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

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 17, 2010

Peeping through my Venetian blind, I was reminded by the weather of that old belief that if it rains on July l5, St. Swithin’s Day, we shall have rain for 40 more; but if there is no rain on St. Swithin’s Day, then we shall have no rain for 40 days. Of course, I always hope for rain.

This past week has seen the birth date of Henry David Thoreau, an American writer, come and go. He is most famous for his account of his years in a one-room cabin he built by the edge of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. His intention by living there was to find out the essence of life. Thoreau’s name is associated with Emerson, Alcott, and Hawthorne, his neighbors. All four famous American writers are buried within a few feet of each other in the cemetery in Concord.

Concord is dear to me for reasons other than literary and historical. My old college professor, Dr. Joseph Leonard King, and his wife were both cremated; and their ashes, scattered in Walden Pond.

On June 15 at their regular monthly luncheon some 47 senior adults of First Baptist heard Jo Ann Flirt, director of Historic Blakeley State Park near Spanish Fort, speak on the negative impact of the Gulf oil spill.

The speaker described how the disaster is already adversely affecting tourism in the area.

Blakeley Park, located on the Tensaw River, preserves the features of the 1814 boomtown, once a rival to Mobile, and the remains of an 1865 battlefield of the War Between the States, said by some to have been the last battle of the War.

Some attending were particularly concerned about the area. Gordon Vickers, director of senior-adult activities at First Baptist, grew up there. Irene Butler, who arranged for the speaker, is on the board of directors for Blakeley Park and owns a vacation home nearby.

Trudy Vickers decorated tables for the luncheon with fresh flowers.

Seen at Country Folks in Florala, enjoying the Tuesday buffet, were Earl and Nell Simmons of DeFuniak Springs, Fla. Nell taught fifth grade 34 years. They are close friends to our own Dorcas Williamson.

Curtis and Margie (Jacques) Thomasson treated their friend, Joe Wingard, to a birthday supper in their lovely home, the evening of July 8. Joe turned 66 on July 9.

The Thomassons served fresh vegetables and bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches, plus a heavenly pound cake, hot from the oven. A present was made of a handsome sports shirt. Entertainment was a DVD of Jefferson Davis, made in the President’s honor for his bicentennial.

Irene (Davis) Butler had as her guests for lunch July 8, Dr. Herb Riedel, new president of the Lurleen B. Wallace Community College; Renee LeMaire, the public-information officer at LBWCC; Dr. Barbara Linder, retired from LBWCC, and Joe Wingard, retired teacher from the Andalusia High School.

As usual, Mrs. Butler served an abundant and delicious meal: fried bread, fried squash strips, green beans, tea, grilled steak, chicken breasts a la rosemary, turnips with greens, sweetened grapes, barbecue ribs, pineapple-cheese casserole, corn salad, French fries, corn on the cob and chicken salad set in tomatoes and lettuce. For dessert there were generous slices of egg custard.

Mrs. Gotrocks of Greenville tells me of a new soup at the Cracker Barrel there, campfire chicken soup. She declares it excellent.

Pop’s Place (also known as Fried Green Tomatoes #2; the first is in Elba) opened Mon., July 5, to serve buffet lunches Sunday – Friday and suppers Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Specials are offered but not a seafood buffet as of now.

Robert Lee Holley and the Portly Gentleman ate at Julia’s in Troy Friday night, July 9, and declared the buffet one of the best either has enjoyed. The seafood portion included oysters, which are getting to be rare on a buffet these days. Mrs. Julia Hutchinson began the restaurant about two decades ago.

The Portly Gentleman has agreed to continue an account of his recent June journey to the Low Country of Georgia and South Carolina.

“Leaving Savannah and my host, S. Daniel Shehan, I drove up to Charleston Sunday afternoon and checked into Sleep-Inn in Mt. Pleasant, a town which lies across the Bay from Charleston, reached by the new, colossal Ravenel Bridge, stretching its eight lanes and bicycle-walking lane up to the clouds and then back to earth again. I like to stay in Mt. Pleasant because it’s less crowded, less expensive, and more convenient to the bridge to get back into downtown Charleston in just five minutes or so.

“Mt. Pleasant has a historic district known as the Old Village with houses dating back to colonial days. It was in the Old Village that my cousin, Jo Driggers of Lexington, South Carolina, and I dined for supper Sunday night in the Post House, an l888 wayside inn with six guest rooms, a restaurant, and tavern. Jo and I had toured together a week earlier on Jekyll Island and had agreed to tour together again for a few days in Charleston, the Old Lady of the South.

“The food at the Post House was excellent. I tried cream of crab soup and fried oysters.

“Monday morning, June 21, the first day of summer, Jo and I took breakfast at the motel and then were off to visit Boone Hall Plantation in Mt. Pleasant. Driving along, we passed a business called Fender Mender, which I thought cleverly named.

