About a month ago, weary of continued semi-isolation, my wife and I began to think about a fall vacation. Because of canceled plans, we have a bunch of flight credit, so we considered all kinds of options.
We were, however, still a bit leery of air travel and decided on a car trip to coastal South Carolina, an area we have never fully explored. We booked a beach condominium on Hilton Head Island.
We stopped in Atlanta on the way to see our son, daughter-in-law and three-year-old grandson, with our daughter-in-law about three weeks out from giving birth to their second child.
Because of COVID, we would not be at the hospital as we have been with the other grandchildren births, so we wanted to see them before the big day arrived.
For our week at Hilton Head, the weather could not have been better, reaching only the high 70s during the day. On our final day, we had a couple of hours of rain in the morning, but with a good book and a beach view, it bothered me not one bit.
It was a different beach feel than what we have experienced over the years on the Florida Gulf. As part of the Lowcountry region, the community is lush and green, with Spanish moss hanging from the limbs of huge trees. It’s also very resort-like, with gated communities and golf courses.
It is not uncommon to see deer, as we did right outside our window. Deer on a beach – go figure. We saw no alligators, but there were signs alerting us to them.
When the tide is out, the beach is quite wide, and we could walk in the mornings on firm sand that would be under water later in the day.
In the area where we stayed, there were great bicycle paths, and rentals were reasonable. We enjoyed the bike riding and beach walking, as well as our most important beach activity – sitting under an umbrella reading, with an occasional dipping-of-the-toes in the ocean.
We found some great places to eat, almost of all of which offered outdoor dining, which gave us comfort. (A mask mandate was in place there, which was being strictly enforced.) There are few, if any, types of fish or seafood I will not eat, so I was delighted with the fresh selections.
While the beach was relaxing and just what we needed, the highlight of the week for me was an afternoon trip we took to the town of Beaufort, South Carolina, where one of my favorite authors, the late Pat Conroy, made his home later in his life.
It was a thrill to visit the Pat Conroy Literary Center, which “preserves and continues the literary legacy of Pat Conroy as a teacher, mentor, advocate, and friend to readers and writers alike,” according to a flyer I picked up while there. It also serves as a museum about Conroy, with relics and artifacts from his life and writings.
In addition, the center hosts books club meetings, author readings and signings, and its signature event, the Pat Conroy Literary Festival, held in November.
The day we visited, the curator on hand was Jonathan Haupt, who had been a friend of Pat’s through their connection with the University of South Carolina Press. Talking to him and hearing his first-hand accounts of his relationship with Pat was a treat I will not soon forget.
A visit to the small town of Bluffton, just a few miles from Hilton Head on the May River, was another enjoyable part of the week. Designated as a National Historic District, its charming Old Town area and the breathtaking Church of the Cross overlooking the river are worth time away from the beach.
All the aforementioned was immensely enjoyable, but the week will be remembered more for a telephone call my wife took from our daughter-in-law on Wednesday morning, Sept. 23. She had already heard from her earlier, so she assumed she had forgotten to tell her something when she saw she was calling.
But that was not the case. There was new news. She was in labor and on her way to the hospital, about two and a half weeks from her due date.
About nine hours later, as we were eating dinner on a restaurant patio, our son called.
With drinks having just been put in front of us, I told the waiter, “We’re going to step out a minute. Don’t clear our table. We’re having a grandson.”
But I was wrong. It was a granddaughter. (The parents had chosen not to know the gender but, caught up in the moment, I had resorted to senseless babbling).
With a slight catch in his voice, our son reported the birth of Ruth Kay “Ruthie” McKinney, born at 7:06 p.m., a tiny little thing at six pounds, five ounces, and perfect in every way – of course.
We stopped to meet her on our way home Saturday. She’s as sweet as can be, already delighting her parents and big brother.
This makes four grands for us, and we’re even: two boys and two girls.
In this crazy, weird year, blessings still abound.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather (again!). Email him at [email protected].