A Southern Girl
Publication Year: 2014
Published by: University of South Carolina Press
Series: Story River Books
Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication
John Warley and I first met at the South Carolina Book Festival a few years back. As we got acquainted over drinks and hors d’oeuvres at the authors’ reception, I could easily see that he was an intelligent and thoughtful person. Soon after, I read one of his novels and saw that he...
Writing a novel is a famously insular endeavor, yet any novelist who is circumspect will appreciate the debt he or she owes to those who nurtured, encouraged, and even criticized, if the criticism made for a stronger book. When the work has a prepublication life of twenty years, as this one did...
Dear Open Arms: My name is Elizabeth Carter. I am a twenty-eight year old mother of two biological sons. This letter responds to Section 3(a) of your application: “State in five hundred words or less why you want to adopt a son or daughter from a foreign country.” No question on a pre-printed form has cost me so much sleep as this one...
Part 1: Confluence
1: Jong Sim
My sweet gardenia, today we will go into Seoul, a city I myself have never seen but one we can visit together. What a day we will have. Everything will be new, as you are new. Oh, do not worry about getting lost. Min Jung gave detailed instructions. This bus carries us to the edge of the city, where...
I am ambidextrous. Have been since I was six. I write, eat and throw with either hand. And answer the phone, which is how I remember the call from Jongam that afternoon. Superstitious nonsense probably explains this pattern I thought I had noticed, but for a long time the pattern seemed to...
I fixed a nice dinner and I waited for just the right time to bring up the subject because I knew Coleman wanted to avoid the subject, which was the only thing I’d been able to think about for weeks, the subject being the adoption of a Korean girl who may or may not even have been...
In January 1979 I became the newest and youngest partner in Mahoney, Cauthen, Miller & Slade, P.C. Elizabeth fixed a nice celebratory dinner. She hardly cooked at all when we got married but has improved steadily since. I remember buying a better wine than we usually served; a token of...
5: Jong Sim
The trip back to my village was the longest of my life. Your cries followed me down the street until I stopped my ears. When I stepped onto the bus, the driver stared at me because I was looking at him, just standing there like a tree. He took the fare from some money I held, then pushed...
Soo Yun’s condition was as I had feared: pneumonia. Her time outside the door in the cold had left her vulnerable to pneumocystis carinii, a strain of pneumonia common here in Asia. It is fatal if left untreated, and several of our children have died from it over the years. But caught in time, properly...
On the morning after Christmas, we packed the station wagon for the eight hour trip to South Carolina. I tolerated these as a rule, but dreaded this particular one because I knew I would be blamed for the adoption idea, and Coleman couldn’t have been looking forward to it either because...
While I didn’t look forward to our time in Charleston, knowing the tempest that would ensue when we broke the news, I always enjoyed the trip itself. Holiday traffic in New Hampton receded as we crossed the wide expanse of the James River, cold and foreboding with choppy whitecaps...
Like most people, I do some things because I want to and a lot more because I have to. The midwinter ball at the Riverside Country Club is always for me a “have to,” because the crowd it drew consisted of many of the same people we saw all the time, only for this they dressed up. I’ll bet a...
When my secretary told me I’d had an urgent call from Elizabeth to come home, I feared something had happened to her or one of the boys. So her joy when I walked in was a relief. I’d rarely seen her so excited. To see the photo I had to take it from her. That old bromide that all babies look...
I thought back to grammar school; to the day of the shot. At age eight, I lingered near the back of a long line, reluctant to undergo a smallpox vaccination. Ahead, my classmates surrendered themselves one by one to the inevitability of the needle while I unconsciously clapped my right hand over the spot on my upper arm just below my bare shoulder. Friends closest...
Did Coleman really suggest we move to Charleston? And was I actually considering it? Not that night, the night he agreed to the adoption, but in the days following I found myself contemplating something I never thought I’d even consider. But in fairness, hadn’t he agreed to something...
I stayed in touch with Barron Morris. He put no expiration date on his offer, telling me he realized it represented a major decision and urging me to take whatever time was needed. Elizabeth and I discussed pros and cons, but casually, as though the debate was a hypothetical one not truly...
When Faith ordered Soo Yun back to the ward, I exploded from the infirmary’s side door and tramped two blocks through the snow. Walking into the wind, I lowered her head to protect my eyes from the sting of subfreezing gusts. Frosted breath vented from my mouth and nostrils, expelled...
We flew to New York, and if I die tomorrow that day will rank among the most memorable of my life, because you cannot imagine the drama of all those children coming off a plane into new families, a new country, new lives. I get emotional just thinking about it, and that afternoon...
Part 2: Rapids
Those scars? Of course they worried us, but our doctor reviewed the records from Korea and reassured us so promptly that had it not been for seeing them when we changed or bathed her, I would have forgotten they were there. Of far greater concern, to us and to every adopting couple who...
Part 3: Flow
Power failure. I grope for the desk drawer, open it, and pan for a flashlight front to back but find nothing closer than the hammer I used last week to mount a picture. The room is in total darkness and, once I settle back in my chair, palling silence as well. It will not last, I think with a grin. I’ll...
Today, I turn forty-seven. Adelle is on her way over to take me to dinner, having insisted on driving, making reservations, and picking up the tab, all of this being agreeably forced on me in a businesslike call a solid month ago. Allie will join us later. She has recently begun dating Christopher...
A steady drumming in my temples rouses me the following morning. Bathrobe on inside out, my slippers still missing, I descend to the kitchen. Two aspirin and sixteen ounces of industrial strength coffee prepare me to charge into my forty-eighth year, more or less. I am reading the...
