Leaving Rome, Georgia at 6:30am I found myself rushing. Not going too fast but thinking: “Ok, better not stop for breakfast – the traffic is going to be terrible the later I get to Atlanta.” I realized that once again I was leaving the present moment, projecting myself into the future, imagining what something might be like instead of BEING HERE NOW. That brought me back to the present and I began to relax and settle into just enjoying the ride. The sun was starting to rise in a blue/gray sky, the mist still blanketed the hills, I was on Big Red, my Harley and all was right with the road.
I-75 south through Atlanta, despite morning rush time, was easy, especially using the HOV lane. I stopped for gas, Dunkin Doughnuts and coffee in Morrow, Georgia and memories flooded back. When I was a fresh, young philosophy graduate from the University of Georgia back in 1976 I managed to get my first real job and it was here in Morrow. I was hired as a child protection worker. I know, a philosophy major doing child protection work doesn’t make sense. I did the best that I could but I was still immature, under-trained, naïve to the realities of what parents could do to their children, and inexperienced in professional work. I saw some terrible things, worked some rough cases and did the best I could with 40+ families (the recommended load is 20). Still, I could have done much better. Driving around brought back memories of families I had worked with and children I had placed into care. I lasted a year and a half there before going to work at a psychiatric hospital.
I stopped in Macon, Georgia and visited with my oldest friend Joe. We met in our first year in high school and have stayed in touch over the years. He even visited me when I lived in Ireland.
I-16 from Macon to Savannah is a long, let’s just say uneventful road. Pine trees, oaks, mimosa, and crepe myrtle, repeat for about 160 miles. The only exciting thing for me is to try and figure how far the Spanish moss has crept northwards since my last trip. The farthest north I’ve spotted it so far is exit 49 in Dublin and then its sporadic until closer to Savannah.
After three hours I entered the incredibly beautiful city of Savannah. Google it to see better photos than I could make (also because my camera, though packed at the time, was damaged in the dust storm I had been in over in Arizona a month earlier). I stayed at my favorite place, 1790, an old inn in the historic district. My great grandfather had built part of the house and lived there for a while. I highly recommend the place.
I did my usual things in Savannah – walking and sitting in the squares – they always mesmerize me with their huge canopies of live oak trees and swaying Spanish moss, and especially when the moss hangs on the crepe myrtle trees – the pink flowers, the grey moss, the green leaves, the peeling grey and brown bark. I walked the cobblestone streets, shook my head at the beauty of the old colonial and gingerbread architecture and sat by the river. I ambled down the river walk to Kevin Barry’s Irish Pub. I had been coming there since the 1980’s. It has an ‘old world’ European feel about it and it has Harp beer on draught. It also has good Irish music 7 nights a week. When I lived in Ireland for 17 years it was hard to find it even one night a week.
My grandparent’s house.
The path by the Savannah River
An excellent musician, Carroll Brown, was playing at Kevin Barry’s. He took requests and surprised me by playing some of my favorite old tunes, like “The Mountains of Mourne” and “The Town I Loved So Well.” Before I realized it, I was crying. Crying because of the Troubles Ireland had endured and because of my troubles there, my divorce, which caused me to leave the country that had been my second home. Twenty-two years was a long time to be married to someone.
Walking the streets of Savannah other memories came to me: of when as a teenager I had delivered calendars to the clients of my dad’s insurance business, C.F. Powers; of when I worked after high school as a lineman for Southern Bell Telephone Company and lastly, in the 1990’s, when I managed a child protection unit and did foster and adoptive home studies. A swirl of memories and emotions.
The next day I had breakfast at Clary’s and then rode my 2004 Harley Road King down to Tybee. The marsh road was just as I had remembered it. The cordgrass – green, gold and brown. The tide was out, and you could see the driftwood, mud and oysters. The oleanders were blooming, the sky was blue, and the breeze carried the scent of memory, freedom, and possibility.
Later, I ate shrimp and grits, and crab stew at the Pink House while listening to the piano player play the standards and joke with the crowd. I couldn’t face another evening at Kevin Barry’s, so I walked around the city. I remembered the last time I had brought my father to town. He was 94 years old but still wanted to make it to one last Savannah St Patrick’s Day celebration. We walked the streets one last time together and he was so happy. He died a few months later. Tonight, I just enjoyed the salty breeze and the fragrance of night blooming flowers and looked for more traces of ghosts I once knew.
Thomas Wolfe wrote “You cant go home again” and he was right. Home changes the moment we leave it. It’s never the same when we return and, thank God, neither are we. But in Savannah things change much more slowly and the city always leaves a piece of what was, behind, in the old colonial and gingerbread architecture, the cobblestone streets leading down to the river, the blooming azaleas and the scent of jasmine, all left as a path to follow into the doorway of memories.