Charleston, South Carolina
by Cassia Reynolds
Charleston is an emblem of southern charm and hospitality. The tea is sweet, the humidity is heavy, the tobacco is chewed, the catfish is fried. Whenever a foreigner asks where in the United States they should visit, it’s on the top of my list.
I’m not the only one that thinks so, either. Charleston was voted the #1 Best US City by Conde Nast Traveler (2014, 2013, 2012, 2011) and one of the World’s Best by Travel + Leisure (2015, 2014, 2013). It’s a unique, artsy, cultural hub, especially for a state as traditionally conservative and rural as South Carolina. There’s tons to do, but every time I visit (which is often because I only live an hour and forty-five minutes away), I always end up walking around, taking in the scenery.
The blocks are laden with slatted wood buildings, cobblestone alleys worn from hundreds of years of use, intricate columns, and hand-painted signs. And the further you go away from the busy downtown, the more gritty it gets. If you just stay by the historical district, it’s like visiting Manhattan and only checking out Times Square and Central Park. There’s just so much more to see. If you want to get a real feel for this good ol’ southern city, make your way inland.
On Cannon Street, some of the arched porches are so old the wood has become warped and curved. Many homes wear a crumbling mask of cracked paint chips, the molding beams seemingly held together only by the glue-like grip of the kudzu vines twisted up the sides. But the area doesn’t appear totally abandoned: a faded fence frames a garden crowded with pink blossoms; there is a set of shiny, pastel-painted shutters on one corner; a hammock woven from fuchsia cloth hangs in the shade of a particularly plain brick house.
These little bright bits of humanity, quirky and colorful, radiate positive vibes. There’s a soft heartbeat that pulses from this place, a faint lifeblood still pumping through the dusty veins of this half-dilapidated neighborhood.
My favorite building on the street is a large, traditional, white, two-story, colonial-style structure. It stands out even among other similar buildings because of its spotless, perfect upkeep, and the intricacy of the carved wooden decorations that overhang the ledges. A classic wide bay window overlooks the second floor balcony. It’s one of those places that feels rich with history, and is so well-maintained that it must be loved by the owners. It’s also a business; the little sign dangling out front reads “Dorothy’s” in curly script, and underneath “HOME FOR FUNERALS” in blocky lettering.
Before I came across Dorothy’s, I’d only seen funeral homes set in drab brick buildings. You know, very formal and pretty empty of personality. I’d never come across such a quaint setting for dealing with such a serious business as death. And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of Dorothy’s. The name, the intimacy of the neighborhood house, and the fresh garden of flowers out front all emanated an aura of hope.
And isn’t that kind of necessary when mourning - a reminder that there’s still so much life?
Dorothy’s Home for Funerals exemplifies Charleston’s vibrant nature, the one that I’ve come to appreciate so much. It’s that essence of comfort, embodying the warm, cheerful character of southern hospitality and the traditional grace of southern charm. And even more than that, it’s the spirit of optimism and the “gung-ho-carry-on” attitude that is so much a southern outlook on life.