White caps are on the chilly scene outside my window upstairs as I gaze out on the Ashley River. This particular spot is the favorite feeding ground of the dolphins in from the nearby ocean. Their fins have been weaving in and out in this window framed living picture, their morning feed in this choppy water. The sight of them reminds me of my own summer play time in the surf at Kiawah with my husband for a precious two night stay at the Sanctuary after our daughter’s party. We rode our bikes to the deserted end of this barrier island, Kevin’s story, which will follow, being composed in my mind for miles of wood paths and beach spinning.
I feel today like a mother hen concerned for her brood. I know that many on my tour who have been in the warmth of my home and table are experiencing the trials of bad weather. At each meal my husband prays safety for all who are traveling this season. As I hear about familiar parts of the country hit with this early winter storm from where my tour guests have come, I wonder how you are and if you feel my heart-strings connected to you. I am lifting you up. Some of you know… Aslan is on the move!
Many have asked,” How did the party go?” of which I wrote last time. We are still partying! We ushered in “the season” with our June 1st party and dance honoring our daughter, Olivia, now 21. We rolled up the Aubusson and oriental rugs from our double house front drawing-room; the ballroom it became, voila! My first boyfriend, Bruce Wallace, and his Rocky and the Rollers Band from Florida played Beach Music and we danced the night away. We put the rugs on the one rug remnant as if miraculously cut to fit our back yard, which Stevie Leasure with Carpet Baggers provided. The back yard with the couches of the front drawing-room was transformed into an outdoor living room. Mariana Hay of Croghan’s Jewel Box on King provided the many small prismed chandeliers with candles hanging from our Live Oak and our new raised vegetable beds of our vertical garden. We had a bar on the top floor porch accessible only through our bedroom, the inner sanctum where none of our friends or family had ever been. Jeff , the workman who restored the second floor porch floor and inside plaster walls was the bartender on the porch, the work of his hands and beautiful for situation with the view of the setting sun and Ashley River. Reserved tents were never put up. We were blessed with perfect weather on either side of rain in the wettest summer on record.
We had one hundred pounds of the freshest local shrimp ever seen at a black tie event, provided by Tommy Edwards, who had caught it off Sullivans Island in his shrimp boat and had peeled it all with his wife. Husband Preston and daughter Olivia danced the first dance and wowed everyone with their love as they shagged, the South Carolina State dance. Preston SO stole the show dancing the night away with all the young beauties, especially Taylor Swift’s Charleston equal, Elizabeth Scarborough, that her mother was so embarrassed that she decided she had to had to help throw an oyster roast this Christmas for Olivia with the Freshleys and Bairds at Live Oak Plantation, home and working plantation of the doctor who delivered our three girls, Dr. Rebecca Gregorie Baird and her doctor husband, David. They are doctors to support their farming habit. We buy free range eggs and grass-fed beef from them where “the livin is easy”, at least for the cows and chickens. Their two eldest, Wills and Janie, have graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Our Godson, their youngest, Gregorie Baird is infected with the same patriotism, saying he tears up every time we sing My Country T’is of Thee, which is every Sunday at St. Philip’s, the oldest congregation south of Virginia. There is something still about the South..
We still have not put the rugs back down in the front drawing-room at Thanksgiving, though it is time with the drafts of old Charleston houses. My husband had two small dinner dance parties in November to lessen the blow of my being another year older. Maine lobster was flown in and served on a bed of creamy grits with hot grape tomatoes and freshly grated corn, a recipe I first enjoyed at STARS restaurant. Prosciutto wrapped blanched asparagus was passed. Ron Yeager, who I grew up with from James Island, was the chef. We all felt very grown up. I especially feel that way when I look in the mirror. Sobering. But all was lighthearted and gay at the parties, as if we were the young things. My husband looks ten years younger than he is. I believe I do, too, when looking at him. Come have a look for yourself. He occasionally pops in on my tours at lunch.
Dare to give a party this season. Bring people together. Break out of the routine and make the season bright for your family, friends and neighbors. ”What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Though it is pressure and expense to prepare, the gift to others and the memories to savor make it worth it in the end.
Help and encouragement come in unexpected places. Before the June first black tie party for our daughter, I was feeling weighted down, oppressed by the negative expectations of those closest to me, you know the kind who get antsy that all your plans are going to flop and that the first party of “the season” is going to be a memorable embarrassment. As my new friend, Judith Wadson from Bermuda says, it’s your own flees that bite the hardest. It is part of the human condition. We are shaped by people’s assessments of us. Peer pressure can be for good or ill. It continues all our lives. Loved ones can put labels on you, and you are pigeon holed to all abroad, all in good humor, but nonetheless trapped in your own self-image of other’s making that you have accepted and worn. I am familiar with it; I felt it in school.
A few days before the party, I was following my list, planting white flowers in the front garden for the all white debutante look, “majoring in minors” as my husband calls it, when I cried out to the Lord to give me a sign that I was going to defy expectations and produce a winning success. Along came an acquaintance I knew from 21 years ago, walking with his partner. He still works as a men’s hair dresser as he did when another hairdresser,Kevin, worked with him back when I was pregnant with Olivia, 21 years ago. I always have wondered how Kevin is today, if he is still alive, still married, and still…well, straight.
KEVIN’S STORY is the exception, I know. If ever there was a man born to be a homosexual, it was Kevin. He fit the full stereotype of the limp wrist, effeminate, expressive type. He was a practicing homosexual living with his architect partner. This partner had designed and built a house for the two of them. Kevin had it made. He loved his partner and loved his job. He loved his life.
