New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank takes readers on a rollicking ride in this lowcountry tale about a woman whose unconventional friends and family show her the real meaning of unconditional love.
Anna Lutz Abbot considers herself independent and happy—until one steamy summer when her collegiate daughter comes home to Isle of Palms, South Carolina, a very different person, her wild and wonderful ex-husband shows up on her doorstep, and her flamboyant new best friend takes up with her daddy. And the already hot temperatures are cranked up another ten degrees by Anna’s own fling with Arthur, who is, heaven help us, a Yankee. Now, Anna must face the fact that she isn’t as in control of her life as she’d thought. And she must find a way to deal with the whole truth—and not just the comfortable parts...
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Dorothea Benton Frank was born and raised on Sullivan's Island in South Carolina. She was the New York Times bestselling author of numerous novels, including Sullivan's Island, Plantation, Pawleys Island, Shem Creek, and Isle of Palms.
Hometown:New Jersey and Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
Date of Birth:1951
Date of Death:September 2, 2019
Place of Birth:Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
Read an Excerpt
Okay. I had a dream about my mother last night and I always seem to dream of her when she has had a beyond-the-veil itch to scratch my back. She was waltzing with my father at an enormous celebration of some kind. They were smiling and having a wonderful time. I couldn’t remember ever seeing Doc so happy or Momma so beautiful. She never said a word. She just smiled at me. I had so many questions I wanted to ask her but for some reason, I couldn’t speak.
The next thing I knew, I could sense the light of morning growing all around me. I must have been born with the thinnest eyelids in the world. You know how that is? Well, I realized I was awake. But for a few moments I hung on to the fringes of sleep, trying to retain the details of everything I had seen. I wondered, like I always did, if there was a larger meaning to the dream. Half of my DNA is German, but it was the all-American Lowcountry remainder that wore itself out to a frazzle searching for cosmic explanations.
Maybe something was going to happen. Had we all been at a wedding? The old salts said that when you dreamed about weddings it meant the opposite, that something was coming to an end. More change? No, thanks.
That was when my feet hit the floor. There was no way another blessed change could happen without me pitching a hissy fit. Big time. We’d had enough change around here to choke a goat. We had made it through Thanksgiving and were now trying to focus on Christmas. Thanksgiving had been enough to make anybody’s head burst like an overripe melon. Like Bettina says all the time, it’s enough already. Bettina’s from New York. She’s our manicurist and you’ll love her when you meet her.
There’s so much to tell you about.
Anyway, next I got myself a cup of coffeeground Colombian beans with a piece of split vanilla bean thrown in the filterand went outside to get the paper and look at the sky. The first thing I noticed was that my blasted garden still continued to climb all over my trees and my house. Every night it took over a little more. Not that it wasn’t pretty. Hell, no! It was nothing less than a horticultural miracle. Jack’s beanstalk.
The sky looked fine, no storms coming or anything like that. In fact, it was going to be a beautiful day. I stood there watching the sun rise on the Isle of Palms. Right then and there, I decided that my dream had been a message that it was way past time to tell my story. So, here I am.
Now, you don’t know me yet, but by the time I’m all done working my jaw, you’re gonna see that I’m not one to blab. Even though I’ve heard more tales than every bartender
in Ireland, I’ve always tried to keep my distance from trouble. Gossip was trouble and I gave it a wide berth. At least I had tried to. Not that I hadn’t had my share of tight spots. Lord! Jeesch! Man! There were days when I thought the devil himself was out to get me. Maybe he had been, but lately, I had been feeling like he thought he’d given me his pitchfork enough. Not that I’m suspicious, but don’t repeat that, okay? Saying things were going great might get his attention.
Here’s the thing that had landed me in trouble in the first place. Most of my years had been spent careening through life, keeping my plans on a back burner. I kept waiting to live. But wasn’t that what women did? Didn’t we always put duty to others before our own ambitions? Were we not the caretakers, the peacemakers, the homemakers, the ones who told our men and our children that we would always be behind them, no matter what? We told them that everything would be alright and that life was worth living.
