St. SIMONS ISLAND – Midday last Sunday, with a bright sun tempering a biting wind, I enjoyed a filling hamburger at Zuzu’s, which is just a few paces from one of this village’s best-known landmarks, the pier.
It is a good-looking pier with a potpourri of humanity moving about among a coterie of serious fishermen. One was an aging black man whose gray hair confirmed that he has experienced a number of birthdays. He had a chiseled, ruggedly handsome look that suggested that his image in a black and white photo yesteryear would have made him a candidate for a Marlboro ad.
A spent cigarette hung loosely from his mouth as he cast into swirling waters, which looked like a boatswain’s mate with an upset stomach. There must have been a dozen others fishing for lord knows what. Nobody was catching anything, but nobody was complaining.
However, I lingered for a spell, hoping to see the Marlboro man reel something in. I had a depressing feeling that if his hook didn’t connect with a fish of some sort, or a crab, he might go to bed without any supper. I saw a tourist press a 20-dollar bill in Marlboro’s hand. His eyes seemed to cry out with love. As he hugged his benefactor, I read his lips, “God bless you, man.” One will never know the rest of that story, but for the moment, it was a classic scene—a happy happening.
A seagull cacophony brought pause to my walk. I am amused by the disorganization of the seagull’s squawk. He interrupts himself as he sounds forth while darting, diving, and making a piercing racket. A group of seagulls congregating near the docks reminds you of the commotion you see on the floor of the New York stock exchange. Seagulls on the coast are like houseflies. You find them everywhere you go.
I looked across a parking lot where a skating rink once stood, adjacent to a swimming pool where former Bulldog swim team members Jimmy and Charlie Bankston once worked as lifeguards.
No pair ever looked more like beachcombers than the blonde and tanned Bankston boys who explored St. Simons when it was pristine and remote. The bridges on the Torras causeway were wooden. You could fish for your supper year-round. Everybody had a crab trap, and shrimp were as plentiful as daffodils in early spring.
The Bankston’s taught themselves how to dive at the Casino pool and became UGA aficionados owing to their older brother, Byron, who drove to Athens every home game Saturday. That became a ritual that all in the Bankston family embraced.
They stayed at the Colonial Inn on North Milledge Ave., cooked hamburgers on the grill and played touch football in the parking lot—first with the children and, as time went by, the grandchildren. They owned season tickets for over 60 years.
As undergraduates, the Bankston’s worked their way through school, taking advantage of a work-scholarship at old Payne Hall, where they served meals behind the steam table. They were enterprising and frugal. Jimmy was one of the most versatile swimmers ever at Georgia. Just before he passed away, he got the news that he had been elected to the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, a big day for a man who truly appreciated his scholarship.
He returned home after graduation and became the county recreational director. That was fun but was not going to allow for dinner at the nearby Cloister on Sea Island very often.
Needing to increase his bank account, Jimmy became the director of military sales at SeaPak, a local sea food distributor. He traveled the world and company sales flourished for 45 years.
When he retired, sales plummeted. Eventually, he came out of retirement to help build back the business and train a successor so that he could come off the road again.
Throughout his career, he made it back to St. Simons on the weekend so he could connect with his old stomping grounds, spend his Saturdays in Athens, and watch the Bulldogs between the hedges.
The Bankston family has always been typical of so many in this state. Find your niche in the community and make Saturday between the hedges your second home.