Sandlapper Slept Here. . . .

Annie's Inn, Montmorenci

by Dan Harmon

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Sandlapper Slept Here" is a column that appears in each issue of Sandlapper Magazine, featuring bed-and-breakfasts and historic inns throughout the Palmetto State. Here's an example. If you find it interesting, you may want to peruse our back issue listings for information about previous columns.

In the driveway was a red Corvette convertible. Thinks I to myself, "Now here's an innkeeper who knows how to enjoy herself." But awhile later, when Scottie Peck had to run errands in nearby Aiken, it was the pick-up truck parked alongside that she hopped into. The 'Vette, it turned out, belonged to a guest from out-of-state.

Actually, though, Scottie probably enjoys her vocation better than most. She enjoys it best with guests unwinding around the kitchen table. More on that later.

I was left with a choice between doing Aiken on a Monday evening or strolling down the farm road to the pecan grove Scottie had told me about. Aiken on a Monday is not a bad outing at all. But this was the first really glorious afternoon of spring. Here I was at an honest-to-goodness "country inn" - it's out on the the farm, quite literally. And I haven't had many chances to loaf around farms since the years when I grew up on one.

The sky was clear, there were birds and the whisper of a warm breeze, and the rut road led through fields of flowers. Grazing in the grove were beautiful polo ponies - three brown, one white. Cautiously, they mosied near the fence where I stood, and. . . .

Oh, I forgot - this is the bed and breakfast column.

All right. So later I sat on the front porch swing reading and thoroughly enjoying this 160-year-old one-time cotton plantation. Flowers were in bloom and choruses of birds warbled and chattered all around. Everything seems to just fit here.

A quick tour of the house by Scottie inevitably ends up in the kitchen. "This," she says, "is where everybody stays. My kitchen is the heart of the end. You know why?" She points. "It's the cook stove."

The old-fashioned wood burner (just like Grandma's) draws strangers out of their private broodings like sap from a pine. The round oak table came from her grandmother's South Dakota cattle ranch. A cross-stitched sign on the wall, contributed by a grateful VIP who stays here often, reads: GROUP THERAPY.

"Everybody who comes through these doors has a different story to tell, and I love to hear it," says Scottie, a native Coloradan who, despite her name, is more Irish than Scottish. She hosts a lot of scientists and engineers who work with the Savannah River Plant, visitors on equestrian business and yuppie sportsmen. Many are repeat guests; most newcomers learn of the inn by word of mouth. When Scottie has to step out, they literally run the place for her.

Scottie is one of the few proprietors who rely on innkeeping as their sole livelihood. And she's a true veteran of the B&B business, now in her 12th year.

"I have only one rule, basically. I tell the, 'Respect each other's privacy.' And it works. You know? It works."

Actually, she does have another rule. "I don't share my toothbrush. That's where I draw the line."

A guest once asked to borrow it. That kind of request isn't as outrageous as it sounds, after a spell of homespun therapy around the kitchen table at Annie's, where folks quickly develop a mutual trust. When a Masters spectator realized to his dismay that he'd neglected to bring chilly weather clothing, a fellow lodger immediately produced a spare jacket; they'd never met before.

I stayed at Annie's (short for "ante-bellum") the day after the Masters finale. Scottie was tired by ebullient. Masters week is a staple of her business. For eight straight days, all four guest rooms and both cottages had been booked solid (and she'd had to turn away more than 200 inquirers). Masters week is to her what December is to department stores. Serving 17 for breakfast every morning gets old, though.

Annie's Inn, situated at the corner of a 2,000-acre farm on SC 78, is a homey place throughout. The room where I stayed was done in green and white, with a queen-size four-poster, an oriental rug over the pine plank floor and a comfy sofa in front of double windows. Fine antiques included a beautifully ornate coffee table. In the evening through the open bathroom window I listened to crickets, night birds and the croaking of a thousand frogs.

Other rooms seemed just as appealing. You can opt for a cottage (rentable by the week) with its bedroom, bath, living room, kitchen and sunny little courtyard for two. A swimming pool is popular with summertime guests.

Breakfast included an omelette with hot sauce, buttered toast and jam, juice and coffee. Scottie also prepares a special French toast, eggs Benedict, and waffles with real butter and maple syrup from Vermont. She's used to preparing western fare - which northern guests might mistake for southern. "I don't do grits much," she says, "and I can't make biscuits worth a damn."

Innkeeping to Scottie is a combination of "love of innkeeping and love of people. You get more presents in this business. You make so many neat friends, and they last." But don't be deluded with visions of lazy days and perpetual country charm as a B&B proprietor. It's not for nothing that Scottie's up by 5:30 every morning.

"The women who stay here say, 'I'd love to be doing what you're doing.' And the men say, 'No way.'"

Annie's Inn (P.O. Box 311, Montmorenci, SC 29839; (803) 649-6836) has four guest rooms, all with private baths, plus two cottages; $45-75; government rates and newlywed packages available. Children discouraged but may be accommodated. No pets. No smoking in bedrooms.

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