Lin Laffitte spent months preparing for the 100th anniversary celebration of the Estill Book Club.
The tables were set with her finest silverware, monogrammed linens and fresh flowers from her garden. The four-course meal was prepared (including her melt-in-your-mouth biscuits) with help from her sous chef and daughter Sydney, a junior at the University of South Carolina, who came home from Columbia for the event.
“It’s like the queen’s coming,” book club president Lawton O’Cain said about preparing to host a meeting.
But when Laffitte was a newly married member of the club in 1985, she did not know how to do all of these things. It was her mother-in-law, Lib Laffitte, and other members of the club who would not only teach her the art of hostessing, but would also provide her with something she could pass down to future generations.
Not much has changed since the Estill Book Club started on February 17, 1913. There were 12 founding members then, there are 12 members now and there always will be 12 members.
“People don’t get out — they die out,” said O’Cain, a member since 1962.
Lib Laffitte has been in the club the longest, since 1950, and said it has endured because each member is unanimously voted into the club and they keep it small.
“This is a family,” she said.
The ladies meet at 11 a.m. in the home of one of the members on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from September to April.
Club president and secretary are rotated by alphabetical order. In September, the president hosts a meeting where they plan the year. O’Cain said this process works because “nobody is ever overlooked.”
Meetings start with roll call by sharing a favorite quote. And this is not the typical book club where the members read the same book. Each member puts a book into the pool, where they are shared throughout the year.
During the meeting, the secretary reads the minutes from the last meeting. The earliest record books holding the club’s minutes and attendance were donated in 2003 to the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina.
“I don’t know of anywhere else that has minutes from 100 years ago like we do. They should be preserved for posterity,” O’Cain said.
After that, members give book reviews and close by discussing current events. Once the meeting is over, the women gather for lunch or dinner.
Why they join
Many of the current members are descendants of past members.
“When I was a little girl, I remember when I got out of school I would get to pass out the biscuits at book club,” O’Cain said. “It’s just been part of my heritage. It’s something I’ve known about, cherished and honored.”
Shortly after O’Cain was married and had her first child, a spot opened in the club. Her mother asked her to join, but she declined because she didn’t have anyone to care for her newborn.
“I said to my mama, ‘I can’t do this.’ Then I just watched her face fall,” she said.
Seeing the hurt that it caused her mother, O’Cain asked her husband, Harold, if he could watch the baby. She has been in the club ever since.
Lin Laffitte said that the women who come into the club don’t join for just social reasons. They all have a genuine love for reading.
“I joined because I liked reading. I was an only child. My mother would take me to the library, just her and me,” Lib Laffitte recalled fondly. “It is so worthwhile to get to read these books. Reading is important because you learn about your past, present and future.”
Lin Laffitte said she was not a big reader as a child, but came to love books while visiting her sister’s home when working as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines.
“I just started pulling books off my sister’s shelves,” she said. Now her children, Usher, Sydney and Mary Madison, share the love of books with her.
O’Cain said books do much more than entertain them.
“We all have such different interests, but the tie that binds is those books,” she said. “That’s the beauty of the book club. There are books I would have never chosen to read that I have learned about and loved. Nobody’s feelings get hurt. It’s not a book of approval club.”
After the 100-year celebration was over, Lin Laffitte reflected on her early days in the club and remembered how much she has grown since then.
“I didn’t know how to do all the things these women taught me. When it was time for me to join, Grandmama (Elizabeth Lucius Laffitte) and Mamie (her caretaker) taught me. I borrowed all their linens, and they held my hand the first couple times,” she said.
Elizabeth Laffitte had resigned from the club and was housebound when Lin Laffitte joined.
When her husband, Sterling’s, grandmother died, she left behind her silver and tea service and monogrammed linens — the very ones she was loaned. She was honored when her mother-in-law passed down these family treasures to her because she knew how important his grandmother was to her husband and how much it meant to him that she took her place in the club.
“Book club was special to her. She just nurtured those things in me,” Lin said. “I hope my legacy will be that I have been a good caretaker of something great, that I’ve been a good steward of it and loved it. And I want my children to know that this treasure is here for them if that’s the path one of them chooses to take.”
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or jmcduffie@ postandcourier.com.
Estill Book Club secretary Anne McLaurin Lawton (left) and Lillian Peeples Solomons listen to book reviews at the celebration.×
The Estill Book Club celebrates its 100-year anniversary in February at the home of Lin Laffitte (standing, at left).×
Anne Solomons Harper (left) and Lib Usher Laffitte share reviews of their books.×