'Chewing the Fat' With Mrs. Wilkes

Published: Thursday, June 12, 2014 at 10:31 AM.

I was sitting on a park bench in Savannah, Georgia, watching the world go by when it dawned on me; the world WAS going by! If any place on earth has made a living attempting to keep every building, street and carefully laid out city square like it always was, this was it. They talk here a lot more about James Oglethorpe, who sailed up the river to found the city in 1734, than they do modern day congressmen and mayors. You’d think John Wesley was the current minister at the First Street Tabernacle. They walk you through houses with double parlors, copper ceilings and gilded edge china. For a nominal fee, you can gaze on the church pew George Washington occupied on his visit in 1791. William T. Sherman is vilified as if he arrived yesterday with the Yankee marauders!  

            They stand in line over on West Jones Street to eat at Mrs. Wilkes’ boarding house like it was serving up fountain of youth chicken livers. Progress for them is measured in cobblestone streets and Victorian spires. 

            Of course, the air conditioned tour bus and the Taco Bells sprinkled just outside the “Historic District” belied the notion that things do, in fact, ever stand still. I actually saw one girl in Telfair Square that wasn’t wearing a hoop skirt! A tour guide, in an unguarded moment, confessed he was just in it for the money. This place was selling nostalgia in a pre-packaged, homogenized way.    

            I paid nine dollars for a house salad at “Ye Olde Roadside Inn”. I mumbled to the colonial clad maître d’ that his menu wasn’t as authentic as his costume. They were offering Thomas Kinkade paintings and electric guitars in the “market district” of old Savannah. If anyone except me noticed this minor inconsistency, they didn’t let on. And I don’t think Oglethorpe waded ashore wearing one of those twenty-five dollar Harley-Davidson tee shirts being hawked down on the riverfront.

            Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed every minute of my visit. It was definitely a step back in time—with one foot! You could certainly get lost in the branches of the overhanging trees, in the names of Wesley, Eli Whitney, Juliette Gordon Low, Johnny Mercer, in the stately magnolias adorning the nearby plantations…….it definitely had the “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” feel. But the city also had a modern day, commercial slant to it. There was a “hustle and bustle” that I’m not sure colonial Savannah felt. These Rhett Butlers and Scarlet O’Haras wanted to be paid before you got on the bus. I know one thing, it sure was fortunate for the city to have all those old buildings standing around.  

            From my park bench I pondered the dilemma. This town was not unlike my personal life. I sure appreciated the peace, safety and tranquility of my past. I’ve made a career out of exposing the old buildings of my youth. But do you think for a second I want to go back to cutting okra on a daily basis! Ye gads! I don’t mind reminiscing from time to time but I’m through cutting firewood, dumping slop to hogs and shoveling out barn stalls.

            Progress is not the worst ballgame in town!      

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