A middle-aged man says grace at the Francis Marion Hotel's Swamp Fox Restaurant. The two couples at the table grasp hands during the blessing. After their meals, they order peach cobbler and ice cream.
Piano music fills the gracious room: American songbook classics and Paul McCartney's sweeter Beatles love songs. The piano player drifts easily from song to song, embellishing the familiar melodies with virtuoso grace notes and chord stylings.
While the old port city is filled with new restaurants catering to foodie tourists, the Swamp Fox draws locals with traditional Charleston dishes. She-crab soup, first served in 1924. Shrimp and grits. And, something new, boullibasse.
As dusk draws the curtain on another hot and humid autumn day, children from the College of Charleston stroll by on the sidewalk along King Street outside. Tourists hurry to pedicabs, and their young drivers peddle off into the night toward South of Broad or the French Quarter.
Down Calhoun Street, the statue of old John Calhoun stands upon its tall pedestal, glaring toward the peninsula's tip where the Cooper and Ashley rivers join to form the Atlantic, where slave ships from Africa entered the city's harbor with their human cargo. Do any of the carefree children in their cutoffs and T-shirts have any knowledge of the old theorist of slavery and secession?
Further down Calhoun just past Meeting Street rises Emanuel A.M.E. Church, where a vicious young white thug gunned down nine black parishioners at their Wednesday night prayer service just a few years ago.
The past is not past here Young black men and older women weave baskets and flowers from the marsh grass that beats back and forth at the edge of the tidal rivers that form the city's peninsula. The slavery museum at the old slave market, brought inside before the Civil War when street sales of human beings offended the sensibilities of proper Charleston ladies. Elegant houses and buildings that date back to the 18th century.
The Citadel, where cadets still celebrate their school's first generation of students firing at the Union's Star of the West, months before the Fort Sumter attack that officially began the Civil War.
On a quiet morning at Fort Sumter's ruins, looking at the nearby island from where the South Carolina secessionists' cannonnade cut through the darkness of a springtime morning, it's hard to imagine that four years of war and thousands of deaths began here. The union was saved, slavery ended, but the country's legacy of racism and violence burns on.
At the Citadel, as I watched the young men and women march to and from class in their camouflage uniforms, the old lyric kept returning: "Ain't gonna study war no more, no more, ain't gonna study war no more."
We saw a lot of young children in Charleston. Maybe for them, the old song will come true.