Between the Tides ****.* by Patti Callahan Henry
I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, where pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera.
This was one of my beach reads on our annual family trip to coastal South Carolina. I found myself thoroughly engrossed, soaking up the scenery~ and had I not already been in the lowcountry, the author’s descriptions and lyrical writing would have transported me there, evoking images of marsh grasses, salt air, and the ebbing tide. In hindsight, I could have been very happy reading this in the comfort of my AC, since it was 118 with the heat index the week we were there!
Catherine “Cappy” Leary leaves her childhood home of Seaboro, S.C. at the age of twelve, when her parents move after the tragic death of their family friends’ youngest son. Cappy, who always blamed herself, never returns to her beloved Seaboro. Eighteen years later after her father’s recent death, she has yet to honor her father’s wishes of scattering his ashes on the Seaboro River. Prompted by a colleague of her father’s, who has plans to visit Seaboro, to research her father’s life, Cappy is forced to return, sooner rather than later~ intent on guarding her family’s secrets. Her journey takes her out of her self-imposed exile where she is living half a life, and her own research leads her down a path of self-discovery and forgiveness.
“The land of Seaboro, South Carolina, was always wet to me; the river, sea, rain, and humid air soaked me to the core. I’d been cushioned in their amniotic fluid, protected in the embryo of my youth. Until Ellie’s baby, Sam, was lost in the waters in a shift of tide that changed everything: who I was, what I became, where I lived.”
“My memories of childhood mainly consisted of sensory impressions, a specific smell, song, or picture: the musk of decaying marsh, oysters on the bonfire, a boat on the open sea, a dock over the river, sogged earth, or the cloying smell of mildew and salt. They were fractured, blurred memories of nonsequential moments in time. The specifics and order were hidden beneath the years and layered silt of adolescence, college, and adulthood.”
Ellie Loughlin is like a second mother (a kinder, gentler one) to Cappy:
“I valued times alone with Ellie more than I did the treasure Blackbeard was purported to have hidden on these islands. She told me that my green eyes were like raindrop circles reflecting a calm sea. I loved that idea that my eyes, my body were formed of the water, that the fluid motions of my body on the horses from Seaboro’s stables, running against the wind, or my swimming against the tide, diving for the bottom of the river, were one with all that surrounded me. My eyes were proof of this; even my curly chestnut hair was like the kelp strewn on the beach after the storm, Ellie once told me.”
Ellie prepares pancakes for Cappy. . .I thought it would be fun to add some powdered sugar so they resembled sand dollars :-)
Cappy walks in on Ellie crying, who explains to Cappy that she was crying because her heart was so full. . .
“So we sat on her back porch and ate pancakes with too much syrup–just the way we liked them–and the waters of my life once again sloshed over and soothed me. I was Ellie’s and she was mine. We talked of the heart and all it could hold, and watched morning come in waves over the salt marshes.”
When Cappy goes home, she asks her mother is she ever cried when because her heart is too full. Her mother impatiently responds that it would be an insult to God and that she should be appreciative for all that she has.
“For an instant I saw the beatings of Mother’s heart and I wondered how it sent blood to body and limb when its small though perfectly formed chambers had room for so little. I went to bed and prayed for a bigger heart than my mother had, and then, as I drifted into the soaked sleep of that summer, begged forgiveness for making such a terrible request.”
“Mother believed I desperately needed to learn the ways and means of achieving the precarious balance between being a Southern girl, and a full-fledged woman. Ellie, who was actually from this sea world, loved nature and all that God tossed around us. Woven from the smooth ropes of the two women’s individuality was a solid hammock of security in which I swayed through childhood.”
Cappy’s mother complains that while everyone else had fun, she did all the work when they get together with the Loughlins for an oyster roast. Cappy’s father responds by saying that no one needs a fancy potato salad when sliced tomatoes would do.
My version of a fancy potato salad, if you’d prefer one over sliced tomatoes :-)
Potato Cobb Salad, a list of ingredients & recipe here
I added shrimp, which seemed appropriate for the lowcountry and omitted the avocado since my hubby is not a fan.
“And did I notice the details that summer: so many details, too many details. They came fast and furious: bird, dolphin, sunset, and landscape took on sharp, clearly delineated features. I painted the osprey nest behind Ellie’s home from multiple angles, fascinated with the babies inside, with how the mother left and returned to the exact same nest with the same mate every single year.”
“The river was at ebb tide, and I saw the faint blur of the shrimp boats. . .”
“Our families sat in the same place on Charles Island every year: an unofficial stakeout with blankets, coolers, beach chairs, and lanterns, a home base I ran to after each foray across the beach, a touch point of comfort. That last shrimp boil encompasses my memories of all feasts and roasts and boils. Sand, water, food, and love.”
“The land had given and then ceased offering cotton and rice, but the gift of shrimp was celebrated yearly.”
To have your own shrimp celebration with this one-pot wonder, you can find a recipe here.
“The dock came into faded view like an old watercolor, ancient and wind-whipped.”
“I moved across the sand, dug my toes below the shifting surface. The beach changed personalities with each turn. Oyster shells cracked and broke under my shoes, shattering with the sound of thin glass. Cleanly swept white beach then changed to masses of shells and seaweed, eventually blending to marsh and creek.”
“I laid my head on the sand, felt the telltale scratch of a sand dollar below the surface. I lifted my face and came to my knees, dug up the sand dollar and flipped it upside down to watch its cilia legs wriggle in a vain attempt to return to the life-giving sea. There was a crack down its middle where I’d laid my cheek. I had killed it. I choked on another sob, desperate now to save this sand dollar.”
“The water is brilliant, shot through with prisms of light, and I see shrimp, whiting, and trout swimming by. I am one with them; they accept me. I am free and peaceful. Light winks and dances above me; nothing can harm me here, and isn’t it beautiful? I am amazed at all the grace we believe is on top of the river: the rippling waves, the jumping fish, the grasses and shells at its edge. Ah, it is much more exquisite below.”
“The ospreys had returned to their destroyed home, found twigs and pieces of their old nest and formed a new one in which to rest, raise their family; their new-formed home had survived the storm. I stayed there and watched until I knew what I needed to do next: make something new of the remnants I’d retrieved while I’d been here. Before I went home I needed to see a few people, mend a few broken twigs.”
“I held my hand over my chest as if I could stop what washed over me. Pure love. For Ellie. For Dad. For life. For hope. For Dad’s conviction that words and literature bring us to ourselves, return us to our true self, that they connect us to one another.”
“The Gullah believed that the shells embodied the spirit of the sea and transported the deceased to the next world. At eleven years old, I had imagined spirits crossing the ocean in clam-shaped gray-striped shells, or riding on sand dollars like rafts, over the horizon to home.”
“There was, I realized, a worse thing than drowning in the river, in the dark tidal waters—it was dying in everyday life, the slow leaching of oxygen from my soul until only an empty shell remained.”
“My heart rose into my throat, and I sat on top of my old car and let silent tears fall for all I hadn’t noticed in this precious life of mine, for the things lost because of neglect and fear. I wept for the chances I hadn’t taken and risks I had avoided, for the books I hadn’t read, the words I hadn’t said and the love I hadn’t given or received.”
“Maybe Shakespeare was right: ‘What’s past is prologue.’ This time I would allow the past to be a prologue to a new life, a brighter, wilder life of taking chances, risking joy.”