A Day on James Island: Doing all the things!

Azaleas blooming at McLeod Plantation.
Azaleas blooming at McLeod Plantation.

by Sandra Stringer

For a long while now, I’ve looked at our Events page and thought things like, “Wow, there are six cool things happening on James Island this weekend…I think I’ll go to all of them!” I’ve never really pulled that off before, but I decided it was time.

You couldn’t find a more swell day for gamboling around James Island. March isn’t supposed to be so achingly lovely, with blue skies and temps in the upper 50s/low 60s. Today was the day to do all the things I could pack in, all on James Island!

Since I actually live on James Island, the part where I lounged in bed drinking coffee and gave my dog a belly rub counts as the beginning of the “Day on James Island”. I took her for a walk so she could smell the neighborhood, do her business, and eat something unidentified and probably really gross off the ground. She was happy.

A conversation about history, books, and sweet grass
Olivia Williams, one of the historical interpreters at McLeod Plantation.
Olivia Williams, one of the historical interpreters at McLeod Plantation.

Next up, I went to McLeod Plantation. Since it was Customer Appreciation Day, it was free to get in to the site, and the place was hopping. I saw one of the historical interpreters on the trail by the house and stopped to talk to her.

Her name was Olivia Williams, and we talked about the place. She told me that sometimes she has to stop for a moment to really focus on the feeling that goes with the history of McLeod – that people lived in slavery here, worked, lived and died here. Going into the slave cabins really moved her.

She started working at McLeod in August of 2016 after graduating with a double major in History and African American studies at the College of Charleston. “I want to work at the Smithsonian. That’s my end goal. I want to be there by the time I’m thirty.” Olivia just turned 24 a few weeks back.

She’s thrilled she got the position at McLeod. “Talking to people every day… I’ve learned so much about interpreting difficult history. The challenge is fun. Being here has taught me a lot about myself and what I’m capable of.”

We didn’t talk much about McLeod – my fault!
Sonja Griffin Evans talking about her artistic process with visitors.
Sonja Griffin Evans talking about her artistic process with visitors.

We talked about how telephone communication has changed through the years and our love of real books. She talked about her father’s extensive book collection and her hopes to one day have one as deep and impressive as his.

She was probably surprised I didn’t have any questions about the history of McLeod. I suspect she’s more than a little prepared to answer any question on that topic I might have lobbed at her.

Looking over the big empty field, I talked about how cool it would be to fill it with sweet grass. She said that might actually happen! I described to her what a field of sweet grass would look like in autumn, with all the ethereal purple blooms swaying in the breeze. If they ever do that, I may have to come to McLeod frequently in the autumn just to chill and admire.

Inside the house for American Gullah
Paintings by Sonja Griffin Evans on display at McLeod Plantation.
Paintings by Sonja Griffin Evans on display at McLeod Plantation.

My next stop was inside the house where the American Gullah painting series by Sonja Griffin Evans was on display. Her art is beautiful and especially compelling to see in this particular place.

There were a good many people there, admiring her work. You can see several of her pieces in the gallery and maybe get a sense of how powerful these paintings are.

I talked to Ms. Evans briefly before I left about her future plans, and next up she is set to do showings of the series in France. She’s doing a three city solo tour of American Gullah there. I told her “bonne chance” before I left. I don’t think she’ll need any luck though. Surely the French will be as taken with her as I was.

The front porch of the main house at McLeod Plantation.
The front porch of the main house at McLeod Plantation.
Yeah, I’m deep

I went out on the front porch for a while, stood in the sunlight and had a moment to imagine a time thankfully long past. It’s a strange thing to imagine. So much has changed, and I’m so very grateful for that.

Imagine living in one of those little one room cabins, being forced to work every day until the end of your time in the world – the unending heat and mosquitoes in the summer, relying on a little fireplace in a room with no insulation in the winter, toiling your days away at someone else’s beck and call with really nothing to call your own. Olivia is right – it can grab you sometimes.

“What do you mean you don’t have it!”
The folks from Butcher and Bee with the monkey bread that I was soon to devour.
The folks from Butcher and Bee with the monkey bread that I was soon to devour.

My next stop was the Sunday Brunch Farmer’s Market at the Pour House, and I had a mission: to acquire and consume a cinnamon bun from Trolly Dolly Treats. Alas, my plans were immediately foiled as the Trolly Dolly decided to “mix things up” and not have the object of my desire that day! After letting out a great howl of dismay (I really did – it made them laugh and in no way made them worry about my sanity), with great sadness I turned away from the pastry-free table.

