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It’s the beauty, the people & the food

How does a woman who was raised and married in southern California; then moved to Wilton, Conn., to raise two children for 21 years; and THEN moved to Hilton Head Island become a local? How did a “fruits and nuts” California girl and a New England “proper” woman become a Southerner? To my surprise, it actually has been very easy!

We have lived on many beautiful “coasts,” along three cities in California, with rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean. And then we loved the trees, hills and change of seasons in Connecticut. When my husband and I were first considering where to relocate after our last child entered college, we came back to what we knew after vacationing on Hilton Head over many Aprils, Augusts and Thanksgivings. Family is everything to me, and I’ve been fortunate to have my lovely daughter and granddaughter nearby in Bluffton for many years, and my adored son moved to Charlotte six years ago. We all say y’all now!

Hmmm. What are my foremost thoughts about being local? I would say the beauty, the people and the food of the Lowcountry!

Let’s start with the beauty. We’ve now been on Hilton Head for over 14 years. When we moved here, I would tell our new acquaintances that we had now lived in three beautiful states. As the general manager at Wexford Plantation, I travel across the Cross Island Bridge each morning, and I am reminded that I am surrounded by a stunning landscape. My husband points out that I had come to appreciate the beauty of the Lowcountry long before he did. (I guess that made me local before he became local?)

Maybe it’s an acquired taste or smell, but I realized last Saturday as I was walking along Pine Island Beach that I LOVE the smell of pluff mud at low tide. I did not feel the same way 14 years ago! In fact, at first, I was somewhat offended by that sulfurous smell! What changed? I have changed. I have become a local!

Next let’s talk about the food. Fourteen years ago I had never experienced that wondrous taste of an oyster. Now every time that I visit a local restaurant (every weekend), I scrounge menus to find fresh oysters. I keep a detailed spreadsheet, track my favorites and analyze the salinity, creaminess and brininess. (To my delight, the best ones are usually the locals from Lady’s Island.) In addition, I now seek out the best barbecue and search for the freshest fish brought in locally by our fishermen.

And, then there are the Lowcountry friendly and helpful people. When I walk on the beach, there are no strangers. Everyone says “hello.” That’s certainly a departure from my New England years! This area gets smaller and smaller each year that I live here. There are fewer and fewer strangers. There are some of us who are more local than others. My beloved 70-year-old next door neighbor Corine was raised on Hilton Head Island, and talks about life here in the 1950s. But, here’s the “people” beauty of this area … if you smile, everyone greets each other as if they’ve known each other forever.

We recently spent a week in California, attending my husband’s class reunion. We visited many of our old haunts: San Francisco, Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Newport Beach. We also recently visited New York City and Connecticut, and enjoyed the city and the trees and changing seasons of Connecticut. Amazing places! But after both trips, when we were driving from the Savannah airport across the bridge, I gave a big sigh of contentment, when I realized that I was HOME. It was somewhat of a surprise to me.

What do I love most about home? The sights? Smells? Oak trees? Spanish moss? Alligators? Ocean? Marsh grass? Lagoons? Lightning? Quick summer downpours? Sounds? Birds? Oysters? Pluff mud? I love ALL of it! Somewhat to my surprise, I am definitely a local.


Local since 2004 Susan Fishel is the general manager and chief operating officer at Wexford Plantation. Her hobbies include family and work. She also enjoys beach walks, planning and experiencing new cultures, people and scenery. “I plan to take up piano again when I retire,” she said.