America through the Windshield--Getting to Know the First Americans travel blog

March 2012—Americus, Georgia

When we drove in to the Brickyard Plantation Golf Course and RV Park, before we could fully park and hook up water, electricity and sewer, our friend, Priscilla, from Hickory Ridge RV Park in New York, drove up. She knew we were arriving in the afternoon on March 1; apparently, she had been watching for our RV. She was parked immediately across the pond from us and had a “bird’s eye view” of the spot we were assigned. We enjoyed her greeting. She brought two ice-cold beers, one for each of us. Brenda still does not drink beer so our immediate neighbor who had just pulled in to his assigned spot was happy to accept the offer. Priscilla is a “new” old friend. We were all excited as we began to exchange greetings with words, hugs and goodies from Priscilla. The beer was not the only goodie in her bag; there were pecans from a nearby pecan farm. She only visited for a few minutes while we hustled to get everything in place for a full month. We invited her to come over after our puppy walk and dinner.

Setting up the RV only takes a short while. Completing our set-up, reestablishing the few items that we pack away for a safe and secure journey and preparing dinner on most travel days we accomplish in 60 to 90 minutes. As Greg works to complete the outdoor hookups Brenda completes the chores of dusting, cleaning bathroom sinks, replacing small kitchen appliances. As Brenda works to get the preplanned dinner started, Greg gets the satellite oriented, restores order to those items moved for travel days such as the TV, the recliner and captain chairs, the vacuum, a few pillows and miscellaneous items. We work jointly to prepare dinner since we are usually starving at the end of travel day and our brief lunch stop for a quick puppy outing and limited lunch menu. As we work with dinner preparation, Brenda pulls the rubber pieces from our serving pieces, cookware and 4-place settings of dishes. The dinner on travel days is always satisfying and tasty as we sit, watch the news and recall the events of the day. We seldom use paper products since it is so easy to clean up for two humans and two pets. After we’re all done and the pets have gotten their goodies from our plates, Greg sets up for the delivery of puppy evening treats along with dental bones and tucks them into blankets on the sofa for the entire evening. As the puppies are settling in for the evening, Brenda completes the cleaning of the dishes and the kitchen. Another full day and all is well in the Rainwater and Bryant household.

Instead of settling in for TV we altered our travel day routine and were delighted to have time to share with Priscilla. WOW! She brought fresh oysters from the Gulf of Mexico. Brenda loves oysters on the half shell. Greg does not. However, Greg was a good sport and agreed to open these beauties for the next evening’s dinner. We shared many meals with Priscilla during our month stay. She sometimes prepared the food and delivered it with warm hospitality. We did some of the meal preparations and there were meals where we all made our individual contributions.

There was one most unusual meal when Greg was intimately involved in the hour long preparations for dinner; then did not eat one bite of the prepared food. Priscilla and Brenda shared an enormous box of unshucked oysters. Priscilla prepared the fixings for Oyster Rockefeller when she learned that Brenda would eat oysters as long as they were available, regardless of the recipe. Greg and Priscilla opened each and every one of the oysters at one sitting on a hot, buggy and sticky late afternoon with Brenda and Priscilla stopping to eat as the serving tray became full of shucked oysters. Greg just kept right on shucking while they ate. Then after Brenda and Priscilla had truly stuffed themselves and there were no oysters remaining only empty oyster shells, Greg cooked himself a nice porterhouse steak. He says that there has never been a better steak! Now could that be because he had just opened dozens of oysters that he would never place near his lips prior to his dinner?

