Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reflections from a Road Trip: the Deep South

A new generation meets the storyteller

[This brings my summer travel posts to a close. I plan to stay home for a while.]

In 1776, the British army recruited an 18-year old German boy from northern Bavaria to fight the American colonists. After 2 years of doing that very thing, the young man followed his conscience, defected and joined the Revolutionary Army. War's end found him in North Carolina where he in turn found a wife. Johannes died in 1816 in Georgia, a modestly prosperous yeoman farmer and Primitive Baptist preacher. For the last 30 years, this man's descendants have gathered for a reunion in different parts of the South. These are my mother's people, though she gave little thought to these get-togethers. In the 30 years, I have missed perhaps three. My wife and I attended this year's event in LaGrange, Georgia, and then drove on to Savannah, where we spent a couple of days before returning home.

Without going into any great detail, I will simply post some observations from the trip, in a Best and Worst format, as follows:

Best mid-sized Southern city:

Jackson, hands down

Most picturesque small-town Episcopal church:

Church of the Holy Cross, Uniontown, AL

Most photogenic decaying Southern mansion:

behind the Church of the Holy Cross, Uniontown, AL

Most surprising:

Selma, Al, much more than the Edmund Pettus bridge, with an interesting downtown, not yet in total decline, with impressive churches and the stand-out Mishkan Temple Synagogue

Best eastbound travel tip:

Alabama police are apparently serious about the 45 mph posted along Highway 80's eternal construction

Best location for a remake of Gone with the Wind or any other moonlight-and-magnolias Southern potboiler:

Greenville, GA, with a row of authentic antebellum mansions lining the western entrace to town, culminating in a Norman Rockwall courthouse square

Most eye-catching Orthodox temple:

St. Innocent Orthodox Church, Macon, GA

Favorite Savannah squares:

Monterrey and Lafayette

Favorite Savannah view:

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist as seen across Lafayette Square from the second-story windows of Flannery O'Connor's childhood home

Silliest church sign:

seen in front of Reidsville Baptist Church, Reidsville, GA: "Youths: Confused about Jesus' Second Coming? Watch the Left Behind movies here." ho-boy

Most idyllic Southern hamlet:

Ailey, GA

Bridesmaids in Forsythe Square

Friendliest Fruit Stand:

McGuinty's McApple Orchard, Rochelle, GA

Most beautiful Baptist Church:

First Baptist Church, Plains, GA

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Ugliest Baptist Church:

Ladonia Baptist Church, Phenix City, AL

In Bonadventure Cemetery

Competition between old-time downtown Jackson eateries--The Mayflower vs. The Elite Cafe:

The Elite Cafe has a slight edge until The Mayflower's bread pudding is factored in, leaving it a dead-heat

Best westbound travel tip:

If you fill up with gasoline and visit the restroom in Jackson or Vicksburg, you can make it to Texas without ever having to even stop in Louisiana


The Ochlophobist said...

Next time you come to Memphis, you and I need to do a tour of Memphis' best abandoned churches. Some have a gravitas that cannot be put to words.

John said...

We'll do it.

Anonymous said...

Drove thru Selma for the very first time this summer. Very pleasantly surprised as well.

BTW, never saw Theophan a couple of weeks ago. Did they stop thru Memphis?

Ian Climacus said...

Thank you so much: I was able to travel, and learn a great deal, from my PC here in the SW suburbs of Sydney.

And enjoy home! :)

John said...

Anon, traveling with children as they were, prevented them from reaching Memphis on Saturday. Too bad, but just one of those things. Anyway, they know where to go next time!