Secrets of a Long Time Love

It all started at a fondue party.  That should be your first clue as to how long we've been together.  I didn't particularly want to go to a party that night, having just had a break up. But my brother, Greg, was visiting and he wanted to meet girls.  It was February and I was expecting a dreary, lonely Valentine's Day so I went.  

Shelley Shlicker, yes that was her real name, worked with me at The Encyclopedia Britannica.  For you youngsters out there, that was the Google of our generation.  It was a bitter cold Chicago night, the kind that freezes tears on your cheeks. I stepped into her apartment, grateful for the warmth, and looked around the room. There were several writers and corporate type men in jackets, good looking, circling the fondue pots.  I remember setting my coat down and slowly looking across the room. There, standing against the wall, was the most beautiful man I'd ever seen.  He was slender with shoulder length black hair, strong cheek bones and smoldering dark eyes. Think Johnny Depp's twin in "Don Juan de Marco."  Down to the velvet pants.  I smile now, but this was the hippie era and in contrast to all the suits, this guy was cool.  Our gazes locked and it was like I'd read about in books-- a thunderbolt.  I remember thinking, "Oh no.  I'm not ready for this."   Did I tell you I was barely 20 years old?

I avoided him all evening. Chatted with everyone else.  But when I was standing in line for the bathroom I heard a deep voice in my ear, "Hello."  I closed my eyes.  I was done for. 

We began to talk and we've been together ever since.  His name was Markus (not Mark, he told me). We were both so young.  We married soon after.  We both went back to school-- me to get graduate degrees in Japanese/Asian Culture, he to Medical School.  Throughout the years we went through different eras.  The struggling school era, Markus' medical training era that went on for ages as his career bloomed, my book writing era, and of course, the glorious years of raising our 3 children. So many years have passed and I look back at them and wonder who those kids were?  How did we endure? 

One secret is that we communicated our dreams and goals. We talked.  A lot. Brief updates over dinner.  Long chats on pillows. When we had trouble, we learned to recognize the "trigger words" that set us off on a fight and avoided them.  We united in front of the children, disagreeing in private.  We supported each other, working together for our future, There wasn't a "me" and "you" but only an "us."  We did not see our future without the other in it.

There were tough times. Anyone married as long as we would be lying if they didn't admit that.  A second secret we had is "date night."  Whenever times got so we were more roommates, we went out and we had to dress up like a real date.  A spritz of perfume.  A fresh shave. Sometimes we'd go for dinner and a movie.  More often we tried some restaurant we'd never been to before.  How fancy the restaurant didn't matter.  It was that we were alone, without friends or children.  

Now the children are grown and gone and Markus just retired. We are alone a lot and entering another "era."  Gifts are not needed as much as time together. And trips... For the first time we are free to travel together without him having to arrange coverage.  We just returned from a Disney cruise with our grandchildren.  Those little darlings are taking center stage in this phase of our lives.  But still, we are each other's Valentine.  Last night we went on "date night."  I dressed up, did my hair, wore sexy heels.  For him.  Markus put on a jacket and brought me flowers.  

Our secrets to a long love really come down to communication, kindness and commitment. And romance! Remember to kiss!

Happy Day for Lovers!

                                       Markus and I at Johnny Depp's square in Hollywood!




            I fell in love with Pat Conroy when I was in my thirties. He wooed me with his smooth talking, his mesmerizing metaphors, his biting Irish humor. He had me at “My wound is geography.” My love grew with each book of his that I read. I caressed the pages, poring over his words.

            Many people associate Pat Conroy with his vivid, heartbreakingly accurate descriptions of his dysfunctional family. They discuss the relationships between mother and son, brother and sister, and most certainly, father and son.

            When I think of Pat Conroy, however, I always connect with his sultry, salty descriptions of a landscape we lovingly call the Lowcountry. His passion for the vast, seductive wetlands teeming with life is vividly portrayed on every page. He reveals how the ocean and creeks provide a feast so that even the poorest of men can eat like a king. Conroy brings us fully into his story world, not only in the hearts of minds of his characters, but in the sights, scents and sounds of this unique part of the South he calls home.

            I, too, write stories set in the Lowcountry. I am inspired by this architect of words, this writer I have fallen in love with. His words sustain me. Over the past years I’ve been fortunate to meet Pat and call him friend. We share a love of the landscape and found a common ground as warriors to protect it. But I do not compare myself to Pat Conroy. Nor should any other writer of the Lowcountry, not even the South. We all owe a debt to this literary groundbreaker. There is only one Prince of Tides.  

           Join us Oct. 29-31 in Beaufort, SC for "Pat Conroy at 70," a literary festival celebrating South Carolina's prince of titles.  Click here for details



When the autumnal equinox happened this week, you could feel the changing of seasons here in the Lowcountry. A cool breeze pushed out the humid air, for at least the day.

Autumn's arrival bids farewell to the season of week-long family vacations and much-needed road trips. Were you able to getaway for a bit? My summer was slammed with book tour, a broken hand, family visits and another book to write.  But I did manage to escape to this picturesque place. 

Dewees Island, SC  (photo courtesy: Judy Fairchild)

This is Dewees Island, South Carolina; a Lowcountry barrier island that's only a twenty-minute ferry ride away from my home on the Isle of Palms.  This is where I got to work on the early chapters of my next novel, A LOWCOUNTRY WEDDING.

During this short respite, I began each day at dawn with coffee in hand on the screened porch overlooking the vast marshland.  I could spot terns, egrets and osprey hunting for their morning meals in the golden and green cordgrass.  Each evening, I enjoyed the swelling music of cicadas and the rising moon.
My porch view of Dewees Island

This was a rare escape for me last month, and I treasured my time there.  The house where I stayed is the same one the lucky winners of my Summer's End Sweepstakes stayed at back in May.  Kathy and Chip Webb of North Carolina were our lucky grand prize winners, and they wrote about their island escape. 

Meet the winners: Kathy & Chip Webb's Dewees Island getaway

Here's what they said:  

Chip's View:  The Dewees Island Ferry is a portal from one reality to another. We arrived at dusk, taking the ferry across the dolphin-laced waters to the Island. The Marshview Cottage is a restful retreat.  The great room opens to a screened porch overlooking the marsh. The marsh changes with the tides and the passing of the day, offering visual delights from sunrise to sunset. Morning coffee, the warmth of the morning sun, and a copy of “The Water is Wide” (by Pat Conroy) from the bookshelf resulted in an incomparable start to a day, Dewees Island style. The second morning, Kathy and I took the golf cart to one of the beach access trails. To experience the beach at Dewees Island is to walk a beach as did the original inhabitants and to be awed by unspoiled nature.    
Kathy’s View:  After three days of Island living, I love Dewees Island. It is an amazing living classroom for children and adults  I learned so much about the creatures and plants that inhabit this little piece of heaven. After exploring the Island, I did not realize what the residents had until I walked out on to the beach and walked for miles, picking up live starfish and whole sand dollars. I loved every minute of it: the quiet, the beauty. It was like living in a Mary Alice Monroe book!

Maybe their words will inspire you to experience the island for yourself one day.  If you're looking to disconnect from the busyness of daily life and reconnect with nature, Dewees Island is unmatched.  I can't think of a better place to be, no matter the season. 

Where's the best place you have stayed that immersed you in the natural world? 
Here's the Dewees Island marshview cottage.  Isn't the porch view incredible?   

  To learn more about Dewees Island, South Carolina, click here.