Sometimes I think I’m a reincarnated rebel. When I was young, I loved our family trips, driving from Pennsylvania to Virginia. One year, fed up with the bickering of their offspring, my parents put all of us in the back of their 1973 GMC pickup. It was fitted with a cap with windows and an intercom system through which we could communicate and still irritate. Behind that was a pop-up tent trailer that we parked in Seashore State Park. I think the last year we went was 1977, when Jimmy Buffett released “Margaritaville.” That was the year someone threw a red jellyfish in my face, resulting in my lips and eyes swelling with hives for the duration.
In the late 1980s, I moved to Newport News, Va., with my now ex-husband. I got into apartment management, and he worked in a smelly meat plant in Smithfield.
When we went to Virginia Beach, I reveled in the sounds and smells of the ocean. I became a seafood snob – dining on crabs, oysters, mussels and blackened tuna. After the divorce, I stayed for awhile, dating a shiftless, privileged beach dweller and a Jewish lawyer who took me sailing and tried to teach me to play guitar. I explored the Edgar Cayce Institute and began speaking with a southern drawl.
Eventually, I decided it was best to move back north with my daughter, so we could be around family. For awhile, we stayed in touch with our friends, but after 20 years, the names and faces have faded.
Just recently, I rekindled my love affair by traveling to New Orleans and Savannah.
In the Big Easy, I visited the above-ground cemeteries, tried a beignet and had a Ramos Gin Fizz in the Sazerac Bar, in honor of Huey Long. I bought Day of the Dead statues from Marie Laveau’s Voodoo Shop and took pictures with the performers along Bourbon Street. One night, I rode on the Steamboat Natchez on the Mississippi, and I was terrified we were going to be pulverized by one of the freighters that dwarfed us.
In Savannah, I took a ferry from my hotel across the river into town every day, where I walked under Spanish moss on cobblestone streets and saw Forsyth Park. I ate Leopold’s ice cream and garlic and parmesan grits and toured Mercer House – one of the stars of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” The book and subsequent movie drew unwanted attention to the Bird Girl of Savannah, a statue that was part of the Trosdal family plot in Bonaventure Cemetery. The statue is on loan to Telfair Museum in the city’s historic district for safekeeping.
When I returned home, I found a garden store in Pittsburgh that carried a replica of the design, and I hauled her home in the trunk of my car. She weighs about 200 pounds, and it took several men to place her squarely on her concrete platform.
My Bird Girl is my little bit of the south in my own front yard.