Written by Gene Cashman III
he morning was quiet as I walked up the drive to my parents’ house. There had been a heavy rain the night before and the earth seemed content to soak in the moisture and life. Hardly a creature stirred. I had risen early and gone to visit with my mom to get some advice.
When I walked in the house she was quietly going about her morning routine. She greeted me with a motherly kiss and poured me a cup of coffee. Bear, her welsh corgi, gave two sharp barks and licked my legs. I took my usual seat at the counter bar, somewhat stressed about whether or not to take a new job, and I was going through a myriad of “what if” scenarios. My mom looked up from slicing little pats of butter for the toast. “There is nothing permanent in life, except change. Well, at least that is what your father always says.” It was a simple statement that offered no real breakthrough to my dilemma. Sensing my ongoing frustration she stopped her task and sat down next to me. “Let me tell you a story,” she said. “It’s rather ironic that this problem of yours should come up right now.” She was referring to the upcoming Bluffton reunion of all her Washington friends. “Thirty years ago your father was faced with the same decision. We had to choose whether or not we would leave wonderful friends, a dear old neighborhood, our first house, church and familiarity with a city for new opportunity. It was tough.” Her eyes smiled as she recounted the old memories. “The morning that moving van backed out of the driveway I cried, but if we had not gone, so many rich things would have been missed. I was sad, but quickly realized it was for the best.” Just as those words rolled off her tongue the front door swung open.
“Yoohoo, Kathy!!” two loud voices called out. “We saw big Gene in the yard and he said to come on in.”
It was Roy and Kay -- part of their Washington crew. Mom’s eyes bulged. “Oh my gosh, I am still in my pajamas!” Too late. Roy and Kay were already in the kitchen “Kathy! Hummingbird! How are You?” Hummingbird is a term of endearment that Roy bestowed on me as a kid and it has stuck over the years. Mom jumped up and gave both a genuine and welcoming hug. No one skipped a beat. I think mom forgot she was in her bathrobe and pajamas. It was obvious the friendship was familiar and strong. Within ten minutes Brian, Sandy, Brenda, Mac and a host of children and grandchildren loudly filled the kitchen with laughter and conversation. The party had begun.
This group of friends all met in the late 1960’s in Washington DC. They lived in the same neighborhood and shared in the common bond of young children, young careers and young marriage. As the years wore on, more children were added to the mix, promotions were attained; things began to change. Yet somewhere along the line someone decided on a way to keep everyone together. Every five years there would be a reunion in Bluffton. The history of “Why Bluffton?” is an interesting one. My great grandfather built the cottage on Oyster street in the early 1920’s. It was a river retreat for the family and an escape from the Savannah heat. My father spent many a day as a young man on the May River and at the Oyster Street cottage. My grandfather maintained the property and in the 1970’s built an addition so my dad and his expanding family could also enjoy the home. To the Washington group my father’s tales of Bluffton were just too good to be true. My father knew otherwise and began to expose them to the Bluffton “State of Mind”. The house on Oyster street and its access to the May River would be ground zero for their indoctrination to, and love affair with, Bluffton. If only the walls of that house could talk, or perhaps for reputations sake it’s better they remain quiet.
The party moved to the porch and into the front yard of Brenda and Mac. Heck, they grew to love Bluffton so much they eventually bought a house on the river for themselves. The conversations were boisterous games of “remember when”. “Remember crabbing all day on that rickety ole barge?” one child would ask or “remember staying up all night long with Mr. Cashman cooking that pig?” the other would reply. The memories and family traditions established on those hot summer days were uniquely etched into each child’s mind. They had been pulled and shuffled many times over the years and were now sweet gems that the grandchildren thought too good to be true and wanted to see it all with their own eyes. Things were coming full circle and a new generation was falling in love with the mighty May River. Bluffton has a special way of doing that, of creating magic out of the most ordinary of things and then imprinting those smells and sights as extraordinary adventures into the mind of anyone who really gets to know her. The memories currently being retold were a sweet collection of 1970s and 1980’s era Bluffton. This was back when Bluffton was a speed trap between Savannah and Hilton Head and going to town either meant Scott’s, the post office or Nickel Pumpers.
I stepped back from the fray and watched the happy scene unfold. I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my mom. “Son,” she said, “I know you are still wrestling with that decision.” I looked at her and then back out at the crowd. “Yep.” She sat down on the steps. “Leaving friends for a job is never an easy decision,” she said as she introspectively scratched her chin. “Things worked out well for us. We made and kept wonderful relationships over the years. It could have gone the other way but it didn’t.” She folded her arms and leaned back. “Son, you cannot perfectly plan out your life. You must seize upon opportunities as they are presented. Real friends, true friends will not only understand but be there, in time, regardless of the whats, whens and wheres. As long as you are doing the best for your family,” she paused and looked me dead in the eye “they are the only ones that matter.” She continued to stare at me. “I don’t mean your father and me as family either, it’s your girls I am referring to. You take care of them.” She hugged me and as she walked away said, “make the call and never look back; you’ll be okay son.” I watched as she went out and kissed Betsy on the cheek and scooped up Keeny.
A sudden vibration caught my attention. It was my best friend and neighbor Robert calling my cell phone. “Hey buddy,” he said in a tone I was unfamiliar with “I have news.” My stomach turned. “What?” I shot back expecting the worst. “That job I was checking out ---well...” there was a long, uncomfortable pause “I am going to take it.” Son of a gun, he had beaten me to the punch, but I could tell the decision was hard on him. We had lived next to Robert and his wife Jamie in Nashville for five years and had shared in the best and worst of times. I swallowed hard, the irony of the day beating down. “Congratulations! When you moving?” I expected, naively, a long farewell tour. “One month,” he responded. I was floored. You blink and a month is gone. I played it cool and we chit chatted about the details of the job and move. All the while my mother’s advice rung in my ears. I watched as the crowd of people laughed and reminisced. “Robert,” I said halfway cutting him off, “you know how we have never gotten you down here to Bluffton, even after all these years?” He laughed. “Yeah.” I now had a plan. “Well, that’s about to change. Bluffton is now going to be our destination of choice, the place we use as home base for keeping our families in touch. Wherever we may land with work, this is a place our families can retreat to every year or so.”
The blueprint for success was fifty people strong and standing right in front of me. His voiced changed and he seemed relieved. “You got it buddy, let’s make this happen. When the dust settles we’ll have the girls circle some dates.” I was still in shock at all the changes that now lay ahead, but glad to know one important piece of business was settled upfront. “By the way,” Robert said, “what’s the word on your job situation?” I laughed. “Well, let’s just say I might need the number of your realtor.” And just like that, the seeds of another Bluffton reunion were born.