A Love Letter from Amy Romanczuk

Dear Lowcountry,

I came to you determined not to love you, those many years ago. I accompanied my parents on a visit to Charleston, where my father was a candidate for a prestigious position at the Medical University. They were wined, they were dined; I was thrown collectively to the wolves known as the children of the faculty entertaining my parents. At least, that's how I saw it. I was the girl from off, (and from a northern "off" at that), injected into the adolescent South of Broad social scene at the insistence of parents.  Sitting on the side piazza, the balmy night air was a far cry from the air back home, frigid with the coming of winter. I don't know whether it was the cadence of the talk around me, or the scents of unfamiliar blossoms and sea tinged air that recalled joyful vacation days, but my heart softened. As the gathering shifted to another home, I got a guided tour of a small corner of the city. The cobbled stones of Church Street and the little beach revealed by the Ashley River at low tide enchanted me, though I confess, I don't recall the name of the boy that walked with me. When we flew back to winter and my old life, the scents and sights of Charleston clung to me, and have never let go.

It was here I learned to lure a crab from the creek behind our home into the cooking pot, to cast a shrimp net, marvel at the moods of the wetlands that embrace the coast. Here, I learned that a palmetto is a thing of pride, and definitely not a palm tree; how to tell a white heron from an snowy egret, and what a joggling board is. I became a girl of the beaches: Folly, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms: each had a separate joy and beauty. I memorized which house along Murray Blvd you pointed the bow of a boat toward if you were crossing the Ashley by water from James Island to the peninsula. I learned that pluff mud can get on your clothes, between your toes, and its distinct smell in your nose, but also in your soul. I lingered in Shell House at Ashley Hall, with my friends, girls who became women I still delight in being with and cherish as friends. 

I left you, Lowcountry, for my studies at several universities and to travel the world, but when I decided to find a spot to call home as a young adult, out on my own, it was Charleston that again called me. I was welcomed back; the fathers of friends I knew in high school were now the physicians I worked with as I embarked on my nursing career. Their generosity giving supplies, medicines, and money to a small medical clinic in rural India where I spent a summer as a volunteer still warms my heart. And when I came back from that trip, and met the man of my dreams, I remember how several of these same physicians insisted on vetting him, since my own daddy had passed on.

Charleston was the city of our courtship and though I left you again to gather a graduate degree, we came back here to raise our family. Charleston embraced the return, and adopted daughter and the man from off, that she loved. We introduced our son to the beauties of Lowcountry living. His eyes would light up in wonder at the glory of the ACE basin from canoe, or the mysteries of Four Hole Swamp. Together, we would watch from the porch as thunderheads rolled across the sky, "better even than television", he once declared, and he was right. Our home in the historic district was our haven, a multigenerational family, for my mother came to live with us, and my siblings would tumble in for extended visits.

It was here that I found my stride as a pediatric clinical nurse specialist. When I developed an illness that nearly killed me, and forced me to give up my practice, it was in the arms of the Lowcountry, amidst the live oaks and wildlife, that I was able to find a balance.  Now in a stable health state, and able to be more active, I've tried to give back in the ways I can. My love of books and reading has lead me to volunteerism at school libraries, at Charleston Country Public Library, Charleston Library Society, Trident Literacy Association, and spreading free books via BookCrossing. I like to "live local" supporting the craftsmen and women of the Lowcountry. I've learned the names of the farmers whose bounty fills our bellies and the artists and artisans whose works grace our home, the coffee roasters and chefs whose establishments are the spots I take visitors to for refreshment. I have my favorite spots to show off on a tour of the city, some of which, like the Unitarian Church graveyard, I recently learned that our son, living now on the other coast, recommends to people he knows who visit Charleston. (Second generation pride makes me smile.) Here my heart dances and my soul sings, each to many different tunes and melodies, as different as a sassy salsa to a Mozart motet. As I move into another phase of life, as an artist, I even know the names of the hens whose eggs I use to create pysanky (Ukrainian style eggs). 

Ah Lowcountry, thank you.  Our romance has lasted nearly 45 years, and will go on until my last breath. You may not be the land of my birth, but you are the land of my heart.

Amy Romanczuk is an artist and book aficionado living in Charleston, SC. She is self-taught pysanky artist of Ukrainian heritage. Several of her original design pysanky were accepted into the collection of Kolomyia Museum of Hutsul Folk Art (Kolomyiskyi muzei narodnoho mystetstva Hutsulshchyny), as representational from artists outside Ukraine. She has taken the designs and details of her craft into 2D art, using pysanky symbols in pen and inks, and paintings. She has been writing pysanky since 1996.

Some of Amy's custom pysanky creations

Some of Amy's custom pysanky creations

Lowcountry Library Love

(Are you tired of the alliteration, yet? No? Good. If you read One Small, One Tall, you learned that my initials were EEE with my maiden name. What can I say? I like a good triple letter combo.)

Growing up, my mom and I had three mutual hobbies; singing, reading, and visiting open houses. While I tended to impress my friends by hitting the high notes from “Oh Happy Day” on the Sister Act 2 soundtrack, singing remained a hobby while literacy became my career. Well, advocating and fundraising for literacy. Naturally, the open house visits came into play later in life.

Charleston is one of the fortunate cities in this country that has a large library system- 16 branches, in fact. And to your benefit, they are growing, building new libraries, and renovating the current locations thanks to a referendum that was passed last year. Noting that Charleston County spans 100 miles, there are libraries from McClellanville to Edisto, all staffed with knowledgeable employees and filled with unlimited resources.

So what are some of those resources? For those that live within the county and don’t have access to the internet, all 16 branches have wi-fi and computers for the public. Each summer, the libraries are filled with participants for Summer Reading Programs and Piccolo Spoleto Events. The Met Opera Series brings in hundreds of regular attendees throughout the schedule and has been a Main Library favorite for many years. Looking for personal development courses? There’s an upcoming Digital Storytelling class taking place at different branches throughout the county. The DIY Event Planning classes are taking place as we speak and look very interesting! Last but not least; book sales. The Charleston Friends of the Library put on several book sales a year with prices starting at just $1 for adult books and $0.50 for children’s books and the funds go back to these very programs I just told you about. Win-win.

Want to know the best part about all of these resources? They are FREE to Charleston County residents. I encourage each of you to visit your public library. Walk right in, with or without a library card and look around you. See how the library has evolved since you checked out that Nancy Drew book two decades ago or dropped in for a quiet place to study. You will see a bustling facility with people from all ages and stages interacting and making good use of their public library. As the saying goes, “Having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card”.

Thank you to the staff and volunteers at the Charleston County Public Library system for making this city greater and brighter with your contributions!

Bonus: Watch this news clip on the time I found a gin bottle in a cut-out cookbook


Photo credit: LowcountryAfricana.com

Photo credit: LowcountryAfricana.com