A Love Letter to My Childhood Home:
Hilton Head Island and the Lowcountry
February 2023 Issue
By Marie Benson Morris
Trying to pinpoint the essence and feeling of what it was
like to be raised on a small island eludes me.
The nature of it dangles before me,
but I can’t quite catch it or wrap my words around it.
Is it a Lowcountry sunset over the Intracoastal Waterway?
Or is it the connection to nature and wildlife that makes
it such a unique place to live?
Maybe it’s the strong community of people?
I have tried for years to explain to friends all over the world what it was like to grow up in paradise—the Lowcountry of South Carolina—Hilton Head Island. Never could I find the right words to illuminate or describe the fullness of my childhood place. But this is the beauty of it, too. This well-kept, secret place gave me and my childhood friends refuge from the bigger, busier, more complicated world, which allowed us a moment in time to just be kids—where we felt invincible and untouchable on our 13-mile island.
Growing up with a backdrop filled with a large, year-round population of osprey, alligators, and seasonal loggerhead sea turtles was magical. We were surrounded by stunning, smooth sandy beaches and breathtaking nature in every corner of our youth. This Lowcountry setting created the backdrop of our early chapters, and as the years have gone by, it’s been a consistent setting where some of my most important memories have taken place.
When I went away to college and engaged in conversations with new dorm and classmates, I realized I didn’t grow up like other people. I attended a small high school where, for better or worse, we all knew each other. Our lives intertwined, whether with love, relationships, friendships, sports, or just questionable choices that most teenagers make. We were able to go to the beach on any given day and each summer meet people from all over the world who came to visit our little island. But it was—and still is—just home to Island kids who try unceasingly to be there for each other. Always.
My Island childhood is an intimate part of who I am, and I understand this now more than ever after recent life events. By calling Hilton Head my hometown for more than 30 years, I’ve been able to experience the powerful force of acceptance, love, and compassion that resides in the streams of the marsh and waves of the ocean on our island home. For me, Hilton Head offers the laid back Southern lifestyle, mixed with the feeling of island life, juxtaposed against the backdrop of serene natural beauty. When I am away too long, I yearn to return to the Island just to remind my soul of who I am at the core. My love for the island is woven into my roots not only because I love the Lowcountry, but also because of the experiences it heaped upon me growing up, including lifelong friendships. The island nurtured the growing of a community of young people growing roots that could never be broken.
The love of my friends, or my Island, did not stop when I graduated in 1996 and went to college. I don’t believe any of us realized it at the time, but we really were just kids trying to figure out life and that, somehow, created an unshakable bond between us that remains today. At 44, I adore them more than I did at 18. I admire them for who they have become as people, what struggles they had to overcome, and how they handled them, and where they are headed in life. Life has a tendency to take a person down strange and winding roads, serving up twists and turns you never see coming, sometimes even when there are flashing, bright red lights. I think most people I call friends have slid down those winding roads to get to where they are today.
We are all now “adulting,” and we are not the adults we were trying to be when we were 20, 25, or even 30. We are just people living through real-life struggles, dealing with raising pre-teens and teenagers, juggling demanding careers, or maybe starting over again after a divorce. Some of us are new at the game of marriage, or being parents of toddlers, wishing we could, literally, keep up with them. Adulting perhaps takes Island kids longer because really who wants to grow up after living in the sunshine and safety of paradise for so long?
At some point, many of us have returned home, limping to our island, looking to redesign the blueprint of his or her own life. I have done this numerous times, never once regretting it. When I’m away from Hilton Head too long, I have a great sense of longing that creeps up when I least expect it, a yearning for the ocean and close friends I share a passageway of intimacy with that I can’t explain to anyone else. Sometimes, I don’t even understand it. But it’s there, and it’s real. No matter what, these are my people; we share the good, the bad, and the really ugly, and because of this, our roots will always be intricately connected.
At the end of the day, there’s no precise word or phrase that can encompass the essence of our island home. It’s not just the surrounding beauty, or the strong bond of friends and community, which make our island exceptional and unique. It’s so much more…an array of feelings, emotions, and experiences all tangled together that simply can’t be captured in words alone, and for that, we are all very lucky.
Marie Benson Morris is an educator, mom, and relentless traveler. She and her children happily reside in Manila, Philippines, where Marie is a wellness teacher at International School Manila. Read more from Marie on her blog: www.lifeasagypsysoul.com. Her message to everyone is to remember: “We can do hard things.”