For our first post-retirement getaway, Laura and I decided to head to Charleston for a reunion of my class from the Governor’s School from 1978. The reunion was to be that Saturday, but we decided to make it a four-day weekend in the Holy City so we could get in as much as possible.
35 years seems like an incredibly long time ago. I was a junior in high school, and the Governor’s School was my first real escape from home. At the time it was a six-week program during the summer at the College of Charleston. My area of concentration was geology, but I also did quite a bit with music, performing at the Dock Street Theater at one point. I also had opportunities to to do things I’d never otherwise be able to do at home, such as crewing an Olympic-class sailboat around the Charleston Harbor.
To say that Governor’s School was a life-changing experience would be an understatement. It was the first real view I had of life beyond the limited confines of Laurens County. People in my community had preconceived notions about me, and if I tried anything beyond what was expected, ridicule was the order of the day. At GS I opened up, and was willing to give just about anything a shot. Nobody there cared about preconceived notions.
I even changed my name. From first grade on I was known as “Thomas” to all my school friends and “Tommy” to family and church members. Governor’s School was when I decided I wanted to be called “Tom”, and it stuck from then on out.
I made lots of friends at Governor’s School, and many of us wound up at Furman. Those were my first friends in college, and I’ve stayed in contact with many of them over the years. I was hoping to see lots of them at the reunion.
On the Way Down – Beidler Forest
Laura and I headed down a day early. Along the way we stopped at one of our favorite spots, Beidler Forest. We took our time wandering along the boardwalk, watching for the elusive warblers and other wildlife.
At one point we heard the call of a barred owl. Turns out it was someone else on the trail attempting to call owls. Another photographer on the trail had an iPhone app with the song of a Prothanotary Warbler which he was playing to call those birds. Between the two of them, we weren’t sure if we could trust what we were hearing. I did manage to catch one quick glimpse of a warbler, though.
The water in the swamp was incredibly clear. It was tea-stained, and the sunlight shining through it highlighted fish and turtles in the water.
From Beidler we headed on down. We were staying on Ashley Point, across from the main peninsula. For dinner we walked down to California Dreaming (which Laura says has NOTHING to do with California) and enjoyed views across the harbor to the city. We watch the boats come and go and dolphins playing in the channel.
Reunion in Charleston
The reunion itself was an informal thing. We had planned it over Facebook, and the plans kept shifting. Eventually it was decided that we would meet at the Cistern at the College of Charleston and go from there. So, Saturday morning Laura and I headed into the city early. We had breakfast on King Street, then wandered in the Old Market Area. It had been awhile since we had been in the city, as we enjoyed seeing what had changed, and looked at some of the interesting architecture. At one point we strolled through the burgeoning farmer’s market on Calhoun Square.
Eventually we did make our way back to campus, where we found my friend Cathy Ardry waiting for us at the Cistern. Soon Gretchen Penney joined us, and for awhile it looked like that would be it. We heard from a couple of others who said that they would join us at the restaurant where we had lunch reservations, so we set off in that direction.
In all, six Governor’s Scholars made it to the reunion. Cathy, Gretchen, and I were joined by Helen Ingebritsen and her family, then later by Walt Oliver and Beth Scull. We had a nice leisurely lunch catching up, reminiscing and talking about those we remembered who weren’t there. I even got to try out a cucumber martini with my fish and grits.
At one point during lunch while Gretchen and Beth were talking family, where they were from, and who they knew, and they somehow realized that they were second cousins. Beth called her mother to confirm. Only in South Carolina.
After lunch we paused for a photo on the restaurant porch, then decided to walk back to campus. Along the way we cut through a narrow passage on King Street that opened into the Charleston Unitarian church yard and cemetery. I’ll write more on that later. At this point Gretchen left us and the rest of us continued on.
Back on campus we all talked about how much smaller everything looked, and how much closer everything seemed. The main hall, Randolph Hall, and the area in front of it was nice and shaded, but seemed like it was a smaller area than I remembered.
Across the street from the gatehouse was Craig Dorm, where many of us had stayed. I’ve had a more recent experience here than others. In the mid-1990s I performed at Spoleto, and they housed us in Craig Dorm. It was weird hanging out in Craig Commons once again.
We wandered over to the student center and found a nice quiet booth where we pulled out the yearbook Cathy had brought with her. We looked through the pages, commenting on names and events, until the center staff told us it was time to close up. The afternoon had passed quickly.
Cathy, Beth and Walt headed on out, but Helen and her family stuck around with us to explore a bit. It was great getting together with these folks, and we declare that another reunion was needed – soon.