A few months ago a dear friend from my days in Beaufort, South Carolina, passed away — age 95. “Ms. Dottie,” as she was lovingly called by all in the historic district of the small Southern town, was the Barefoot Blogger’s inspiration, my muse, and my confidant.
It’s best to describe Ms. Dottie by some of the stories she told during the time we were neighbors in Beaufort. The tales were remembrances of her life that she shared while we sat together in the little backyard patio she called the “Sky Room.” I wrote down some of the stories and started my first blog “Tales from the Sky Room.” I never published it. I told only a few of our best friends that it existed.
One early evening in the springtime, while Ms. Dottie and I were enjoying our first cocktail of the day together, I took my laptop out to the Sky Room to tell her about the blog I had created in her honor. I had been saving the occasion until there were several posts published. I read them to her with much fanfare. I thought she would be thrilled. To my dismay, she was not happy at all. In fact, in her Ms. Dottie “way,” she exclaimed: “I was going to write a book myself someday.”
I never wrote another. She was right. They were her stories.
Ms. Dottie never got around to writing her book of stories. She did, however, write letters. One friend says she received as many as 65 of Ms. Dottie’s letters in one year. Hopefully we will see them someday.
Asking Ms. Dottie’s forgiveness, I would like to share one of her stories with you. I believe she would be pleased to be remembered.
Black Coffee and Devil’s Food Cake
(How to Get Rid of Your Man)
Ms. Dottie is my newest BFF and becoming one of my life’s true treasures. She lives next door to me in my adopted “home” in Beaufort, SC.
Born and raised in Robeson County, NC, “A dirt farma’s daughter,” Ms. Dottie says with her slow, Southern drawl. She’s spent 45+ of her 89 years in Beaufort, living in one of the beautiful historic homes near the waterfront. Married twice, Ms. Dottie’s been a single woman most of her life. She wed “Cecil”, a teacher at Porter Gaud in Charleston, when she was in her 40’s. This marriage and subsequent divorce was followed by another “Cecil” who brought her to Beaufort. They were married only 5 years before he passed away.
For a few years Ms. Dottie worked at the Paris Island Marine base as a secretary. “Wastin’ my time peckin’ away on a typewrit-a,” she lamented. Then one day she received a message from the base General’s office that he wanted her to apply for his administrative assistant’s job. When interviewing for the position with the General, in the early 1960’s, the General asked Ms. Dottie: “So, what do you think about the integration ‘situation’?”
Ms. Dottie responded quickly in her dry, matter-of-fact way: “Sir, I believe we all have aptitude.”
She got the job.
After more than 20 years working in the office of various Paris Island base Generals, Ms. Dottie retired to dedicate her life to her beloved Craven Street house and garden. She was blessed that the house had a large back lot that she could nurture. “It was really not a flower gah-den,” she described in her most apologetic Southern way. “It was a tree gah-den” she said, thinking back about the big house she’d given up when she could no longer manage it.
I’ve learned Ms. Dottie’s love for trees is only exceeded by her love for puttering. The first day we met, she was puttering in the “Sky Room” that she has created for all of us who share back yards. Taking the two parking places she is allotted in the back of our townhouses, Ms. Dottie has designed a little piece of “heaven.” Albeit asphalt is the garden’s floor, flowers and trees grow in boxes, urns and various make-shift containers in and around a perfect square. The Sky Room has become a favorite gathering place for the town home neighbors. So much so that those on either side of her have given up some of their parking space for the plants that are encroaching into their boundary lines.
I have found that over the few weeks that I have been in Beaufort, I’m spending all my spare time with Ms. Dottie, enjoying the Sky Room. Sharing Ms. Dottie’s space, however, comes with two definite rules:
1 No talking about trash cans
2 No talking about parking spaces
Naively, I accepted those two rules during my first visit to the Sky Room. Now I’m finding it hard to abide by the rules because they seem to be the only issues Ms. Dottie and I can’t solve after a couple of glasses of wine.
Routinely now, first thing in the morning or in the evening after work, I open the back door of my townhouse to look for Ms. Dottie. Actually, I’m checking for the small green throw pillow on the glass table in the Sky Room. That’s our signal that she’s accepting guests. If the pillow is there, I’ll grab my cup of coffee, wine, beer, or whatever’s handy and appropriate for the time of day, and head over for a visit. Inevitably, she greets me with the widest grin and a “howdy!”
“My dea-ah, Debby, ple-ease do come over here,” she implores with far too many syllables in her words. “I’ve been hope-ng to see you this (morning), (evening),” she exclaims. “Ther-rahs so much I’ve been saving to shar-rah with you.”
How can one resist? It’s like having a puppy dog meet you at the door after you’ve been away. I just want to run over and hug her neck. Often that’s exactly what I do.
Now you would think after a few days of constant chatter the two of us would run out of conversations. Not true. There’s so much to say to and to learn from someone with a lifetime of wisdom like Ms. Dottie. She may not be world traveled, yet her knowledge and curiosity seem boundless. One particularly amusing story she shared with me one evening was about Cecil #1.
Ms. Dottie and Cecil separated before their final divorce some years ago. After a brief time apart, Cecil realized the mistake he’d made losing Miss Dottie and he wanted to reconcile. He invited himself and a friend over to visit Ms. Dottie one evening. The man friend was rooming with Cecil during the separation. “It was the last thing I ev-ah wanted to do,” wailed Ms. Dottie. However, not to be rude and mostly because she’s a proper Southern lady, Ms. Dottie agreed to the visit.
Since she wasn’t fond of either of her intended guests, Ms. Dottie was quite perplexed as to how to get them in and out of her place without too much ado. Certainly an unfriendly or less than cordial attitude would not be acceptable to her. “We may-ve been dirt po’ farmers from Robeson County,” she claimed, “but we were taught how to act with gen-til-ity,” she strongly admitted.”
So when Cecil and his friend came on the appointed evening for the visit, Ms. Dottie met them at her door with her welcoming grin. She graciously seated them in her front room. On straight back chairs. They carried on a strained, yet civil conversation about nothing important. When she had just about enough, Ms. Dottie rose from her chair and offered her guests some refreshments. “Cecil expected me to remember that he lo-oo-ves a cocktail in the evening,” she explained. “He was looking forward to a stiff drink,” she said with her sly, crinkled smile and a wink.
Ms. Dottie returned balancing her silver tray in her hands, sat down beside the two guests, then proceeded to serve them refreshments. Black coffee and devils food cake.
When escorted out of the house soon after, Cecil never graced Miss Dottie’s doorstep again.
Tales from the Sky Room
Views of Ms. Dottie’s beloved Beaufort:
Thank you, “Ms. Dottie”…
For all that you have meant to me over the years that we have known each other. You are a true gift to womankind because of your spirit, your enthusiasm, and your love.
Thank you, “Ms. Dottie”…
For sharing your “Sky Room” with me during a time that I needed it most. You will never know how much I cherish our morning coffee times and cocktail afternoons.
Thank you, “Ms. Dottie”…
For helping me to become the woman I am today. Your strength and encouragement helped show me the way. I am stronger, wiser, and more knowledgeable because of you.
Thank you, “Ms. Dottie” …
For being here for me now … and forever.
With deep love and admiration,
The Beaufort Island Packet printed a wonderful tribute to Ms. Dottie, complete with more humorous stories. Please click here and enjoy!
Categories: My Story