Overheard, out and about, Mrs. Grundy sees all, tells all

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2010

Peeping through my Venetian blind, I noticed the red, white, and blue decorations over at Covington Hall. The grand, old hall was beautiful with flags, bunting, and streamers for the Glorious Fourth tomorrow, to be celebrated with barbecue, camp stew, slaw, lemonade, cakes, pies, corn on the cob, baked beans, the ringing of bells, singing of patriotic songs, readings from the “Declaration of Independence,” speeches, games, and church services in the morning.

Colonel Covington, along with his sisters, Miss Cora, Miss Dora and Miss Flora, have invited a host of people, including Mrs. Gotrocks of Greenville, Miss Purdie Birdie, Miss Priscilla Primme, Mr. Topper Propper, the Portly Gentleman, Clay Clyde Clump and yours truly.

The Fourth of July, by the way, is also the anniversary of the births of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the American novelist of The Scarlet Letter, and Stephen Collins Foster, the American songwriter of beloved songs like “Oh, Susanna.”

Writing about Lake Eufaula in East Alabama recently, I was reminded of how the late Ray Butler loved to fish there in his retirement, going over as many times as twice a week.

The Andalusia High School classes of 1976 – 1982 attended a “mega-reunion” the evening of June 12 at the Kiwanis Center here in Andalusia. The only planned program was two short speeches by former teachers, Coach Donnie Sharpe and Joe Wingard, introduced by the emcee, Greg Christakos (’76).

Dance music and a spread of refreshments took a back seat to just plain, ol’ talking.

The planning committee included Pam (Twitchell) Davis (’78), Amy (Shaw) Reagan, Cindy (Sharpe) Kilgore, Jonathan Bowman (’78) and Linda (Grimes) Davis.

Henry Kinsey, local photographer who had taken A.H.S. yearbook pictures for years, made several group pictures.

Former teachers present were Stan Hamm, counselor 1976-1991, now living in Blue Ridge, Ga.; Dr. Ed Richardson, principal for eight years, later president of Auburn University; his wife Nell, who had authored a book about Auburn; Kennith Mount, who taught vocational agriculture; Jerri Stroud, who taught science; Jennifer Pitts, counselor who is retiring this summer; Kim Dyess, former principal at the middle school; and Mike Jones, retired reading instructor.

Seen earlier in the day at the memorial service for Jim Nettles, former bandmaster, whose ashes had been buried the same morning, were A. L. Beck and his wife Marilyn and Barbara Bryant, former English teacher. Dr. Daniel Shakespeare, a graduate of A.H.S. and current principal of his alma mater, was also among the faculty guests.

Alumni attending included the brothers, Scottie and Skipper Stewart, both living in the Nashville area; Tom Locklier; James and Joann Jones; Bob (’76) and Joanne Mock; Scott (’80) and Sue Lidh; Geoffrey Williams (’85); the brothers, Greg Caton and Jimbo Caton; Lisa (Smithson) Mollitor (‘8l), a niece to Edwin Patterson; Judy (Riley) Plum (’77); Linda (Moore) (’77) and Dan Neff; Tony Chapman (’79); Tra Cosby; Ralph (’76) and Wendy Matthews, his wife who finished at Leon High School of Tallahassee, Fla.; Bruce “Chuck” Bryant (’74) and his date Jan Roelofs; Terri (Bonner) (’78) and David Brooks; Dan Rogers (’80); Neal and Jennifer King; Amy (Davis) Williams (’76); Jennifer (Smith) (’78) and Neal Dansby; Sharon (McClain) Jackson (’79); Craig Ward (’79); Nancy (Dunn) Wiggins (’79); Scot Dyess; Kent Covin (’80); Valerie (Barton) Carson (’80); Rene (Rawls) and Chris Brawner (’79); Robbie Nicolson; Frankie Nelson (’78); Judy (Manner) Weant (’76), newly a nurse; Scott Nettles, son of the late Jim Nettles; Dale Butler (’76); Teresa Scarborough (’77); Dale Barnes (’79) and Lauri; Karen (Barrington) Shaneyfelt (’78) and her sister, Anita (Barrington) Bowdoin; Ricky Vinson and his brother, Vince Vinson; Melanie (Pogue); and the famous Peter Riley, who went to A.H.S. for a time but was graduated from Cartersville High School in Georgia.

Seen at the reception, following the memorial concert for Mr. Nettles earlier in the day, were Bill and Gail (Gibson) McInnish, graduates of A.H.S. Gail dropped a bit of trivia – the first flower she ever received from a boy was from Malon Wilson.