We are currently parked in the Brickyard Plantation RV Park, located six miles out of Americus, GA. Our RV site is number 45. We are pulled in facing a small u-shaped pond. Only big-rigs (Class A RVs like ours) are parked on the western side of the pond. When we look out our windshield we have a magnificent rural scene of rippling waters with about two dozen Canadian geese that are wintering here in the tall grasses. Occasionally we witness the Osprey, seeing him dive into the water from a hundred feet in the air is truly a spectacular sight. We see dozens of turtles and fish who also call the place home. Earlier this week we saw two snapping turtles scuffling turtle-style to determine who would ultimately have the partial fish for dinner. It was quite a sight to see while we were enjoying the cool of the evening after dinner. Greg was fishing from our front yard. Brenda was reading as Andy sat with his lead stretched taught attempting to get closer to pets and their owners as they walked by. Heidy was stretched out in the grass taking a little snooze in the cool of the evening. We have not been able to get out after dinner the last couple of days since the weather has gotten super hot and humid; we had 100% humidity today when Greg was walking out the door to golf. With the heat and humidity the insects become unbearable for us and the animals.

Gnats are the tiniest of insects that fly. We are convinced they were released from Pandora’s Box when she opened her treasure. They swarm in such large bunches that when looking out over a field, lawn, water, everywhere one looks they are there. Their swarms appear as small gray clouds near the ground, in constant motion as the cloud continually takes on the appearance of an amoeba under a microscope. They are most persistent as they hover near any living creature that is outdoors. There is no noise as they rush to get near eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, legs, any exposed skin. We barely hear them as they assemble about hovering under baseball brims, near ear canals, between eyelashes and eyeglasses; however, their closeness is insufferable. Greg was so perturbed and bothered by them when playing golf he made a special trip into Americus to inquire of a gnat resistant insect repellant. No one on the golf course had been successful in using an unpalatable insect spray. After going to the gardening department, he began firing his questions. The first question “Are you a native of the area?” Once he knew, he had the attention of someone who had experienced these repulsive gnats he learned that only a small geographical section of the southwest Georgia countryside must live with these sickening disturbances. They annually arrive in June, distress all those who must be outdoors then depart at the end of summer. However, their arrival was early this year as a result of the extremely warm spring weather. Greg pursued the conversation and learned that no repellant exists that is safe for human use. The clerk emphatically waved both his arms and hands near his face and in a slow southern drawl declared, “You just have to keep on waving until they leave in September, generally speaking.”

When Greg arrived home, Brenda heard his version of this encounter. Brenda’s sides ached and tears poured over her cheeks while she leaned forward and propped on the countertop as he mimicked the actions and words emphasizing the local color he had experienced first-hand in Americus, Georgia. It appears that the locals live with this despicable nuisance toward humanity for four months each year! How on earth do they survive such repugnant and bothersome insects for weeks on end? Not us, however, this was not where we grew up. We could not relate to the native population. Leaving home, property, friends, family, church, and neighbors would be an unspeakable event for the lion’s share of them. Leaving one’s roots to seek a new profession would be a sacrilegious idea for most individuals in this community, especially those making their living by way of farming with a heritage of living on the land passed down from earlier ancestors. The blood of most southern farmers is dark brown mud from the land of their kin.

When we look beyond the pond and grasses we see an open field that has three irrigation arms strategically placed throughout the field. In previous years this pristine field would burst forth with perfect green grass, the kind that gardeners work to achieve. We have seen scores of sod fields along the back roads that we have traveled in Florida and Georgia. The beautiful grasses that often appear overnight in new communities come from farms like these. While in Florida we saw some of the fields being harvested. So interesting to see the long strips of grass that have been cut as if cutting into a sheet cake. Long straight cuts are made and a layer of earth along with the sod is cut free from the ground; then there are choices to be made by those in charge. The grass strips being two to three feet wide will be either cut into squares or rolled as one might roll up a long hallway carpet.

