Deeper in the Deep South: Alligators, Sussies and Spanish Moss

So here are a few more thoughts about our recent trip to South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

In Savannah, we went on a trolley tour; our driver and guide was a retired Maths teacher, a jolly old cove. The trolley business is a competitive one in Savannah, and in making our choice, we had neglected to note that the unique selling point of this particular company was that ‘characters’ were involved. Who remembers that a famous scene in ‘Forrest Gump’ was filmed in Savannah? Well, I sort of did when a man carrying a box of chocolates (Whitman’s Sampler for you purists) got on at the last minute and sat next to Mr F – we had both grabbed window seats – and engaged him in peculiar conversation. Mr F had no idea until the actor revealed his identity. Anyway, he got off, and we went on our tour of this particularly beautiful city. Savannah is full of the characteristic Southern sight of live oaks with trails of Spanish moss. I learned why live oaks are so called – because they retain their leaves all year, but also that Spanish moss ‘ain’t Spanish and it ain’t moss’; also that it was used by Henry Ford for the seat stuffing of his Model T, until it transpired that Spanish moss is apt to host ‘chiggers’ (we apparently call them harvest mites) which bit the proud owners of his new cars. 

Savannah is home to the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts of America. Our hotel was thus crammed with Girl Scouts of America and their harassed leaders and moms. Their noisiness at breakfast occasionally concerned Mr F (plus their hogging of the fruit salad) but they seemed fine to me. There was one girl who was clearly there against her will, not in uniform, short-haired, bright-eyed but sullen, unhappy. We encountered that group later in the day in the Cathedral Basilica of St John the Baptist (in every city we always go to big churches and they always end up depressing me a bit).  Anyway, there was our girl, entirely on her own; and there was a gaggle following her, with one lassie crowing ‘she’s weird and she’s gonna quit!’. The young, generally wonderful, can be very cruel, apparently everywhere.

On this trip, we didn’t really visit many places associated with the Civil Rights struggle. We were close to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, and indeed were scheduled to visit Montgomery and the Legacy Museum but eventually we couldn’t. But I did learn never to use the word ‘slave’ and always to use the expression ‘enslaved person’ and I do like that distinction and wonder why I didn’t think of it before.

They vote for everything in the USA and television was alive with vivid, personal, rude, in your face political propaganda, costing millions, aimed at the coming midterms. But down at the local level, school boards will be elected, and councilmen and other posts – in rural Alabama we saw a sign ‘Vote for Calvin Casey Coroner’. I wondered if the dead had a vote.

At breakfast in Magnolia Springs, in an excellent old bed and breakfast, there was an elderly couple staying. At breakfast, they offered us a glass of prosecco; we politely declined but, smiling at these two, both well into their 80’s, I enquired as to the celebration –  it turned out they had been married the previous day. I praised the fruit salad, and our intense, slightly fussy host said ‘God made the fruit. I only assembled it.’ He claimed to rise at 4am every morning to start cooking breakfast. If you find yourself in Magnolia Springs, Alabama, I recommend staying there, if only for the turn-down cookies.

Exiting the USS Alabama, we encountered an exasperated young mother admonishing her little boy, who was playing with a newly purchased dog tag. ‘That is not a toy, Maverick Jeremiah.’ Maverick Jeremiah. Maverick Jeremiah. Think about it, with all its rich implications.

Of all the many enriching things we did, Mr F’s favourite was the swamp tour, kindly arranged by our friends Clark and Richard; I too loved it, but Mr F found his spirit animal, the largest alligator on this particular bit of the swamp, named No-See (because you never saw him) which was lying still and hidden on the bank when we went upswamp, and was still there on our return – ‘he spends the day warming up’ said our guide. I am saying nothing.

And finally, my favourite new word. We went to a gallery dedicated to the astonishing Biloxi potter, George Ohr, and Clark bought Richard a wee gift. On our return to their condo, Clark said ‘I got you a sussy’. A ‘sussy’ is a little gift, unwrapped, for no special occasion – it’s just something you think another person will like so you get it for them and give it to them immediately. I find that I have already used this word many times.

And I haven’t even talked about Flannery O’Connor, and her birthplace in Savannah, and her farm in Milledgeville, with its peacocks…Flannery deserves a post of her own sometime…


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