Writers of the Month

James A. Mallory and Susan Diamond Riley

James A. Mallory

James A. Mallory

James A. Mallory is a freelance writer and editor who relocated to Hilton Head Island in 2015. A former newspaper executive with 30 years of management, editing and writing experience, he retired from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as Senior Managing Editor/VP News. A regular contributor of news features to Hilton Head Monthly, he also appears in IWN’s Ebb and Flow and Reflections. Mallory writes fiction and is currently (fall 2019) shopping a detective mystery set in his hometown of Detroit.

James A. Mallory

Heritage For Sale (an excerpt)

“Seven times. Maybe it was eight. Oh, hell, it had to be nine,” I said as I gulped the bourbon. “I don’t know how many times the dude called.”

Denise shook her head in a motion that suggested empathy. We started as strangers chit-chatting at a Hilton Head Island bar but became quick friends when I began venting about an aggressive attorney pushing me to sign an agreement to sell the family property on the island.

“So let me see if I understand this, Jake.” The corners of her light-blue eyes tightened as my nickname rolled off her tongue. “A cousin is trying to force the sale of property that has been in your family since after the Civil War.”

I nodded. “My people are spread around the country. They all have claim to the land. The ones who still live on the island want to keep the property, and they want my support. I could really use the money from a sale.”

“I sometimes drive down William Hilton Parkway and look at the town’s green space,” Denise said with a frown. Her tone was wistful as she continued. “I often wonder what stories were swept away with the homes that used to be on that land. You know, Jake, you can’t separate the land from the preservation of the Gullah culture.”

Mentally, I dismissed her comments. I have little patience for guilt-ridden white liberals who are quick to tell folks how to live their lives. Perhaps that’s being a little hard on someone whom I had just met. I signaled the bartender for another round.

“It’s called heirs’ property,” I said, returning to my original point about my family’s land. “My great, great, great-grandfather, a slave, escaped to Hilton Head Island, which the Union Army had captured early in the Civil War. After the war, he used what little money he saved up from working for the Army to buy a plot of land. He later added a few more acres. It’s been passed down through the generations without a will.”

Why was I telling Denise my story? Probably too much bourbon. The bar we sat in, overlooking Skull Creek, was just starting to fill with the local Happy-Hour crowd. It was the first place I stopped after crossing the bridge onto Hilton Head. The four-plus-hour drive from Atlanta tired me out.  I had been on the island just a few months ago to prepare for Big Mama’s funeral.

As a kid, I never liked coming from New York to the island. It was hot. There were too many bugs, and my Gullah cousins sounded strange. Big Mama, one of the escaped slaves’ many great-grandchildren, feverishly embraced the notion that the land was our family’s heritage. She reinforced her belief with Bible verses. I heard her say so many times: “Da Lawd say in Matthew: Cause weh ya tredja da, dat weh ya haat gwine be.” (For where your treasure is, there will your heart also be.)*  She’d added that not many black folks had propaty (property). The only legacies I cared about were fishing and crabbing in the salt marshes. I was Big Mama’s closest living relative—her only child, my mother, had died years ago. I’d visited Big Mama on vacations and during holidays once I relocated to Atlanta.

“Damn, I miss Big Mama,” I said out loud before sipping my refreshed bourbon. A soft touch on my hand reminded me I was not alone.

*Source: De Nyew Testament, American Bible Society, 2005

“Heritage For Sale” © James A. Mallory (2019), from Reflections


Susan Diamond Riley

Susan Diamond Riley

Susan Diamond R­­iley is an award-winning author and editor who has worked in the fields of publishing, journalism, and education for more than 30 years. A full-time resident of Hilton Head Island, she holds a Master of Arts degree in Children’s Literature and is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. Preview her first novel, The Sea Island’s Secret (Young Palmetto Books/University of South Carolina Press, 2019) at www.SusanDiamondRiley.com.

Susan Diamond Riley

The Perfect Gift

I am a Lady of Scotland. I’m not especially Scottish, mind you, although some distant ancestor may have lived in that country across the pond many centuries ago. Oh, I’ve read nearly every book on British history I can get my hands on. I’ve watched the Changing of the Guard from inside the gates of Buckingham Palace and sat in on an official session of the House of Lords as the private guest of Lady Josephine Farrington (all true, by the way—but stories for another day). Despite these adventures in England, though, not once have I set foot in the land of Loch Ness, plaid kilts, and haggis. Nevertheless, I am a true Lady of Scotland.

You see, what most of you don’t know about me is that I am a Scottish landowner.  While I spend most of my days on a sea island off the South Carolina coast, I also own a plot of land on a different island on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. That property, located in Glendaruel on the Cowel peninsula, is the home of Dunans Castle. I have my own official tartan and, yes, you may call me “Lady Susan” from this point forward if you wish. I know this must be hard for many of you to swallow as I’ve hidden my nobility so well. But despite what you may be thinking, this is no work of fiction. Although I generally try to downplay my position, I am a Lady of Scotland, and I have the documentation to prove it.

My life of nobility began three years ago when my oldest daughter, Kelly, gave me the perfect Christmas gift. Granted, those of us blessed to live even a portion of our lives in the Carolina Lowcountry have already received an invaluable gift. But knowing my love for all things British, my daughter purchased—in my name—a square foot of land in the middle of Scotland. It’s less random than you may think. The funds from this sale—along with probably thousands of others—are being used to restore the castle ruins on this once-grand estate. In return, my fellow landowners and I became lairds and ladies of Scotland. As I mentioned, we have our own tartan, and I received an official-looking document suitable for framing. I understand that, should I ever actually venture across the Atlantic and find myself in the area of Dunans Castle, I am entitled to a complimentary tour of the grounds. And did I mention that we have our own tartan?

Naturally, upon receipt of the gift, I immediately requested that my husband and children begin referring to me as “M’Lady.” Surprisingly, that title has not yet caught on. I was recently at an event with the great Southern writer Rick Bragg discussing my square-foot plot of land and my family’s resistance to honoring my role as a Scottish noble.

“Don’t feel bad, honey,” he said, shaking his head. “You could own forty acres of land in Alabama, and nobody would show you any respect.”

Despite my as-yet unfulfilled desire for respect, I was—and continue to be—genuinely delighted with this perfect gift. First of all, it came from the heart of a grown child who truly gets me. She knows my passion for British history and for the romance of a castle perched on a misty moor. What’s more, she appreciates my appreciation for the quirky. A square foot of turf in a land I may never see is a gift I would never have bought for myself … and yet one with my name written all over it.

So I place a challenge before you. The next time you are faced with a loved-one’s birthday, a special anniversary, or any other present-required celebration, seek the deeper gift. Resist the urge to snatch up a generic this or that just so you can mark an item off of your to-do list.  Place yourself in the minds and hearts of your gift recipients. What seemingly frivolous items would they love but never get for themselves? Keep in mind the thought and love you put into the selection multiply the value of the gift. It isn’t about expensive. It isn’t about size. Think small. Sometimes the perfect gift is just one square-foot in Scotland.

“The Perfect Gift” © Susan Diamond Riley (2019), from Reflections.

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