It’s the kind of burger that makes you groan luxuriously on the first chomp. The pillow of bun, the juice of beef, the slip of lettuce, the squish of tomato, the salt of cheese. The burger is a mouthful of summer. I chomp this burger in ghost mouthfuls year-round, even in the summer-dead-days of February hundreds of miles from the real deal.
The subject of this burger floats across the tidal creek as I eavesdrop on a conversation between Bill, our kayak guide, and another tourist who has burned enough calories in the past two hours to be salivating for the best burger on the island. Bill serves up his recommendation on the blade of the paddle before it slices back into the brown flank of the creek. “You’ve got to try the burgers at McConkey’s Jungle Shack,” he says in the same spare tone that has enlightened us on the mating rituals of fiddler crabs and the desalinization properties of spartina marsh grass. With ropy muscles knotted by decades of kayaking and an exhortation to drink no less than two full water bottles while on this kayak tour, Bill is our mother hen and we his chicks, bobbing about in brightly colored boats but never far from the stretch of his protective wing.
My water bottles are all but empty. I watch the plunge of my paddle and the nose of my kayak jerks ungracefully toward the pluff mud marsh on my left before straightening. Behind me, under the banter of restaurant recommendations, I hear an extra gurgle-glug-splash as Uncle Paul bails yet another bottle of water from his alarmingly leaky boat. My mom’s kayak is across the creek, skimming beside a shrimp boat just beyond the imposingly snobby deep sea fishing yachts docked at Edisto Marina for the South Carolina Governor’s Cup Billfishing festivities.
Further behind me, the colonies of fiddler crabs wave comically ponderous claws and poke up and down on needle legs. Pods of dolphins crest in pairs–mother and toddler–in the open tub of the bay our kayaks have just vacated. A great heron tracks us with unblinking stare from the marsh edge. The sun fluffs the quilt of its evening rays to settle in for the night, blanketing all of us with that golden spread that precedes sunset.
I’m thinking of burgers and Bill’s recommendation and the fact that even though I’m a tourist at Edisto Beach, I’ve been coming here for vacations for twenty-two years, and as such, I have a hint of the local about me. I know the taste of a McConkey burger in my mouth and would whole-heartedly second Bill’s opinion.
There’s something to be said for knowing the taste of a burger. Knowing it, and being away from it, and coming back to it. Anyone who grew up vacationing in the same location will understand: you know the burgers, or the ice cream, or the bike path, or the best sunset spot, or the twin bed you’ve slept in with sandy nine-year-old feet in a way that pins down memories like a bug skewered on an entymologist’s wall.
I call this kind of vacation–the kind that draws you back like a tall glass of lemonade on a hot day–an anchor vacation. Our other travels coax us elsewhere around the state, country, and globe in a titillating kaleidoscope, but for a few weeks each year, we return home like nesting sea turtles to our family’s anchor spot: Edisto Island, South Carolina.
My grandparents stumbled across this off-the-beaten-path island back in 1988. Edisto is nothing fancy–it’s got one beach-bum grocery store, zero stop lights, a handful of decent restaurants, and relatively unpopulated beaches. Kiawah is more exclusive, Hilton Head is flashier, but Edisto–trapped in between these two more well-known lowcountry escapes–has the benefit of being the anchor that four generations of my family have harbored.
With two girls of my own now coming with me to Edisto Island, I watch our anchor settle more firmly in the sand. Little Friend and Little One have both run naked and christened the beach with pee, teethed on seashells, frolicked with dolphins at sunset, listened to thunder race the tides across marshes, and eaten their body weight’s worth of key lime pie from King’s Market.
We’re blessed that my parents own a rental vacation home on Edisto Island, an arrangement that makes it affordable and feasible for us to mark the passing years by the size of footprints in Edisto’s sand. With each visit, we reaquaint ourselves with our favorites (burgers at McConkey’s, BBQ at Po Pig, jewelry from With These Hands Gallery, the beach at Botany Bay Plantation, everything at The Edisto Bookstore), add new favorites to the list (Palmetto Moon Gallery, Billow Street Pizza, The Glass Onion) and make plans to expand our horizons with future exploration (Husk Restaurant in Charleston, Nathaniel Russell House Museum in Charleston, paddle boarding in St. Helena Sound).
This summer, our vacation included a pack of cousins all under age seven who whisked around in a constant cloud of sunscreen and an accompanying tribe of parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. We held a pizza taste test competition with the lesser-known Billow Street Pizza coming in as reigning champ. We drank wine on the beach watching the moon rise. Aunt Faith provided manicures for little girls with mini-clam shells of nails. Uncle Paul whipped up an amazing Tyler Florence shrimp and grits combo followed by a peach crisp (which led to four encores of crisps). The menfolk held ruthless beach bocce competitions. Little One cried angry sobs through one bike ride and slept, helmeted head smashed against her bike seat’s safety bar, through the second. Uncle GT and Aunt Marla excused Little One’s wee-morning-hour cries with a chuckle, saying “We’ve done our duty. If it’s not one of ours crying, we just roll over and go back to sleep.” We acquainted ourselves with the south of Broad streets of Charleston at a horse carriage ride’s pace. Little Friend eyed the genteel Southern houses and pronounced, “They’re so elegant!” (She says it four-year-old style, “Eh-yeh-gant.”) We dug for buried treasure on the beach. We emptied full pots of coffee by 10 am each morning.
Just as we slipped off the calendar (asking one another, “Is today Wednesday? Thursday? Tuesday?!”) and our eyes became accustomed to the daily scan of ocean horizon in search of clouds piling up to produce a thunderstorm, it was time to pack the car and head home. “I want to stay for, like, 16 more weeks!” Little Friend announced as she sorted her shell fragments–treasures, all of them–into piles. That’s how you know you’ve found your anchor vacation spot. You can spend a week or two or three year after year in the same little spot and still want, no need, more time there.
Anchor vacations are the white t-shirt of the travel world. Comfortable, simple, understated, and goes with anything. Like white t-shirts that never seem to leave our closets, anchor vacations should have a permanent place in our lives. Pick an anchor vacation spot, and that anchor will come to define you. By returning to the same place time after time, you’ll remember who you were, appreciate who you are, and catch a glimpse of who you will be. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get to eat one spectacular burger each year.