“At Boone Hall a group of us tourists enjoyed an exploration of the plantation’s ponds, fields, and gardens from an open-sided ‘coach.’ The driver told us that once Boone Hall was the biggest producer of pecans in the world, that the duck weed we saw on the ponds has the smallest bloom of any plant in the world, and that the oak avenue, leading up to Boone Hall, is the longest oak avenue in America.

“We saw a wood stork in flight, a butterfly house, and filming there on the plantation of an episode of the TV show, Army Wives.

“A tour of the plantation house, Boone Hall, followed. The house, built in l936, is a revival of the colonial style.

“The plantation itself has been in business some 400 years and is America’s oldest, working plantation.

“Leaving the grounds, Jo and I drove up Highway 17, looking for a place to take lunch, the restaurant at Boone Hall, being closed for renovations.

“We came to a large, modern, metal red barn with a green roof and white trim, which had opened about a year ago and serves fresh vegetables from the Boone Hall Plantation. The ‘barn’ (Boone Hall Farms) was a combination of the Market Cafe, gift shop, grocery, and seafood market – clean, spacious, attractive, cool in the June heat, and interesting. Jo and I enjoyed lunch and a rest before moving on.

“I selected fresh collards, squash, potato salad, fried green tomatoes, and a root beer. The best dish I had, though, was a bowl of soup, made from fresh, scraped corn and leeks. That was one of the best dishes I have ever tasted in my life. From the canned goods I bought a jar of red-tomato preserves.

“Not far away at all was part of a farm that once belonged to Charles Pinckney, who helped write and also signed our Constitution. Any buildings belonging to Pinckney are long gone, but an old farmhouse that stands on the farmland has been preserved as typical of Pinckney’s times. The house is filled with historical plaques, which tell of Pinckney and his family. There is nothing much to see but much to read. When I tired of reading, I sat on the front porch and rocked until I fell asleep. It was a peaceful place with fields and woods before the little house, a country peace.

“Back on Highway 17 we found the Christ Church (Episcopal) for this area and a large cemetery.

“We backtracked to the Old Village of Mt. Pleasant, viewing leisurely its fine, old houses along the Bay. We stopped at the Pitt Street Pharmacy with its old-fashioned drugstore and ordered milkshakes from the ‘soda fountain.’

“After naps back at the motel, we joined forces again for dinner at Locklear’s along Coleman Boulevard. I selected she-crab soup, shrimp and grits, and corn fritters topped with tomato jam. Locklear’s is one of the finest restaurants in the Charleston area, and I highly recommend it. Whenever I’m in the Low Country, I try to sample both the she-crab soup and shrimp and grits, the two most typical dishes. I once treated Don and Dot Lingle to a meal at Locklear’s.

“The next day Jo and I spent on the peninsula whereon Charleston lies. The peninsula is formed by the Cooper River on one side and the Ashley River on the other. The old joke is that both rivers joined to form the Atlantic Ocean. Running down the middle of the peninsula is Meeting Street. With that knowledge, one can get just about anywhere in Charleston.

“Jo and I drove over Ravenel Bridge and ran right into Meeting Street; then, followed it to its end, where there is a park and a battery, now used for walking.

“Jo and I got out and walked through White Point Park and around the battery, seeing Ft. Sumter out in the Bay, grand, old houses to our left, oleanders in bloom, palms, oaks, a giant bust of William Gilmore Simms (the most prominent writer in the antebellum South), the newly renovated bandstand, a monument to the battle of Moultrie, and a monument to the defenders of Charleston during the War.

“We drove around to a parking garage. That’s the easiest way to see downtown Charleston. Park and walk.

“We sat awhile in Waterfront Park, a modern area, fronting the Bay. There are gardens, benches, a pier, water spouts for the children at play, the golden pineapple fountain (symbol of hospitality), trees for shade, breezes from the distant Atlantic, and friendly people.

“Here we idled.

“It was a short walk to the newly renovated Dock Street Theatre, one of the oldest in the Nation, on Church Street. We had the whole place to ourselves briefly and explored the lobby, gardens, lounges, balconies, stairways, and auditorium. I stood in the balcony and proclaimed, ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen,’ to Jo’s amusement.

“Not far from us was St. Philip’s (Episcopal) Church. It has usually been closed when I’ve been in Charleston, but this day it was open. Jo and I craned our necks to see the beautiful stained-glass windows, the carved columns, and decorative works. Although the congregation of St. Philip’s is the oldest in Charleston, its building is not.

“In the graveyards by and across from the entrance are the resting places of Edward Rutledge, who signed our “Declaration of Independence”; Charles Pinckney, mentioned above as a signer of our Constitution; and John C. Calhoun, vice-president of the United States.

“As Jo and I wandered about the church and its grounds, the bells in the steeple began to ring solemnly.