Also seen at the reception were Eva (Till) and her husband Jim Robertson of Birmingham, the parents of three children. Eva wrote a little poem while in A.H.S., which I thought so clever, that I used it as a “thought for the day” thereafter each year that I taught. It reads, “Jell-O makes you mellow; fudge makes you pudge; and peanut butter makes you stutter because your teeth are stuck togutter.”

The Portly Gentleman waddled off to Georgia recently. I’ve asked him to tell of his trip.

“I took the 84-E route through Enterprise with its boll weevil, Dothan, and over the Chattahoochee River into Georgia with thoughts of Sidney Lanier and his poem, ‘The Song of the Chattahoochee.’

“Passing some fine corn fields, I drove through Donalsonville (the home of Benny Gay), Bainbridge and its lovely Shotwell Street, lined with Victorian houses and churches, past the super-sized Bainbridge High School, Climax, Whigham, Thomasville with its handsome Broad Street, quaint Quitman, and into Valdosta with its magnificent churches and courthouse.

“Having left ‘the Dimple of Dixie’ after morning worship, I had only half a day to drive; so I stopped at twilight for the night at the Clarion in Valdosta, a fine motel with its own laundry, a screened picnic house with tables for reunions and other meetings, a volleyball court, shuffle-board courts, a breakfast house, pool and pool furniture, and rooms a-plenty. I had never seen a motel with so much to offer.

“Right next door was Austin’s Cattle Company, a steak house. The dark interior was made by wooden floors, wooden ceilings, and wooden walls with wild animals, mounted for show.

“Supper was a Delmonico steak, Caesar salad, rice pilaf, coffee and key-lime pie.

“Leaving Valdosta the next morning, I headed for Jekyll Island, just off the coast of Georgia, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. I try to spend a few days each year at Jekyll, a place I have come to love very much because it is quiet, beautiful, old-fashioned, and ‘time stands still.’

“The road between Andalusia and Jekyll is practically four-lane all the way except for a two-lane stretch between Homerville and Waycross, Ga. Homerville is the next main stop past Valdosta. Although the drive between Valdosta and Homerville is a bit bleak and lonesome, Homerville itself is a pleasant, little town, the home of one of our own, the former Beverly Davis.

“I came to Jekyll Island Monday afternoon and drove over the long causeway through the marshes to the island itself, an unspoiled tourist destination, belonging to the state of Georgia. Jekyll offers an historic district, water playground, camping, restaurants, motels, convention center, the beaches of the Atlantic, landscaped beauty with live oaks, draped with Spanish moss, and nearby attractions in Brunswick, Glynn County. The beautiful marshes of Glynn lie between Brunswick and Jekyll. They inspired Sidney Lanier to write his masterpiece, ‘The Marshes of Glynn.’ Seeking the setting of this poem years ago is what led me to Jekyll for the first time.

“I found two changes since last year. The lone gas station on the island had been destroyed to make way for a bigger and better one with an attached Dairy Queen and convenience store to sell food all day as well as gasoline. So, I had to drive off-island to fill my tank. Also, the price for driving onto the island had gone from three dollars to five.

“As I drove through the historic district to register at the Club, the grand, old hotel in the heart of the ‘cottages’ built long ago by the millionaires who once owned the island and used it for recreation, I found my cousin from Lexington, South Carolina, Jo Driggers, already arrived and standing under the porte cochere. It was her first visit to Jekyll, and I had promised to her a tour of the old place should she be able to drive down for a few days.

“Jo had already checked into her room. I had registered too late to stay in the Club itself, as I prefer; but luck was with me. Because there was no room for me in the Club, I was assigned a room in the largest and most elaborate of the ‘cottages,’ Crane Cottage, next to the Club, one of the former homes of the millionaires, restored to its former glory next to a sunken garden, a house remade into l3 guest rooms with its own dining rooms and kitchen.

“Jo and I put first things first, though. We ate.

“I suggested the Grand Dining Room in the Club. Ah, what a room! It is classic beauty with white wainscoting, Ionic columns, potted palms, thick carpet, plantation shutters, a mantled chimney, tables covered with starched, white cloths, cloth napkins, bread plates with butter knives, red roses, butter set in molds and impeccable service.

“Fresh, hot muffins and raisin bread (a favorite with Lenora Johnson) were placed first. Jo chose a bowl of fruit with peach dip. I selected a salad sampler (tuna, chicken, shrimp) over fried, green tomatoes, the best I ever ate. On the side I had a Baptist screwdriver; that’s one part of orange juice to four parts of Sprite or ginger ale.

“After lunch I walked next door to the Crane Cottage to check my room. I felt like Prissy in Gone with the Wind when she first saw Miss Scarlett’s new home in Atlanta. ‘We’s rich now!’

