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Charleston SC: Fare Thee Well, Family Style

In the Kitchen: Charleston

In the Kitchen: Charleston

Head Count: 15

The Crowd:.plenty o’ kids, a LITERAL family circus, equine technicians, backgammon sharks, trilingual shorties, vegetarian yogi, adolescent black belts, South African soccor fans, world travelers and potluck veterans

Bean Batches: 2 (one meaty, one vegan)

The Stove:. Three-burner electric. No oven, no cornbread.

After a couple of days poking around Atlanta, it was time to make a beeline for the Atlantic and a few days with my favorite group of Teutonic Beachniks — the Family Cain down in Charleston SC.

The Cains are one of my touchstone families and a wonderful reason to head for the Palmetto State. The pater familias Greg (not pictured) is currently working on his MD residency, and in keeping with tradition the rest of the family (Mama Anja, bigbad Paul, fleet-footed Henry, sweet Juliette and Julius “THE BOBBY”) were making their annual pilgrimage to Germany (Anja’s home) to recharge their Deutscheness during the warm months.

Backstory/Flashback: 2007

A few years back, Dr. Greg was set to graduate from medical school, and put out the call for a party on nearby Folly Beach. We rent a house, lollygag for a week, and celebrate the summertime.

Hostess and Host: Greg and Anja

Hostess and Host: Anja and Greg

I’d known the boy since well before his med school days — we met in Oxford MS during grad school in 92 — and had watched his family grow from afar. We got together in Berlin a couple of times over the years — when the eldest Paul (now a spindly 16-yearold Klaus Kinski lookalike) was (as we call it back home) “tee-tiny.” I didn’t really know his others, but decided to pack up the kitchen, drive over to Folly, and hang out for a few days.

During that week, I was able to sit back, relax, and really appreciate the essence of beach-houseness surrounded by the many facets of the Cains’ life in South Carolina. Greg’s parents came down from Camden, his sister Darlene slowed her musician’s migration, brother Jeff came in from Chicago and the many friends of Dr. Greg gathered for six days of eating, swimming and late-night discussions.

The Cain Kids (Chronogically): Paul 16, Henry 14, Juliette 9, Julius 7

The Cain Kids (Chronogically): Paul 16, Henry 14, Juliette 9, Julius 7

I got to watch these kids (then 14, 12, 7 and 5) run around on the beach all day, host various clutches of friends at the shore, flop around and soak up the sun. Little Juliette had just lost both front teeth, loved to play backgammon and helped teach me German by making some basic flash cards. The Big Kids schooled me in foosball and were jazzed to see the summertime blockbuster pirate movie. Anja taught most of the kids “vaulting” — a kind of horseback gymnastics.

The week at the beach (and a couple of other short visits that summer) connected me to Los Cainiacs, and if I didn’t make it there by the kids’ departure date, it’d be another year before I could get my butt kicked at backgammon by a little German girl.

Rote Bohnen Auf Wiedersehen

With a Saturday departure scheduled, we decided to do red beans on Friday night — and to gather a bunch of Anja’s colleagues and friends together for a proper potluck goodbye. Of course, it would be a reunion of sorts — a gathering of faces from the last trip and an effortless multi-family mealtime as a proper sendoff. Cook two batches — one for the vegetarian crowd — and the guests would take care of the rest.

There would be plenty of workaday chaos. There might be yoga. Also, a salad.

Tonight would be a “cook and run” situation, since another wondrous occasion was in the works — old Austin roommate Robert Brown was getting married in Charleston that weekend, and the rehearsal dinner was the same night.

The afternoon was a blur — chop, cook, set to simmer, get presentable and pre-celebrate the nuptials — so when I returned to the Cain homestead, the beans were in full swing. Off with the jacket, roll up the sleeves — there’s catching up to do.

In my experience, the Cain table is one of the great spaces to spend leisure time. With a few chairs and a wooden bench along one side, it’s worn from constant use, and a multi-purpose gathering spot of the old school. It’s used for morning coffee, afternoon homework sessions, art projects and everything in between.

Horsey Acrobatics: Ms. Ellie, Sharon and Kimberly hoppin' over horses at vaulting practice (2007).

Horsey Acrobatics: Ms. Ellie, Sharon and Kimberly hoppin' over horses at vaulting practice (2007).

This night, the surface was covered with bowls and plates in various states of emptiness. Adults were luxuriating over beers and tea. The younger kids sat in laps or hovered nearby — the older kids went off to play in the adjacent living room. The din was fantastic.

Of course, there were plenty of familiar faces from the last trip — Kimberly Anderson (ballerina/horse trainer) brought her husband Ian, Sharon Fish accompanied her kids Wren and Ellie (She Who Knows Things & Rolls Her Eyes). The children paired off by age group and played as we ate and talked about work and summer plans.

The next day, the connectors would be bound for another life with the grandparents in Berlin and beyond. We’d stay connected through the magic of the web.

As we laughed and caught up or got introduced, Dr. Greg worked late night at his hospital’s Emergency Room. He’d finish his twelve-hour shift just in time to run home, drive his family to the airport, and say goodbye before collapsing from exhaustion.

We made sure to raise a glass to him and (more importantly) set aside a bowl for the good doctor. Physicians gotta eat, too…

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