BOWENS ISLAND BURNS !
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Owing to unusual and unhappy circumstances the Mustang does not appear in today's posting. A sentimental treasure of some sixty years caught fire on Sunday night severely damaging Bowens Island Restaurant. In little more than a generation so much of the charm Charleston and its outlying area has vanished into glitzy new developments, hideous high rise condos upon our beaches and, of course, Walmarts all around. Bowens Island was just about the last trace of genuine living history in terms of rustic coastal pleasures that we had left.
We went over to visit with Robert Barber, owner the of restaurant and grandson of the founders. He was cordial, but clearly vacant from the deep personal loss. It's not unlike the loss of the family farm or the destruction of one's lifelong home or any structure in which loved ones had devoted the majority of their time and energy. We wanted only to photograph the mural in which Mr. and Mrs. Bowen and John Sanka are depicted in an almost ghostly effect, a request which Barber graciously granted. We did not wish to sift through or photograph the extensive damage inside. Most burned buildings look pretty much alike when it's over and Bowen's was unlike anything left in our world today.
Barber seems a good steward of his land and an honorable neighbor. It is almost certain that whatever he does from here will be consistent with what friends and customers have come to value about Bowen's Island.
Anyone who has been there probably knows the history of the place from all the relics and graffiti on the walls. It revealed itself to all visitors. There was no veneer about the place or its owners. If you've never been, neither a comprehensive written description nor a series of professional photographs could inform one of how it felt to be there. To call it "rustic" would be as strong as using a .22 pistol to capture Normandy. No two chairs matched.
Mr. Bowen shoveled the oysters on to the hot steel sheet upon which they were steamed. He often paused and spoke to customers about anything which happened to cross his mind. He looked at you through his thick and sometime steamy eyeglass lenses which made him appear to be speaking from a remote point deep into the past. He might speak of World War I or he might comment on the mini-skirt. He usually worked the oyster-eaters-only room in which they were both steamed and consumed in close quarters. Only beer and oysters may be had in this room. Should any dolt enter that room for other purposes, Mrs. Bowen was on them like the Shore Patrol.
Mrs. Bowen ran the place as might Captain Bligh. She would suffer no fools or infraction of her rules. She disliked spoiled, silly girls who knew not and wondered aloud what they might wish eat, but was kind to respectful young men who placed orders in a clear steady voice while looking her in the eye. If you couldn't make eye contact or quick decisions, she'd dispatch you from the counter and call the next in line to order. Even as she advanced in age her eyes remained very clear and animated. When one presented in foolish ways, those eyes would burn through them like laser beams. If you were lucky enough to charm Mrs. Bowen, those eyes would smile at you like Shirley Temple's.
There was no walking on egg shells to avoid bruising delicate sensibilities. There was no obsequious server informing one of the excellence of their menu choices. There was good honest seafood rendered at very reasonable prices by people who sought only to do right by their customers and to live and work on their own terms.