Margarite, gratified by the prospect of my intrusion on an agenda that follows the rote routine of bus stops, instructed me to arrive at 7:00. On Thursday evening, I turn down Water Street, then onto Meeting for the short hop to the Hall. I could have walked. The St. Simeon Society is one of a diminishing number of anachronisms...
Charleston has been the New World incubator of Carters from the day the boat landed in 1670. My mental movie of that landing has been spliced together frame by frame from genealogies, family lore and later, in the second half of the nineteenth century, grainy photographs depicting an...
Sarah, for all her geriatric vivacity, needs help with the yard. At least twice a year we dedicate a Saturday to her place on Sullivan’s. This morning, Allie and I stop at the college, pick up Steven, and the three of us, dressed in the oldest clothes we could find, are on the causeway headed east. We...
On Monday morning, while dressing, I fixate on a one-item agenda: verbal dissection of Natalie Berman. Her covert solicitation of Allie, her effrontery in the school parking lot, her eel-like stealth in slithering behind my back have me in the blackest of moods. In the parlance of modern psycho-babble, I am among the anger disadvantaged...
Margarite’s house is among the finest in Charleston. Sited on South Battery, grandly fronting the panorama of harbor beyond the seawall, its two large piazzas run east to west the length of the house, so wide and deep that the shuttered windows opening onto them are in shadow most of the...
Today has been one of those marathons, beginning at 7:00 a.m. with a breakfast meeting at the Marriott. Some doctors are putting together a limited partnership to construct a medical complex in Mt. Pleasant and have hired me to build the paper fortress assuring them maximum return...
Leslie McKeller’s story is brief, accurate and buried on page six, befitting disavowals that puncture inflated stories trying to achieve altitude. With alarm, I find myself packing the paper in my briefcase, as if to remove it from Allie’s view. I study her at breakfast for signs that she is disappointed in me, as...
Date and time follow; the nature of the function does not. No one eligible has to ask. The kitchen trash can receives all three. Margarite refused elaboration in church, pleading a social engagement in Beaufort, to which she was already running late. “Come see me tomorrow...
The Camden Cup, a steeplechase held annually in spring, serves in its rambunctious way as an outdoor compliment to the St. Simeon Ball. You see many of the same people at both and each has accumulated a legacy worthy of the appellation “command performance.” Some have observed...
The Swilling jury is about to make him the richest ninth grade dropout in the state. His attorney simultaneously harbors the hope of becoming the richest lawyer, and his contingent fee on the demanded five million dollars in compensatory damages and another fifty million in punitive would do...
Arliene’s, hole-in-the-wall gourmet, features twelve tables precisely set with starched white tablecloths, linen napkins, and heavy cutlery. By artful subterfuge of plants, columns, and lighting, it is easy to lull into the illusion that one table, your table, is the sun of this cozy universe
I cannot be taller on the morning after my evening with Natalie, yet I feel so, alert and alive in ways I haven’t felt in what seems like forever. Her scent lingers in my facial stubble. I am brewing coffee when Allie enters the kitchen. “Did I hear whistling?” she wants to know. “I don’t know, did you?” “I thought I did,” she says, placing her books...
On Sunday Allie and I attend St. Philip’s. I scan the crowd as we stand, kneel, and sit, the mechanical rosary of the Episcopal Church. St. Simeons are everywhere. Margarite and John are here, regal in their perfectly pitched piety. Sandy and Edgar Charles slipped in moments after the service...
On the following morning, Charlotte Hines, her Royal Ampleness, is not at home. A velvet-voice servant predicts her return around noon. I leave neither name nor message. At Carter & Deas, the morning passes swiftly. At one, I return to Charlotte’s, on foot. Dropping in on her is crass but...
In six days we will depart for East Asia, and now that I’ve made the decision to go I’m filling with anticipation. Not only does the lure of an exotic part of the world appeal just now, but the human dramas built into this trip assure it will be memorable for all of us. Life changing? That remains...
We leave today at 1:41 p.m. My morning is spent at Natalie’s office, niched in a drab walk-up on King Street north of Calhoun. In the reception area, a framed print of Matisse’s Joy hangs above a small, efficient couch, and beyond this cubicle is her office, furnished in an essentials-only austerity...
That evening, the evening we leave Allie in the care of San and Go Quan, Mr. Quan and I depart for Vietnam. He and his brother have been discussing the return since we arrived, but San steadfastly refuses to join us. He has never been back, and pledges never to go. I don’t think the younger...
The road to Cu Chi quickly dissipates into a rural byway once we leave Saigon. Mr. Quan, driving a car borrowed from an old friend, assures me that it has been much improved over the two-lane pothole tarmac of twenty years ago. He has purchased since our arrival a lightweight jungle...
In Athens, Allie and I board a plane for New York. We talk for hours. Her time in Korea has changed her in some way I will need to come to terms with, but not today. While she “fell in love” with Hana’s children, the nurse told her all she knew about Allie’s first months of life. Hana...
“So this is where the bad guys live,” says Natalie as we arrive in the parking lot of St. Simeon Hall. My lights converge on the stucco wall, where patches of missing mortar resemble giant jigsaw pieces. Then darkness, followed by the dutiful hum of retracting seat belts. She muscles her door...
Tonight, we will attend the St. Simeon, as Carters have done for almost two and a half centuries. Sarah, whom I have not seen since our return from Korea, is coming over for an afternoon meal before we dress. I have offered to send Steven to Sullivan’s but she insists on driving herself into...