However, I did end up trying the monkey bread from the Butcher and Bee station. That thing was gorgeous. I sat on a stump, watched everything going on around me, and…yes, I almost ate the entire thing. I was hungry, and I have very little in the way of discipline when a lovely pastry, even a very large one, is in my hands.

Just sit and eat your monkey bread
Eating monkey bread and watching the doings at the Farmer's Market. Photo by Meg Moore.
Eating monkey bread and watching the doings at the Farmer’s Market. Photo by Meg Moore.

When you sit still for five minutes at the Farmer’s Market, you not only get to enjoy the live music, but there is a parade of the canine variety. Every size and shape of dog passed by, so I pretended I was watching a dog show with musical accompaniment. I was highly entertained.

Two of the dogs presented me with the sad “feed me” eyes, but their owner and I both knew that monkey bread is probably not the best thing to feed little dogs. They would have been my new best friends though.

I got to briefly talk to Meg Moore (the co-manager/founder of the Sunday Brunch Farmer’s Market), who works really hard to keep things rolling every Sunday, and who took my picture while I pigged out. You can tell she’s excited about the activity going on all around us. It’s pretty infectious.

Another battle with trash

For my next stop, I visited a carefully chosen spot on the main drag in my neighborhood. Any of you who’ve read my recent article on the subject know that I can have trouble passing an extremely trashed up spot in my neck of the woods without wanting to clean it up. So I put on my vest and spent the next hour and a half on a really short stretch of road that was chock full o’ litter. And this time I got real before and after pictures!

Before I picked up the trash.
Before I donned my fluorescent orange vest.

As I mentioned earlier, it was a fairly stunning day, and luckily the weeds haven’t started really growing back in yet, so I didn’t have to fight the flora too much. A few gnats came in to snack on me, but those guys are not nearly as harsh as the coming mosquitoes will be, so I wasn’t that fussed.

An exciting variety of garbage

In the course of an hour and a half, six garbage bags were filled with all manner of refuse, some of it very, very, very smelly. Many beer, wine and liquor companies were represented. Styrofoam was present in all its forms: cups, plates, portions of coolers, and take-out boxes. Among all the trash I found an unexpected conch shell, which I set aside for someone else to find.

After I picked up the trash.
After I lugged all the bags of trash to the car.

All six bags were placed in the back of my car to go to their new temporary home in my curbside trash bin at home. This work being smellier than you’d ever expect (many bottles and cans had some serious biological experiments commencing inside of them), I gave myself the gift of a very soapy washing up, changed into clean clothes, and then took a nap with my dog. Napping on a cool Sunday with a warm dog pressed against your back is a sublime pleasure, and it was definitely on my list of things to do.

A visit to one of local theaters

Finally, with batteries recharged, I went to the James Island Theater to see Logan. It’s a very good movie, but very, very dark. I cried three or four times, and left my seat feeling thoughtful and rather sad. Popcorn and soda were my supper, so I also felt very weirdly fired up.

A lot of competing information about the future of the James Island Theater is swirling around lately and some folks are concerned that the theater will one day be replaced by an apartment complex. Getting the straight story has proved to be challenging, but I can say this: both the J.I. Theater and the Terrace Theater should stay right where they are, forever. Make it so. (Oh, Patrick Stewart. You absolutely made we weep in Logan.)

Camellia at McLeod.
Camellia at McLeod.

Sometimes you just need to sit in a theater and be in another world for a while, even if it means tears and a flash of fury at how stupid and short sighted human beings can be. Sometimes movies do that. And sometimes they bring you the opposite emotion. That’s pretty important too.

The end of the day in which I did all the things

So at the end of my very interesting experiment in doing all the things, I walked out into the world I live in. The sun was setting, and I felt really happy to be back out on James Island. It was a good day.

Check out the gallery of the most of my trip here. Sorry no pictures were taken of the James Island Theater. I was tapped out and ready to just be at the movies.

I invite any of you who like to write to do as I did: pick a day when there’s a lot on the James Island calendar, have an amazing day, take a lot of pictures, and then write about it. It’s the sort of thing we will be happy to post on the Bugle! You’ll be famous!

Editorial note: You won’t be famous. But you might have some fun.

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2 thoughts on “A Day on James Island: Doing all the things!

  1. To Sandra Stringer,

    We want to thank you for writing such a nice article about our daughter, Olivia Williams. She grew up loving history, a passion she shares with her father. We are so proud of Olivia and extremely happy that she has a job that brings her happiness and a sense of fulfillment.

    1. Your daughter is definitely going places, and I hope one of the places is the Smithsonian! It was a pleasure to meet and talk to her. I can see why you’re proud of Olivia!

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