When Chris’ annual golf trip with his college buddies ended in
Atlanta, Georgia recently, I made it my business to make sure I was
there when he wrapped up his 78-hole tour.
I’ve always had a picture in my mind’s eye what the South is like. I imagine rows of white, pillared mansions with expansive porches where people sip iced tea under huge whirring fans. I imagine long-forgotten homes where tormented ghosts roam. I imagine romantic, dark secrets shut tight behind shuttered windows and locked doors.
I can likely blame my romantic notions on too many viewings of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” But when Chris’ annual golf trip with his college buddies ended in Atlanta, Georgia recently, I made it my business to make sure I was there when he wrapped up his 78-hole tour.
I arrived at our friend’s bed and breakfast, located just 20 miles north of Atlanta, with a mental list of things I absolutely had to do before returning home: (1) See an honest to goodness Civil War battlefield site, (2) Visit a haunted mansion, (3) Sample homemade grits.
As I sit here revisiting that list, it sounds a little silly. But I have always planned trips with a distinct purpose, no matter how small or great.
Alexis’ family’s inn, a lovingly restored Victorian mansion built in 1900, was breathtaking. Alexis’ parents had saved the home from demolition and painstakingly revived it with hard work, paint, reams of wallpaper and antiques. There, just outside the inn’s white picket fence, I was greeted by her mom.
“Welcome to Georgia!” she cried, shaking my hand.
“Thanks, it’s my first visit to the South, well, except for New Orleans,” I told her.
“Well, I think that’s considered more evil than the rest of it. But you’ll find that people in the South are a little crazy,” she said, shaking her head.
I inwardly chuckled at her description of New Orleans and couldn’t wait to find out whom the South considered crazy.
Alexis gave me the grand tour of Marietta, consisting of a charming downtown wrapped around a city park that resembled a movie set – complete with the obligatory flagpole, historic statue and gazebo.
I soon discovered that Alexis knew virtually every passerby in town, including the mayor, town historian, restaurant owner, and shopkeepers.
(And I thought Gilroy was a small town)!
We popped into Alexis’ favorite shop, Aimee’s, where sales weren’t the only thing jumping.
Aimee herself bounded to the front of the shop when she heard the chimes ring above the door.
“Hi, ya’ll, would you like a beer, cocktail, anything?” she chirped.
A quick check of my watch indicated it was 1:30 in the afternoon.
“Uh, no thanks, but thanks for offering,” I said.
Aimee immediately wanted to know all about me, where I was from, what I was doing here, what I did, and finally, if I was thinking of moving to Atlanta.
I declined, but just as politely as when I was offered the afternoon cocktail.
The next day, I was able to check two to-do items off my list: Visit a haunted mansion and eat grits.
We dined at the 1848 house, an old hospital turned restaurant. The chef’s wife gave us a tour of the old operating rooms, which are believed to be haunted. Afterwards, I tried my first bite of grits. Delicious! For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, the side dish is very similar to polenta and can be served various ways. Mine were served, appropriately enough, with a little minced garlic mixed in.
The following day I mentally checked off my last to-do item as I found myself hiking up Kennesaw Mountain, a historic Civil War battlefield site. As I trudged up the steep incline, I tried to imagine dragging a cannon behind me while wearing a woolen uniform in 100-degree heat. Unthinkable.
My Atlanta visit was topped off with tours of two world-famous headquarters – CNN and Coca-Cola.
The first was remarkable. A former journalist, I delighted in the behind-the-scenes look at the media giant. While Ted Turner no longer owns the Cable News Network, a life-size cardboard figure of him sits in the corner of a newsroom, surveying the busy scene.
At the Coca-Cola headquarters, I learned that a pharmacist in Atlanta invented the soft drink. The story goes that the secret-recipe syrup was one day accidentally mixed with carbonated water and Coca-Cola was born.
While listening to old Coke jingles, I sampled dozens of varieties of Coca-Cola and was reminded why “New Coke” didn’t last on the supermarket shelves for very long.
As it turned out, my visit to Atlanta was indeed memorable. I can now say I’ve been to the “official” South. I think Alexis’ mom was right – it’s an eclectic area of the country that has a comfortable mix of charm and hospitality stirred up by a just a touch of crazy.