Purple Passages: Secrets of Grimke House, Charleston

“Heidi, would you mind stopping by 329 East Bay Street before we leave town?”

We were on our way out of Charleston during our recent road trip, and my niece Heidi graciously agreed to stop her SUV long enough for me to catch a snapshot of the Grimké House basking in the bright morning sun. Its open arms-double staircase once welcomed visitors with a hospitable hug. (Until recently it housed attorneys’ offices, so you can draw your own conclusion about its more recent history!)

Grimke House_Charleston_mod

This house was made famous by Sue Monk Kidd’s book of historical fiction The Invention of Wings. Here is an excerpt from my review:

“ . . . the novelist creates parallel stories representing two strata of early nineteenth-century America, alternating chapters with the voices of two engaging characters: the aristocratic Sarah Grimké and the hand-maid (creative name for slave) assigned to her, Hetty Handful Grimké. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful. Over the next thirty-five years, both strive for a life of their own ‘bucking the constraints of cultural attitudes toward women and slavery, which Sarah and her sister openly challenged.'”

All the purple passages quotes today are pulled from the pages of The Invention of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd’s historical fiction about the Grimké family:


The Weather

“I slipped through the back door into the soft gloom, into the terror and thrill of defiance. The sky had gone cobalt. Wind was coursing in hard from the harbor.” (50)

(We experienced a Charleston, SC storm downtown as we entered this city May 7, 2015)



Mother Mary had ordered “the mosquito netting out of storage and affixed above the beds in anticipation of the blood-sucking season, but having no such protection, the slaves were already scratching and clawing their skin. They rubbed themselves with lard and molasses to draw out the itch and trailed its eau de cologne through the house.” (56)

(Disparity between the races no longer noticeable in Charleston today, at least to tourists. )

Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street
Wall-hanging on sale in Charleston on Market Street



“My breath clutched at my ribs like grabbing hands. I closed my eyes, tired of the sorry world.” (280)


Missing Someone

Sarah’s unrequited love: “Nina was speaking now, her face turned up to Theodore’s, and I thought suddenly, involuntarily of Israel and a tiny grief came over me. Every time it happened, it was like coming upon an empty room I didn’t know was there, and stepping in, I would be pierced by it, by the ghost of the one who once filled it up. I didn’t stumble into this place much anymore, but when I did, it hollowed out little pieces of my chest.” (281)


Yearning for a better world

[Lucretia] “leaned toward me. ‘Life is arranged against us, Sarah. And it’s brutally worse for Handful and her mother and sister. We’re all yearning for a wedge of sky, aren’t we? I suspect God plants these yearnings in us so we’ll at least try and change the course of things. We must try, that’s all.’” (275)


The Pineapple: the universal symbol of hospitality seen everywhere in Charleston's interiors and exteriors
The Pineapple: the international symbol of hospitality seen frequently in Charleston’s interiors and exteriors. Daughter Crista purchased a pair of these.

 We must try, that’s all!

Share your words: your thought, a quote or story adds to the conversation. It’s always nice to meet you here!

Coming next: Jenna’s Rainbow Cake: A Pot of Gold?


The Longenecker Sisters’ Road Trip, Part 2

We pile into Heidi’s shiny black Toyota 4Runner in Jacksonville and off we go, zooming across state lines, first Florida, then Georgia, and finally South Carolina, our voices twanging to Doo Wop tunes of the 50s and 60s: All Good Vibrations as miles melt away.

Bouncing along with our luggage are my sisters, Janice and Jean and our daughters, my niece Heidi and daughter Crista, who have masterminded a Mother’s Day retreat for mothers and aunts.

Our faces reflect the weather, begun sunny, a patch of rain, and then bright sunshine again.
Our faces reflect the weather, begun sunny, a patch of rain, and then bright sunshine again. Left to right: daughter Crista, sister Jean, me, sister Janice, niece Heidi


Waiting for us in Charleston are historical venues and shops, restaurants oozing Southern charm, and a rented house in Mt. Pleasant on an island close to Charleston where for four days we’ll relax, exchange stories from the past and enjoy the sites.




There is a separate bedroom for each sister/aunt and a blue attic loft with two single beds and play table and chair, a little-girl hideaway for Crista and Heidi, wives and mothers themselves.

We enter the city in a downpour: flooded streets and a 4-day weather forecast fit for ducks. (I’m talking over a foot of water in the streets grazing the belly of our car!) Fortunately the weather system soon bubbles away into the Atlantic, and we roam the city without umbrellas. A miracle!

The Architecture


Property taxes were calculated by the number of feet on frontage of the house. Thus, modest homes like the one above were narrow and tall. Fancy, opulent ones were also long, narrow and usually three stories high.


Window boxes offer extra garden space for historic homes that don’t have large front lawns. Simply glorious on our first cloudy day.



Charleston with many Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic churches, along with Jewish synagogues, is called the Holy City because of its large number of houses of worship.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, SC  Open filigree spire to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes.
Church of St. John the Baptist, Charleston, SC
Open filigree spire design built to withstand hurricanes, tornadoes.