Kevin’s partner’s mother would invite them to Sunday dinner after church. Kevin loved the whole cultural package. He had not been raised in the church, had never read or heard the Bible, had never sung the hymns. It was all a new experience in the wonder of life in all its fullness. The congregation loved them as they loved his partner’s mother. Kevin felt warmed and embraced. The pastor asked if anyone would like to join the church and get baptised. Kevin was amazed that they were open to new members like himself, an infant in the faith, untaught, unchurched. Yes, this was the only church he had ever known. He would join and get baptised.
And so, they gave him a Bible. ”A Bible? You’re giving me a Bible?! No one has ever given me a Bible!” He had heard of it but had never held one in his own hands. He knew it was holy. He also knew what to do with it, that it was not an ornament to be placed on a shelf to collect dust.
He read it. He started at the beginning. Faithfully he would plow through the stories of Genesis, Exodus, and then Leviticus. He was stunned; how graphic and specific the law was. Incredulous, he read out loud to his partner where it said, “a man shall not lie with a man; this is an abomination to the Lord.” ”What can this mean?” he asked his partner, perplexed. ”Look”, said his partner uneasily and perturbed, “if you’re gonna try to justify our lifestyle by THAT BOOK—FORGET IT!” There the schism began. His partner hoped that would be the end of That Book in their lives. But it was only the beginning. Kevin had read enough to have become convinced of who God was, that His ways are not our ways. Kevin responded out of the abundance of his heart, “If this book says we are not supposed to be living like this, then we must be wrong, because this is THE BIBLE!” The consequences were profound. It was not an easy decision to stay the course with the Bible rather than with his partner. He did stay, thinking he could love his partner to the truth of That Book, but he had rejected it long before Kevin came into his life.
Kevin ended up getting married. To a woman. She was a young widow whose husband had taken his life. We went to the wedding 21 years ago. There was great hilarity at this wedding. ”For lo, the winter is past, and the spring has come to the land…”
I lost touch with Kevin, only knowing him for a season before my life changed by having three children. The hairdresser who walked by my front garden was my link. I dared to ask if he remembered him. ”Yes, of course.” ”Is he still married?” ”Oh, yes.” ”To the same woman?” ”Yes, yes.” ”Is he…still involved with the church?” ”Oh, for heaven’s sakes, yes.” ”How do you know?” ”Because every time they come to town to visit us at the hair salon with their son, every other word is ‘God bless you.’ ” ”He has a son?” ”OH, yes, he’s 18 now.” ”A life that would not have been on this earth if his father had not…” ”That’s right… It was just the time when my partner and I first came to Charleston, 21 years ago, that Kevin got married,” he said. He introduced me to his long-standing partner on the walk with him in front of my house.
We humans are complex creatures, with the innate ability to defy expectations others pin on us like a donkey’s tale. As Dr. Eban Alexander, neurosurgeon and author says, ”We make real choices. True thought is not the brain’s affair. But we have been so trained to associate our brains with what we think and who we are that we have lost the ability to realize that we are much more than the physical bodies that do our bidding. True thought is pre-physical. It is the thinking- behind- the -thinking that is responsible for all the genuinely consequential choices we make in the world. A thinking that is not dependent on linear deduction, but that moves fast as lightning, making connections on all different levels, bringing them together.”
Kevin’s story of defying the odds gave me the inspiration I needed. Miracles began to happen as it all came together. With each accomplished detail leading to The Party came from me a rebel yell, for “Shouts of joy and songs of victory are in the tents of the righteous.” ”Whoo-Hoo!” Olivia imitates me to perfection. I grabbed the victory from the jaws of defeat with each shout of thanksgiving, with Kevin’s story for inspiration. The party was a game changer, they said, unpretentious, though over the top, with white flowers evrywhere, roses, lillies, and snapdragons, using our Charleston home as it was built to be used for entertaining.
Break out! Defy the labels on you, or that you have put on others. See others as whole people, not as stereotypes. Be creative; turn off the noise and tune in. We have so much creativity within us the world has yet to see, symphonies to compose, books to write, poems and songs teasing our minds. I believe that just as there is “great perplexity among the nations concerning the seas and the roaring of its waves” as sea levels rise and storms increase, as predicted by Jesus, one of the many signs of His Second Advent, so deeper sea levels of His creative force, measure for measure, are rising across the land. Within this new and deeper wave of His Spirit, there are answers to the mess we’ve made in the world. We are the solution, each one of us, His still, small voice speaking to direct those who have an ear to hear.
Like the pathologist, Daniel Massi, our daughter Delia’s Godfather, saving Ft Jackson hospital tens of thousands of dollars by eliminating the wasteful out hospital spending, and Jane Nicholas, back to Charleston for our first College Prep highschool reunion, asking with her fellow workers in Pensacola, Florida in their county office what would the Lord have them do with each decision, saving the government money there as well, so too we in our sphere can make a difference, as only we can. This is my hope for America, my hope for the New Year, my Christmas message. Think of that baby conceived to an unwed mother who defied the odds, labels, and humble beginnings and became proclaimed King of the Jews. May we hear the angels sing, “Peace. Good will to all men.” Listen. Can you hear? As my friend Pringle says, you don’t have to be a saint to hear Jesus speak. As my father says, Christians don’t have a cornerstone on God. He loves us all. We are each his delight! We are His preoccupation as a parent with his child. His heart thrills when we look His way and thank Him, the giver of all we enjoy, the ultimate lover of our souls.
God bless us, every one. Stay safe and warm. Call me when you can come on a tour, or when you need to share. Leave a comment. Thank you for reading to the end of this long-awaited freshly pressed post from my personal life and inner thoughts not shared on a tour.–Laura Wichmann Hipp 843-577-5896