Sea Breeze, Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina
July was said to be the hottest month of the year in Charleston, and after enduring eighty Southern summers, Marietta Muir, or Mamaw, as her family affectionately called her, readily agreed. She delicately dabbed at her upper lip and forehead with her handkerchief, then waved to shoo off a pesky mosquito. Southern summers meant heat, humidity, and bugs. But being out on Sullivan’s Island, sitting in the shade of a live oak tree, sipping iced tea, and waiting for the occasional offshore breeze was, for her, the very definition of summer. She sighed heavily. The ancient oak spread its mighty limbs so far and wide, Marietta felt cradled in its protective embrace. Still, the air was especially languid this morning, so thick and cloyingly scented with jasmine that it was a battle to keep her eyelids from drooping. A gust of wind from the ocean carried the sweet scent of the grass and cooled the moist hairs along her neck.
She set the needlepoint pattern on her lap to remove her glasses and rub her eyes. Cursed old age. It was getting harder and harder to see her stitches, she thought with a sigh. Glancing at Lucille beside her on the screened porch of the guesthouse that Lucille called home, she saw her friend bent over the base of a sweetgrass basket, her strong hands weaving the fragile strands into the pattern, sewing each row tight with palmetto fronds. A small pile of the grass lay in her lap, while a generous heap sat at her feet in a plastic bag, along with another bag of long-leaf pine needles.
Seeing her longtime companion’s hands lovingly weaving together the disparate grasses into an object of beauty made Marietta think again how imperative her challenge was this summer: to entwine her three very different granddaughters with Sea Breeze once again. Her summer girls.
Mamaw sighed softly to herself. They were hardly girls any longer. Dora was thirty-six, Carson thirty-three, and Harper twenty-eight—women now. Back when they were young girls and spent summers together they had been close, as sisters should be. Over the years, however, they’d become more strangers than sisters. Half-sisters, Marietta corrected herself, shuddering at the nuance of the term. As if by only sharing a father, the women’s bond was somehow less. Sisters were sisters and blood was blood, after all. She had succeeded in corralling all three women to Sea Breeze in June for the summer, but here it was, only early July, and Carson was already off to Florida while Dora was fixing on returning to Summerville. And Harper . . . that New Yorker had her sights set north.
“I wonder if Carson made it to Florida yet,” Lucille said without looking up. Her fingers moved steadily, weaving row after row.
Mamaw half smiled, thinking how Lucille’s mind and her own were in sync . . . again. Lucille had been hired as her housekeeper some fifty years back, when Marietta was a young bride in Charleston. They’d shared a lifetime of ups and downs, births, deaths, scandals, and joys. Now that they were old women, Lucille had become more a confidante than an employee. Truth was, Lucille was her closest friend.
“I was just wondering the same thing,” Mamaw replied. “I expect she has by now and is just settling in to her hotel. I hope she won’t be away long.”
“She won’t be. Carson knows how important this summer is to you, and she’ll be back just as soon as she finds out what’s done happened to that dolphin,” Lucille said. She lowered her basket to her lap and looked Mamaw straight in the eyes. “Carson won’t disappoint you. You have to have faith.”
“I do,” Mamaw exclaimed defensively. “But I’m old enough to know how life likes to throw a wrench into even the most well thought out plans. I mean, really,” Mamaw said, lifting her hands in frustration. “Who could have foreseen a dolphin tossing all my summer plans applecart-upset?”
Lucille chuckled, a deep and throaty sound. “Yes, she surely did. That Delphine . . .” Lucille’s smile slipped at the sound of the dolphin’s name. “But it weren’t her fault, now was it? I do hope that place in Florida can help the poor thing.”
“I do, too. For Delphine’s sake, and for Carson’s.” She paused. “And Nate’s.” She was worried about how hard Dora’s son had taken the dolphin’s accident. Only a young boy, he had put the blame on himself for luring the dolphin to their dock and getting it entangled in all that fishing line. In truth, they were all to blame. No one more than herself.
“For all our sakes,” she amended.
“Amen,” Lucille agreed soberly. She paused to sweep bits of scattered grass to the wind. “Don’t you fret none, Miz Marietta. All will be well. I feel it in my bones. And in no time you’ll have all your summer girls here at Sea Breeze again.”
“Hi, Mamaw! Lucille!” A voice called out from the driveway, cutting through the two women’s conversation.
“Here comes one now,” Lucille murmured, returning to her basket.
Marietta turned her head and smiled to see her youngest granddaughter, Harper, jogging toward them in one of those skimpy, skintight running outfits that looked to Marietta like a second skin. Her red hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and sweat poured down her pink face.
“Harper!” Marietta called out with a quick wave. “My goodness, child, you’re running at this time of the day? Only tourists are fool enough to run here under a midsummer sun. You’ll have a heat stroke! Why, your face is as red as a beet!”
Harper stopped at the bottom of the porch steps and bent over, hands on her hips, to catch her breath. “Oh, Mamaw, I’m fine,” she said breathily, wiping the sweat from her brow with her forearm. “I do this every day.”
“Well, you look about ready to keel over.”
“It is hot out there today,” Harper conceded with half a smile. “But my face always turns red. It’s my fair skin. I’ve got a ton of sunscreen on.”
Lucille clucked her tongue. “Mind you drink some water, hear?”
“Why don’t you jump in the pool and cool yourself down some? You look to be wearing a swimming suit . . .” Mamaw trailed off, fanning her face as she spoke. It made her hot just to see Harper’s pink face and the sweat drenching her clothing.
“Good idea,” Harper replied, and with a quick wave took off toward the front door. She turned her head and shouted, “Nice basket, Lucille!” before disappearing into the house.
Lucille chuckled and returned to her weaving. “Only the young can run like that.”