I'm writing the conclusion of The Beach House series--The Beach House, Beach House Memories, Swimming Lessons.   I find myself filled with all the strong feelings I have for the characters: Lovie, Cara, Brett, Toy, Little Lovie.  And the sweet Primrose Cottage that, though a house, became a character in the series.   I've just returned home from fleeing Hurricane Matthew and outside my window the sounds of chain saws fill the air.  I thought how very much like the opening of Beach House Memories it all is.  What goes around comes around.  I'm sharing with you the opening of Beach House Memories to share with you life post hurricane--and bring to mind the characters we will revisit this June!

Published 2012 Gallery Books

Chapter One

Lovie Rutledge believed memories were like the tides. Sometimes they rushed in with a pounding roar to topple you over.  At other times they gently washed over you, lulling you to complacency then tugging you back, back to halcyon days that, with the passing of years, seemed even sweeter. 
She seemed to spend more time with her memories of late, especially on evenings such as this when the sun was a red orb that lazily descended over the Intracoastal Waterway and the jeweled tones of the sky deepened.  From the trees the pensive cries of birds called all to home.  Lovie sat on the windward porch, still and silent, attuned to the moody hour.  Sunset was her favorite time of the day, an introspective hour when the sky brought down the curtain on what she knew were her final days.
Lovie leaned her snowy white head against her chair, gave a slight push with her foot, and sighed as she rocked back and forth in a rhythmic motion, like the waves slapping against the shore.  A small smile eased across her face.
Peace, at last, she thought.
The wailing winds of the hurricane that had blown across her small island a week earlier had left in its wake the incessant guttural roar of chain saws.  The Isle of Palms had been pummeled, as had most of the South Carolina coast.  It would take weeks to clean up.  As though in apology, Mother Nature graced the island with crisp, after-storm breezes that spurred the populace to a frenzy of repairs. Lovie was glad for the activity--the bellowing of voices, honking of horns, laughter of children, whoops from the beach, high pitched calls of greeting as families returned home from evacuation.  She heard in the noise the shared exuberance of hope. 
And yet, Lovie longed for the hush and lull of pace that came at the day’s end. 
Stop your complaining, old woman, she admonished.  You should be grateful that you wake up at all!  Bird call or hammering on wood--whichever! The sounds of life around her were welcome--especially now as death hovered like a thief, waiting for its opportunity to snatch her last breath away.
Lovie sunk deeper into the cushion and let her tired body ease as she stared out again at a riot of flowers, and beyond, the sea.  The Atlantic Ocean breathed like a serene beast snoring in the distance.  The gentle rolling water cloaked all the secrets it held, while the earth revealed all.  Ah, but she wasn’t fooled by her old friend. 
I thought you were going to take my house with this last storm--and me along with it, she thought with a faint chuckle. Well, I thank you for leaving us be.  At least for a little while longer.  She sighed and kicked off again with her foot.  I’ve known you too long and too well not to be wise to your mercurial nature.  You appear so gentle and peaceful tonight.  But Lord help the fool who ignores you.
Lovie suddenly coiled in a spasm of coughing that wracked her frame, so thin now she could be mistaken for a child.  When at last the fit subsided, she bent forward, clasping the arms of the chair, gasping for air.
“Mama!  Are you okay?”
Lovie turned her head to see Cara’s worried face inches from her own. She felt Cara’s larger hand tighten over hers in a reassuring squeeze.  Dear, sweet, daughter, she thought as her pale blue eyes found refuge in Cara’s dark brown ones.  There were crow’s feet at the corners, adding maturity to the wide eyed worry.  Cara had been dismayed at turning forty, crying that her youth was over and how she was on the downhill slope.  Lovie knew better.  Cara was still so young!  So strong and confident.  Lovie felt the panic that always came with the coughing spells loosen its grip.  Gradually her breath came more easily.  
She nodded weakly.
Cara’s eyes narrowed, quickly checking for signs that Lovie needed oxygen or a dose of pain medication.  “Mama, it’s getting chilly.  Let’s go inside.”
