Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Moon River...waiting round the bend, my Huckle-berry friend, la la la...

Ah, what does this phrase conjure up for you? Before this weekend for me it was Johnny Mercer's song, his star Emma Kelly, the poem I wrote for Emma that was published on SCAD's Pen and Ink page, the night I presented the framed poem to her (she had me read it aloud  but this audience was hardly ready or eager to hear a poem about St. Patrick's Day on River Street), and the day I was her driver in Savannah. That day John Berendt first came to town publicly for a PBS fundraiser with city-wide events.

But the story of that day is long and tedious. Today's story will be shorter. This weekend I chaperoned a group of kids in a confirmation class at my church (six 5th, 6th, and  one 8th graders) on a trip back home to Savannah. We stayed on Moon River at Wesley Gardens, a retreat property owned by my church there, Wesley Monumental. While our main purpose was to promote team-building among the students, we also wanted to give them the history of Methodism and something of what the founder John Wesley and his brother Charles did while they were in Savannah.

After sleeping on air mattresses or sofas at the youth room at Mulberry United Methodist, Macon,  the oldest Methodist church in Georgia, with Tommy and Flo Martin, we headed east on I-16. Our next stop was lunch with my good buddies, Rita and Mike, who live just outside Savannah, but who, in our last decade there, lived smack dab downtown on Charlton where they had a b & b. No  sign could be posted because that street--my, my, my--simply couldn't have any commercial signs about. But their home was on several tours and was, and still is, a joy to see. Mike has taken up painting as a hobby and was a great encourager to our students about teaching oneself to do a thing. (His self-taught work was impressive.) Rita served up lemonade and the homemade cookies she's famous for, and personalized her beautiful little book ON HIGHER GROUND for each of the students. Rita did both the photography and the copy for the book and it's a beautiful depiction of the historic churches in Savannah.

Our arrival at Wesley Gardens was, to quote the kids, awesome. The big house, the chapel, the gazebo, all overlook the spectaculor Moon River. Gorgeous camellias of all varieties pepper the grounds. I particularly liked the white ones surrounding the prayer garden commenorating friends gone on. I wish I knew more camellia names besides my fave, Pink Perfection. After a brief look-see and assignment of bedrooms--boys up, girls down, counselor Rev. Emily in counselor's room--we had to get going to Kroger's for the first part of one of our exercises. The six students were divided up to plan and prepare the evening meals on Saturday and Sunday nights. (Both I and Guy, the other chaperone, love to cook.) Each group had fifty dollars to feed the nine of us. Not a bad budget at all--no caviar or beef tenderloin--but we could make do.

Oh, I must use broader brush strokes if I plan to finish this entry this month. Both groups (Chef GaGa with Her Sous's and Five Guys) came in right at fifty bucks; For my group each of the three was to be in charge of the dish they'd suggested: Katie wanted Shrimp Alfredo; my wise 8th grader Daniel actually chose broccoli and a fruit salad, and Maggie, concocted a brownie/ice cream, Thin Mint dessert. Amazing really.

The next night the "Four Guys" (Guy plus Ben, Caroline, and Kate Pride) served up a seafood platter on a platter like nothing I'd seen before. It was a creamy white long oval design in pottery so it held the heat well. Whereas our group had served buffet style, this group gave us this huge platter family style as a centerpiece flanked by a green salad dressed with oil and vinegar. The platter held shrimp, sauted catfish (a team-member's choice), enough alligator to taste (yes, the chef had to do it), and new potatoes, parboiled, sliced, and sauteed in butter. YUMMY. Our dessert was a Thin Mint milkshake. (Yes, it's Girl Scout cookie season!)

Sunday was our formal learning day. We started off with a tour by Ralph Bailey of the Mother Church of Methodism in Savannah, Trinity United Methodist. There I rocked in a chair at the back (for babies or grannies) and we saw a beautiful, old baptismal font from Independent Presbyterian. We also saw a gavel made from the wood of the parsonage of John Wesley.

Next we worshipped at Wesley Monumental where I was thrilled to be back among good buddies: Karen, Dale, Tim, Kim, Alyse, Eddie, Judy, Ron, Susan, Dick, Tim, Anne, Ellene, Tom, Deanna, the Edwardses, Sue, Gretchen, Raymond, Charlie...and so many more. The church has flourished and will soon have a school/daycare on the first floor. I didn't get to go across the street to the Espy House which has also been renovated for office space.

Christ Church, Anglican, (Wesley never left the Anglican Church) and the statue of John Wesley were next. I'm grateful for Corley Nease for being our docent there. A huge white angel (I forgot to ask what it was made of) held the baptismal basin there; that and the raised glass and brass pulpit were eye poppers.

The students were history-saturated at that point, so we skipped the Cockspur Island statue of Wesley and drove straight to Tybee. In the 40's a train took teenagers to the beach pavillion where they danced under the stars to one of the big bands. Teenagers also dared each other to swim from the river downtown to Tybee, technically to Lazaretto Creek. (Luke Bowyer and his wife Johnny, my dear friend, gave me a lot of colorful history for my novel set in Savannah.)

Our pre-teens got their feet wet. The boys actually went in. I was so cold I actually left them with the two other adults and  went back to the van to sit while they soaked each other with splashing! Ah, youth.

All this, and yet it was sunrise on Moon River that defies description, except perhaps in Psalm 8. Take a look for yourself. Let me know if you've seen Moon River.

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  About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar ...