My wife and I arrived in Charleston on a chilly December afternoon to celebrate our honeymoon, years ago. The city was decorated for Christmas. Garland hung from each balcony, lamppost, stray dog, and politician. We rolled into town listening to “Danny’s Song” on my truck radio.
The song goes:
“Even though we ain’t got money,
“I’m so in love with you honey…”
Nobody can hear this song and not sing along. Not even hardened war criminals can restrain themselves from humming with Kenny Loggins when he breaks into the chorus.
Anyway, Charleston is an immaculate place. And charming. To small-town folks, the city can almost seem intimidating. This is especially true if you are like me and the most cultured city you’re familiar with is, for instance, Dothan.
People kept telling us that Charleston is the second most historic city in the world (Rome, Italy, is the first). They said this wherever we went. Even at the Waffle House where our waitress was a tired woman with the personality of a boiled ham.
She said, “Did you know we’re the second most historic city in the world?”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“You will when you see how much things cost.”
So you can imagine how exhilarating it was to learn all the history that has happened within the city. We were constantly pointing and shouting, “Hey! George Washington slept in THAT building!”
Or, “Hey! Garth Brooks walked his Shih Tzu on THAT grassy lawn!”
Or, “Hey! Thomas Jefferson used to buy his lottery tickets and cigarettes at THAT convenience store!”
The city has a very uppity feel. Average residents of Charleston dress to the nines, even when they check the mail. Wherever we were, it seemed like everyone was wearing pearls, chenille, and high heels. And that was just the men.
Downtown we saw the Gullah women weaving sweetgrass baskets. Most of these women were sitting beside large propane heaters, working their fingers raw. Their baskets were incredible. And expensive.
Even the no-frills baskets were upwards of $770,000 bucks. The Gullah women also made beautiful sweetgrass palmetto rose bouquets by twisting sweetgrass to resemble rose blossoms. My wife wanted one of these, but they were WAY too pricey.
So I bought her what I could afford, which was a Christmas ornament to the tune of $39 bucks. It was a sweetgrass basket the size of Malibu Barbie’s sun hat.
We did everything a newlywed couple could do that didn’t require spending money. Like visiting Waterfront Park to see the famous pineapple fountain and confiscating handfuls of wet pennies without being busted by the cops.
We visited Folly Beach County Park, Brittlebank Park, Palmetto Islands Park, and Charles Towne Landing. But mostly, we would just sit on benches and people-watch. My wife loves to people-watch and create make-believe stories about people.
“You see that couple, right there?” my wife would whisper.
“What about them?”
“They’re having a scandalous affair, he works for the government as an international spy, and he can’t tell her what he does for a living, or how many people he’s killed in the line of duty.”
I would simply smile and say, “Quick, hide these pennies in your purse, here come the poh-poh.”
And so it went. We would carry on like this for hours. Her making up stories. Me stealing from municipal property. Until it was time for supper. At which point we had to get VERY creative when it came to stretching our last few bucks.
We found a fancy restaurant that served complimentary yeast rolls before dinner. I pretended to scan the menu while filling my face with free bread and butter. The menu was way above my head with entrées like “jambon-beurre,” “concombre a la transmisión fluíde,” and “croque monsieur de possum feet.”
Our waiter brought so many baskets of complimentary bread that he pulled a hamstring.
When it came time to actually order dinner, we played it cool. My wife ordered clear broth. I ordered a wet towelette and a side of ketchup.
But we didn’t mind being on a shoestring budget because we were happy newlyweds. And I don’t mean just moderately happy. We were the happiest idiots on this side of the Atlantic.
After dinner, we walked arm-in-arm along Broad Street to see the storefronts, lit for Christmas. We wandered the cobblestones of Chalmers Street until our feet ached.
We visited Saint Phillip’s Episcopal Church, established in 1681. A church that, even from its early days, believed wholeheartedly that no matter what predicament this turbulent world is in, Episcopalians will drink hard liquor at their Christmas parties.
We walked King Street, East Bay Street, Legare Street, and it was all so magnificent.
On our way back to our room, we passed a man on the corner. He was tall, ragged, and he smelled like a distillery. He asked if we had any money. I was ready to walk away, but—and I’ll never forget this—my wife gave him all her cash.
The man was overcome, then he reached into his pocket and gave her a tiny sweetgrass rose. And it was there on the streets of Charleston that knew I didn’t deserve this woman.
Love is a funny thing. And I don’t know enough about love to try to explain it. I’m not a smart man, and I’m not well-off. But I know that when I am with her, every tree, every cloud, each planet, star, moon, and solar system belongs to us. So does the second most historic city in the world. Because even though we ain’t got money…
Well, you know the rest.
Happy anniversary, Jamie.