Pat Conroy described it in his book The Water is Wide. It, he wrote, “is an island off the South Carolina mainland not far from Savannah, Georgia. The island is fringed with the green, undulating marshes of the southern coast; shrimp boats ply the waters around her and fishermen cast their lines along her bountiful shores. Deer cut through her forests in small silent herds. The great southern oaks stand broodingly on her banks. The island and the waters around her team with life. There is something eternal and indestructible about the tide-eroded shores and the dark, threatening silences of the swamps in the heart of the island. [It] is beautiful because man has not yet had time to destroy this beauty.”
Daufuskie is her name. Some say it comes from the Yemassee Indians and means “land with a point.” Others say it’s Gullah for “the first key” north of Savannah. Either way, it is, in many ways, an island lost in time. There is no bridge, still, after all these years, and I doubt there ever will be. The only way to get there is by boat. The preferred mode of transportation around the island is a golf cart and most of the families living there are the descendants of African-American slaves. The Gullah language still drips from the dialect, much like the Spanish Moss that hangs from the trees.
As a child my family carried boat loads of tourists over to Daufuskie Island to ride around in “jungle buses” stopping at the old one-room school house, the 100-year-old Baptist church, the Bloody Point beach, and other sites of historical interest. The ladies who lived there would prepare a delicious South-island lunch and Miss Bertha would save me extra cornbread–which I ate, wrapped up in the folds of her lap. The highlight though, was always the deviled crabs–a divine delicacy passed on through generations of women. I still have yet to find its equal.
This weekend I accompanied my dad to Daufuskie for the first time in years. It was the annual Daufuskie Day festival–a day to celebrate the heritage, traditions, and lifestyle of the island.
Local families were set up with their tents and tables selling their wares, fresh produce and sea island cuisine–lowcountry boil (whole crabs, shrimp, corn, potatoes, and sausage boiled up with seasonings), jerk chicken and ribs, fresh peach and blueberry pies, and deviled crab of course.
I stopped by to kiss Miss Ellamae, who I haven’t seen in some twenty-five years and she gave me an extra crab just for doing so. (Score!)
The Reverend played his saxophone for a while and then some of the girls taught everyone how to slide dance.
Despite the fact that I was the only white girl around, and despite the fact that they were dying laughing at me, I finally joined in to learn. I just could keep still any longer! (Cuz you know I’m a dancer in my heart.)
It was just my kind of event. Delicious local food. Music. Local art. And atmosphere. But the people–that’s what made it. I’ve always loved the people of Daufuskie.
At the end of the day, I bought a chunk of watermelon for a buck and sat down underneath a palmetto tree. I leaned against the trunk and started in on the sweetest melon I think I’ve ever tasted. I couldn’t help but smile as the juice dribbled down my chin, down my arms, and down my shirt as I spat the seeds into the dirt beside me.
This, is life, I thought to myself.
I looked out over the marsh through a frame of Spanish moss, beach music playing in the background and closed my eyes as the scent of boiling shrimp and bar-b-que lingered on the steamy breeze. Sweat pooled on my upper lip and dripped from my hair. Yes–this, is southern island life.