Daufuskie Island, South Carolina

A gullah cabin

A Gullah Cabin
Sea Island, South Carolina

When we attended my Aunt Margaret’s memorial in December, my family planned to release her ashes into the Atlantic Ocean at her request. They decide that the summertime, around her birthday would be ideal. I had no intentions of attending. I thought I would be in France, helping another friend with her newborn and other children. Things didn’t work out the way that I imagined and I am glad.

When I arrived in South Carolina, adjusting to life on an island was quite a mental exercise. I had just come from big cities, being on my own, hanging with friends to being with family for a somber occasion. I was not sure the state of everyone’s emotions. I was not ready to sit around and cry. I wanted to explore and discover the island. Fortunately for me, so did many other family members.

We learned that the most recent history of the island was that of a resort. The developers attempted to turn the place into a golf camp for young people. Something in their plans went seriously wrong. One ended up in jail, another committed suicide and another fled the country. There were big event centers on the island that were just closed and everything was left on the table as if the staff where coming back again the next day to prepare for a big dinner. It was the perfect place for ghost story.

In fact, the whole island was like stepping back into time. Daufuskie Island first gained some popularity many years ago after Pat Conroy wrote The Water Is Wide. He wrote about a place that was cut off from the other parts of the world. Anyone seeking to go into or come off of the island needed to access it by boat. Like much of the south, the people of color were disadvantaged and answered to the ruling class. He poured his heart into helping the children of the island to gain some education about the simplest things. They could barely read, write or do math. They could barely speak good English. Their parents were superstitious. The world outside would eat them alive.

A farmer's market on daufuskie

A Farmer’s Market on Daufuskie

As we went around the island, I had not yet read the book. However, my brother and I had a few discusssions about what we felt was truth versus what we were told by others. I felt a little uncomfortable during my entire stay, (some of that was because I was watching Underground every night). As I travel, there is always an awareness that in order for big resorts to be built, someone needs to have given up their land in order for it to happen. In the back of my mind, I am always thinking “was it voluntary?” Sometimes it is, and sometimes, it isn’t. There is a lot of information available about the Gullah people who inhabited the sea islands of South Carolina. Looking around me at the “progress” of Daufuskie Island, I hope that they don’t make so much progress that they become extinct.

Overall, we made new memories with our family. Aunt Margaret’s send off was a success and touching. We swayed to Stevie Wonder singing “All I Do” as we released her to be free and fly. The dolphins came around and swam alongside our boat. In the evening we toasted marshmallows, looked for nesting turtles and played campfire games.

History has its time and place. Our story is being lived here and now. Let’s make great ones with the people who are around us.

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