Over Edisto is  family and friends, regret and forgiveness, sweet tea and blue crabs. Things are messy and lovely and real, even if Julia is a little too-good-to-be-true and Jed a whole lot so. Hart can really write, and she gets it right, from the spotty cell service on Edisto to the way it looks from the air.

“As the plane took off, she peered out of the window at the waterways and rivers and salt marsh creeks like enormous snakes winding their way out to sea. The sunlight was almost blinding and the creeks themselves looked like little rivers of gold reflecting the light on their moving surfaces. The thought occurred to Julia that it might not be so easy to put this visit out of her mind, to tuck it away like she had her childhood and seal it closed like so many places in her heart.”

Oh, I’m homesick. Time to pack.

Open Book: Yes, the Caroline Cousins books are set on Edisto, although we called it Indigo Island and fictionalized it quite a bit so as to be more like Edisto when we were kids and the drawbridge still connected us to the mainland. Also, I want to recommend two more new novels about family and place, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver (HarperCollins, digital galley),  and Three Sisters by Susan Mallery (Harlequin Mira, digital galley).

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Sea Dog Doc 034When my dog Doc’s leg twitched in his sleep, I always figured that he was dreaming, probably of wide, open fields or endless stretches of beach where he could run and run and run. As fleet as Doc was — and he was plenty fast, with borzoi mixed in with retriever and chow — he couldn’t outrun old age, and it finally caught up with him this past weekend. The Big Sleep.

I could write a book about Doc, and then I realized I already have, sort of. Back when my cousins, Meg and Gail, and I were working on the first Caroline Cousins’ mystery novel, Fiddle Dee Death, I acquired a skinny yellow yearling of a dog with a happy-go-lucky demeanor. Naturally, I wrote the dog into the book, beginning when narrator Lindsey Fox first spots him on a lonely beach.

“I saw the dog then. The color of sea oats, he came over the crest of a dune and sniffed the air. Then he saw me. Tail wagging, he splashed through a shallow pool left by the outgoing tide, fifty-plus pounds of fur heading toward me.”

Animals & Flagler Beach 095Later, “The dog was still sitting there, looking at me alertly, as if he understood every word we were saying. Instead of being black, his nose was the pink color of an eraser. His ears, more like a shepherd’s than a Lab, stood at attention.”

The dog, known as Pablo, makes several other appearances in the book, and later is adopted by Lindsey, who gives him a new name despite her cousin Mam’s objections. The dog becomes Doc after Lindsey’s childhood stuffed dog, who got so worn out her mother sewed him a slipcover for his torso before Lindsey took him to college. He later graduated to the top of her bedroom closet. (As the cousins say, it’s all true, except for the part that’s not.)

Doc is also in our subsequent books, Marsh Madness and Way Down Dead in Dixie, doing regular doggy things like barking at a possible ghosts, riding in boats, and peeing on a Confederate rose bush.

I have to say I particularly liked the reviewer who noted Doc’s presence (“a great dog”) in one write-up. I always notice dogs in books, even if they’re just supporting characters such as the cool Walter Payton in Carole Anshaw’s novel Carry the One. And, of course, I grew up on great dog stories: Old Yeller, Big Red, Lassie and Albert Payson Terhune’s collies, among others. Just thinking about the coonhounds in  Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows makes my eyes tear up. Oh, and faithful Greyfriars Bobby, and Buck from The Call of the Wild.

There are many good “true” dog tales, too, of late, like Susannah Charleson’s Scent of the Missing, about her search-and-rescue Golden Retriever, and Luis Carlos Montalvan’s Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him.

cometMy new favorite hero dog is a rescued greyhound, whose poignant story is told in Steven Wolf’s Comet’s Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life (Algonquin, review copy). Wolf, an attorney suffering from a degenerative spinal condition, moved from Nebraska to Arizona for his health and was introduced to a greyhound-advocacy group.  He was “adopted” by the mistrustful Comet, a cinnamon-striped racer who had been mistreated, and taught her to climb stairs, play with other dogs, and to be a loving companion. But the bond between them became even tighter when Wolf’s health deteriorated and he trained Comet as a service dog. She pulled the covers off his bed and towed his grocery cart, surprising even other greyhound owners with her strength and adaptability. It’s a story with a happy ending, too.

Doc’s favorite girl was a greyhound named Olive, who belonged to my friend Suzy, who was Doc’s other favorite person and took this great picture of him on Edisto Island a few years ago, as well the one of him and his pal Merlin. I like to think now of Doc and Olive running on some heavenly shore, along with Merlin the coonhound, Harvey the collie, Watson the wheaten terrier, and all the other good dogs that have gone before.

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Last summer, the good folks at SIBA, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, suggested that its members “get in bed with a blogger,”  which sounded kind of hot. (Remember when we were complaining about the heat?!) Actually, the idea was that indies partner with bloggers to reach more readers and let them know what was going on at their local bookstores.

Alas, my local indie, Urban Think, in downtown Orlando, had recently closed its doors, as had many of its counterparts, casualties of the economy, the chains, the online stores, the warehouse stores, the rise of e-books, etc. Seems like every week now, I hear of the demise of another longtime indie, many of which hosted Caroline Cousins and other Southern writers over the years: The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, S.C.,  Davis-Kidd in Nashville, Bay Street Trading Company in Beaufort, S.C.  They are sorely missed.

