Icons Of Charleston And The Low Country

"Miss Essie the Sweet Grass Basket Weaver"







Back and forth, back and forth my grandparents, my brother and I drove between our home in Charleston and my grandfather’s plantation, Spring Island.  We were not permitted to ask, “How much further, how much further?”  We picked out our favorite landmarks, and from the clock on the dashboard of Papa’s prize navy blue Buick, we’d measure the time between out selected landmarks, the Sweet Grass Basket Ladies.  There was only one at each location, sitting in a chair with a stand behind her filled with so many baskets; we couldn’t imagine how she would ever sell them all.  Yet there she sat weaving more.  Shaded from the scorching sun by only her big, wide-brimmed straw hat and a piece of old canvas supported by four cane poles.  Each of them looked like the next, except one or two would have a big umbrella.  But one day, one Sweet Grass Basket Lady became special to us forever.

Papa’s beloved, shiny Buick had a flat tire just a little bit past the last basket stand.  Papa got out and tried to figure out what to do while we sat in the scorching car.  Then we heard the Sweet Grass Basket Lady holler to someone in the little house behind her.  A little boy, about nine, with no shirt and no shoes on, came running over the gravel road to us.  “My grandmother say for me to ask you if I can help.  She also say your Missy and children should come sit in the shade of our porch.”  “We thank you kindly,” said Papa.  “What’s your name, son?” asked Papa, “and what is your Grandmamma’s name?”  “My name be Zachariah, and she be called Essie.”  We all started toward the porch.  “We thank you kindly, Miss Essie,” my grandmother said, “You’re a fine Christian.”

The tiny house, with its neatly raked sand yard, sat in the middle of a small grove of massive shady oaks.  On the banister rail of the porch were large glass canning jars with sweet potatoes and water, the vines of bright green leaves and deep pink stems trailed the whole way to the porch floor.  Zachariah motioned us to the porch swing and then into the house, letting the screen door slam behind him in haste.  Quick as lightning, he returned with some straw fans, a tray of three sweet teas, and a plate of homemade peanut butter cookies.  It was the best I ever tasted.

After that, there was a long silence as Zachariah and the three of us tried to think of something to talk about.  As the swing gently rocked back and forth on it’s rusty squeaky chain, we studied the charm of the way the porch was arranged and decorated with hand-potted plants.

Our eyes were drawn to a special color: the bright blue paint around the doors and windows.  That particular blue paint was seen more in those days, but can still be seen.  It is clearly understood by southerners as an ancient method believed to protect the home from evil spirits.

As hot as the weather was, there was a slight breeze on the porch.  It was gardenia blooming time, and the sweet fragrance, heavy and seductive, was suspended and trapped in the thick humid air. 

Continued on page 2

Sculpture and verse © by

Alyse Lucas Corcoran

    Icons of Charleston