We were told that the open field as well as our campground have been sold. Lots of changes are already taking place. RV residents have been most observant as mammoth tractors have crawled through the far reaching field with the irrigation arms. The drivers of these behemoths creep across the ground tearing through the sod in the same way the prairie farmers broke open the untouched prairies with their livestock and metal plows to open the ground and get it ready for the planting of crops. These massive machines move slowly, purposely as the first one uses steel disks to dig into the earth and break apart the sod by tearing the interwoven roots rolling the soil and the grass together as if folding coconut into a cake batter. The second and third barn red tractors pull enormous steel plows over the newly disked field continuing to break apart the muddy colored earthen clods with wispy strings of grass showing through. The machines entertain onlookers looking like instinctive creatures pushing slowly toward the trees then reverse directions almost as soldiers would follow an “about face” command. The military drill continues throughout an entire day. Disk and turn, plow and turn. The march of the tractors across the field with the sun’s movement stops only when the man in the black truck parks near the edge of the field. They talk, take a break and then they return to elevated glass cubicles where each driver settles into the orderly march of the day vigilantly watching the front wheels, back wheels and disks or plows as each embarks across the track insuring that all parts of the equipment adheres to the master plan. The march of the day proceeds in orderly fashion until the man in the black truck determines that the work day has ended.

When did the three irrigation arms get moved? How were they repositioned? Everyone was curious but the movement occurred in the wee hours of the second day long before the Snow Birds were up and out. Farmers synchronize their work days with the sun’s schedule particularly during planting and harvesting times. We were disappointed that we missed the arms being repositioned but once again we appreciated the fact that these land movers were faithful to the previous day’s rhythmical patterns. Another day of disking and plowing with about faces as needed. The man in the black truck proceeded with intermittent surveillance again determining break times and the time when the field and the tractors would be abandoned. Today’s sunshine brought about a topographical change; the humongous field was now pristine and revealing tilled soil ready for planting. Or, so we thought .

Day three arrived and once again the irrigation arms had crept to new locations. The two farm tractors pulling the steel plows were gone. Only one tractor driver was in this field pulling the multiple disk blades across the field singlehandedly guiding them to further blend the soil. The man in the black truck continued to make his rounds. Our enthusiasm for the farm work has waned. We know that the replacement crop will be peanuts. We are now waiting and watching, “When will the man in the black truck be back for planting the peanuts?”

There are smaller RVs and trailers parked on the opposite side of the pond and near the entrance. The entire park has 48 RV parking sites. We are surrounded by farm lands. Our driveway and parking spaces are located to the rear of the RVs. An overgrown ditch adjacent to the road interferes with our view of the 100+ acres of farmland adjacent to our west. The land is currently being worked by four enormous tractors. They worked all day on Saturday and were again at work early this AM. We can hear their jovial laughs as the tractor hands prepare for their day’s work. We cannot see clearly enough to determine if they are preparing the soil by disking or plowing. The tractors are enormous with air conditioned cabs for long days of sitting and working the fields. On Saturday we could hear the hum of the tractors; today we hear nothing even though we can see them at a distance. I do wish we could talk to them and learn more about the crops and the other fields that will be prepared for soon-to-be-planted crops.

We have met many couples who are full-time; some have been on the road for twelve or more years. The majority of the campers here are regulars. They return to this campground each year and stay parked here for two, three all the way to six months in the effort to avoid the long winters in their northern home states or Canada. Many of them have developed lasting friendships over the years and reconnect during their months here. Who knows; we may have a similar pattern of travel at some time in the future? The standing joke around here is “There’s nothing to do!”. That is the justification for golf at 10:00 Monday through Friday with occasional golf outings on Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Both men and women are addicted to this lifestyle while here. Everyone meets at 10:00 at the golf club across the state highway. The men play together and the women play together, rarely do the husbands and wives play together, that’s just the way it is. Kinda funny on many levels. Most of the women we’ve met play here but do not play when they are at their homes in the northern parts. Some of them have stated that they play because their husbands play. Almost everyone states that they play five days per week because “There’s nothing to do here!” It’s easy to get to the golf course and the price is the best deal in town; it is included in the RV Campground fee.

Greg and I have found so many things to do here. Greg plays golf on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when the weather is good and is open to Saturdays or Sundays when the right circumstances occur (tournaments, rained out earlier in the week, no plans for that day). We do not “fit the mold”. Brenda does not play golf (or cards or board games, which are offered throughout the week for the women) and Greg plays at least once or twice each week with our friend Priscilla from Buffalo, NY. Therefore our outings and not being part of the rituals has been a bit confusing for the others.

We did have fun when we were invited to participate with three or four adjacent couples for a 70th birthday celebration. It was nice to get to know the neighbors on a more personal level. Two of the three couples adjacent to us are full-time. The third couple is from Cape May and return there each year to run their hotdog shop. Hotdog Tommy is apparently a very popular spot on the beach. After the season is over they hit the road in their RV. Tommy and Mary worked at Disney for several years and they ran a Bed and Breakfast. It seems that everyone has great life stories and lots of RV adventures to share. This is certainly a good cross sample of the American people—as well as Canadians.

Brenda appears to be the only “walker”. When Greg heads to the golf course between 9:00 and 10:00. She takes an hour-walk. She strives to walk at least three hours each week and sometimes gets a 30 minute walk on alternate days. She has a super place to walk, the county road is a country road with local traffic and RV Park residents. The walk from our driveway to the state highway is .6 miles. She usually walks a little further to get in a full hour, by walking in circles. It is far from a boring walk. The golfers are all out of the park so she can walk knowing there will be little traffic. The spring days are so magnificent, there are tiny lemon drop weeds growing along the highway as well as tiny violets with Dewberry briar patches bursting forth with Ritz cracker sized white flowers showcasing soft yellow stamens in the center. Today, she discovered an old home place adjacent to the road and completely overgrown. We had not given it much attention until today when she smelled the Wisteria blossoms that were looking like small upside down bunches of lilacs hanging from the old pecan and hardwood trees. The lilac bundles stretched to the tippy-top of a few of the trees and completely covered the lower growth of weeds and new growth trees; even the ground had lavender bouquets arranged on the new spring grass that has not been mowed this year. We have been drawn to the fields with the barn red tractors now peeping through the muddy dust that has covered each tractor. She has also taken the opportunity to observe the honeybees as they scurry to collect nectar from the many wildflowers and will eventually work to pollinate the plantings of the farmers. She has been amazed to realize that the ants truly are “as busy as bees” maybe more busy. There seem to be additional ant beds looking more like dirt condominiums that appear overnight

Being in the deep South also brings back many memories of Brenda’s childhood and her growing up on a small Mississippi farm. Her father grew large fields of cotton, corn, hay and all the vegetables that her family of three would need for the year. In addition to crops there were herds of cattle, a feeder pig farm along with baby chicks and hens for laying eggs. She grew up in a picture story book setting with hard working family and cannot imagine growing up anywhere else. Her farm life experiences include extended large families for her mother and father with cousins in the dozens. Our lives were not anything alike. It is amazing that we literally found each other when our paths crossed for the first time in 1978.

One of our retirement dreams begins with Brenda’s childhood home. Her parents lived in a very small country house situated on a red clay packed road in southeastern Mississippi . We hope to one day have a small house with a screened front porch that stretches the entire width of the house. It will have a swing and rocking chairs and will look out on the street so we can wave to friends and neighbors as they pass. Plus, we will always have time for anyone who stops by to sit and visit for a spell. The Rainwaters often greeted family and friends who stopped by to share the local news regarding crops and friends. The front porch was a cool place to sit, think, read, share the accomplishments of the day and to plan the tasks for the following day. It was the best place to sit in the early mornings, late afternoons, evenings and after each meal. After Mr. Rainwater fully retired, Mrs. Rainwater always had a hot pot of coffee and a homemade dessert ready for sharing. We don’t plan to have coffee hot in the pot; but, we do plan to enjoy friends, family and new neighbors along with our pups throughout the seasons once we find the right place and time to settle down in one place.

What could be more Southern than a good old wave, to and from strangers and friends. We love the fact that on country roads everyone waves and smiles as if they know you or will soon know you. Just like Brenda’s childhood community; we both get a warm and fuzzy feeling and enjoy the slower pace of life. The waves are not given on busy highways, multi-lane highways or when in town at traffic lights and stop signs. That’s ok with us. We spend so much time on the back-roads that we get a good dose of this Southern charm throughout each day trip as we roll along enjoying the warmth of the season, the location and the country folk.

