At last, owners such as the Sorensen family return with summer's balmy breezes. The houses breathe again, through raised windows and flapping screened doors. Linens get shaken out, shingles replaced, generators and water pumps revved. "It takes about two or three days to open this place up," says Andrew Sorensen, president of the University of South Carolina. "Nothing is modern. It's all very simple but very demanding."
Andrew and his wife, Donna, bought their vacation home in 1978. "This was our anchor as I was rising up the administrative ranks," he says. "The kids always knew that though we moved often, we would be here in the summer."
In fact, their second son, Benjamin, now a 20-something professional living in Miami, first came here when he was just six weeks old. A quilt-lined wooden shipping box that came with the cottage served as his baby bed. "Ben took his first steps here," Donna remembers.
As life's demands increased, summer-long stays shortened. Then Donna and Andrew didn't come back for eight long years. They returned three summers ago, afraid of what they'd find. "We were pleasantly surprised to discover how well our home had weathered the intervening years," Donna says. "We immediately set about painting, glazing windows, and replacing shingles."
Today, the couple has brought Ben back for his first visit in a decade, along with Donna's mother and father. (Their other son, Aaron, and his wife, Cesarina, are busy with a new baby and couldn't make the trip.) Though recently hired caretakers have kept up the place, there's a lot of work to be done. "You don't come here to sit around," Andrew says.
As evidence, Ben emerges from the steep back trail, his arms loaded with brush that he uses to fuel a small fire. Clearing out the property each summer is just part of what it takes to maintain this place. Andrew didn't ask his son to take on this task. "But I must confess, it pleases me," he says.
Andrew's gone to work himself. He's standing on a tall ladder, which, to Donna's dismay, he's climbed with a half-empty paint can and brush in hand. Her worry won't deter him from dabbing a fresh coat on the second-story trim. Donna turns to airing out the linens.
When Ben finishes clearing the path down the bluff, he uses it to head for a dip in numbing waters he hasn't felt since he was 14. His grandparents relax on the screened porch. Later, when the mood strikes, Donna's mom will help her make dumplings with blueberries bought at a roadside stand on the drive up. Such is the pace during a languid summer break at this remote cottage.
Named "Mainstay" by its former owners, the cottage once served as the dining hall of this seasonal community, founded in the late 1800s. In those early days, "Rusticators," as they were called, converged each year via steamship, sail, and rail. "Sitting on one of the granite outcroppings, you can almost see the summer folk of years gone by getting off the steamships with trunks filled for a two-month stay," Donna says. "Now their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren share that history with newcomers like us."
Late this afternoon, one such descendant stops by. Sandra Priest, whose great-grandfather helped establish the community, lives in town but maintains a summer cottage here. "Hello, Mrs. Priest," Ben calls. It's been more than 10 years, but he remembers this gentle woman as she ambles in. She hoots, however, to see him grown.
On the screened porch, she fills the Sorensens in on local news-who's here this season, a recent lightning storm. Sandra serves as area historian and recalls when houses brimmed with families all summer long. "The ladies would get together during the week and play poker while the men were back in the city working," she says.
Nowadays, though the homeowners don't know each other as well, the Sorensens still feel a sense of community. "We are not connected by blood with the vacationers of the past, but we feel connected because we share the experience-and that has changed little over these many years," Donna says. She hopes that next summer her son Aaron will bring his wife and their baby, Arturo. "Another generation will get introduced to this point."