Local examples of the Deep South’s legacy of family and community

Unbreakable bonds

By Lola Campbell

Community, fellowship, love. Those are three words that came to mind as I read about each family’s history and traditions. And to know them all personally just confirms the ties, across the family lines, that drive our extraordinary Southern family culture.

Family: a cherished word, elevated to the status of pure gold here in the Deep South. It surpasses the notion of a mere cluster of blood relations, expanding to encompass the encompassing community and village, intertwined by the threads of shared experiences. The ties that bind a Southern family are renowned for their unbreakable strength. Amidst storms of anger, quarrels and exasperation, the beacon of unconditional love always illuminates, for the bonds of kinship wield a power unmatched by any force. There is simply nothing that compares to the embrace of family.

They stand as our unwavering cheerleaders, a wellspring of inspiration in our moments of depletion, a sanctuary in times of peril, a bastion of normality when everything seems askew and a steadfast presence in a world of ceaseless change. It is for these reasons that the generational ties of our local native families remain astoundingly robust, but the tales that tell of these families are both scarce and precious. 

Indeed, those who have relocated to our region often find it rare, and even thrilling, to encounter someone with a lineage that spans multiple generations within these lands. While the newcomers find themselves captivated, the families themselves are brimming with pride and nostalgia, reveling in the opportunity to walk the paths where their ancestors once tread and to reminisce about the traditions and stories that have shaped not only their present, but also the generations yet to come.

The Lyneses

Michael R. Lynes has been a resident of Hilton Head Island’s Point Comfort neighborhood for an impressive 65 years, representing a lineage that stretches back to the late 1600s and early 1700s in the Ridgeland, Beaufort and Yemassee regions. His familial roots run deep. Born and raised in Ridgeland, Michael’s parents ventured to Hilton Head in 1958, drawn by the completion of the original Hilton Head bridge in 1956. They chose to build their home in the very same neighborhood where Michael and his wife, Debbie, now reside, alongside their daughter, Mollie Lynes Kinard, and her own growing family. 

Such steadfast intergenerational connections serve as a testament to the enduring strength of family ties. Reflecting on his childhood, Michael fondly recalls a time when he and his siblings would explore the bountiful natural wonders right at their doorstep, engaging in hunting and fishing escapades. He muses, “Back then the Point was an untouched wilderness, with nothing but dirt roads and no houses. Our social life revolved around the church, and the island’s churches were a sturdy thread that bound the community together.”

He cherishes memories of vibrant neighborhood gatherings, where Sunday potlucks, traditional Lowcountry boils (a cherished custom that endures in his family to this day) and lively barbecues — often hosted by his parents — were complemented by lively square dancing. “My parents hail from the epitome of traditional, large Southern families,” Lynes remarks, acknowledging the stereotype of the richly adorned customs that unite families from the South. Recognizing the significance of preserving family ties, Michael emphasizes, “Family history is truly conveyed through the stories shared by our elders. Rarely do we commit these tales to paper for our children, and it’s a humbling realization when one assumes the role of the ‘older family member.'”

The Cohens

Willie Cohen III epitomizes the rich legacy of Gullah culture as a fourth-generation native of Hilton Head. His family’s migration from Charleston down the coast paved the way for the establishment of settlements on various islands, including John’s, James, Wadmalaw and ultimately Hilton Head. The profound influence of growing up in the South, particularly on the island, is evident in Willie’s remarkable ability to foster a sense of community and cultivate a larger familial culture. 

Recollections of Willie’s childhood adventures echo the vibrant spirit of a tight-knit family that played an instrumental role in shaping him into the well-rounded adult he has become — a person capable of thriving in any environment. Whether it was riding in the wagon hitched to his grandfather’s tractor, toiling in the family’s three fields along Squire Pope Road or purposefully being left by his father in other native island communities, each experience served as a valuable lesson in adaptability. These trials formed a part of his unique upbringing, providing him with the skills to navigate the world with confidence. 

For Willie Cohen the intertwining of family ties and deep-rootedness is inseparable. He passionately believes that they signify a profound connection and an unbreakable bond that forms the bedrock of strength. In his words, “When something is tied together, it is interwoven, intertwined and always connected. That’s precisely what our family represents. We remain forever united in love, resilience, hard work and the quintessential Southern hospitality that defines us.”

The Purdys

Roxanne Purdy Dzendzel, a proud native of Hilton Head, boasts an extraordinary lineage that spans an impressive eight generations in South Carolina. With her ancestors settling in Charleston during the 1700s, they ventured further south to the local area in the 1900s, solidifying their deep-rooted connection to the region. 

Roxanne’s father, Henry Klugh Purdy III, affectionately known as “Rock,” was raised in Ridgeland, but his formative summers spent visiting his great-grandmother in North Forest Beach on Hilton Head left an indelible mark. So profound was the impression made on him during those island summers that he chose Hilton Head as his home after completing college. Thus Roxanne found herself incredibly fortunate to experience the realization of a cherished dream — growing up in the South, steeped in family traditions that are etched into her very soul. 

For Roxanne it was the culinary delights that formed the cornerstone of family togetherness. She fondly reminisces, “Food was the glue that held our family together. After church on Sundays we would gather at my grandmother’s house for supper, sipping on sweet tea while engaging in discussions about politics, history and local gossip… My parents hosted annual Fourth of July river parties and fish fries, Lowcountry and crab boils and New Year’s Day gatherings complete with collard greens and hoppin’ john.” 

And when food wasn’t the centerpiece, life on the water took precedence — a cherished aspect of both Roxanne’s and her husband, Nathan’s, upbringing, as they both grew up on Hilton Head. They attribute their idyllic and wholesome childhood experiences to their adventures on the water. Roxanne enthuses, “We were raised on the water — fishing, crabbing, skiing, inner tubing, embarking on nightly cruises in the Calibogue Sound, hunting for shark teeth and searching for dolphins. Our lives revolved around the water. Now, as parents, my husband and I are dedicated to preserving these time-honored traditions for our boys.”

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