"Charmingly Southern" describes Elloree on one side of a white promotional coffee mug. My mother, Brenda, and her husband, Michael, had moved from their early retirement home in Florida to the outskirts of this well-preserved town in rural South Carolina in the southeast of the United States.
Cotton is everywhere in the south. The plant is a waist-high shrub with white plumes of lint at the tips of its branches. Dark seeds remain trapped in the fibres and need to be separated out after harvest. White fluff from excess tufts of cotton clogs the gutters by the side of the road.
The state parks trim the edge of a vast lake created for power generation and whose most dangerous inhabitants loiter with intent just beneath the surface of the water. Alligators and the threat of instant, horrible death are omnipresent. Perhaps because the countryside of my childhood had no such danger beyond the odd snake, I feel supremely nervous in a place of such serene beauty as the lakeside in the early morning. My paranoia feels justified when my mother and I see three massive, car-length alligators sunning themselves on a walk through another nearby park.
Despite the culture shock - visiting not just the United States but also a part of the country whose contours are so different to those of rural New Jersey or of London - I remember so many happy things: moments of peace in the mornings, pleasure from discovering abandoned places, humour in the rapidity with which my mum fled from those alligators, kindness from Michael who fixed my camera like a pro and a splendid Thanksgiving dinner.