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written by
Sandy Lang

A Legacy Thanksgiving

photographs by
Peter Frank Edwards

Volume: 25

The long outdoor table is
dressed with copper lanterns and
buff-colored peonies.

The siblings, in-laws, nephews, and nieces will soon slide onto the bamboo cane chairs that line each side. Everyone from the extended Staubes family who could make it is here—so many that the polished, round table in the dining room that regularly seats twelve, or even thirteen, couldn’t possibly fit them all. “With a week’s notice, we can gather ten of us together easily,” says Keller Staubes, a nephew of the hosts.

Today the count hits twenty-two. Three generations will search for their names on place cards at “Aunt Edna’s,” the home of Edna Staubes Roberds and her husband, Al Roberds. The guests come from Mount Pleasant, Charleston, James Island, and elsewhere on Kiawah for Thanksgiving supper, and the table spans the oyster shell-speckled courtyard near a planting of Cherokee rose bushes now dotted with fat pink buds. The gathering begins in the garden, and the close-knit clan falls instantly into laughable lines and conversation. Edna’s brother Vernon Staubes coyly asks if the day’s meal will include more than one roasted turkey. (It does!)

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The tall house of white columns and woodland garden paths is familiar territory to this family. Built in 2005, the double porches on the rear façade of the Roberds’s house are a near-replica of 52 Bull Street in Charleston, the childhood home of Edna, Vernon, their brother Chris, and sister Chesnee—a circa-1838, two-story single house with side piazza. “That’s where Mom and Daddy raised all of us,” Edna explains.

Meanwhile the porch and roofline along the front of the Kiawah house are a nod to the home where Edna’s mother grew up, in Harleston Village downtown. These bits of Charleston history are a natural topic for Edna, who shares endless anecdotes about the city and her family, including the chapter of relatives who operated a printing press on East Bay Street that once produced Confederate bills. The youngest of the four siblings, Edna enjoys collecting family lore. A framed, black-and-white photo she keeps in the sitting room shows her smiling parents, Blohme and Edna Cogswell Staubes, on their wedding day in June, 1943, at Bethel United Methodist Church on Pitt Street in Charleston. On the Cogswell side, the family can trace a connection to Princess Diana. Closer to home, Edna is proud of her older brother Chris Staubes Jr. (1944–2008), who was a founding partner in the Clawson & Staubes, LLC law firm that now has offices in Charleston, Columbia, Greenville, and Charlotte. Chris and his wife, Robbie, bought a house and brought their family out to Kiawah Island when the resort first opened.

In the steamy summer days of the 1970s, the options for a peninsular Charleston family to have a beach house getaway were typically found East of the Cooper, on Folly Beach, or on Edisto Island. When Kiawah Island started to take shape, the Staubes clan invested. At the time it was a leap of faith, a wild adventure to an island without grocery stores but with plenty of dirt roads, beaches, and maritime forests. Traditions formed naturally. The siblings and their spouses and children rode bicycles, played rounds of golf (sometimes competing and awarding a family trophy), swam, and fished. Kiawah became their gathering place, year after year. The extended Staubes family bought homes on Marsh Island, Ocean Green, Fiddlers Reach, and Greensward.

More than forty years later, in between courses at the Thanksgiving meal, the salty stories still flow. Tanya Staubes, wife of Chris Staubes III, recalls a day when she ran back from the beach and told her husband to grab the kids and a camera to capture the dozen baby sea turtles scampering down the sand toward the ocean in a rare daytime hatching. Chesnee (Staubes) Knotts remembers the boys returning from days of fishing after successfully using yellow corn as bait for bream. “Turns out, that was the best bait,” she says, laughing.

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This dinner is special, a bit fancier. Everyone recalls other Thanksgivings large and small at this house and others and at the old Kiawah Island Club before it closed to make way for The Sanctuary. Al recalls one Thanksgiving that he and Edna spent in Venice. Suddenly struck with a sentimental longing for roasted turkey, he says they wouldn’t give up the notion, walking across the squares and along the canals until they found a restaurant serving an American holiday menu.

The family will have their turkey on this day, too, and the oyster stuffing. Keller raises a glass for a toast as he holds the youngest guest, his two-year-old daughter Emmalyn, in his arms. With her family all around, Edna beams. She and Al also get to relax a bit, as this year Chef Patrick Owens of Opal and Langdon’s restaurants prepares the fowl and sides, all with local ingredients from Ambrose Farms. He serves a fall butternut squash soup to start, followed by a salad of deep-green kale with a pomegranate dressing. Everyone at the table leans in to see the sage and maple-lacquered turkey arrive like a long-awaited guest. The family passes around hot casserole dishes of bread pudding and steaming sweet potato gratin. Before dessert, while the conversation (and wine) still flows, the youngest family members excuse themselves from the table to dash along the step-stone footpaths that wind around the house to rear gardens of hydrangeas, azaleas, camellias, pink roses, and loquat trees. The chef’s big finish is a crowd pleaser—not slices of pie but glass parfait dishes of butterscotch panna cotta layered with salted caramel and hazelnuts.

The party winds down as the late-November sunlight falls with slanted shadows through the pines. And so it goes. The Staubes family of Harleston Village in Charleston are adding memories and traditions, following their hearts toward Eugenia Avenue, Night Heron Park, and the marshes, creeks, and beaches. Any given Sunday on Kiawah Island, they’re sure to gather again soon. — S.l.

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