Have you ever heard a ‘Mary Caroline’ story? Chances are, if you’ve met me in person, then the answer is yes. And I bet you are chuckling now, recalling these funny tales of a supremely kind, innocent girl from Spartanburg, South Carolina. Mary Caroline and I met the first week of school during our freshman year at Centre College. Her peppy southern accent was filled with warmth and sincerity and she charmed us all immediately with her infectious smile and tales of her childhood. “Y’all, when I was little I thought my middle name was Caroline and my first name was Mary Caroline – so I thought my name was Mary Caroline Caroline Rhodes until the 8th grade!” We were instant friends. Fast-forward twelve years later and I am slowly tipping the rockers of my chair back, swaying with the ocean breeze and listening to the century old wooden boards creak beneath my toes as I lightly push myself to and fro. At long last I have made it to St. Simons Island, and am able to call Mary Caroline’s beloved family cottage home. When I met Mary Caroline it didn’t take long to learn of her top five favorite things in the world: her family, her dog Lucinda, South Carolina, her ‘sippy cup’ (there’s a hundred great Mary Caroline stories inspired by the sippy) and the cottage on St. Simons. “It’s the one with the red roof!” she would proclaim to anyone who would listen, as we explored the island over a quick but somehow relaxing two days in this mini-paradise. When we asked Mary Caroline where she wanted to go for her Bachelorette weekend we were all secretly hoping and not at all surprised when St. Simons was selected. I had been looking forward to this escape for months and for the opportunity to visit St. Simons for years. Despite years of hearing of this home, however, I could never have anticipated the life the cottage with the red roof would exude. As if the wood that made up the floor and ceiling were alive, you felt the history and the love emanating from the walls, spiked with a touch of sadness that comes from a life well lived. This simply made the memories singing from the cottage that much more real. Over a hundred years, countless lives walked over these wooden boards, all coming to St. Simons for comfort that only the ocean can provide. As I sat on the porch it was made clear to me that there were more than six of us on this get away. The cottage was our friend as well and we would spend this weekend pilled under her red roof, filling her soul with love, laughter and happiness that only the closest of friends can share.
Built in 1898, the cottage with the red roof has been in Mary Caroline’s family since 1915. The walls are draped with family photos, a short documentary of sorts, chronicalling the history of the home. I looked deep into the eyes of the many smiling faces and was always delighted when I felt Mary Caroline looking back at me, both as a child and in the image of her mother. They share the same smile and quality of giving instant comfort to those around them. Family legends aren’t the only stories born of this place though. Dubbed Sea Crest Cottage, it served as a boarding house in the 1930’s, whose most infamous guest was Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind. Apparently, she didn’t take any chances and, in the not-at-all dangerous town of St. Simons, gave the housekeeper quite a fright when a shotgun was discovered under her pillow. Ms. Mitchell slept with it nestled below her head. You know – just in case. I had the honor of sleeping in this very room for the weekend but lived on the edge and did so without any firearms.
The real living room of the cottage is the porch. Right on the beach, you are just steps away from the stone boulders that keep the ocean at bay during high tide. We began our Saturday sipping coffee and tea on this very porch, reviewing the countless funny moments from the night prior. Upon our return to the house Friday evening, I insisted that we swim in the ocean. Growing up, when we would make our yearly exodus to Nags Head, NC, we always had to put our feet in the water, no matter what time we puttered into town. I had yet to feel the sand in my toes, taste the salt water in my mouth, to feel that slight pull from the waves as they lapped back out to sea. We raced over the small bridge and I ran straight into the ocean. The tide was far out and we had an expanse of sand all to ourselves. The water was placid and warm. I immediately felt the tension and stress I had been holding for the past several weeks begin to break apart in my chest. This was exactly what I needed.
All sufficiently caffienated on this Saturday morning, we set up shop on the small private beach just a few feet from the cottage’s porch. Later, when the ocean retreated and stopped crashing into the rocks, splashes of the sea falling onto the other side, we made our way back to the main expanse of sand and waded into the water. With Mary Caroline as our guide, we learned how to hunt for sandollars. Noting that this was going to take a small dose of courage, we all bravely dug our big toes into the ground, pushing beneath the sand under the cloudy water, completely unsure of what we would rustle up or what would find us first. Fishing about I suddenly felt a slight nudge from a thin, rounded edge. My breath caught but I didn’t stop and slowly managed to tip this buried treasure upward, reaching beneath the water to grasp my prize. I retrieved a fuzzy, flat and perfectly round disc, the faint etchings of a star splayed across its face. We talked and collected over a dozen sandollars, finding the hunt oddly addicting. Years before Mary Caroline and her cousins set about achieving the goal of collecting 100 sandollars in one day. We weren’t close to breaking this record but we proudly took our treasures back to Louisville, small memories of that day in the St. Simon sun.
Back at the house, it was time for the quintessential beach drink, margaritas. My friends Lindsay and John have, in my opinion, perfected this process and it couldn’t be simpler. Equal parts tequila and triple sec, Lindsay takes a whole lime and sqeezes every last bit of juice out of the flesh. Leaving the flattened fruit in the glass, she adds sweetened lime juice (approximately one tbs for every shot of tequila) and mixes over ice. It is strong and wonderfully balanced, not at all sugary like you will find from the pre-mixes that kill your drink with sweetness. A splash of orange juice will do the trick if you find this margarita too abrasive in any way. For me, it is absolutely perfect.
There were plenty of moments outside of the cottage, exploring the shops and drinking haunts of St. Simons. But it was the memories I’ve noted here, the hours of sipping tea, coffee, wine and cocktails on the porch and looking at the ocean, that really brought home to me why Mary Caroline feels so passionate about this place. You can look around from the beach and see the development that has crept up the shore, slowly and defiantly, since the cottage stood alone many years ago. It can be hard to look past the newly-built condominiums to the left, the taller-than-the-palmtrees homes to the right. But when you are seated on the porch, the weathered wood beneath your feet, the ruby red roof stretching out over your head, you look upon the same the view that Mary Caroline’s family found so priceless nearly 100 years ago. And in that moment, nothing has changed and nothing else matters. I listened to the sound of my girlfriends and was so completely grateful to be surrounded by their laughter. We made sure to leave the cottage with the red roof fuller than it had been when we arrived, restocking it with love and faith derived from friendships that will last a lifetime, just like those that came before us.
The Jennings Margarita
- two ounces tequila
- two ounces triple sec
- two limes
- two tbs sweetened lime juice
- optional: splash of orange juice
- optional: salt for the rim