Georgia was our home for the entire month of December. We spent the first few days parked at Yvette and Pat’s homestead, enjoying their hospitality, although they left to go on a cruise the day after we arrived. Hmmmm…do you think we should be concerned about that message? Seriously, our timing was off for the visit but we saw them several times later in the month. For our free campsite, including use of Yvette’s car, their DSL line and their home – all this cost us was taking in the mail, the paper, and feeding their dog, Blondie – wotta deal!
Larry took advantage of their higher connection speed and downloaded updates to our computers; Lucille used their kitchen to bake a batch of meat pies, a traditional family dish around the holidays. And Yvette’s car certainly came in handy as we drove back and forth to Richmond Hill to visit with Lucille’s folks, a distance of about 30 miles one way.
Speaking of the folks, they’re doing well in their home at Magnolia Manor, enjoying their new lifestyle there. We enjoyed several lunches with them, did some visiting, took them shopping, rearranged their living room to make it cozier but still walker-accessible…the time went quickly.
From Rincon, we moved south about 100 miles to Jekyll Island Campground, our home for the next thirty days. We were delighted with the site we’d chosen – there was lots of real estate surrounding the site on both sides and woods behind us. The tricky part was backing into the site around all the trees – we did the hokey-pokey with the RV and managed to get backed in with just two corrections – amazing! We were also close to the bike path on the main road, plenty of room to walk Shelley. The only downside to this campground is that the interior roads are not paved. If the roads had any bit of moisture on them, we were tracking in dark brown dirt, no matter how well we brushed off our shoes or Shelley. Then we remembered that the first thing we’d done when we left this campground last time was to get our carpets cleaned. Oh well…. a small price to pay for staying on a gorgeous island with miles of beach and bike trails.
Shortly after getting set up, Dave and Mary, the RVing Habitat friends we’d met there this past April, stopped by on their way back from the current Habitat build. It was great seeing them again and meeting Mike and Paula, also Habitat RV Care-A-Vanners who had just finished up a three-week stint there and were leaving in a few days. The six of us joined Bob and Sally for dinner at Golden Corral. Bob is Executive Director of the Brunswick Habitat affiliate. The meal was a thank you dinner for the RV Care-A-Vanners’ work in the Brunswick area.
That Saturday, we started swinging our hammers at the current build on Amherst Street in Brunswick. Several talented volunteers from the First Baptist Church came by to help us install soffit. We met Michelle, the future homeowner of this particular house. Michelle and her four children are currently living in a house that is smaller, poorly insulated, but costs her 50% more rent than her mortgage will be.
When we started working on this house, it had recently been dried in – all exterior walls up, sheeted and wrapped in Tyvek, windows and doors installed, roof installed and shingled. Lots of work done on it already but lots more still to do before Michelle and her family can move in. What is interesting about this particular house is that it’s located in an historic area of Brunswick and must meet certain building specifications. If you looked at several of the neighboring homes, you’d think someone was joking – most of them are run-down, yards over-run with weeds and trash. The hope is that as unsafe houses are torn down and new homes built, the neighborhood will be more pleasing to the eye, one house at a time. The corner house is also a Habitat house and is being kept up very nicely by its owners.
During the month we were in the area, we insulated the interior, helped build the porches, and installed the siding. While we were waiting for the special-order siding (to comply with historic district regulations), we worked in the warehouse – cleaning it up, organizing the tools, building sawhorses and paint benches. It was a great feeling seeing that final piece of siding installed on our last day working – Michelle’s home will be completed and hers shortly.
There were several holiday concerts during the month. One evening we went to a free Christmas program at the convention center on Jekyll Island put on by the Jekyll Island Singers. The Jekyll Island Club Hotel presented a series of concerts one week. We attended the flute concert – excellent musicians, most of which were teens. The Stewart Law Baroque Trio played with them, accompanying the flutes with a harpsichord and drum. Desserts afterwards were wonderful – wotta bargain at $10 person for concert and dessert.
