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

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 10, 2010

Peeping through my Venetian blind, humming “In the Good, Ol’ Summer Time,” I admired the stand of crinums, blooming in a nook of Miss Flora’s gardens over at Covington Hall.

July is here in all its glory – blue skies, fluffy, white clouds, green earth and heat! It’s time for the men to wear their seersucker suits and for ladies to wear linen.

I was up, Montgomery way, for the Glorious Fourth, and noticed that the new “by-pass” around Georgiana can now plainly be seen, coming out at the foot of McKenzie Hill. Around Georgiana, before one gets to I-65, the other end of the “by-pass” can be seen clearly, too. As convenient as that “by-pass” will be for us motorists, I feel sorry for Nature and the loss of her fields and woods and for folks who had to give up land they love, perhaps against their will because of eminent domain. Eminent domain, indeed! I’d like to eminent some domain! That’s about as selfish and un-American as it gets!

I have heard some folks singing, “Pants on the Ground.” I must admit that the lyrics tickle me, and that I sympathize with the lyricist.

The Andalusia Association of Educators, Andalusia’s local branch of the Alabama Education Association, I hear tell, will have the same officers in 2010-2011 as in 2009-2010: Perry Dillard, president; Linda Kyle, vice-president; Cathy Powell, secretary; and Karen Pass, treasurer.

Judge “Trippy” McGuire, his wife Margaret, and their daughter, Natalie, spent the better part of a week in Charleston, S.C., this May.

Trippy, who is a fan of the Revolutionary-War hero, Francis Marion, better known as “the Swamp Fox,” stayed in the Francis Marion Hotel on King Street, next to the Marion Park, which boasts a statue of John C. Calhoun atop a sky-reaching pedestal. Trippy was indignant that a statue of Marion was not in his park.

The family visited Magnolia Plantation, where Trippy faced off an alligator; Magnolia Cemetery, where the family saw the graves of men who died in the service of the C.S.S. Hunley, the South’s submarine, the first to sink an enemy ship; and the famed Magnolia Restaurant.

Trippy said that his favorite restaurant, though, was the Hominy Grill, and that he ate only shrimp and grits everywhere he went. Shrimp and grits is a favorite, Low-Country dish.

The family also dined at Virginia’s, toured the Old Exchange on Broad Street, where Washington once danced, visited churches, homes, the Calhoun (not John C.’s) Mansion, and stopped off at Boone Hall Plantation.

Said the Judge, “We saw about everything there was to be seen.”

The Judge also said, “If Judge Lex Short and I had lived back in the Revolutionary days, we would have been fighting with Francis Marion!”

The Covington Rifles, the local camp for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, met the evening of July 1 in the Dixon Memorial of the Andalusia Public Library to enjoy a buffet and install new officers.

Commander for the past 11 years, Curtis Hampton Thomasson, presided. He announced the passing in June of the camp’s first commander, Homer Orcutt, 1992-1999.

John Allen Gantt worded the invocation.

Commander Thomasson led in pledges to the flags.

Larry Shaw led in “Dixie” as all stood.

Member Joe Wingard installed the new officers: Sir Francis McGowin, commander; Vaughn Bowers, first lt. commander; Larry Shaw, second lt. commander; Jimmy Cobb, adjutant and treasurer; Fletcher Jones, judge advocate; Derick Davis, quartermaster; Roger Broxton, surgeon; John Allen Gantt, chaplain; Jimmy Barlow, color sergeant; Curtis Hampton Thomasson, historian; and McGowin, Bowers, Shaw, Cobb, Morris Mullen and Thomasson, the executive committee.

Also attending were Delia (Davis) Knight, Johnnie and Wanda Davis, Margie (Jacques) Thomasson, Steve Johnson, Madge Cobb and Rita Mullen.

Pop’s Restaurant on 84 has opened again. I hear the new manager owns Fried Green Tomatoes in Elba.

When I got to Montgomery this past weekend, there was a bottleneck of cars at the unfinished junction where I-65 and I-85 meet. Only one lane was available to turn right toward Atlanta. I advise those traveling thereabouts to drive very slowly and avoid running into the back of another vehicle. It was a dangerous situation to me.

This week saw the anniversary of the birth of John Paul Jones, the American naval hero, come and go. It was he who cried, “I have not yet begun to fight!” That brave and optimistic spirit is part of the American spirit.

In the Alabama Baptist of June 17 is an article about the 25th anniversary of the deaf ministry at First Baptist, Andalusia.

