When I met Kathy Huguenin Armstrong, whose father's family traces its Broad River/Ridgeland roots to the late 1700s, I was introduced to the real Lowcountry.
Kathy's story begins with French ancestors in Charleston-a father and two sons-who were given a land grant of 25,000 acres on the Broad River which became Roseland Plantation and produced indigo and rice. One of the sons inherited Roseland and the other moved to New York. Before the Civil War much of the acreage was lost, but the plantation remained in the Huguenin family.
Sitting outside Barnes & Noble on a black wrought iron chair on a hot Friday afternoon, I find Kathy's low, rhythmic storytelling voice spellbinding. As the story climbs to the crescendo of the Civil War, the reality is more dramatic than any gothic novel.
When Union soldiers came to destroy the plantation, they were, unbelievably, led by an officer named Huguenin.a descendant of the very brother who left South Carolina and moved to New York. The young officer realized his connection to this ancestral home. Although he obeyed orders to burn the property, he first confiscated silver, furniture, and other heirlooms, which he safeguarded and later returned to his Southern relatives after the war. The house was razed and sadly no photographs or drawings remain. Kathy has read in the memoirs that, "Roseland was the prettiest house in the state."
After the Civil War the plantation was reduced to ten acres, the family cemetery, a modest house that was built near the site of the razed mansion, and the "beautiful avenue of oak trees." Kathy has always thought of these oaks as "the gnarled fingers of my ancestor's protecting me."
As Kathy talks, there is a seamless intertwining of the Roseland of the long ago past and the Roseland where she and her three brothers grew up until her parents divorced. Her great grandfather's memoirs live in her imagination and she quotes directly from a dream he had when his young sister was dying: "As I fell asleep there upon my ears fell the most beautiful strains of music ever heard by mortal man." In the dream, seven chariots drawn by white horses came down the avenue of oaks to stand in front of the house. In the first six there were four little girls; in the seventh there were only three. A voice called his sister's name, Eliza. She answered she would be there in a minute. Finally, all seven chariots turned and moved back down the avenue and back to heaven.
Kathy's childhood memories are as earthy as her great grandfather's memoirs are other worldly. She was a tomboy and she and her three brothers spent as much time outside at Roseland as possible. They had a pet fox, a deer that was free to walk through the house, and a pet raccoon that rode with her father in his truck. They even had an alligator for which they had affection. Since Kathy's father died, her brother, David, carries on and preserves the family legacy and has reclaimed 1,100 acres, much of which is in a land trust.
Kathy is a good storyteller. Her anecdotes make her connection to the spirit and geography of Roseland alive and interesting. But her purpose in sitting with me is not just to talk about her past. Two-and-a-half years ago she felt that spiritual, God-directed call to come back to the Lowcountry. After spending her adult life in Atlanta, raising two children, running a horse farm, divorcing, and accumulating those chapters of life post- divorce (including dating Kevin Costner while he was on location filming the 1994 movie The War) she knew she was being called home.
"It was scary. I packed up all my belongings into a trailer and drove it here by myself. I had secured a job, but after arriving it fell through. I had some really dark times in the beginning, but I knew this was where God wanted me to be. Sometimes we just have to get to the point where we give up our own control.and reach out.and trust."
With deep intensity Kathy looked at me and said, "I want women to know that whether you are 60, 70, or 80 you can still have a happy ending." She said it with a twinkle. I already knew she found a full-time job by just happening to talk to her future boss while in line at Starbucks. But this twinkle had to do with meeting a wonderful guy months ago at.get this.a Pink Partini! She promised to keep his name out of print, so that's all I can say. Kathy says, "I had days that were dark and bleak, and I almost lost hope. But I had knowingness and it led me home."
As she rushes off to her Friday night, I look down at my notes and read her last words. "Coming back home is like a visceral finding of myself." I am reminded of another quote by Matsuo Basho, "Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home."
Felt Like Cinderella: When she was 19, Kathy took her first plane trip to Washington, DC to attend President Nixon's Inauguration.
Education: Went to college in Miami, Fl.
Giving to the community: Kathy volunteers with "Hilton Head Heroes", "Heroes on Horseback" and at the Bluffton's Farmer's Market.
Horsewoman: Her beloved horse is nicknamed Topper for "Top Hat and Tails."