Slowing Down in Savannah

-by Emily Benson

There’s something about road trips that make you want to get to your destination as fast and furiously as possible, ensure you don’t spend any longer than necessary in a cramped, claustrophobic car, shoved in between luggage, old coffee cups, and a bag of stale 3-day-old muffins. After all, who wants to stay another sleepless night in a roadside motel –a crooked vacancy sign with half the letters missing, flashing its sinister Hitchcockian welcome that screams “you’ll never get out of here alive!”

But like anything else in life, the joy is not only in the destination, but in the journey. And road trips are perhaps most illustrative of this old truism.
While my husband, mother-in-law, and myself were all especially tempted to get our three-day-plus-drive from the Florida Keys to New York over with as soon as possible, we arrived somehow at a consensus to spend an entire morning in Savannah, Georgia.

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Photo by Mary Scott

And what better place to slow it down than in an old southern gentile town where everything is slow and sweet–from the drawl of the Georgian accent–to the hot caramel poured in candy shops.

We had allotted all of three or four hours, not enough to really know a place, but just enough to osmotically absorb its essence.

Our first stop was Wormsloe plantation, a historic park that was once the colonial estate of Noble Jones (1702-1775), a doctor and land surveyor, and one of the first English settlers in Georgia.
We stopped at the entrance since we didn’t have the day to devote, but that provided the opportunity to peer down the mile-long drive of live oaks and stand under the stunning canopy of Spanish moss. I think it was worth coming to Savannah for the Spanish moss alone. The moss on the trees was delicate and fanciful, yet somehow, strangely artful and intentional, and made it seem, as my husband pointed out, as though each tree had been decorated by hand.

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Then it was onto River Street, paved with charming old cobblestones and lined with gift boutiques and a disproportionately high number of candy shops, the most impressive of which is River Street Sweets. When you walk in, a man in a red shirt, (I refer to him as Satan), hands out warm, fresh praline samples, and doesn’t keep track when you ask for seconds.
The pralines are melt-in-your-mouth, out-of-this-world delicious.

My mother-in-law, Mary, enjoyed the fresh pralines she purchased at a table out front in the crisp but fair February air, while I went in search of more free samples. I found a gold mine at The Peanut Shop of Savannah a little further down River Street. Every kind of peanut you could possibly dream up was available as a sample– jalapeño-flavored, chocolate dipped, honey roasted or smoked cheddar peanuts, to name just a few.

As we were leaving, I had one last stop in mind, to see The Waving Girl, a famous statue of a woman known for running out to greet every ship entering and leaving the Port of Savannah. She did this for forty-four years, and allegedly did not miss a single ship–fifty thousand in total.
I thought dishearteningly of New York City where I was headed for three months to teach poetry. In the city, people barely have time to say hello, and often, they don’t even know their neighbors, let alone wave to strangers on ships.

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As I left, driving through the maze of moss-laden branches, I wondered, what if we had sped past this treasure? I would be left without having savored the sweetness of pralines, or the gossamer lightness of Spanish moss, without knowing there once lived a woman who devoted her life to waving to strangers.

17 thoughts on “Slowing Down in Savannah

  1. I love this post, Emily. Thanks for including that FREE SAMPLES picture I took. I like the last line, “there once was a woman who devoted her life to waving to strangers”.

    And thanks for not mentioning my backseat humming that disturbed your frontseat napping. Mary Scott, alias, mother-in-law!

  2. Thanks Mary! I loved that statue so much and wrote a poem, but felt weird posting it here, so wrote a blog instead. Actually I don’t think I would have been inspired to write this blog if it weren’t for your gorgeous free samples picture! You’ve got a really good eye! Can’t wait to see more pics of the cozy cottage!!!
    -Emily aka daughter-in-law

  3. Lovely! As someone usually grimly determined to get wherever I’m going, I appreciate the reminder to stop and smell the pralines.

  4. “Wormsloe” is such an evocative name for a Southern plantation. Enjoyed the post & looking forward to reading more about your travels.

  5. Fully enjoyed the story, Em. I’m a big one on taking the small roads for all the adventures. Ask me about finding Lynchburg, TN. in 1979.
    Cindy – aka Auntie

  6. I love pralines…remindsme of your great grandfaher from metarie,louisiana…morton goldsmith or as we called him…gramps

    1. Hi Bill,
      Thanks for commenting! Funny, prailines must have a real Proustian way of jolting people back to the past. My mom just mentioned Gramps and his pralines too, and Aunt Martha who made shrimp creole. She also mentioned the siren and sheriff’s car and watching wrestling and his sister who you met-Hannah who ran a hardware store. I love these stories and details!

  7. Love this piece. My friend and I tonight were just discussing how we love neighborhoods where folks act neighborly and say “hello” or “good morning.” Hope the rest of your trip was well & safe. Would love to hear more about your poetry, as well!

    1. Hi Sarahlynn,
      Thanks for your comment!
      That’s amazing you studied poetry, but I probably could have guessed from your
      finesse with language!
      I have 3 new poems out in April so I’m thrilled!
      Two were in a magazine I deeply respect that has broad circulation .. Called Nimrod
      It’s not the newyorker but its a start.
      They publish Mark Strand who I love.
      I have a hard time going between blogging and poetry, but maybe in France this summer I’ll get serious again.
      You on the other hand are impressively prolific! I’m Looking forward to reading more of your blogs!!

  8. Nice to see you’re alive and well Mrs.Benson.This entry you posted about your experience in Savannah,GA is exquisite. Kudos to your mother-in-law and you for the great photographs taken.Reading your article reminded me of the lessons we had done about the poem Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop.The filigree of moss on the trees was especially delightful to see.Sometimes I feel as though nature was intricately designed for us and tailored to our senses.

    P.S I’ll follow the trend set by your mother-in-law and aunt

    Anthony Razov aka your former student

    1. Hi Anthony,
      Great to hear from you!
      I love hearing from former students, especially bright ones 🙂 and appreciate your very thoughtful comments on the blog! I’m actually on the French Riviera now and was just hiking in French alps but too busy swimming or maybe too lazy to write blogs. I’m writing poetry mostly and published some travel poems happily like Bishop. So glad you have fond memories of Elizabeth Bishop and poetry in general.
      What are you up to these days? I’d love to hear about your life.
      Best wishes!
      Professor Benson

  9. Hi Sheila,
    Thanks for reading! (again). I think Rob refreshed this story because we were waxing nostalgic for Savannah after choosing Charleston for 2013, which we didn’t like nearly as much. My favorite thing about this blog is Mary’s picture. It captures so much about the sensibility of Savannah.

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