In the July issue of Southern Living is a feature article about the 50th anniversary of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel that put Monroeville, our South-Alabama neighbor, on the map.

The Portly Gentleman has written more of his June trip to Georgia. Last week we learned of his stay at Jekyll Island. This week we hear of his stay in Savannah with his ol’ friend, S. Daniel Shehan, once a resident of “the Dimple of Dixie,” now a citizen of Georgia’s oldest city.

“I was invited to take lunch Wednesday morning with the Spice Company, the nickname for the senior adults of Bull Street Baptist Church, where Dan is a member; so I drove up 95-North to Savannah to arrive in plenty of time.

“Dan has donated his old, electric organ to the church’s fellowship hall, where the Spice Company meets weekly for a meal and program.

“Gentle reader, if you ever attended Dan’s annual Christmas Sing, which continued for 25 years here in Andalusia, that was the organ he played for the Sing in his music room at Dovecoat, his home.

“Dan played for the Spice Company to sing after the meal. Guest speakers were Bull Street’s new minister of music, Dr. Matt Swain, and the pastor, Calvin Fowler.

“While in Savannah I was Dan’s houseguest in his condominium in Merritt Estates, a gated community on Whitemarsh Island.

“The first night we dined at a locally, famous restaurant, Johnny Harris.

“Thursday morning we drove into town and ate breakfast at the famous restaurant, Clary’s, established in 1903, and used in the novel, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

“Next we visited the Massie House on Calhoun Square, a free school for the poor, begun in l856, the oldest school in continuous operation in Georgia, now a museum. It was financed by an endowment for its founding, given in 1841 by Peter Massie, a planter from Glynn County (also the home of Brunswick stew and Lanier’s ‘The Marshes of Glynn’).

“Having taught, I thoroughly enjoyed this old building, especially the re-created schoolroom on the second floor and the outdoor gardens, one for the girls, a separate one for the boys.

“I just happened to run into Anita Calhoun of California, who was visiting this day. She had been schooled in Massie as a girl and told me that the boys marched upstairs by one set of stairs; the girls, the other. Massie was closed in June of 1974 after 118 years of use.

“This was also a special day at Massie for Carol Stalvey, one of the guides; she was retiring.

“Dan and I drove about the shady squares that are the heart of historic Savannah. At Jones Street we saw the long line of hungry folks, waiting their turns at the eight tables in Mrs. Wilkes’s cellar restaurant. That’s where President Obama stopped a few weeks ago to eat. It is the best restaurant in Savannah, in my opinion. Paula Deen’s Restaurant is probably more famous today, but I prefer Mrs. Wilkes’s. To paraphrase the Old Testament, ‘Paula Deen has fed her thousands, but Mrs. Wilkes has fed her ten thousands.’

“We visited next the Harper-Fowlkes House on Orleans Square, an 1842 Greek Revival structure, the headquarters for the Society of the Cincinnati in Georgia, an organization for male descendants of the officers who served with George Washington.

“Fellow tourists Dan and I met in the house were Shawn and Janet St. Peter from Genoa, Nev. Our guide was Donna Butler.

“Then came Ellis Square, newly restored, all modern with a plaza, water jets for the children, an information center, and ‘necessities.’ Most notable was a new statue of the famous Johnny Mercer, Savannah songwriter.

“Dan rolled about in his scooter; I strolled through Ellis Square and the next-door market with its horse-and-carriage stands, eateries, and shops on my way to the next square, Franklin, with its memorial to the Haitian soldiers who fought for Savannah.

“To escape the heat, we had refreshments in Goosefeathers Cafe and Bakery. I walked across the street to Kitchens, my favorite store in Savannah (I wonder why), and bought a couple of items.

“Every afternoon Dan took a nap. He has had relatively good health since he left Andalusia, but he seems to have become more reliant on his electric scooter to save his strength. Dan would probably fit in anywhere he lived and rise, like cream, to the top, whether it be Savannah, Washington or New York. In Savannah he has become active for the disabled, in working with the local government to insure accessibility to the downtown area, its historic sites and restaurants. As chairman of the Coastal Empire Polio Survivors Association, he has initiated physical improvements in sidewalks, maps for the disabled, and a new ‘Accessibility Guide.’

“For supper Dan and I drove to Papa Murphy’s Pizza, where pizzas are made to order but taken away uncooked, to be baked at home and served there hot and tasty. I had not seen such a business elsewhere.

“The following morning we drove out to Greenwich Cemetery and Park, which lies along Wilmington River, and to Bonaventure Cemetery, and to the Catholic Cemetery.