A few nights later, we attended another concert at the hotel, a Celtic Christmas program performed by the local group Malarkey. There were five musicians playing the following instruments – harp, fiddle, cittern (mandolin-type stringed instrument,) tin whistles, and flute. The group’s leader also played the bodhran (Celtic drum.) And of course, the desserts that evening were scrumptious also.
Some of the other fun things we did: we enjoyed a leisurely evening and a wonderful dinner hosted at Margie and Dick’s home. Margie is Habitat’s volunteer coordinator in the Brunswick area. Several Sundays, we enjoyed the breakfast buffet at the hotel. All Mary had to ask was ‘how about breakfast Sunday?’ and she could count us in. Dave celebrated his birthday during our stay – we joined Dave and Mary at her parents’ for tea and birthday cake one afternoon. Pat and Yvette drove down from Rincon one Sunday afternoon – we opted to eat in rather than go out to a local restaurant so we could visit more, then we walked down to the Jekyll Island pier and back.
One of the campground’s residents organized a lasagna dinner. For only $6 a person, we feasted one some of the best lasagna we’ve ever had (from Fox’s Pizza Den in Brunswick,) salad, garlic toast and dessert – a great meal and a bargain. Someone told us their pizza was also very good so we stopped for lunch one afternoon and had it delivered another day. We agree – the pizza was fabulous.
Most of the month, we had ideal weather for bike riding. We pedaled to Jekyll’s historic village a few times, had an awesome ride on the beach at low tide, following the shore for about four miles to the pier right below the campground. Another afternoon, we put the bikes on the truck, parked at the Convention Center, and rode on the beach from there to St. Andrew’s Point, about five miles one way – another awesome ride. Tides are somewhat extreme at Jekyll – during low tide, the beach is very deep and the sand hard packed, ideal riding conditions. Riding on the beach qualified as a ‘wow’ moment.
Tidelands Nature Center, run by the 4H Club in conjunction with the University of Georgia, is located near the south end of the island. We visited the center, checking out their exhibits, a touch tank, and aquariums with several turtle species, including Joey, a 5-1/2 year old loggerhead turtle. Tidelands offers several beach and marsh tours. We chose one that started at the pier, a short walk or bike ride from the campground. Pat was our tour guide one breezy morning. We didn’t see many birds because of the wind but learned a lot about the local floral and fauna found on the island. The tide was out at the time, so we were able to walk up a creek bed that would be flooded during high tide.
Jekyll Island is part of a group of islands referred to as barrier islands. St. Simons, Cumberland, Sapelo – all part of the same group. These barrier islands help protect the low lying marshes which are ideal breeding grounds for the white shrimp found in that area. Adult shrimp will come in from the open ocean, lay their eggs amongst the marshes along the surrounding rivers and creeks. As the young shrimp get older, they’ll start to migrate back out to the ocean, a process of about six months. Shrimp boats are usually not allowed too far into the rivers because of the size and age of the shrimp. The Commercial Fisheries Program, part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, controls the length of shrimping season as well as how near or far from shore the area can be harvested.
A highlight of our stay on Jekyll was visiting the recently opened Georgia Sea Turtle Center in the historic village. This is Georgia’s first center for the care of sick and injured sea turtles. Through the interactive video exhibits, we learned about where nests are laid; that the temperature in the nest determines whether a turtle will be male or female; where turtles migrate; what lives on their shells; and how long they live.
In a separate wing called the Turtle Hospital, we saw their newest residents, flown in from New England after having gotten stunned by the cold – two green sea turtles (endangered) and five Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles (most endangered sea turtle species in the world.) We also met Griffin, Dylan and Spitfire, all loggerhead turtles that are being rehabilitated with the hope to release them in the wild once they can survive on their own. All turtle patients have individual names and a notebook by their 'hospital rooms' detailing his or her history, care, and prognosis – very interesting and informative.