“We continued to roam through old streets with quaint, colonial houses and shops until we came to Meeting Street and the restored Mills House Hotel, which I treasure because Robert E. Lee stayed there. I have made it a ‘tradition’ to eat lunch at the Mills House any time I am in Charleston, so there Jo and I ate. I enjoyed clam chowder and a club sandwich with home fries. It was at the Mills House that I first ate home fries. Nowadays I can have them right here in ‘the Dimple of Dixie’ at C. J.’s Grille.

“After lunch Jo and I continued our walk. On King Street, which runs parallel to Meeting Street and is the main shopping street, we came to the building of the Charleston Library Society with its grand facade. Debbie Fenn, one of the librarians there, graciously gave us a tour. Among the books, busts, and paintings we saw images of William Gilmore Simms, the South’s most prominent, antebellum writer, and Henry Timrod, an antebellum poet. We also found a rare copy of a book of poetry by our Victorian cousin, Emmanuel Albert Wingard, post-bellum poet and first pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Outside, despite the heat, we found St. John’s Lutheran Church, the first Unitarian Church of Charleston, and the heart of the College of Charleston. The College weaves throughout downtown Charleston, housed in a variety of buildings. Its center, however, is at Randolph Hall, the old library, and a gatehouse, which reminded me of a scene in Dickens.

“After resting in the cool of Randolph Hall, Jo and I made our ways down King Street, stopping for lemonade in Ye Ol’e-Fashioned Shoppe. We cut through Charleston Place, swanky with its restaurant and shops, crossed Meeting Street to the old slave market, now shops, where I bought a ‘boater,’ and landed back at my sedan.

“Before driving back over Ravenel to Mt. Pleasant for some naps, Jo and I sought out the birthplace of Paul Hamilton Hayne, another antebellum poet. His birth house on Ashley is a fine, four-story one, wooden, painted white.

“Rested, we drove back down Meeting to Broad Street and found the Confederate Home, built around l867 for Confederate widows. It is still used today for elderly ladies and is built around a courtyard.

“We walked up Broad to St. Michael’s, the oldest church building in Charleston, and walked through Washington Park across from St. Michael’s. This small park has a statue of George Washington and a bust of Henry Timrod, Southern poet.

“Later, driving down Society Street, we came to the house where William Gilmore Simms had died. Simms had also been born in Charleston, educated there, and lies buried there.

“For supper, Jo and I drove back over Ravenel into Mt. Pleasant and down Coleman Boulevard, which passes Locklear’s, Shem Creek, and Old Village. Shem Creek flows into the Bay. Shem Creek also refers to the area where Shem Creek flows into the Bay. It is like a tiny seacoast village with several restaurants, leisure boats, the Shem Creek Inn, shrimp boats, tourists, dolphins breaking the surface, pelicans and seagulls. The eateries are R. B.’s, Vickery’s, Red’s and the Water’s Edge. Jo and I chose R.B.’s and sat by a window, looking out at the dolphins and boats in Shem Creek.

“As I ate my shrimp and grits, I looked across Shem Creek at Vickery’s where John and Martha Givhan and their Endsley have enjoyed many a meal. It is one of their favorite spots.

“The sun was setting.

“Our last day in Charleston Jo and I visited Magnolia Cemetery on the outskirts of the city to place flowers on the graves of two antebellum writers, William Gilmore Simms and William John Grayson.

“Grayson’s grave was dotted with yellow wildflowers. A great, stone cross covers Grayson’s resting place, shaded by a live oak, hung with Spanish moss. Grayson, who hailed from nearby Beaufort, was a Southern gentleman who left an unpublished autobiography, only recently published in our day. It is a genteel record of his life and times and reminds me of the polished style of Washington Irving.

“Simms’s grave, also in the shade of ancient oaks, is that of the greatest writer in the antebellum South.

“Back on the peninsula Jo and I drove down King Street again, passed the marina, strained to see John C. Calhoun on his pedestal, traversed Meeting Street, crossed Ravenel Bridge, drove out to Patriots’ Point where the great ships lie at anchor, and stopped at Vickery’s in Shem Creek for lunch. I chose an oyster salad, some of the best fried oysters I ever ‘et.’

“Jo told me of seeing a shop called Shooz-shop, a clever name.

“After lunch Jo and I went our separate ways; she, back home to Lexington; I, south to Savannah to spend a few more days with my old friend before returning to Andalusia.

“On my way south on Highway l7 I stopped at the South Carolina Cider Company and bought muscadine cider and a pecan pie.

“I also turned off a few miles to view again the beautiful ruins of Old Sheldon Church, built in the colonial days, burned by the British, built again, burned again by the Yankees in the War (how can anyone burn a church!?), and left as ruins – brick walls and columns – in the glade of a woodland, a quiet refuge in a noisy, busy world. I lingered and began a poem.”

Thank you, Portly Gentleman. He has promised the concluding “chapter” of his sojourn for another issue.

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