Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Skulls and Shoals

My first vision of Atlanta was from the sky. The city and its skyscrapers poked out from the dense surrounding forests as if it had been beamed in, entirely formed, from outer space. It was a crisp but slightly blustery day up there, cloudless for us to enjoy the vastness of the Georgian landscape. This will be etched in my mind as my first memory of Atlanta. That, and turning around just after landing to see our boy effortlessly vomit his entire morning's consumption all over himself and myself and daddy scooping up the debris and changing his clothes before you could say seats-for-landing. Similar situation happened this morning on our drive into the Country. It came to mind that tykey might be going through a motion sickness phase. Stillness sickness more like. On both occasions he was forcibly strapped in, in one way or another. Luckily neither episode has dampened the spirit of adventure Georgia has inspired in all of us.

I'm tempted to apportion blame on the Car. We have all american wheels for this week's stay and its a good job because this city was not built for the pedestrian. Things have a way of sprawling out into the horizon in most of the American cities we have visited. A bit like us when we have palatial digs. Give our three cases and our travelling hamper more than a single room and you have yourself a hurricane of belongings. I have developed some slightly unhealthy attachments to my knives and peelers. Cooking is by far the quickest way for us to feel at home. Took all of five minutes to do so here. Ceilings are high, heating is soundless and efficient, Clarke Gable and Vivien Leigh stayed here when Gone with the Wind (written in a house up the way) premiered at the Fabulous Fox Theatre across the road - which is where Cory is taking his bow as I type. The place has character, despite a classy modernisation. People say ma'am and sir and wear white gloves to open doors. The folks seem, well, happy. Southern hospitality is alive and well and the gentle drawl has got me hook line and sinker. Iced tea in a silver urn at the lobby, washer and dryer in our - extremely large - bathroom, oven, dishwasher, two bedrooms, views of stone mountain and more forests. A girl could get used to this way of life.

We celebrated our anniversary on the night we arrived. Yes, eight years ago Cory and I were nearly turfed out of the registry office on account of his hysterical laughter and our inability to recite the lines. As the registrar hissed at us, in his best bad cop impersonation trying to get us to straighten up, "People who have never been on stage in their lives don't fluff it!" Way to create a romantic atmosphere. In fairness we were a bedraggled mottley crew, blown in from the wet winds of January. Our parents were there, my aunt Patricia, my sister (who took amazing pictures) our niece (who had half her hair sprayed bright red) my cousin (who had just had emergency ovarian surgery a week before) and my uncle (who filmed bits illegally and almost cost us the ceremony for the third time). No rings (we were saving up for that ceremony later that year), no dress, Cory didn't even have a tie. The words actor and actress on our certificate got the registrars all hot and bothered. Still, the stories will ring on. I had warned him that if he carried on saying "awful wedded" wife as a joke around the house, chances are he would fluff on the day. Never a wiser word spoken. At least I have fodder for at least another 8 years I hope....

After a cocktail at the bar (just half a finger of beer for the boy) and ingestion of various delicious foodiness served in unusual recepticles we made plans to do a little ancestry trek the following day. Turns out Cory's grandfather on his father's side - one Owen English - was raised an hour and half from where we are. A relative who lives in Suanee, north of here (I am actually going to visit a place with that name. Makes me want to run out and play a harmonica in dungarees by a muddy river) had passed on details of where the clan were based exactly and also their graves. This morning, armed with snacks and maps we took, if a little late, to the road. It took less than half an hour to be out in the expanse I had enjoyed from the air and our hotel window. Tree lined rolling red clay earthed Georgia spread out in front of us. What a tonic after city living for the past few months. We passed glass like lakes, swooping hawks and gargantuan trucks. the latter obviously the favourite for our backseat driver. After about an hour the roads became narrower and the pines taller. Eventually we came to the somewhat ominously named, "Skulls Shoals" Road. Cory's face lights up with delight. I brace myself for rental car damage as we hit dirt track. Half way down a tree almost blocks the path entirely leaving just enough room for us to squeeze through in our Chevrolet Malibu. Rubbling along we eventually get to a dead end where there are a few picnic tables and deserted barbecues. A little visitor information sign is up explaining what the ruins we are gaping at all meant at one time.