Lovie didn’t have the breath to answer, but she weakly shook her head no.
Cara hesitated, then with a tsk of mild frustration, she didn’t force the issue, as she might have just months earlier. 
Lovie leaned back again in her chair.  Staring at her from the settee across the room was a large calico cat.  The cat had mysteriously appeared after the hurricane, lost and mewling piteously. Cara fed her daily, cleaned up after her, and petted her long fur whenever she passed.  Cara called the cat, “The Uninvited Guest,” and pretended not to care one way or the other about her.  But Lovie could tell she was secretly pleased the cat had decided to stay.  It was Cara’s first pet. 
Cara was rather like that cat, Lovie thought with some amusement.  The previous May, Lovie had asked her only daughter to come home for a visit.  She hadn’t thought Cara would come.  They’d been estranged for some twenty years and Cara was always too busy.  Lovie had prayed that she and her headstrong daughter could patch up their differences before she died.  How did one reconcile after so long a time?  It was in faith that she’d written, and Cara had come. In a twist of fate, Cara had been laid off from her high powered job at an advertising agency in Chicago. She’d arrived at Lovie’s door at the onset of summer feeling lost and restless, uncharacteristically adrift.  She’d stayed the summer on Isle of Palms, ostensibly to take care of her mother.  And yet, over the past months Cara, like the lost cat, had been cared for, stroked, needed.  The summer had made Cara wiser and more content-- not so quick to chase the mouse. 
And in the process, she’d rediscovered her mother’s love. This had been the answer to Lovie’s prayers.
It was autumn now, however, and with the season’s end Lovie’s strength was ebbing with the receding tide.  She had terminal cancer and both she and Cara knew that soon the Lord would call her home.   
“Okay, Mama,” Cara conceded, patting Lovie’s hand.  “We’ll sit out here a little longer. I know you hate to miss a sunset. Would you like a cup of tea?  I’ll make you one,” she replied, not waiting for an answer.
Lovie didn’t want tea just now, but Cara needed something to do.  Though they didn’t say the words often, Lovie knew that Cara expressed her love with action. Cara rose effortlessly from the chair, a move Lovie could hardly recall being able to make.
Cara was strikingly good looking, tall and slender with glossy dark hair she usually wore pulled back in a carefree ponytail.  But tonight was cooler and the humidity low so she let it fall unkempt to her shoulders.  It swayed in rhythm with the few long strides it took her to cross the wooden porch.
Her gaze swept across the porch of her beloved beach house that was showing signs of age. Time… it passed so quickly!  Where did all the years go?  How many summers had this dear house survived? How many hurricanes?  Two white wooden rocking chairs sat side by side where mother and daughter sat most nights to enjoy the lowcountry sunset.  The recent hurricane had destroyed her pergola, and the new screens Cara had just installed hung in tattered shreds, waving uselessly in the offshore breezes. She heard the teasing hum of a mosquito in her ear. 
Her little house on Ocean Boulevard had always been a place of refuge for Lovie, a sanctuary through good times and bad, ever since childhood.  In the twilight the quaint and tidy lines of her 1930s beach cottage appeared part of the indigenous landscape beside the tall palms, the raucous wildflowers, clumps of sea oats and wild grasses on the dunes.  This late in October, the sweetgrass was a breathtaking explosion of cotton candy pink. From her seat on the porch she could see straight out to the Atlantic Ocean without the obstruction of one of those enormous houses that bordered the island’s coastline.  It was the same view she’d always had, all these many years. When the wind gusted, it rippled across the tall, soft grass like rosy waves and carried her back to happier days when the island was a remote outpost.
Lovie’s parents had given the modest, pre-war cottage to her when she’d married and she, in turn, would leave it to her daughter.  Her house on Tradd Street in Charleston with the heirloom furniture and silver she had already handed down to her son, Palmer. Once upon a time she’d loved that house with a grand passion, yet never as much as she’d loved Primrose Cottage.  She’d created wonderful memories here.  The best…


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