ST. SIMONS ISLAND – If I did not live in Athens, I would want to live here, where the living is easy and the laid-back lifestyle touches your senses so poignantly that you feel rather Shakespearean upon taking leave, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
When the exit takes place, you know that you will find your way back to the Golden Isles. With the good fortune of having traveled our state top to bottom, corner to corner over the years, no place has less-to-like features than St. Simons. You cross the Fernando Torras Causeway and park at your destination, fully expecting a greeter to open your car door and smile, “at ease.”
No place in our state is more relaxed, reassuring and inviting. St. Simon’s tranquil atmosphere leaves you appreciating abundant good things and shooing away pessimism and melancholy. Mental apathy is not allowed in the Golden Isles.
Good feelings wash over me when I come this way. It all begins when I pull out of the driveway and connect with Georgia Highway 15 in the Five Points section of Athens and head south. Along the way, a leisurely drive awaits. It will be a stop-and-go routine by choice. I want to connect with good friends along the way. First, there was a call in Greensboro to the Journal Herald and the latest news from Carey Williams, an old friend who probably knows more Georgians than the last half dozen governors. It was Carey, who arranged for my first Masters ticket. I’ll always be grateful for that. He is the only person I know who actually won the lottery.
In Sandersville, I raised an imaginary toast to my late friend Tommy Walker, who was a Damn Good Dawg if there ever was one. How I miss his chatterbox conversations and his generous and perpetual laugh.
As I aimlessly ride through my hometown of Wrightsville, I recall Friday Night Lights, dating in a pickup truck, and the fun that I had with my friends; the 4-H club, FFA, and a coach named Red. His Knute Rockne style oratory seldom made a difference, mainly because he didn’t have the talent to make a difference. Nevertheless, it was fun playing for him.
When I approached Tarrytown, 4.4 miles south of Soperton, a call went out to Georgia Supreme Court Judge, John Ellington. Hooray, he was home and had time for a Diet Coke and conversation about turkey hunting, Gridiron, Bulldawg football, haying, Atlanta traffic, and his forthcoming trip to Charlotte for the opening of football season, now less than a month away. There was an invitation to stop by on my return for a bouquet of roses, tended by his own hand, and some fresh tomatoes. Nothing like a Supreme Court Judge with a green thumb and a pretty wife, Sandra Kate, who can shoot straighter than Annie Oakley.
Lunch in Lyons, with Vince and Brian Stanley and Andy Woodruff of Vidalia Valley LLC, at Hardware Pizza restaurant was followed by the handing over of a box of Vidalia sweet onions. Then a stop in Vidalia, one of the prettiest towns in Georgia, to visit another newspaper publisher, William Ledford, who has not won the lottery. However, he drinks Silver Oak wine. He shared a bottle with his friend. I was moved to search for a corkscrew but with two hours of driving ahead, I came to my senses but became giddy thinking about that hour when a corkscrew would be engaged.
In Jesup, I had a moment of silence in memory of John Donaldson, with whom I fished for many years. A fine football player and coach for Georgia’s Bulldogs, John was the best of anglers. I never knew anybody who enjoyed fishing the extent that he did. Eating what he caught made his day.
The drive to St. Simons was a winner in itself. Fried Shrimp with Tom Mitchell at the Frederica House remains a must on trips here where I often bump into old friends like Charlie Bankston, Wayne Murphy and Julia and Kel Goalby. Julia is one of the most enthusiastic Dawgs in the Golden Isles.
Breakfast with Bill Griffin and Jimmy Bishop at the Ocean Forest Club was the final stop. An accomplished lawyer, Jimmy, grew up in Alma on the other side of the state, was graduated from UGA and settled here. There are no regrets.
Jimmy is the unofficial town crier for his community. “People are coming here in big numbers,” Jimmy says. “They like it here because there is good governance, good schools—both public and private—good weather and the economy is very good.
“You have so many options from the beach to golf to fishing to nature and wildlife. There is plenty of history here, but the main thing is that it is a place where you feel at home all the time.”
A trip to the Golden Isles, allows one to appreciate his home state. The drive to get here heightens the anticipation and the return trip leaves one with precious memories.