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Archive for April, 2010

I’m now really regretting using the post title “Montgomery to Selma” . We haven’t been to  Selma yet, but there it is in every title. If there’s anybody out there reading this, how annoying is that!   I originally thought I’d be able to sum up this week in one or two posts. But, too many memories, and too little ability to put them into words.  We ARE going to get to Selma though.  For anyone who’s hanging in there .  (That will be Dick and I in our rocking chairs, in the not-too-distant future, yelling to each other, “Hey!  Did we ever go to Selma?!”)

At this point, we’re still in Montgomery, staying at Gunter Creek Campground every night. Not a bad spot to call home for a few nights.

Gunter Hill Campground - view from campsite

And we go back to Montgomery on our third day in the area, and  take the trolley tour, visit the Rosa Parks Museum ( I could write another whole post on that and call it Montgomery to Selma Part 4, but I’m restraining myself.  I’ll just say it’s powerful and well worth visiting.)

We’ve parked our  Navion every day we’ve been in Montgomery, in back of the Visitor’s Center – the railroad station/trolley stop (VERY convenient if you have a small rig). So, tonight (and a couple other nights)  we walk to a recommended restaurant – “Dreamland Barbecue” and pig out. On our first night, we get a huge sampler of ribs, chicken, barbecued pork etc.  with all the sides, AND Dick orders barbecued sausage as an appetizer. It’s a fun place, and the owner/manager? is really friendly and sits at out table, telling us about the major changes underway.  Like a very cool outdoor bar with an amazing number of artisan beers on tap.  We talk about small breweries in Wisconsin (where we’re from) – he makes a note of our beloved New Glarus Spotted Cow.

All right.  I’ll get another day here into Part 3.  The Biggest One.

Martin Luther King.  His home.  Our visit starts with a pretty funny encounter with one of the guides.  While we’re parking our tiny motor-home, this beautiful senior African-American woman (in a gorgeous red dress) comes out to tell us that a tour will start in a few minutes.  While I’m listening to her, I’m taking off this large man’s white shirt I wear over my regular clothes when we travel- so our old cat can sit on me and shed. She gives me a lot of grief.  Kidding me about being a stripper- it’s goes on, we have some great give and take, before and after our tour.

But now, we really are on hallowed ground.  After a brief orientation, we go into Martin Luther King’s home. It’s so  amazingly accessible. We’re allowed to wander around in the living room, it’s not roped off at all. It’s an overwhelming feeling – the thoughts, fears and plans that happened in this place.  It’s awesome to see the dining room table, where SNCC was born and where all those tough decisions about the boycott were debated and made.

The highlight is the kitchen, where we get to stand around the very table, where Martin Luther King bowed his head over a cup of coffee, weary and worried,  and asked God if what he was doing was right. God answered.  The rest is history.

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We start our tour outside of Tuskegee, with the  Tuskegee Airmen Museum.  We’ve had it on our list of places to see since we bought this motor home a year ago.  African- American  pilots in World War II  proved themselves here. They hadn’t been allowed into pilot training schools or allowed to fly missions previously.  These graduates went on, after being tested and tried in all kinds of conditions, to prove themselves not only capable, but superior.  It’s such an amazing story.  Look for those red tail wings, and their statistics, in the history books.

Next, we drive into Tuskegee, and onto the grounds of the Tuskegee Institute.

Booker T. Washingon founded this historic college – he was ahead of his time, taking advantage of opportunities, and providing opportunities. He gets George W. Carver to come here to teach. (And, if you don’t see God’s hand in nature, after learning about this man, there’s something wrong with your eyesight.)  Together, they do so much for academics for black students, for agriculture, and for the farmers in the region. From history classes, I remember their names and the peanut research – but I’m totally blown away by the philosophy of how they approached learning. A new world started here.

The museum and the films are awesome and inspiring – but at some point we get hungry and ask where we might still get a bit of lunch – we’re told that the Kellogg Conference Center on campus might still be serving?

Indeed.  We’re welcomed into the dining room by the hostess at the desk.  We ask if we’re dressed appropriately (we’re in travel mode -but she assures us we’re fine). The rest of the dining room is really well- dressed , suits and ties, for the men,  dresses or nice business attire for the women.  Ordinarly I don’t count, but this time it seems worthy to note that we are the only white faces in the room.

So there it is.  We’re in the minority.  Not dressed well. No credentials.  And we are treated with such graciousness, friendliness and acceptance.  Everyone smiles, nods, acknowledges us in some way.  The Mayor of Tuskegee, who happens to be having lunch at an adjacent table, comes over to our table, asks us if there’s anything he can do for us, and tells us that we have a friend in the Mayor’s office if  there’s anything we need.

