We left Reidsville in the cool of the morning. This rundown house may be typical of modest dwellings in the Old South. In the New South, it stands out for its primitive look in a generally modern and pretty town.
The sun hit the fog rising from low wet places outside town. Soon, if we slowed or stopped, Jeffrey was attacked by mosquitoes, so we kept up a brisk pace.
Vidalia Onion country. The low-sulfur soil produces sweet onions.
The sign attracted us to Shanda’s – “shanda” is Yiddish for a scandal or a shame – to talk to (L to R) David and Earl.
We don’t know whether the men have an official role at Shanda’s, but they greeted everyone who came by, lighted a cigarette for a woman in a pink track suit who had just finished her morning walk, and Earl helped a man who needed to put water in a keg. David (78) was born here, started his work life plowing a farm with a mule half a mile down the road, served in the U.S. Army in Germany, lived in California a few years, got tired of the excitement, and came home. Earl (67) was born in Utica, NY, lived in Tampa for a while, and ended up here near Odum. They like the quiet life. They said the area is supported by tree farms and wood processing.
Here a machine digs up stumps in a field that recently was clear-cut. The stumps probably will be processed and the field will be replanted.
Jerry flagged us down in Jesup. He told us about his medical and legal troubles. We wish him well in working them out. At least, as a U.S. citizen, he can’t be banished. That security should not be taken lightly.
The lower of these flags is the 1956-2001 segregationist Georgia state flag, based on the Confederate battle flag. The current flag is based on the first Confederate (non-battle) flag, which for reasons unknown seems less controversial.
Jeffrey had lots of time to think today as we passed through pretty, thinly settled, lightly traveled, rolling countryside.
Fifty years ago – a long time to some, but Jeffrey remembers farther back than that! – if a New Yorker had ridden a trike through southern Georgia, carrying a kangaroo puppet and showing a “Human Rights First” sign, he might have been murdered. Someone would have “accidentally” hit him with a car or truck, or he would have been shot or beaten, perhaps with the involvement of the local police. That’s how it was when the Civil War was finally winding down, 100 years after Appomattox.
Messrs. Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner died for promoting human rights – voting rights – but they were not the only ones. (We published this photo before the Ride to Nashville; the stone is around the corner from our NYC home.)
Today is very different. A woman in a passing car called out, “Welcome to Georgia!” People listen politely or are downright enthusiastic about protecting refugees. When people hear we’re from New York, many are fascinated, even wistful. We see lots of sheriffs’ and Georgia State Patrol cars on the road; like other drivers, they treat us with respect, and their presence makes us safer. This is not the rural South that some northerners might imagine.
We arrived in Nahunta, seat of Brantley County. The door to the one motel was locked and there was no number to call. The next motel was 25 miles in the wrong direction. Uh-oh.
Jeffrey went to city hall. A man outside led him to Michelle L. Mitchell, the Water and Sewer Clerk. Jeffrey explained the situation. Jeffrey showed his New York RN ID card and his old Brooklyn Law School faculty card to establish his bona fides. Ms. Mitchell tried to track down the motel owners (she knows all 900 people in town), called a local policeman who’s also an RN, and eventually found someone who is rehabilitating a residential motel and would rent us a room. While sorting this out, Ms. Mitchell showed Jeffrey a photo of her late friend, with whom she never made a planned trip to NYC. Jeffrey told her she now has a friend in the city, and that if he weren’t so infatuated with Nancy, he’d give her a hug. So Ms. Mitchell hugged him instead.
We don’t know what it would be like to live here. But in passing through, we feel we are among friends. Good riddance to “the good old days”.
Fruit cake, and now in the home state of Coca-Cola, vidalia onions… Will you still crave Florida citrus when you cross that state line? Will you still be able to digest NYC deil fare when you return up North? Enjoy it all.