From the turtle center, we walked a short distance to have lunch at the Rah Bar, sharing a half-pound of wild Georgia shrimp – excellent! We will buy some local shrimp before we leave the area.
One afternoon, Ron (another RVing Habitat volunteer) drove as the three of us visited the Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation, a state historic site. First stop is a small museum featuring a model of the plantation during its heyday. We enjoyed watching a short film about the life of planters and slaves. We learned that the area from a little further north of Savannah, and down south a little into Florida had the right conditions for growing rice. Fresh water rivers bordered the low marshlands. The rice planters developed a unique irrigation system. Gates were built to allow seawater to come in during high tide. Seawater is heavier than fresh water, so when the gates were opened, the seawater pushed the fresh water back onto the rice fields, irrigating them in the process. The gates had to be manually operated and properly maintained. We learned that when the property was temporarily abandoned during the Civil War, seawater contaminated some of the rice fields. It then took seven years for the land to be restored to the proper chemical balance before rice could again be grown.
This was truly a family plantation. Around 1806,Williams Brailsford acquired the property along the Altamaha River; son-in-law James Troup acquired additional land along the river, growing the plantation to 7,300 acres by the time of his death; James’ daughter Ophelia married George Dent. The Dents built the house that stands today. Life changed after George and his 15 year old son James left to serve in the Confederate Army. Ophelia and her children moved to a refugee settlement near Waycross – the plantation suffered from lack of care while they were gone. When the family returned, they had to give up large sections of the estate to pay back taxes. When James took over management in the 1880s, most of the plantation’s wealth was gone. James continued to grow rice until 1913 but he fought a losing battle. The end of slavery was the end of cheap labor; there was little money to pay people to work the fields. His son, Gratz, established a dairy, which was operated until 1942 by his sisters Miriam and Ophelia Dent.
The sisters were ahead of their times because as women, they were actively involved in the running of the dairy, unheard of then. They made a conscious decision to never marry. They felt that if they married, they’d lose control of their business to their husbands – married women didn’t have a say in running a business. They felt their families had worked so hard for the plantation and surrounding land, they weren’t willing to relinquish that to anyone else.
Back to the house: the plantation house is typical of plantation houses of that era. Windows were modified to enhance circulation. The exterior was renovated in the late 1930s. In the house can be seen original furnishings, ranging from about 1790 to the 1970s – it’s like walking through a time tunnel to see the blend of styles and technologies throughout the home. James Dent was a pioneer in realizing that mosquitoes brought diseases that threatened all who lived on the plantation. He created screens for the windows as well as one covering the fireplace openings. Sickness was reduced as a result of these innovations. Our tour was greatly enhanced by our guide, one of the park’s rangers. She has worked there for fifteen years and her talk is as animated as if it was her first time. We highly recommend stopping to see this historic site if you are ever in the area – it was well worth the several hours we spent there.
Christmas was an extra special celebration. It was the first time that Lucille’s parents celebrated Christmas at Yvette’s. In the past,
they were either in Connecticut or in Florida, when they moved there in 1988. Mary offered to walk and feed Shelley for us that day, and because we knew the round trip from Jekyll Island to Rincon would make for a long day, we were glad to have her help. We picked up the folks in Richmond Hill on our way up to Yvette’s, enjoyed a wonderful get together with Yvette, Pat and Pat’s family, ate way too much food and still had lots to share as leftovers, and had fun watching the kids (of all ages!) open up gifts. By the time we got back to our own home, it had been a long day but well worth the trip.
Before we knew it, it was the end of December and the end of 2007 – where has the year gone? Dave and Mary grilled steaks – we contributed salad and dessert. None of us made it to midnight to ring in the New Year but the four of us enjoyed a quiet evening.
Coming up: About six weeks in Florida, most of the time in Palmdale near Lake Okeechobee; back to Richmond Hill, Georgia for about three weeks; wander around the south for about a month before heading north to our campsite in Otis, Massachusetts; summer in the Canadian Maritimes provinces.