Your favorite place … For many it would be home, that safe harbor we have shaped to our own needs and likes, that refuge from the world’s ills, stresses, and bothers. Home makes for an easy choice. Suppose, however, an editor asked you what your favorite place is other than your home, and what if she said, “Write about it and we’ll put it in a book.”
That’s precisely what happened to me. Three years ago the former editor of Sandlapper magazine, Aida Rogers, emailed me asking me if I would write about my favorite place in South Carolina. And I wasn’t the only writer she approached. Thirty-six others were asked to write about their favorite place. The result is a wonderful book. Now forget that it is about South Carolina. This book could be about any state. The title in fact identifies the right state: state of the heart.
For me the book is special because nine of my friends contributed to it. The writing is excellent, as it should be. When an editor tells a writer they will publish him it brings opportunity and stress: you know that what you write had better be good.
Aida Roger’s anthology, State of the Heart, is hard to put down. When I got my contributor’s copy I read it from cover to cover, 217 pages.
You might not recognize many of the names … yet. You’d for certain find the writer of the foreword familiar. That would be Pat Conroy. Other notables include Nathalie Dupree host of more than 300 television episodes airing on PBS, TLC, and the Food Network, Starkey Flythe a former managing editor of Saturday Evening Post, Dori Sanders, author of Clover, and Marjory Wentworth, poet laureate of South Carolina.
And what are the places? A historian reflects on church ruins and old forts, a food writer pays homage to a restaurant serving local oysters, one writer recalls his days helping build Savannah River Site, and another writes of his transformational days at the Citadel. That’s but a sample of the engaging essays. More than anything the book serves up illustrations of how memories make us who we are or more precisely who we are to become.
In addition to Pat Conroy’s glowing foreword where he writes of an albino porpoise swimming in the Harbor River, novelist Mary Alice Monroe’s back-cover blurb describes the book as a “rich collection of personal stories, reflections, historical facts, and front porch yarns as colorful, timeless, and inspiring as the people and landscape of the Palmetto State.” I paid attention to what Monroe wrote because she has graciously agreed to write the foreword for mine and Robert Clark’s new book, due out may 2014. Monroe is the New York Times best-selling author of The Summer Girls and Beach House Memories as well as thirteen other books.
Among my favorite essays in State of the Heart is one that flows from the pen of J. Drew Lanham, a native of Edgefield and an African-American. Lanham is a professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson but unlike way too many professors he writes like an angel. His essay, “No Forever for Old Farms,” is a thing of beauty. Consider this opening paragraph:
“There is something about an old farm that wants to be broken down. As time tests tin and weather wears wood, barns and outbuildings begin to lean and falter. Like old men teetering on canes, they rest feebly on stone foundations that hold them up despite the failure of everything else around them. They wobble in the wind, barely balanced on posts and pillars that keep them from falling flat on their faces. Their impending demise is hastened by loosening joints—mortise separating from tenon and nails falling out like rotten teeth. And yet, some old barns and sheds linger on. They were constructed not so much with neatly drawn plans to spec and scale, but rather with what was on hand. Aesthetic was never in the plan. Form was function. Were it not for something stronger than what we see, they would fail. Their underpinning of stones, bricks, blocks, and mortar are the souls of silos and sheds, and they stand for something durable—no matter the decaying timber they support.”
Anyone who loves old farm buildings will appreciate Lantham’s dirge whose conclusion touches the soul. “Old farms help me to remember what was. I can feel the struggles and triumphs that come with each season—spring’s hope, summer’s surge, fall’s senescence, and winter’s dying. Whether it is my Home Place or someone else’s, each time I linger in the shadow of a rusting silo or search for sparrows in the rank fencerow of an old pasture, I learn something about my own being and what will come. It is as sure as the leaves falling in October and birds flying south to warmer climes. Nature will have its inevitable way. Even as buildings are erected to last for generations—what some might call forever—I know that there is no such thing, especially for an old farm.”
This book will do well. It’s filled with wisdom, beauty, and sentiment. One woman writes of her fallen father, another of losing a home place to the BMW plant, another what’s it like to be an Army brat and at long last finding a place she can call home. A man writes of floating a river, another of his favorite spot on the Chattooga—a river Georgia claims as well. And me? I wrote about a special place at a special time in my life only I didn’t recognize it at the time. “For The Birds” recalls a time when my hair was still dark and a man could be alone on an immaculate island and get a measure of what the coast, unspoiled, looked like when wild creatures alone owned it.
State of the Heart … I think it will touch a few hearts. If nothing else you will get a sense of what matters in life to a small group of people who spend a lot of time alone thinking.