Taking the South Georgia Plunge
Originally published on May 16, 2019 in the Tribune & Georgian
The onset of summer plays havoc on a young mind. The impending freedom from study can be downright overwhelming. In what I surmise was a purely celebratory act, while I was at work the other day my oldest took my old faithful cast net out of my john boat and headed to the marsh.
I’d have given anything as a kid to swipe my old man’s cast net without him knowing and head out to try my hand at catching some bait.
A spirited lad fond of troublemaking and varying degrees of mischief, I used to beg my parents to move to South Georgia. To be exact, Reidsville or the coast. I’ve never been hard to please. I even tried to rig an aptitude test in middle school to tell them that I should become a crabber.
What can I say. South Georgia just has that je ne sais quoi. It whispers to the spirit. It caresses the soul. The sandy rivers. Water the color of sweet tea. The dirt roads. The forgotten towns. The farms and fields. The gas station poets writing their morning stanza in the form of fantastic biscuits and bad coffee. The snakes, turtles, lizards. Lord, yes.
Hank Williams, Jr. said “if heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie I don’t want to go.” I gotta say I think he’s right. See, I grew up in Stone Mountain. Metro Atlanta. Sure it was a fairly idyllic childhood. We played in the woods, fished, caught turtles, played stickball, rode our bikes. I loved it. We had a ball. Still, I would sit in awe of my family who lived in South Georgia. It seemed so huge. So wild. So free. It seemed like another state entirely.
Some years back I got the chance to fulfill my boyhood dream. We were living in a nice house in a nice neighborhood near Athens, Georgia. My oldest was 4. My middle was 1 and my daughter but a proverbial twinkle in her fathers eye. During the recession I had started raising food for my family and a couple restaurants as a side hobby, but it was quickly turning into a business. It was an exciting time in our lives. I stood at that vast intersection of age and youth. Old enough to realize that time is fleeting. Young enough to “take that long shot gamble,” as Bob Seger would say. A puncher’s chance fell in my lap in the form of 30 rented acres in Reidsville, Georgia. We took the plunge. We loved every bit of life in Tattnall county. A very rural and beautiful place. Situated north of Jesup and south of Statesboro. It is full of great folks and enough onions to choke a horse on account of being smack dab in the middle of Vidalia onion country. During onion harvest the whole county smells sweet and oniony. It is a place where the Friday night football lights can be seen from Cobbtown to Glennville and all points between. In the very best way it was a real eye opener to how life can be so different than what you imagined it would be. I was hooked on this South Georgia thing.
The time came to buy some land and we settled on a piece to farm in Waverly. Close to the coast but rural. What’s not to love. Camden County is like one of those places you hear about but swear doesn’t exist anymore. A throwback with a eye toward the future. Kind of off the beaten path but not. Hidden in plain sight. A real jewel of a place. We absolutely love it here. I like to say it’s small town living with good amenities. Not a day passes that I don’t think to myself how lucky we are. This road hasn’t been without its challenges, but — man alive — what a ride.
All the blood, sweat, and tears were worth it the moment that boy snagged his old man’s cast net on a rock and tore a string. I could tell by his expression that something was amiss. How could you even get mad. I just thought to myself “I wish I could’ve done that you lucky son of a gun.” I mean he’s old enough to have his own cast net now. I suppose it’s time. He’s not a little boy anymore.
Squarely in the land of South Georgia, among the swamps and beaches, onions and cotton, gnats and yellow flies. Situated atop a thin strip of dirt buffering us from that great fire ant colony which spans roughly 70 counties, feet firmly nailed to the ground, I will take my stand.