“Crane is a Spanish-style house with red tiles on top, centered around a courtyard with a fountain in the middle. The cloister-like courtyard is roofed next to the walls and has tables and chairs for al-fresco dining. Confederate jasmine climbs over the archways and up the Doric columns. The house would look right at home in Spanish-named Andalusia. A second-floor balcony was lined with brown wicker chairs, stuffed with pillows. I sat there at times, enjoying the breezes, peace, and tranquility. I think I could have sat there all day.

“The chimney pots were like miniature Roman temples.

“The sunken garden, just outside the courtyard, had walks, walls, flower beds, Knock-Out roses, fountains, and jardenaires.

“A former cottage, the Solterra (sun and earth) had stood where the Crane now stands. The Solterra had burned. Richard Crane of Chicago, a manufacturer of plumbing, had built Crane in l9l8, the most expensive ‘cottage’ ever built on Jekyll.

“My over-sized room included a shower separate from the whirlpool bath.

“After resting – the heat was bad – I drove Jo around the historic district and circled the island. We drove off the island, over the causeway, through the marshes, over the great, new Sidney Lanier Bridge, and into Brunswick, seeking out the famed pot in which the first Brunswick stew was made (so they say). I pointed out the oak in Brunswick, under which Lanier stood as he watched the marshes of Glynn.

“I drove over to nearby St. Simon’s Island, spoiled with too much development and too much traffic, to show Jo the famous Christ Church (Episcopalian). We found the grave of the novelist, Eugenia Price, in its graveyard. (Sue Wilson is a big fan of Eugenia Price.)

“Christ Church is surrounded with ancient live oaks, draped with Spanish moss, a vast lawn, old, brick walls, and the graveyard, a picturesque scene.

“A rustic litchgate, overgrown with roses in season, leads into the grounds.

“The sun was setting as we drove the short distance back to Jekyll over the causeway. We had planned to eat at Latitude 3l, a seafood restaurant on the wharf where the rich used to dock their yachts; but it was closed. So, we sat in the evening breeze and watched the sun set over the marshes of Glynn.

“We ate instead at the Solterra, a ‘deli’ named for the ‘cottage’ that first stood where Crane does now. We tried soup, sandwiches, tea and pizza before retiring.

“The next morning Jo and I took breakfast in the Grand Dining Room. The buffet included bangers, a kind of sausage served in English breakfasts. A plate of miniature jars of preserves was placed on our table, the jars set on dollies, just as Hyacinth Bucket (boo-kay) would place them.

“While Jo went shopping and took a trolley tour of the historic district, which included some house tours, I sat in the white wicker chairs on the Club’s crescent porch and read and wrote.

“Back at Crane I sat on the upper balcony and read about Charleston.

“Jo joined me for lunch in one of the dining rooms at Crane. She chose chicken salad; I, salmon cakes. Near us was a table with three ladies. We looked at each other and laughed because we had run into each other yesterday at Christ Church. They had been looking for Eugenia Price, too. All of us must have walked by her grave five times, and not one of us could spot it until the groundskeeper led us to it. Then, last night at the wharf, we had run into each other, hoping Latitude 31 were open. Then, this day, we crossed paths again at the Crane. We finally asked for names. The ladies were Sue Simpson, Dee Griffith and Clarice Comer. Dee and Clarice were Sue’s guests. Sue owns a home in Brunswick as well as Atlanta. As we talked, I found that Sue is friends with a couple that lived a long time in Andalusia, Dave and Ann Lancaster, who moved to Atlanta in 1985. I taught the Lancasters’ older daughter, Kaye, my first year of teaching.

“After lunch Jo and I walked across the street from Crane to Faith Chapel, built for the rich men’s wives to attend church. We chanced upon a tour and lecture about the small chapel. It has a signed Tiffany stained glass and another by one of his students, Mr. Armstrong.

“Jo left that afternoon for home. I stayed on another night. That afternoon I sat on the crescent porch again, in white wicker, and read and addressed post cards. I rented a bicycle and rode all over the historic district. The attendants were amazed that I could balance a two-wheeler at my age and weight. I came back and rocked on the porch and people-watched a long time.

“Latitude 31 was open Tuesday night, so I enjoyed a view of the marshes as the sun set and dined upon fried oysters and scalloped potatoes, the best I ever ate.

“Wednesday morning I departed for Savannah, where I had been invited for a few days by my old colleague and friend, S. Daniel Shehan, formerly of Andalusia; but that’s another story.”

Thank you, Portly Gentleman, for the account. Perhaps you’ll share your trip to Savannah another time.

Now, gentle reader, let me encourage each of us to be in his place of worship this weekend. Fare thee well.