There is a seaside village on the coast of Georgia that my heart, in fact my entire being, is summoned to at fairly regular intervals. It is as much home to me as the red clay hills of north Georgia.
I understand why it is so about the mountains. My family, at least nine generations of them, has been embedded in those hills so deeply that it's hard, impossible really, to separate the land from our souls. There is no dividing line where the land ends and our flesh begins.
And St. Simons? Why does it have such a mystical draw over me? That, too, is easy to explain.
I was 13 the year I discovered St. Simons, privileged to do so because I was in a gifted program headed up by the remarkable Mrs. Jo Carter, a woman of exceptional panache and vision. It was a small class, no more than 10 or 12 of us, I suppose.
At the start of the school year, she had announced that we were to read a best-selling trilogy by Eugenia Price, a Northern woman who had accidentally discovered St. Simons when once she had wandered off the beaten path while en route to a wedding in Jacksonville. St. Simons hypnotized her, too, and soon she would become the island's most famous full-time resident.
When we had finished the historical trilogy, Mrs. Carter announced that we were going to take a four-day field trip, seven hours away, to the coast to visit all the places of historical significance on St. Simons. I was so excited. I planned on the trip for months.
The day before the highly anticipated trip, my grandmother died. For two years, my father's mother had lived with us while Mama took extraordinarily good care of her.
Now, knowing what I do about the twists and turns of life, I think about that pivotal moment that afternoon when my parents, both of them, said firmly, "You go on the trip. Go."
I was relieved but astounded. Maw-maw had lived with us for two years, and family, after all, is family, plus my parents never believed in missing a funeral. Their kindness that day would prove to be one of the most monumental decisions in my life. It would be the first step in the journey to where I am today.
Again, the always amazing Mrs. Carter had a very special surprise for us. One morning, we assembled in the graveyard of Christ Church, where all the characters from Miss Price's book were buried. As we shuffled around the tombstone, two women appeared. One was Clara Gould, a descendant of one of the chief characters in the book, and Miss Eugenia Price, the author.
I'd always dreamed of writing books, so I was absolutely starstruck. I stuck like glue to Miss Price, badgering her with questions about her books, for I had practically memorized them.
That day, I stood in the cemetery of Christ Church and knew I had found my destiny or that my destiny had found me. I stared at the bespectacled woman with short, gray hair, and I knew, deep to the bottom of my soul, that I would grow up and write books. From that day forward, I never doubted. I just knew.
It is no coincidence, I am certain, that some of my best writing these days is done on that precious island. As soon as I cross the causeway and I smell the sulfur and salt, a deep peace settles over me and I smile. I have many friends there now -- Bess, Pat, Anna, Frankie and my beloved Hodnetts, so a visit to the island is always full and complete.
I always think back to Mama and Daddy, now gone from this life, and how that one decision of theirs changed my life.
Funny how an entire lifetime can hinge on either a yes or a no.