The epic, whirlwind trip to “the best city in the world” has finally come to pass and it was just as amazing as I expected it would be.
For those of you who don’t know my friend Jess (and many of you don’t), she is quite an unforgettable person. If you have read any of my earliest blog posts from my semester in Italy, you would know that she has been by my side through many of my Italian travels and shared a room with me in our home base of Perugia. We have gone through so much together, and were determined to continue our friendship long after we returned to the US.
One of the most characteristic qualities of Jess in our group of friends in Italy was her use of “y’all” in almost every sentence and her confident belief that her hometown of Charleston is and would forever be “the best city in the world.” Now, I’m not one to be confrontational, but when someone makes that bold of a claim, I can’t help but be a little doubtful (especially when I live in the happy city of Richmond). Simply asking what makes Charleston so great would never reveal the true reason, so this week I hopped on a train (my parents refused to allow me to drive due to what happened last time) to see for myself.
Nine hours later, chilled to the bone from overpowering AC in the train and dazed from reading the entire trip, I was greeted on the train platform in South Carolina by a bear hug that squeezed all the air out of my lungs. I hadn’t had a Jessica hug in so long that it took me completely by surprise, but I realized how much I’ve missed that hug all summer. As we walked to her car through a fog of sticky, humid air, we talked excitedly trying to catch each other up on the past three months of our lives in 15 minutes.
Arriving at the Compton household, I immediately loved her home, her family, and the abundance of Southern accents. If Jess is unforgettable, her dad is even more so. Hoffa, as he is affectionately called, is also a hugger and doesn’t mind speaking his thoughts to the room, no matter how people might take it. Jessica’s family is full of big personalities and great people who emanate kindness. I felt incredibly welcomed, not just as a guest but as a friend, by her parents, three siblings, all of their friends as well. If “Southern hospitality” was an entry in the dictionary, the Compton clan would be pictured right next to it.
It amazed me the entire time I was there how “Northern” I suddenly felt. Although I’ve spent most of my life in Virginia, my parents, born and raised in Pittsburgh, grew up in homes where Pittsburghese words like “yin’s guys” and “thingymajig” were the norm. Needless to say, growing up, me and my siblings barely used the world y’all and teased each other for being Southern if it slipped out. I had never once heard someone say “Bless her heart” unless it was in a joking manner. Once I got to college however, most of my classmates and friends came from New England, so I felt that I was one of the few representatives of southern culture on my campus. Dating a New Jersey-an and spending time with friends from Boston must have confused my identity, because after being in Charleston for less than two days, I can tell that I am most definitely not Southern.
Along with the prevalence of Southern accents, I noticed something else about Jess and her friends. They freely talk about God as though he is a constant and natural presence in their lives. Having not been around many Christian friends lately, it was so refreshing to see how much they trust in God with every part of their lives and it allowed me to soak in a little bit of their admirable faith for a moment. After a packed day of watching rescued sea turtles be released into the ocean, riding along for the family trip to the dentist, hanging out at romantic Sugah Cain with lazily grazing horses and beautiful trees, learning about the history of Charleston on a carriage tour with Hoffa’s company, and heart-to-hearts with Jess throughout the day, it was nice to unwind with a slumber party and listen to Jess and her friends catch up on their lives in and outside of Charleston.
While I was in Charleston, I started to feel a little bit like I had as a tourist in Paris. I didn’t seem to speak the language (apparently the “r” isn’t pronounced in Charleston), I was new to the culture, and I was in awe at the huge buildings and beauty everywhere. I was most definitely an outsider in Paris, but with Jess as my guide I was able to see how everyday Charlestonians go about their daily lives. And let me tell you, even though I wasn’t absolutely blown away by the city itself, I can see now just why Jessica would insist on Charleston being the best city in the world. If I had been born and raised there, I would think so myself.