We will share day trip summaries, especially historic sites, at some time in the future. At this time we are scheduling day trips on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. We’ve had a few day trips so far—staying at home on extremely windy or rainy days suits us just fine, especially when we can find a good movie, cook, clean or just sit with good reading materials.

The little town of Americus is an “All-American” small town. It was established in the middle 1880s and the heart of it shows its age. Even though many of the original buildings are still standing; the limited businesses down town show the age and the movement out of the center of town. Lee Street is the street where we found more than ten small, not so small and gigantic churches. It seems that every denomination has a church or two on this one street, in addition to the many old homes that were built during Americus’ bustling years. There are not any “attractions” listed for this area; however, we have not yet gone to the in-town Visitors Center. The old theater is now a playhouse and gets rave reviews for its performances.

The Windsor Hotel is housed in one of the most ornate and tallest building in town. We have learned that some of the guests have been a bit notorious Al Capone and John Dillinger. It’s said that Dillinger asked for a room that had a back exit. It has an outstanding reputation and appears to stand on its own. We believe that Plains does not have motel/hotel accommodations so Americus has the market on their out-of-town guests. We’re thinking there must be lots dignitaries that come as well as tour groups since Jimmy Carter’s home and museum are nearby.

The International Habitat for Humanity Home Office is in Americus. Also, the Habitat for Humanity Global Village is located in Americus. It has fifteen different types of houses that reflect the types of homes that are built in the various geographic regions of the world. It is open to visitors and has a visitors’ center. We do plan to place this site on our “to do” list for either this year or next year.

The small town of Americus also boasts a small college, The Georgia Southwestern University. It is a lovely pine forested campus that has its own small golf course. No football team but they do have softball and baseball teams. It looked like the perfect place to be a college professor. We’re sure the position would come with lots of respect in such a small town.

Of course there is a Wal-Mart, several local or southern grocery chains; and a pharmacy on every corner. Thank goodness one of the pharmacies is a Walgreen’s Pharmacy. We’ve had refills to get in each location when we’ve stayed for two or more weeks. We changed our prescriptions to Walgreens Pharmacy because they are located across the USA. We haven’t been so lucky with banking. We chose Bank of America as the best bank for access across the USA; however, we will need to drive 35 miles to get to the nearest one while in southwestern Georgia—no Bank of America in Americus.

We are only fifteen miles away from Plains, GA, home of President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn (it is pronounced Rose-uh-lin here in the south) . There is a Carter museum in the high school as well as his childhood home. We haven’t visited either of these sites; however they too are on our bucket list. When we are on the state road near President Carter’s home we know that it is close by; there are security fences and the side street is gated with a guard house. The house is down a side street; the houses on the street that can be seen appear as ranchers built in the 1950s and 1960s.. It is our understanding that the house that they now call home in Americus has been their home base since President Carter retired from the military and ran the family peanut business. As we drove past last week two huge tour buses were pulling in the gates—they must have been special guests to enter the private grounds of his home. When he is in town on Sundays he teaches Sunday School. We did attend a lesson, more about that later.

There are a few local restaurants and a few chains, nothing local is “calling” us. We have had Friday dinners at the campground clubhouse. A potluck dinner is held each Friday—no cost—just bring a dish. Then once a month the club owner bakes 90 potatoes and campers bring potato toppers. Our first dinner was the second night we were here. There was so much good food from salads, taco toppings, meat sauce, cheeses, onions, sour cream, cheeses, raw veggies and dip plus lots of yummy breads and desserts. Why go out!? This is a great way to meet other campers and spend time getting to know others who like to get away from Old Man Winter.