So there it was. Skull Shoals. Grandpa Owen's once bustling little Paper mill village now reduced to scattered bricks in various sites around the larger ruin of what once would have been the founder's house. The disintegrating red brick structure fighting a loosing battle with the ivy and thickets stood eerily silent against the backdrop of the fast running muddy waters submerging the trunks of the surrounding forest. A picturesque scene of decay. Half the sites we had found out about on the internet were swimming under the wintery waters but with only us and the forest to enjoy the peace we were more than satisfied. AFter an unhurried visit we were back on to the gravel tracks for the cemetery where we went on a ravaging hunt for the English clan. After another dirt road, this time red clay rather than stone we arrive at Penfield, dotted with a few large be-colomned homes but mostly still very rural. The cemetery was small with a low wall surrounding and our threesome took photos of all the English we could find, including Grandpa Owen English's Grandfather. Our little pea brains took some bashing with the maths (Math). It was all very exciting and moving for the Cory man. Sammy happily picked leaves and skipped around the place blissfully unaware of the meaning of it all. We didn't broach the subject in its entirety - there's plenty of time for that - but waited for his questions. We managed quite well on the whole I think, not lying or hiding the truth but keeping conversation simple. He was content on looking for the word English for quite sometime. We only ran into muddy water when he asked why his name wasn't there? A snack was produced, a game of leaf piling was played and the subject was forgotten. It was a very peaceful place. The lack of mechanical sounds of any sort, deeply settling.

Back then, into the car once again, in contrast surrounded by mechanical technology to help us arrive at our last destination of the day. Cory's mother had worked for a family for many years, looking after their children and helping them in the house. The couple had moved to a retirement home down here but the husband died suddenly months before they were to move in properly. The widow, who now has moved into the home was most welcoming and insisted on feeding us a delicious feast. She had told us that her home was within a gated community. I was expecting a little apartment in, well, a gated area. What greeted us was a 100 or more acre woodland with houses hidden amongst the trees flanked by more forest, and golf course. Retirement a la luxury. Her roomy luminous home greeted us, complete with her grandson's toys much to the delight of mini man and deliciousness from her oven was scoffed with joy.

Our stay was short - someone has to earn a living around here you know - and we said our goodbyes and headed back out into the Georgian sunset. Boy sleeping in the back, husband and I enjoyed the glow of the afternoon light. Felt more like a sun kissed drive back from the beach of a summer afternoon than the crisp early evening of a late January cruise home. Cory at the wheel satisfied with his finds and our little foray into the wilderness. Me weary on fresh air and good food and great company. It was just about then that we realise we have lost one of our prized possessions. Nothing against the bimbo, also purchased by the same person, but the hat in question is of great sentimental value. Its Sammy's little knitted number, bought in a french market during Patricia's final months with us as she went to reconnect with her French cousins (Sardinian descent). The pictures from her stay there were among the best anyone has ever seen of her, infact the favourite is even on her tombstone in Ozieri. She is smiling, beaming with utter happiness, life. There is nothing about that picture that says the subject would pass away four months or so later. The little hat, that protects our son's head draws comments from most people and always makes me feel like she is somehow watching over him, quite literally. I remember a frantic ten minutes when we left it behind in a coffee bar in Brooklyn last year just after he turned two. Anyone would have thought by the sweat running down our faces that we had left a child behind not a little bit of knittedness. Go ahead, baulk at my sentimentality but I'm afraid it appears to be somewhat entrenched. I am still trying to convince Cory that he needn't make the 3 hour trip there and back tomorrow morning to see if he can find it. Should the hat need a resting place, seems to be no better place than on the forest floor where his predecessors grew up.

He has just returned from work, radiant from a fabulous audience at The Fabulous Fox. The 5,000 seater was originally built as a Shriner temple (offshoot of the Masons) in the islamic style. The canopy belies it size but as you turn the corner you can see it steadily creeps up a la Morroccan staircase into grandness. Sammy and I sit tight for our visit there on Saturday afternoon for the matinee. I am looking forward to the "starlit" ceiling and the gold excess.

You gotta love a little 1920s gold excess.

If it was good enough for Ms Leigh then it is good enough for me!

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