Portly Gentleman goes traveling

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 28, 2012

Peeping through my Venetian blind, I spotted Miss Cora, heading my way from Covington Hall, a basket on her arm. Meeting her at my cottage door, I discovered the contents – some figs, tomatoes, shelled peas, and okra, or, as my country kin say, “okrie.”

I invited her in from the hot air for some cold lemonade and a little gossip.

“The Portly Gentleman,” I shared, “went over to Savannah, Ga., in mid-June to visit his ol’ friend, S. Daniel Shehan, who retired to Georgia’s oldest city about a decade ago. Let me read you some notes our Portly friend wrote for my column.”

Here begin the words of the Portly Gentleman.

“About once a year I drive over 84-East to visit my ol’ colleague, Dan Shehan, in Savannah.

“On my way this year I motored through Enterprise, Dothan, across the Chattahoochee into Georgia with thoughts of Sidney Lanier and his poem about that river, through Donaldsonville, Benny Gay’s stomping grounds, and stopped in Bainbridge at the Isaacs Bakery, just off the town square, where I’d eaten before. There I ate a chicken-salad sandwich and bought a box of fresh cookies, which I took to Savannah to share with Dan.

“While in Bainbridge, I always look forward to driving down Shotwell Street with its grand houses and churches.

“On I drove through Whigham, Cairo (kay-row), Thomasville and Quitman to Valdosta where I spent the night in the Clarion, conveniently located beside 84.

Thomasville’s bypass has become a world-unto-itself with shops, eateries, and motels.

“Quitman grows on me; I like this quaint and charming town more and more.

“Valdosta is a grand place, especially with its churches and public buildings. I could ride up and down its streets for hours, just looking.

“For dinner I ate a Delmonico steak in Austin’s, a restaurant right next to the Clarion.

“The next day was the first of summer.

“Heading on, the first town of any size I came to was Homerville where lives Beverly (Davis) and her family. Beverly is the older of the two daughters of Joe and Sandra Davis. Joe had advised me to look up two churches in the area. I found the one that Beverly and her family attend, but I could not find the other.

“The drive past Homerville was swampy, much of the way to Waycross, a railroad center. The roads through Waycross are poorly marked. I have never driven through Waycross in my life without getting lost. This day was no different. I gave up and stopped at a Huddle House for breakfast. The waitress, bless her, gave good instructions and put me back on my path.

“Hinesville was next; now, that’s a town that’s going places!

“After stopping for gasoline in Midway with its historic church, I drove on to Richmond Hill and Whitemarsh Island just outside Savannah where Dan lives in a condominium in a security village called Merritt. I was greeted by ‘Miss Emmie,’ Dan’s Chihuahua. Dan himself was still taking his daily nap.

“Once awake, my ol’ friend and I enjoyed a supper that had been prepared, barbecue ribs, butter beans, corn-on-the-cob, potato salad and Parker House rolls.

“Dan and I talked and talked and then exchanged belated Christmas gifts. This was a joyful time because Dan, about the best friend I have in this world, had almost died this year during an operation. I thanked God over and over that he was still with us.

“After supper I helped Dan edit his essay on polio. He suffered from polio as a boy and was given only one day to live. Now he’s going on 70. He belongs to a group of people who have survived polio. They are writing their polio stories to share with others. Dan has given me permission to share his in this column later.

“After supper we drove out to Tybee Island, a place of sea cottages, salt air, Atlantic shores, kites, sand dunes, sea oats, shops, piers, beaches, seagulls, bathers, restaurants, vacation homes, sun and wind – similar to Panama City Beach.

“Back at the ‘condo’ Dan showed me scenes on YouTube from his musical version of Little Women, composed for the American Bicentennial in Andalusia. One can find some of our locals performing – Lenora Johnson, Laurie Hall, Jeanice Kirkland, Carolyn Rankin, Mark Benson, Tim Willis, Lulu Merrill and Angie Bradley.

“The next morning we had breakfast at Clary’s, a simple restaurant, dating from 1903, in downtown Savannah, famous for its use in the novel/movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

“We drove about the ‘City of Shade,’ admiring the famous squares about which downtown lies, coming to the Lady and Sons restaurant of Paula Deen near the recently restored Ellis Square with its new underground parking and statue of Johnny Mercer, the native songwriter.

“While downtown we took a tour through the Mercer-Williams House where the actual murder took place in Midnight.

“We drove back out to Tybee, enjoying the marshes, boats, harbors, and scenery.

“For supper we motored to the Isle of Hope to Pearl’s, perhaps the nicest, neatest, cleanest, most modern seafood restaurant I have visited in the Savannah area. Pearl’s sits on supports over the waters with walls of glass windows through which one can see the marshes, piers, and wildlife, stretching away to the horizon of blue sky and white clouds. It is a tranquil and beautiful sight. We enjoyed the view from a table by one of the large windows.

“Besides a platter of fried shrimp and oysters, she-crab soup went ‘gullumping’ down my throat. She-crab soup is one of the ‘musts’ that one must try while in the Low-Country (coastlands of Georgia and the Carolinas). Eat your heart out, John Givhan!

“Dan’s favorite was the basket of small hushpuppies.

“The next morning while Dan was in a committee meeting, concerning water discounts for handicapped persons, I took lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’s snug, cellar restaurant on Jones Street downtown, perhaps the over-all best place to eat and the most famous in Savannah. Mrs. Wilkes has passed away, but some three generations continue to run her eatery. Even 45 minutes early, I found 30 people ahead of me, waiting in line. Mrs. Wilkes’s opens at 11 a.m. There are eight, round tables. Each seats 10. Enough people are let in to fill the tables. Others have to wait until everyone at one table is finished and that table is cleared and prepared for the next group of ten. It is traditional for someone at table to say grace. I said it at mine. Also, everyone has to take his dirty dishes to the kitchen when finished. When I left, the eight tables were full, and a line stretched down Jones Street to the corner. Such is the fame and popularity of Mrs. Wilkes’s.

