Icons Of Charleston And The Low Country

"Crabbing at Dusk"

As far as I can remember, my grandmother never owned any flat shoes. After all, she wasn’t even five feet tall. My grandfather, Papa John used to love that about her. He would say “she fits right here under my arm” (and under his thumb).

That’s why I suppose she would be wearing heels as we cautiously maneuvered the two by ten planks that bridged over the marsh to the red water pump on the edge of the Chesessee River that bounded our home and life as we knew it on Spring Island.

Every evening in summer when we had finished the duties of the day and after we’d had supper and put out the wood-burning stove, as the guinea hens “went to roosting” in the big fig tree outside the kitchen window, we prepared for our ritual of going crabbing.

As we started down the steep path from the high ground, the fragrance of the wild honeysuckle that clung to bank permeated the air. But as we approached the river, the more subtle seductive scent of the musky smelling marsh engulfed us.

My brother and I made our way along the planks like we were acrobats on a tight wire. But not our grandmother, her heels would click as she strutted like a proud, plump, little bantam rooster.

The small sounds of crickets, Katie-dids and frogs that mark the coming of dusk would have swelled to an alleluia chorus by the time we started our trek across the marsh. This was our ritual at dusk. It would be dark as we reached the red pump, which was our established crabbing spot.

As the silken breezes off the water chilled the night air I’d bury myself into the soft warm, comforting folds of my grandmother’s body, breathing in the scent of her as deeply as I possibly could, pulling it into the very soul of me. Even then, I knew that I wanted to memorize everything, to hold onto it forever, the scent of her sweet perspiration laced with the fragrance of Chanel #5 and the smell of baking biscuits. For all my life, I would return in my mind to the smell to feel comforted and loved.

Ours was very much a life of simple rituals. I don’t remember any clocks, but our gentle summer days on Spring Island were punctuated with tiny joyous rituals; Welch’s grape juice at 10 o’clock in the morning, lemonade at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and milk with ice and sugar and vanilla just at bedtime. My grandmother taught us that if we would save a bit of the sweet vanilla syrup in the bottom, we could add more milk and have “a whole ‘nother glass”.

In much the same way she stretched out the pleasures and memories of childhood.

Sculpture and verse© by Alyse Lucas Corcoran

  Icons of Charleston