When I moved full-time to Hilton Head several years ago, I discovered something I had never expected. I had heard that "Southern hospitality" was a thing, but I was blown away by the truth.
The Great Purge
Many people assume that I began writing my series of Lowcountry-based novels because I live in the Lowcountry. As a matter of fact, the truth is just the opposite. I moved to Hilton Head as a result of my writing. In researching my first book, I became so entranced by this special part of the country that I convinced my family to relocate here. Like most folks, we were drawn to the Carolina Sea Islands by the usual features: beautiful beaches, interesting wildlife, year-round golf, and great weather (hurricanes don't count). When we prepared to leave our home in a farther-north city, we didn't know a soul who lived in our new community, but we didn't care. We were leaving good friends behind, but Hilton Head had so much to offer, surely we'd be too active to even need friends.
And so the great purge began. In downsizing to a smaller home, we'd need to get rid of many of our belongings. An obvious "donation pile" source: all of our entertaining items. After all, we wouldn't know anyone, so who would we entertain? Gone were the punch bowl and cups, large serving trays, 24 snack-size glass plates, and even the box of old Halloween costumes. Whose costume party did we expect to attend on this island of strangers? Our "party days" were clearly behind us, and we were okay with that.
Surprise! People down here aren't just friendly, they're downright neighborly. We were immediately welcomed into our community by trays of muffins, sacks of fresh-picked peaches, and invitations to join local organizations. Before we knew it, we were attending game nights, cocktail parties, golf outings, potlucks, and even costume parties (time to get some new costumes...). Last year my husband and I began a new tradition by suggesting a mid-November "Friendsgiving" meal with some of his golf buddies and their spouses. The idea was a huge hit, and this year the celebration will include 80 of our nearest and dearest new friends. A volunteer committee quickly formed to secure a location, find a caterer, set tables, and clean up afterwards. That's Southern hospitality, and a way for each of us to express how grateful we are to have each other in our lives.
But the hospitality isn't all fun and games. When a member of my household was faced with illness, a neighbor called to say that she had organized meals to be delivered to us for the next several weeks. "If you'd asked me first, I'd have told you that wasn't necessary," I told her. "I know," she replied. "That's why I didn't ask." Another friend arranged drives to doctor appointments, and others dropped by thoughtful gifts (a cozy blanket, a golf-themed jigsaw puzzle) just to make life a bit easier. The "new friends" had become family.
One of my new Lowcountry friends recently lost her husband after a prolonged illness. She told me she had received comforting cards and letters from folks she'd only met once. She told a neighbor, "These people hardly know me, but I feel like they love me!" Her neighbor nodded and told her, "It's this place. That's how it is here."
The Truth Revealed
So here's the truth I've discovered since moving to the Lowcountry: you don't have to be born and bred in the South to exhibit Southern hospitality. In fact, nearly all of the great people I've met since moving here are transplants from other places: Illinois, Ohio, New York, Michigan, California. While all had friends in their prior states, we all agree that we've never felt a sense of community like we're blessed with down here. Perhaps we were specifically drawn to this place because we wanted this loving environment. Or maybe it's even simpler than that. When we were shopping for homes here on Hilton Head, our realtor told us, "You'll find it easy to make friends because everyone is so happy to be here." I know I am. And for that--and so much more--I am forever thankful.