We have a wonderful lunch – the food is all delicious, we try new things, standing next to one another at the buffet.

It hurts my heart to think about what the reverse situation has been.

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We came to Montgomery to see where Rosa Parks made history by taking her seat on the bus and not giving it up,  to learn more about the Montgomery bus boycott and to visit the home  and church of Martin Luther King.

I haven’t visited this part of the south since I was in early grade school – what I remember most vividly from that trip was my Dad drinking out of the “colored only” drinking fountain and using the “colored only” restrooms.  It caused some ugliness from white people that made me uncomfortable and afraid, while at the same time I felt proud of my father.  It was a small gesture he made, I guess, but it said  a lot to me.  I expect that times will have changed in so many ways.

Check-in at our first RV park:  Friendly staff recommend the top 3 sights to see while we’re here;  The State Capitol, The State Archives, and the White House of the Confederacy. We head downtown to the Visitor’s Center to check out parking and get oriented.  Our friendly staff person there recommends the same three sights. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King are second tier. What is this?  Is it the color of our skin? I’d hate to think that.  I don’t begrudge them their pride in their Capitol building, etc. (well, actually, I take exception to one of their rather inferior paintings in the rotunda – with a title something like, “when wealth and leisure led into the golden antebellum age” – sure, wealth and leisure arrived while you were sitting on that pretty veranda).   It’s just that I don’t understand their relegation of this city’s great Civil Rights heritage onto a back burner, when for us, it’s the major reason we’re here. We’re looking forward to anything else the city has to offer, but that’s just frosting on the cake.

I guess I’m not going to get rid of conflicting emotions on this trip.  We switch campgrounds the next morning, and because it’s too hot to be in downtown Montgomery, drive to Tuskegee.

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Easter in Tallahassee

Emily and Chris doing Easter dinner for us - Tallahassee 2010

Emily and Chris (and Isabella) are perfect hosts, and great cooks.  What I hadn’t realized before was how, on the path to a PHD in archeology, Chris has leaned how to balance pottery on his head so skillfully, while performing menial kitchen tasks.

It was another whirlwind weekend.  They pick us up Friday night at the RV park where we rent a site when we’re in town, and whisk us off to a great little seafood restaurant, with the rather unfortunate name,  “Stinky’s Fish Camp”.  But the place has nothing to apologize for when it comes to food.  Everything was fresh, delicious, there was great live music and a fun, friendly atmosphere.

Saturday is a lazy blur.  We eat breakfast at a fine little bakery, then while C and E go to a farewell party for one of Emily’s co-workers for a bit,  Dick and I walk the nature trail loop around the ponds by their house, not nearly enough to make up for all the good food we’re eating, but it makes us feel better and it’s beautiful.  We go out for Mexican that night and then enjoy their home, the cats, a bit of Timm Trivia (an incredible gift they made for us last Christmas), and watch movies of the four of us in Ireland a few years back when they lived there, while laughing convulsively.

Easter morning Mass is at a predominately Hispanic church they’ve picked out in nearby Quincy. It’s small, simple and perfect.  The priest is from Spain, and he gives a lovely homily, which he painstakingly  reads.  Because, as one of the parishioners told us afterwards, when he arrived in the States,  he announced that he spoke “little boy English”.  At his Spanish Mass, we hear that he roams up and down the aisles and it would have been an entirely different story.  Well, the same story and in any language, one to celebrate.

After  a light salad lunch (does it count that some of us had a crabcake  on top, or in Dick’s case, a bisonburger?), we go hike a new trail at the always wonderful St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge.  When we return, Emily and Chris make a totally delicious Easter ham dinner – and lo and behold, when dessert is served on the screened porch, they have garnished it with the first ripe strawberry from their backyard garden.  The one we’ve all been eyeing, waiting for, and it’s really, REALLY good.

The visit and the evening must finally end, so they chauffeur us back to the Tallahassee RV park, and bring Isabella into the Navion to say goodbye to Taylor.  We have a first.  Taylor lets Isabella lick his nose.  The rest of us kiss and hug and say goodbye until next time.

Emily (Isabella in carrier to her left) and Chris in Navion

Isabella, emerging from carrier for farewell to Taylor

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Savannah, GA

Except that we don’t stay up until midnight.  At least while we’re in Savannah.  It’s like we have small children we need to get home to, can’t stay out late – but in this case it’s because we’re traveling in a motor home and need to get back to Skidaway State Park so we don’t bother our campground neighbors with lights and noise ‘after hours’. We push the limits a bit, but we’re always home before the hoodoo hour.

