"What do you do at Kiawah?"

A couple of people have asked lately “Thea, what exactly is it that you do at Kiawah?” and I sat down to try and think about it. For approximately 20 Decembers, various members of the Williamson clan have trekked from locations across the ‘States to a small island twenty miles from Charleston, South Carolina.

Why do we come here? It used to be a central meeting point, a good compromise between our family in Maryland, my grandmother in Florida, and my dad’s two sisters in Georgia.

Nobody remembers whose idea it was to rent a small condo on the beach in 1989, and it doesn’t really matter now, because there’s a critical mass of the family that adamantly believes it just wouldn’t be Christmas without Kiawah. I am part of that ornery, sentimental faction. This island, with its salt marshes, sleepy alligators, winding roads and flat beaches is one of my favorite places on the earth. It’s a little hard to explain why, but I’ll give it a go. These are my top 10 reasons.

  1. Wherever we stay there is an entire table devoted to cookies. Every family brings at least three baked goods, and everyone takes turn making lefse, the Norwegian flatbread that my grandmother rolled out in hundreds each year.
  2. I can walk to the end of the island. That’s cool.
  3. Nobody used to come there during the winter. That used to be über-cool. Now the secret’s out (sadness). I guess that doesn’t really count as a reason.
  4. We cook delicious meals, eat them, laugh and be rowdy, go for long walk/run, then repeat.
  5. New Tradition: a whole roasted pig and high-stakes BBQ sauce contest, three years running
  6. Best street names ever. This year, we stayed at 70 Spotted Sandpiper. You take Bohicket Road to get to the island. What is that?
  7. I never, ever win at Mexican Dominoes, yet I play every year. This one of life’s great mysteries.
  8. I get to see my crazy family.
  9. There are endless hidden places to get away from my crazy family.
  10. At sunset, as the tide rushes from the ocean to flood the Kiawah River on the western tip of the island, dolphins hunt for fish in the shallows. The pelicans fly back out to the Atlantic, skimming the sparkling orange water, along with the other water birds that spent the afternoon sunning on private docks attached to mansions on the north side. Every day, if I wanted, I could sit and watch them splash and play as the sun sinks over the waves and the stars blink on overhead.

I don’t usually look at my cell phone, I enjoy watching football with my uncle and cousins, I can sleep as late as I want.

The island clearly exists beyond the normal space-time continuum and has little correlation with reality. As I step through the marsh grass the memories of the past twenty years wash over my tired mind until each beach walk is indistinguishable from the last; when I serve my plate of Norwegian meatballs each year, the familiarity adds another layer of richness to this Dinner we’ve shared as a family; I burn my fingers pulling pork and it feels just like it did one year before. I never learn.

And that’s why we’ll keep coming back.


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