But I want you to know my home island indie, The Edisto Bookstore on Edisto Island, S.C., is hanging in there. In fact, things were right busy when I was in there last week making my farewells before heading home to Florida. Several tourists were looking at the books, new and used, and a local woman popped in for a birthday card and a gift, knowing that owner Karen Carter has the best collection of both. Another islander needed a nautical chart. Both rental desktops in the internet cafe were in use (wi-fi is free if you have your own laptop), and one woman (obviously from “off”) rather rudely asked Karen and I to move our conversation about new books to another part of the store. We complied, just as a couple came in to visit Emily Grace.

Emily Grace is the bookstore cat, a pretty girl who wandered up on the porch three years ago. She now has her own private quarters in the tiny back office, but she usually can be found near the front door greeting customers. She likes being petted and picked up — I’ve carried her around on my shoulder while perusing the shelves. She likes laps and laptop bags, and on cold days, she curls up on the wireless router between the two desktops. She makes the bookstore feel even more like home.

Business can be tough, Karen admits: “I had to diversify or die,” hence the cards and unusual trinkets for sale. But, after 20 plus years, she knows her community — the year-rounders, the vacationers, the part-timers (like me) — and she stocks a good assortment of books on the Lowcountry and by Lowcountry authors (Mary Alice Monroe, Karen White,  Sue Monk Kidd, Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons), as well as the new John Grisham, the autobiography of Mark Twain, SIBA’s “Okra Picks,” cookbooks, field guides, kids’ books.

The bookstore doesn’t have a lot of events — there’s just not room — but Karen recently had a signing for silhouette artist and author Clay Rice, and there’s a monthly book club open to all comers the second Wednesday of the month. This week, readers met at 7 p.m. to discuss Walter Mosley’s The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (you don’t have to have read the book).

I’ll have to let you know what the February pick is. Meanwhile, you can visit the website, http://edistobookstore.com (more pictures of Emily Grace and art by Clay Rice) or check out its Facebook page. Hit “Like.” And if you’re on Highway 174 on Edisto Island (an hour or so from Charleston off the Savannah Highway), by all means drop by the bookstore. Make yourself at home.

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My cousin Aly is getting married Saturday on a plantation on Edisto Island, S.C. Aly is the daughter of Gail, my one-and-half times first cousin (our mamas are sisters and our daddies first cousins), and along with her sister Meg and me, make up the mystery-writing team of Caroline Cousins. We have written three cozy mysteries set on a South Carolina low country island we call Indigo, but which is a semi-disguised version of Edisto, where we spent summers as kids, where our parents retired, and where Meg and Gail eventually built houses next to each other on Sand Creek. I rent a beach house on Edisto in the fall/winter, or bunk in with my mom or the cousins for shorter visits.

I talked to Meg this morning, who wanted to know why I wasn’t there yet to help her green-in the wedding bouquets. Like Margaret Ann (Mam) in our books, she does wedding flowers. Unlike her one-half-times first cousin Lindsey in the books, I am not a free-lance writer and acting manager of Pinckney Plantation. And sister Gail, who is Bonnie in the books, is not an environmental lawyer. But she is a smart blonde. We have never found a dead body in an old plantation house, discovered a dying woman in the restroom at a reptile park, or tripped over skeletal remains in an overgrown cemetery. As we like to say, our books are all made up, except for the part that’s not. (Aunt Boodie’s name is really Boodie).

But I had to call Meg this morning. Because we have had the funny (as in funny-peculiar) experience of having had things we write about subsequently happen. We wrote about identity theft long before it made the cover of Newsweek. We invented a mobile meth lab before some rednecks borrowed the idea. And spookiest of all, we created a “ghost gator” out of thin air, and right when our book was published, the law came down on someone we knew about “rescuing” an albino alligator.

The mystery in our second book, Marsh Madness (2005), plays out against a plantation wedding. I called Meg because I wanted to make sure no bridesmaids have gone missing (although several have failed to RSVP for the elaborate luncheon we are having on Friday). We won’t have to worry about picking up jellyfish off the beach because the ceremony is not right on the ocean.

 “I hope we don’t have attacking seagulls,” Meg said, laughing. Probably not, because the bridesmaids are not carrying brandy snifters with goldfish in them (see bookjacket illustration). And she said she didn’t think she’d have to use kudzu for greenery in the flowers, but “you never know.”  The MOB — mother of the bride Gail — had gone to take flowers to the cake lady. “She doesn’t have hives, does she?” I asked. “Not yet,” Meg said. “I did tell you our caterer shut her business down till April. But she promises me she’ll have our chicken salad here at 9 a.m. Friday.”

Still, this wedding is not going to turn into marsh madness. Hurricane Lisa’s too far away.

People always want to know when we’re going to write another book. It’s been three years since Way Down Dead in Dixie, and we are still on hiatus. We three can’t seem to get on the same page what with weddings, graduations, grandbabies, funerals, sickness, work, vacations and family, family, family.  The latter give us our best material, though. Meg was just telling me that one of our aunts is real upset because she’s having to break in a new hairdresser. The woman who used to do her hair recently got sent to prison for murder.

Open Book: Obviously, this post is shameless self-promotion of Marsh Madness (John F. Blair). But you asked what was up with “the cousins.”

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