Savannah lives up to her reputation –  layers of fascinating history, beautifully laid out and blooming squares,  historic homes, fun restaurants – and with one additional bonus we never even considered until we we started this new way of traveling last year – it’s motor home friendly.

That means that the Visitor Center, in the historic railroad complex, has RV parking and you can park there all day, or all night for that matter.  It’s very inexpensive, either way.

For a lot of people, Savannah is all about John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  So here’s an obligatory Mercer House shot.

Mercer House, Savannah, GA

I fell victim to curiosity and took the house tour while Dick made some work calls.  The tour guide said it was a triple A tour – art, architecutre and antiques.  But I’ll bet most of the members of my tour group, who dished out $12. for the privilege of seeing the inside of  Jim William’s house were mostly interested in the murder.  Yes, the house was full of antiques and art – he was an antique dealer and a major player in the restoration of Savannah, and his collections were impressive.  But, let’s face it.  The den was what people had come to see.  When we finally got there,  I could hear people whispering, see them pointing.  It was where the murder took place.  Oops.  It wasn’t a murder, our tour guide tells us – it was an act of self defense.  And she reminds us that Williams was ultimately acquitted.  This isn’t the version we hear from every other tour guide we meet during our stay – the story outside the house is that after being found guilty in several trials, Jim William’s ultimately got away with murder.  It’s not surprising that Jim William’s sister, who now lives in the home, and controls access to the house, would want her brother remembered differently.

Bonaventure Cemetery

Bonaventure Cemetery is beyond atmospheric – and we were there on a grey and rainy day, which made it all the more spooky and amazing.  Dick kindly drove me around, and let me off in blocks of the cemetery where the guide said I’d find my favorite dead people.  Head bent down, raincoat hood up – I managed to stumble upon most of them.

Johnny Mercer's Grave, Bonaventure Cemetery

Johnny Mercer's Grave, Bonaventure Cemetery

Johnny Mercer.   Just a few of all the wonderful songs Johnny Mercer wrote are listed on the bench at his grave site :

Come Rain or Come Shine,  Days of Wine and Roses, Hooray for Hollywood, In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening, One for My Baby,  Skylark, Something’s Got to Give,  Old Black Magic,  You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.

Conrad Aiken's grave

I wanted to see Aiken’s grave because he’s a writer and Pulitzer Prize winner.  I also learned that the martini scene from the movie version of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” was filmed here.  Pulitzer Prize and Hollywood – what a winning combination.

Little Gracie is one of the most visited grave sites in the cemetery.  She died of pneumonia at the tender age of 8 years, at Easter time.  She was a beloved child of the city at that time – and still has many followers.  Ghost stories too…

Gracie Watson grave site, Bonaventure Cemetery

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Jekyll Island Club Hotel

The last day before we left Jekyll Island, Dick was forced into doing some work – so while he dealt with clients from the dinette in the Navion, parked in the garden- like setting of the visitor lot in the historic district, I did some touring on my own. Took a 90 minute, concierge-guided tour of the Club Hotel – great history, along with tales of the rich and famous from its heyday to the present (Robert Redford gave away his tower room, gratis, to a newlywed couple during the filming of “The Legend of Bagger Vance” here) including some very interesting ghost stories (the concierge, herself, disrupted one TV show’s filming – having freaked out at what she saw…).  We got to go into quite a few hotel rooms, including the landmark tower suite, which wasn’t occupied that day, where we were able to climb the circular staircase to the top of the turret, with some breathtaking views.

I also toured the Georgia Sea Turtle Center which is right there in the historic district, next to Dick, slaving away in the Navion.   Jekyll Island is a major nesting ground for loggerhead turtles and they have a lot of friends here.  The Center has great exhibits, following the harrowing hatching process through the many dangers, trials and tribulations these creatures face on their journey to adulthood.  A female doesn’t start laying eggs until she’s about 30- how modern is that.  I, as a turtle, did all the educational “stations” in the Visitor’s Center and lived to be 60. Whew! Not many are that lucky.  I also visited their visited their infirmary, where each “patient” has a name and a chart, so you can read about their injury/disease, and what treatment they are undergoing. When rehabilitation is successful, the turtles are released back into the ocean, and what a joyous moment that must be for all involved.

Georgia Sea Turtle Center

While we were on Jekyll, we stayed at the Jekyll Island Campground, which was great for access to the historic district and beaches, although it left us feeling a bit like the Joads in “The Grapes of Wrath”. But, we had two delicious dinners at Latitude 31 on the pier in the historic district, so we weren’t exactly starving.

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