“The restaurant is open only at lunch and only Monday – Friday. One must pay cash; he cannot use a credit card.

“Homemade dishes are crowded onto each table and passed, as if one were eating at Grandma’s. Below is a list of what-all we were offered – tea, biscuits, muffins, succotash, cucumbers, barbecue, stewed squash, green beans, macaroni and cheese, fried chicken, collards, cabbage, creamed corn, rice, gravy, mashed, cheesy potatoes, black-eyed peas, butter beans, rutabagas, beef stew, dressing, sweet potatoes, Savannah red rice and banana pudding.

“After lunch I walked two blocks and through a square to Dan’s meeting place and waited for him to finish. The streets were shaded and cooled by live-oak trees, draped with Spanish moss.

“We picked up a C.D. that Dan had left to be professionally recorded of his instrumental piece, ‘Steamboat’s a-Coming,” one of his best compositions. He sent a copy to John Zechiel in California, who transcribes music into finished sheet music. This particular piece sounds just like a steamboat, coming up the Mississippi.

“Downtown on Bay Street I sat awhile on the marble bench, placed by the Colonial Dames to mark the spot where James Oglethorpe spent his first night ashore, up on the bluff from the Savannah River, as the founder of Georgia.

“That same afternoon we hired a horse and buggy along Bay Street to take a leisurely tour of the downtown squares. The driver was Mike; the horse, Jake. Afterwards we sat in the new Ellis Square and watched people enjoy cooling off under the jet sprays in the courtyard.

“The next day we ate lunch at the Olde Pink House, which had opened to occupation in 1771 (George Washington had about 30 years left to live). Each of us had eaten there only once before. We were seated by a window in the Club Room, overlooking Reynolds Square. The Pink House was originally called Habersham House and was white. The soft brick ‘bled’ through the white, plastered walls, though, and turned the walls pink. The house at one time sheltered the first bank in Georgia and stored all monies of the colonists. Wine is stored in its vaults today. (No, I did not.)

“This was elegant dining, with cloth covering and napkins and bread plates.

“Dan ate fried livers over cheese grits. I took she-crab soup (are you reading this, John Givhan?), shrimp over crispy ‘cakes’ of grits (shrimp and grits is the second dish everyone ‘must’ try in the Low-Country), and collards, the best ever that I did eat – refined collards! As Clydie Clump would have said, ‘Those were collards what were collards!’

“Back at Dan’s, while he napped, I composed pieces for Mrs. Grundy’s column and sent them by e-mail to Michele Gerlach.

“Sunday morning I went to Bull Street Baptist Church in downtown Savannah with Dan, who is a member there. He plays the organ for his Sunday school class, the prelude as well as the morning song. While I stayed for the lesson and then morning worship, Dan had to leave to play for the congregation at Washington Avenue Baptist.

“I had been to the Nelson Sunday school class before on previous visits. They begin the class with salutes to the Christian flag, the Bible and the American flag, which reminded me of Vacation Bible School. After the lesson they join hands and recite a blessing.

“I recognized several from years past, such as Everett and Joy Tumblin.

“Calvin Fowler, pastor, preached on God as Love. He also gave a report on the Southern Baptist Convention at its annual meeting in New Orleans.

“I felt right at home because there were several songs new to me and a good bit of standing.

“Dan came back for me after service, and we ate at Johnny Harris on Victory Drive, established in 1924, the oldest eatery in Savannah, still serving.

“Changing clothes back at Dan’s, I was soon off for Charleston; but that’s another story.”

Thank you, Portly Gentleman.

The celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, England’s greatest novelist, continues.

The celebration of the 100th birthday of the movie cowboy, Roy Rogers, born Nov. 5, continues.

The celebration of the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 continues.

Again, I ask that each citizen of Andalusia join the Covington Historical Society and pay its annual dues of $25 so as to help preserve the history of our county, whether you attend meetings or not. Mail to CHS, P.O. Box l582, Andalusia, AL 36420. Thank you to all those who have helped.

To commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, let us return to this week 150 years ago.

In North Virginia, Federal Gen. John Pope announced that all disloyal citizens in his jurisdiction were to be arrested. (I wonder if that meant women and children, too.)

Remember to buy Sesquicentennial and Mark Twain stamps.

My cousin Jo Driggers of Lexington, S.C., correctly identified the mysterians from this past Saturday – Holly, Monty and Willow are the three pet corgis, belonging to Queen Elizabeth II. I thought it would be appropriate to mention the Queen during her Diamond Jubilee (60th year as monarch). I know it looks a bit suspicious – my cousin’s getting the answer; but it’s on the up-and-up.

The new mysterian was a Christian lady, a member of First Baptist, single, a retired home-economics teacher, known for her Christmas open house.

Birthdays this past week included those of Stephen Vincent Benet, American poet; Thomas a Kempis, German writer; George Bernard Shaw, the greatest British playwright since Shakespeare; and Beatrix Potter, British writer and illustrator of “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.”

The anniversary of the Battle of Atlanta during the War Between the States was remembered this past week. My dad, still living, when a boy, sat on his front porch and heard a neighbor and old Confederate soldier, Dr. Ira Nix, tell of how he was at that battle when he himself was but a boy. I believe I have heard tell that one of our founding citizens, “Uncle Aus” Prestwood, was there in Atlanta, too. I wonder if he and Dr. Nix ever crossed trails.

Now, gentle reader, allow me to encourage each of us to be in his place of worship this weekend, Lord willing.

Fare thee well.