Ten miles south of Timmonsville, S.C., I saw a sociable black dog. She was young, just beyond puppyhood. She walked as if she had two knees in each leg and didn't have the hang of managing any of them. It gave her the look of a Thurber dog. One time, she lowered her head to flirt with the young man who was with her. She put her chin on her outstretched feet and rolled her eyes upward in the old, never-fail feminine ploy. Unfortunately, she ruined the entire effect by standing on one of her long ears when she got up. This caused her to crash to the ground in a pool of embarrassment.
Her owner, or at least her traveling companion, was a truck driver who piloted one of the big rigs, with as many wheels as a centipede has legs.
We were stopped for our picnic lunch at a state rest stop, which they maintain beautifully in North and South Carolina. Neat, trim and inviting, the area was carpeted in bright-green lawn and backed up to the thick pine forests that border almost every highway in this land. The buildings were of brick, crisp and clean, and the tables were spaced at decently distant intervals from each other, one under a large shady tree, another in the sunshine.
The dog, whose name was Girl, and the man had finished their lunch and he was trying to fill her water jug from a faucet on the side of the building. But every time he started to let the water run into the gallon jug, Girl, sociable as a hospitality chairman, slue-footed over to a table of picnickers and began wagging her tail with her entire stern.
Her owner tried manfully to act commanding and firm, a man in charge of his dog. "Girl," he spoke sternly, as she accepted a potato chip and a deviled egg.
On the third call, she smiled again at her new friends and went galloping back, and he and Girl swung into the cab of the truck. He swung. She pawed her way up the side of the truck like a drunken sailor trying to negotiate a Jacob's ladder. She finally made it, and gave him a large kiss on the cheek. He patted her head and they roared through the gear changes and rolled off down the road.
We were on our way to Hilton Head, just off the South Carolina coast. We had come by way of Greensboro, N.C., surely a route as circuitous as the Hampton Court maze.
After that week, when I had spent one day on an airline trying to get to Houston, I met my friend, Jean, spent two days in Houston and went on to Greensboro, N.C. That was because Jean has a sister-in-law, Myrtle, who lives there.
This was three weeks ago and the dogwood was at its peak. Greensboro is a beautiful Southern town and Myrtle drove us around to see the spring finery. The dogwood were everywhere, glowing white back in the pine forests, on the golf course and in every garden. The white blossoms seemed to sit horizontally on the bough, giving them the look of a Japanese print. Their pristine beauty made me gasp. And the pink dogwood was the color of a pale raspberry souffle. Some of the trees are great tall ones and some are small. All are beautiful.
Almost every house we passed had clouds of azaleas, red, rose-colored, pink, peach, lavender and white. It made me want to get home and empty out the wizened azaleas I have in pots. As soon as the dogwood is gone, which is by now, the magnolias will bloom, offering up their creamy white cups and the crepe myrtle will festoon the trees.
Hilton Head, a resort island off the coast of North Carolina, is the largest island between Manhattan and Bermuda, I was told. The drive through the Carolinas was emerald green, fresh and delightful, the highway bordered by forests of slender pines.
Hilton Head is divided into clusters of vacation houses and townhouses and private houses, each group called a plantation. There is a championship golf course almost everywhere you look. We were in a gated area called the Island Club, looking out on a lagoon and on to the Atlantic.
We arrived in an electrical storm, accompanied by roaring rain. I loved it and wished some of it might be falling on California. Patsy's oldest daughter, Mandy, my godchild, called me from Beaufort where she lives across 25 miles of rivers and bridges. Mandy apologized for the weather and I told her I loved it because we so seldom have wild thunder and crackling lightning in Los Angeles.
The next day it rained again with its crashing cymbals and bass drum accompaniment.
Mandy called and said, "You enjoyed the storm so much yesterday I did another one for you today. Now, though, I'll turn it off."
And she did. For the rest of the stay, the air was like silk chiffon floating on my skin. I had never before heard the television weatherman tell me that we were on a hurricane alert. The locals said, "Nothing to worry about. It's when he starts to talk about a hurricane warning that we look for high ground."
Mandy came and picked me up midweek and took me to Beaufort, a town that looks as if paper dolls might live there.