Well, most of us tried to do these things. Not all women. Some women were so mean if you looked at them funny your hair could turn into snakes. But all they ever got themselves by being mean was older and more bitter. Ooh! I’d tolerated a few women like that for too long. Somebody better tell them to run and hide because Anna’s talking now. That’s me. Anna Lutz Abbot.
My professional life has earned me nothing but beat-up eardrums and a grossly underexercised tongue, mainly because I own a salon. I’ve been working in the salon world for getting on to twenty years. See, when my clients bared their souls, what I thought and what I said were very often two different things. Who in this world has the privilege to really speak their minds? The lunatics, honey, that’s who. Naked truth from my lips would have put me in the poor-house long ago. Besides, isn’t it better to try to deal with people and all their problems with some little bit of sympathy? Of course it is. But, bottom line? I have heard it ALL!
Have I got a story to tell? Yeah, honey, let’s get you a glass of sweet tea and then plop yourself right down in my chair. I’m gonna tell you a lot of secrets, but if I hear them told, I’ll come after your tongue with my shears. Or worse, my hammer! Yes, I will. This entire tale is true to the very last word and all the names and places are real to expose the guilty.
I was telling Arthur the other dayArthur is the man who drives me crazy with the shiversthat I had been thinking that maybe it was time to tell some people about how my whole world had changed in just a few months. If it could happen to me it could happen to anybody, right? He laughed so hard I thought he might up and die on me, so I said, Just what the hell is so funny, and he said, Since when don’t you talk? I was not amused. Not at all. No.
Besides my own discoveries, it had occurred to me that it would be très cool if people knew about another side of life in the Lowcountry and baby, there’s plenty to talk about. Every possible thing you needed to know about southern living was discussed under the roof of Anna’s Cabanaand don’t tell me, I know: Anna’s Cabana sounds like the name of a seedy juke joint on the back beaches of the Virgin Islands. It does! But, when you come to understand how it was given that name, you’ll see why I let ithappen.
In any case, my crazy little salon is a gold mine in human behavior studies. When you take one part old salts, mix it up with gentrification and garnish it with tourists, you got yourself one mighty cocktail, ’eah? What happened here a few months ago literally turned the tide. It did. In any case, if I charged the same for listening as I charge forfixing hair, I would own the biggest house on this beach. No joke.
And this whole drama isn’t just about what I hear at work. No, no. There’s a whole universe here on this island. We say we are from Charleston, but we are really from East of the CooperCooper River, that is. Around here you’re either from Charleston, East of the Cooper, West of the Ashley (that’s the other big river), or out by Awendaw. Maybe you lived in one of these weird developments that keep cropping up that look like a movie set of downtown or one of the islands you could only get to by boat. The point is that in this neck of the woods, you can better believe that where you hang your hat makes all the difference in how you tick. I am and have always been an island girl and there was nothing to be done about it.
My family hasn’t been in Charleston for a thousand years. We don’t have some grand family home, plantation or any silver we rescued from the Yankees by hiding it in the bricks of our chimney. In fact, I don’t own a lick of silver and it suits me fine. Polishing silver would not be the best use of my time. But we do love the history of the Lowcountry with a wild passion and we romanticize it all, telling ourselves we are anything except ordinary just because we can call this place home.
My momma and her people were from Beaufort and I guess the only thing unusual about my background is that my daddy immigrated here with his parents after World War II. They wound up in Estill and were peach farmers. That means my daddy and his daddy worked like coolies to get to where they got and what they got was a comfortable but unspectacular life with no frills.