How We Saw the City: Horse-drawn Carriage and Rickshaw Ride


Our storyteller/guide with a salty Southern drawl says, “Our horse, Big John, has been imported from an Amish farm in Ohio.” We believe him though we don’t buy his line that he’s originally from The Bronx.

*  *  *

Our handsome bicycler hunk muses, “These ladies look loaded. What’s my tip gonna be?”  (Charleston Rickshaw Company)





The former plain girls’ stash of jewelry and scarves from the Charleston Market on Market Street

Mt. Pleasant Mall on Mother’s Day


“Are these my colors? my sisters ask each other . . . Then I hear: “Remember when we played dress up with Mame Goss’s hats? Or Wedding under the Willows?” Ha ha!



Time to Eat


Mother’s Day brunch at Five Loaves in Mt. Pleasant with (below) a clearly scripted reminder to reflect and share our bounty:

"There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread."   Mahatma Ghandhi  (Also the mission of Samaritan's Purse and other charities.)
“There are people in the world so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” Mahatma Ghandhi (Also carried out in the mission statement of Samaritan’s Purse and other benevolent groups.)


Magnolia Gardens



A magnolia bloom (with Janice), foxglove stem and a peacock about to unfurl fan feathers . . .  in the gorgeous Magnolia Gardens

A Smidgeon of History from Charleston SC, A Photographic Portrait

Founded by English colonists in 1670, Patriots fought–and won–the first decisive battle of the Revolutionary War here [Charleston] . . . .

Decades of growing strife between the North and South erupted at Fort Sumter in April 1861, launching the American Civil War:

Four cadets from the City’s military college, The Citadel, were among the soldiers who fired the first shots of the Civil War across the Charleston Harbor.

The city has also sustained more than one fire and an earthquake.

Good Vibrations





Many thanks, you two!CristaHeidi


Research shows that sibling relationships are the longest-lasting relationships any of us will have in our lifetime. In the natural order of things, our parents will die before we do. We can lose partners and spouses through death or divorce. Typically, our siblings remain.

Road trips, siblings – your comments welcome!



Coming next: My Dad’s Bachelor Trip to Florida

The Longenecker Sisters’ Road Trip, Part 1

Girls’ road trips are part of the landscape of American pop culture. Who can forget Thelma and Louise? Wanting to take a short vacation from their dreary lives, Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) head out from Arkansas to the Grand Canyon in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird. They stop at a roadhouse and it’s all downhill from there. Crime and mayhem ensue until finally the gun-toting girls and their car zoom over the edge of the Grand Canyon. Both Davis and Sarandon received Best Actress Academy award nominations (1991).

Image courtesy Wikipedia
Image courtesy Wikipedia

And what about Oprah and friend Gayle who took off in a much ballyhooed road trip documented on TV and watched by millions . . .

Image Huffington Post
Image Huffington Post

Here’s how the Huffington Post encapsulates their excursion:

In 2006, Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gayle King embarked on what became a much talked-about (and hilarious) 3000-mile road trip across the country. When they weren’t cruising the highway in their red Chevy Impala, the two joined a local game of Bingo in Wichita, met some real-life cowboys on the range and crashed a wedding in Tulsa, surprising and amusing nearly everyone they came in contact with.

In spite of an anxiety-ridden moment on the George Washington Bridge, Oprah and Gayle completed their trip unscathed. When they returned to Chicago, Oprah handed over the keys to that Chevy to a deserving woman named Reola Holdaway.

The Longenecker sisters, Marian, Janice, and Jean are not movie stars or TV personalities. None of us has owned a gun much less aimed one at a policeman as Thelma did. But as siblings, we have done many other things together — playing and fighting as children, working in the tomato patch in Bainbridge, PA, even singing in a trio at church, sometimes with less than perfect results.

Scred Trios_final_7x9_300

The last time any of us can remember vacationing together was back in 1977, the year Daddy broke all sales records at Longenecker Farm Supply, won a free trip to Jamaica and took the whole family including his married daughters and son Mark. We left our husbands and young children behind and frolicked in Ocho Rios for a week — just Mom, Daddy, my sisters and brother Mark.

As married women with children, we have met at least once a year at the Longenecker homestead in Pennsylvania. Recently, we have been clearing out the house after Mother’s death making decisions about her possessions together. And now, as a pause in our separate journeys, we celebrate with a road trip. So, you see, it’s high time to make more memories.


The plan: My sisters and I, with two of our daughters, are gathering from Florida and Pennsylvania for a Merry-May celebration in Charleston, SC. We’ll get there by car and I’ll record our adventures here in two installments. It won’t be the Italian Riviera but we can refresh and renew our sisterhood close to the Charleston harbor inlet leading out to the Atlantic Ocean. And it won’t be Thelma and Louise, or Oprah and Gayle, but it will be Marian, Janice, and Jean.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

In the meantime, have you and close family members taken a road trip together recently or long ago? Tell us about the adventure here.