“Downtown, we idled about Reynolds Square with its statue of John Wesley, who met with fellow Christians in his nearby house and began the Methodist Church in Georgia.

“In nearby Johnson Square, we heard a one-woman concert by Claire Frazier, accompanied by Frank Bright, a summer treat, sponsored weekly.

“Miss Frazier sang “Summer Time,” “Georgia,” a number of songs by Johnny Mercer, and imitated Louis Armstrong.

“Johnson Square is rich with the following: the sun and shade of live oaks, a central obelisk beneath which is buried Nathanael Greene (Washington’s favorite general; Lafayette laid the cornerstone), benches, two fountains, and a bench dedicated to Johnny Mercer, decorated with names of his songs.

“Surrounding Johnson Square are banks and Christ Church (Episcopal).

“In Johnson Square spoke Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and James Monroe.

“Following the open-air concert, Dan and I drove down to cobbled River Street with its many shops, hotels and eateries, and took a ride on the new streetcar, nicknamed ‘Dottie.’ River Street lies next to the Savannah River.

“Then we ate a late lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’s. Even though we went late in hopes of missing the rush hour, we had to wait a long time to eat.

“There are eight tables that seat 10 at a time. A table is reset only when all 10 are finished; then 10 ‘new’ customers take their places. Someone at table says grace. Dan did so at our table. Bowls and platters of delicious, country cooking are placed on the table and passed about, as at home. All is warm and friendly. When one finishes, he has to take his plate to the kitchen – even the President.

“I made a list of what-all we had that day – fried chicken, biscuits, gravy, corn muffins, creamed corn, stewed squash, dressing, cucumbers, baked beans, green beans, butter beans, rutabagas, tea, cabbage, sausage, rice, mashed potatoes, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, beef stew, roast, peas with noodles, sweet potatoes, pasta salad, okra and tomatoes and banana pudding.

“Ah, Mrs. Wilkes’s! Where every mouthful is a masterpiece!”

Mrs. Wilkes’s granddaughter, Marcia Thompson, came over to our table and chatted awhile, a pretty and pleasant lady.

“The next morning Dan wanted to show me the new visitors’ center in the middle of Forsyth Park, which is to Savannah what Central Park is to New York City.

“We walked past an outdoors market on the South Promenade, beneath live oaks, draped with Spanish moss, and came to the new stage and to Forsyth Park Cafe, where we ate breakfast. Nearby I could see the great fountain and the Confederate monument. People were walking dogs, running, and just idling.

“On the way to the car, we passed the market again. There I saw for the first time a canary mellon, but I still don’t know what it is.

“Our next stop was the Railroad Museum with its restored Round House. Here we took two short excursions from the circular center of the rail yard.

“That afternoon while Dan rested, I drove out to Tybee Island, crowded with beachgoers.

“That night we drove into Savannah again and dined at the Six Pence Pub. I had an English-style shepherd’s pie.

“Sunday morning I went with Dan to his Sunday-School class, the Nelson Class, in Bull Street Baptist Church, where I renewed an earlier friendship with Everett and Joy Tumblin.

“The Class saluted the Christian flag, the Bible and the American flag, as I did when a child in vacation Bible school in the Baptist Church. I had forgotten these salutes and was pleasantly surprised to hear them again. We sang “When We All Get to Heaven,” as Dan played the organ. During the Sunday-School lesson Dan had to leave to drive to Washington Avenue Christian Church where he plays on certain Sundays. On other Sundays Dan plays at Silk Hope Methodist Church.

“I stayed for morning worship, and Dan picked me up afterwards.

“I took notes, comparing the style of worship at Bull Street with where I attend church. A main difference was the lack of applause at Bull Street, a difference I appreciated.

“For lunch Dan and I ate in the oldest building in Savannah, the Pirates’ House Restaurant, enjoying its buffet. It stands next to the Trustees’ Garden, an early, experimental garden of the founders of Savannah, where peaches, cotton and silk (thus, ‘silk hope’) were tried. The cotton here spread across the South and became its most important crop at one time. The peaches are still famous in Georgia and South Carolina.

“Soon after lunch I drove north over the Talmadge Bridge, out of Georgia and into South Carolina, heading to Charleston to rejoin my cousin, Jo Driggers, for a few days in ‘the Grand, Old Lady of the South.’”

Thank you, Portly Gentleman, for your account. Next time, Lord willing, he will tell us of his “sojourn” in Charleston.

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