I can tell you right now that I was never indulged, coddled, or overly nurtured. But that was probably because my daddy’s family had to fight for their very survival. Things were tough in the early days for them and for me too. For the longest time it seemed like my life would be an endless exercise of pushing big rocks up a hill. Take money. My daddy was the one who taught me the value of a dollar. Okay, he’s got a reputation for being a massive tightwad but he can’t help it. And, sometimes when I least expected it, his wallet would open, the moths would escape, and then the buckolas would start to flow. He’s full of contradictions, just like everybody else. Anyway, I learned from him that saving money and perseverance could get you something you wanted if you wanted it badly enough. And the only thing I ever really wanted was to get back to the Isle of Palms and live my life.
That took longer than it should have, to say the very least. But you see, nothing in my life ever happened quite the same way it did for the other people I knew. Everything happened in wild extremes, which made for a whole lot of hullabaloo and lessons in life. Frankly, I could do without more learning experiences for a while. (Lord, I hope You heard that.) The most important thing I learned is that to be truly happy, you’ve got to pay attention to that stupid little inner voice we all have. It knows what you need and will drive you shit crazy until you listen to it. Guaranteed. My New Age clientsand I know them on sight because they wear crystals to which they have attached human namescall it connecting with the universe. Like my daughter says, whatever. I’ll just stick with my own name for it, thanks. Now, that inner voice thing sounds simple but you wouldn’t believe how many people I know who are stuck in the rut they dug for themselves. And the good Lord didn’t mean for so many people to be so unbelievably dissatisfied with their lives. I’m pretty sure about that.
Think about it. If you spend ten years thinking you wish you could go to China, then there’s a good chance the experience would give your soul something it really needs. I’m not talking about people who say, Damn, I wish I could run away to China this minute. Running away never solved a daggum thing. In fact, real happiness is hidden in facing yourself, asking yourself what it is you really want out of this life and then being honest about it. By the way, you couldn’t pay me money to go to China.
I’m lucky because I always knew what I wanted. It just took one helluva long time to get it, that’s all. For me to be content and happy, I had to be on this particular island. I mean, I couldn’t breathe right anyplace else. I’m serious. I’ve asked other people who live here what they think about that and they actually agree with me. They don’t feel like they belong anyplace else either. And, my whole spirit is stronger here.
Naturally, I have a little theory about why that’s so. Islanders are their own species. We have to live near the ocean to stay in touch with our souls. Everything is amplified. The breeze is sweeter, the air is thicker, the sun is relentless, and the nights are more mysterious. God’s fingerprints are all over it and, before y’all go get your knickers in a knot, I know that you should go to church but I also believe you can talk to God anywhere. Especially on the Isle of Palms.
We’re not a bunch of shiftless pansies either. We’re actually a pretty courageous bunch, usually unafraid of anything that Mother Nature slings our way. Hurricanes? Big deal. This may sound crazy but for some peculiar reason we need to, no, we have to stand in front of the angry ocean right before a storm hits. When I was little my daddy, Doc, would say, Anna?let’s go have a look at what the Atlantic is up to before the eye hits. We would stand on a sand dune and inhale enough salt to actually elevate our blood pressure. It was good for us. Evacuations? We usually stayed at home. Until Hugo. Then everybody threw up their arms and said, just why did we pay these hefty insurance premiums in the first place? If the hurricane was a real monster, we just packed up our precious belongings and the family photographs and got out of town. We’d let the old storm have her way for a day or two and then we cleaned up her mess. Afterward, we’d rock away the nights on each other’s porches, laughing and telling stories about hurricanes for a million years.
Islanders recognize something kindred in each other. Shoot, if I get a tourist in my chair and she says she’s from North Carolina I handle her one way ...like a Yankee, but don’t let’s go around telling that, okay? But if she tells me that she lives in Wrightsville Beach, well, then she gets treated like an old friend.
Beach people love life harder than anybody else. We do! We have a tendency to be, well, slightly excessive in our behavior. You usually won’t see us eat one boiled peanut, drink one beer, tell one joke or get just a little bit of sun. So if you tell me you’re from a beach, I know who you are. Except if you’re from California where everything wiggles. See what I mean? Hurricanes don’t ruffle me, but earthquakes? Not me, sugar.
