Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Southern Hospitality

Anchored on the Brickhill River, Cumberland Island, Georgia
I asked the gentleman getting onto a motorboat named Reel Adventure how the fishing had been that day.  "Real good, ma'am.  Thank ya for askin."  He nodded at the ma'am part.  He spoke, as Margaret Mitchell in Gone With the Wind describes, "...in the soft, slurring voice of the coastal Georgian, liquid of vowels, kind to consonants".  And slowly.  Hospitality takes time and we receive lots of it, likely because It is too hot to move or speak quickly.  We are stopped by anyone we pass to shoot the breeze.  I think it's so we can catch some of that breeze as it wafts by while we stand under the Spanish moss-dripping oak trees here on Jekyll Island in southern Georgia.  I'm not complaining.  While Scarlett O'hara vows, "I'll never be hungry again", I'm planning never to be cold again.  I'm surprised by how well I not only tolerate, but quite like, the heat and we've been deep into it from Brazil to here in southern Georgia.

On our way from Fernandina Beach, Florida to Jekyll Island, we anchored for 4 days in the Brickhill River which winds around Cumberland Island's west coast through marshlands, feeding several small creeks towards shore.  We were surprised to be the only boat anchored there.   This usually makes me nervous because there tends to be a good reason why there aren't other boats around (unanticipated winds, unpredictable currents, squalls, etc.).   We sailed right through those potential hazards and awoke to flat calm waters, jumping rays, and dozens of dolphins hunting nearby.  Glorious sunsets capped our equally awe-filled days of kayaking the creeks past snoozing alligators, and exploring the island on foot beside the armadillos and wild horses.  

The southern ethic of hospitality first presented itself through Debra, a Parks guide who walked us through the Carnegie Plum Orchard Mansion on our first foray to Cumberland Island's west shore.  We had set out on a dinghy ride and found a small public dock that unknowingly lead to the mansion.  Debra met us at the dock and gave us a personal tour which was an historical walk through the architecture, furniture, fashion, and class divides of the times.  At over 20,000 sq feet, the mansion was originally built by Lucy Carnegie as a wedding present to her son, George and his wife, Margaret in 1898.  Debra guided us through every room, including the indoor squash court, hunting room with gun and ammunition cases, and closets the size of my house.  I fulfilled one of my lifelong dreams to play the piano in Carnegie Hall, knowing this would be as close as I would get, and used  the original sheet music that was sitting on the piano.

Note the original Tiffany lamp above the piano.  The beauty of this particular mansion tour was that we could actually walk through all of the rooms and get close-up looks at fixtures (including the silver match holders beside every one of the 11 toilets to cover odors with lit matches), original wallpaper, and cabinets.  Debra held our attention with stories of the particulars of life in this house; how the indoor pool would be emptied and filled everyday and the children would play in it as it filled up; how the young couple used so much ice that Lucy started charging them for it; where the servants had separate and parallel hallways to the main ones so they wouldn't be seen.
 Early 20th century Ice Maker
The next day we walked around the north part of the island to an early settlement built by freed slaves in the 1880's and discovered the house where they lived and ran a distillery across from a small non-descript building at the north end.  The building is tiny and rustic but happens to be the church where John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette were secretly married in 1996.  

On Jekyll Island we are enjoying the luxuries of a marina.  This sand-dune ringed island is also quiet, and the grocery store is in a portable trailer right next to a wind-swept beach.  This afternoon I'll take my ice tea on the marina restaurant veranda under the outdoor ceiling fans and talk real slow to my neighbours about lots of nothing.  It's becoming clear why I like the heat so much.  

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