There are lots of little southern towns throughout southwestern Georgia. The nearest one is Leslie. We all drive just a few miles south to get our produce from the road side stand there. The quantities of our purchases are somewhat different from some of the locals. There are 50 pound bags of potatoes, onions, pecans and peanuts for sale. All of their tomatoes are grown in southern Georgia—these are the best so juicy and sweet. The pecans and peanuts were locally grown; however, they were harvested in the fall last year, not nearly so fresh as the tomatoes. Brenda has finally eaten boiled peanuts, a southern delicacy, if you grew up eating them. Greg does not like the taste or the texture at all. They are boiled when they are green so they are soft like a green pea. They are always boiled in salty water in the shells or hulls resulting in the need to shell each peanut before it can be consumed. When shelling boiled peanuts the shells are wet to the touch and the peanuts soft. The taste is salty and nothing like pre-shelled roasted or parched (cooked in the oven) peanuts. Greg equates the experience as “yucky and slimy”. Brenda just doesn’t understand the fact that Greg will not try these yummy nuts. The peanuts from this local produce stand were cooked in a very special way, with a piece of pork (fat back) in order to give them an even better flavor. Gee, Greg should try this southern cuisine since he loves breakfast foods especially ham, sausage and bacon. Brenda just doesn’t get it.

One of our more memorable trips began with the first stop of the day at Ellis’ Pecans off Interstate 75, south of Macon, Georgia. Priscilla had given us some of the pecans on our first day in Americus. The praline-roasted pecans were so good we knew that we would make time to travel there. We knew the food was beyond tasty when we arrived, there were dozens of out-of-state cars and RVs in the parking lot. People were slowly walking through the aisles with their shopping baskets overflowing with goodies as they carefully sampled the wonderful selections.

Priscilla had described the pecan store as a paradise of free samples. We knew that we could not sample everything; however, we gave our very best effort to the task as we walked, sampled and shared our discoveries. The aisles were full of tables ladened with vast selections of peanut and pecan treasures. We were unable to resist the tasty freebies hickory smoked pecans, hickory smoked pecans, milk chocolate covered pecans, white chocolate covered pecans, sugar free chocolate covered pecans, cinnamon sugared pecans along with dozens of other masterpieces that had been created in their kitchen. It was too easy to choose a dozen varieties before we decided that we really needed to leave if we planned to make other stops prior to lunch. Too bad it was early morning, too early to take advantage of their homemade ice cream selections even though they were at the checkout counter, right where we could not miss another great selection of homemade flavors.

This retail store was built on the family pecan farm. Across the street, we could see the family home and only a few of the hundreds of acres of pecan orchards. The parents originally purchased the pecan orchards and now the second and third generations were in charge of the family business. This busy family sells pecans wholesale around the world. The retail store is the most recent addition. It has a phenomenal walk-in business. After the family decided to offer their retail foods through mail order this part of their business has also proven to be successful.

Another southern crop that we are most familiar with is the pine tree farms. Southern Georgia and northern Florida have millions of acres of pine trees ranging in age from seedlings to full grown forests. We are pine tree farmers. The 90-acre farm in Mississippi where Brenda grew up is now a tree farm; naturally, we have a great interest in seeing them in the various stages of growth. We actually passed a pine seedling nursery a few days ago. The trees are grown in patches as lettuce is grown. We’re not sure but we think they may be grown from seeds. After the seedlings are separated they are sold in bundles that can then be set out in open fields. We have seen forests where only the tops of the pine trees are peeping from the tall grasses. There have also been pine tree forests that have the trees growing so close that it would be difficult to walk through—those forests are ready for thinning (cutting out some of the trees so the remaining trees can have room to stretch out and up). We’ve also driven past those pine tree forests where the trees have been given lots of growing room and the under floor (under growth) is covered with grasses and other volunteer pine or hardwood trees; plus, we have driven past similar forests where all of the under floor has been removed by a controlled burn. The under growth has been purposely burned in order to remove the tall grasses and the random tree shoots that provide competition for nourishment from the soil as well as the rainfall. Just last week we saw numerous old stumps, grasses, hardwood saplings and trash being burned to clean up the under floor. This is a strange experience to see flames shooting up throughout the forest that is covered with smoke. Apparently control burns are expected in this part of the country. We’ve seen 20 or 30 controlled forest fires in both Florida and Georgia. Even some of the wetlands (during the dry season) in Florida are burned to assist in older growth, to assist in the prevention of wildfires and to provide cleared under floors for better viewing of wildlife in state and national forests. (see FACT)

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