People who live on islands are generally unpretentious too. This is a quality that is greatly overlooked and undervalued by others. Look at all those people who live in New York. They have outfits for everything! They have jogging clothes, which aren’t the same as their workout clothes, which aren’t the same as their weekend clothes and, Lord have mercy on us, every stitch they own is black! Shoot! They probably blow out their hair to go around the corner to buy a newspaper!
I just couldn’t live like that. I mean, God bless them, they’ve had their trials for sure. It’s just that I don’t think life is supposed to take that much effort. Down here in the Lowcountry, we just prefer to take things a little slower and savor each moment.
Arthur says that in New York City dinner for two in a fancy restaurant can cost hundreds and hundreds of dollars. You could spend a right good bit of money down here on dinner too. That is, if you wanted to drive to Charleston. Out here on this island, you’d probably have to wait twenty minutes for a table, if you went to a restaurant that took reservations (which they don’t), because we don’t like to rush people when they’re trying to have supper and enjoy each other’s company. Actually, most of us would rather stay home and eat what somebody caught that day along with a salad or something. Maybe it’s because of the heat, but our big meal is in the middle of the day, if we can manage that much time for dinner. But supper (which is called dinner elsewhere) is usually a smaller meal.
Island people aren’t like other people out there across the causeway and we don’t want to be either. We have our own style of everything and our own point of view. Living here makes you practical. I knew all along that my business would be recession proof. Go ask any woman you know. If it’s a toss-up between doing her roots and buying a dress, she’s getting her hair done before you can blink. And I knew, or at least I hoped, that my old clients wouldn’t mind coming over here from Charleston. Every last one came because when women find a hairdresser they like, they stick with them like white on rice.
And then there are the transplants. These days it seems like everyone I meet is from Ohio. All these folks moved here to live. I tell them, Look, sugar, you might not be able to become a Charlestonian until you’ve been dead for a bazillion generations. But! I say, you can become an islander and they seem plenty happy with that.
Attitude is everything in life, isn’t it? We are all capable of change. Even me. In the last six months, I found myself believing in the basic goodness of people again, and in the power of love and in miracles. You don’t believe in miracles? Well, when we’re all done here, come on by my house and see my yard.
I had somebody from a magazine stop by my house the other day. This fellow was a horticulturalist and a photographer for some magazine in Vermont or someplace like that. He wanted to know what kind of fertilizer I used. I laughed so hard I had to reapply my mascara. I said, Honey, I don’t use a thing except Lowcountry air and island magic! He shook his head and left, thinking I was playing with his head. But I had told him the truth. I never lie. Okay, I might leave out some facts but that’s different.
I’m sure you’ve heard all these stories about the South being haunted and people here talking to the dead and seeing ghosts. Bad news. They are all true. Every last one of them is true. Things happen here all the time that you can’t explain. That’s just the Lowcountry. When you get out to the islands, the weird factor accelerates. We don’t mind. We adore the bizarre and inexplicable as much as we treasure our eccentrics.
Every life has its share of trouble. Like Miss Angel says, every dog has his day but every cat has his afternoon. Miss Angel is my next-door neighbor and the neighborhood philosopher. She’s also a regular Edgar Cayce. I dream, but not like her. But don’t worry, we’ll get to her. There are a lot of people I want you to meet.
I wasn’t always content, you know. I went through some hellish suffering to finally love my life. But I never gave up hope. Like I said, it was my early years that were the worst. I had to go through them to understand what was worth fighting for and what wasn’t and I needed to learn how to just get along in the world. I guess the best place to start would be with Momma.
Do you need some more tea? Well, let’s get it now because I’ve been holding back the tide for a long time. I think all the failures and victories of my life have come together pretty nicelike a string of graduated pearls. I can talk about Momma now without being upset but, when I was ten? Honey, I would rather have taken a stick in my eye than hear her name so much as whispered.