September 16, 2005

 

        It is with great trepidation that I write about the Golden Isles of Georgia, and I have debated on whether to do so for many years.

The area is much like a favorite fishing hole, so beautiful and productive you want to tell the world of your discovery, yet you are hesitant to do so because you are afraid the very reasons you find it so appealing might disappear if people find out about it.

Something this incredible can’t be kept a secret forever, and its popularity – and population – is already increasing. The children that came here with their parents from Atlanta, Savannah, and other Georgia cities for vacations or the winter holidays are grown now and find it just as desirable. They too have the financial where with all to purchase a home on either St. Simons Island or the exclusive Sea Island, where no home last year sold for less than $1 million.

The Yankees in Northeast cities have known about this destination for years. J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller and other wealthy millionaires, bought nearby Jekyll Island in the late 1800s for $125,000 and used it as a winter retreat, complete with 9-hole golf course that still stands.

My discovery of the area was far less dramatic and more out of necessity than luxury. Twelve years ago I was stuck in Boston, low on money after two months of a cross country trip to see this nation. I called my good friend Michael, who I met in Long Beach, but has lived on St. Simons Island for most of his life. I told him I needed a job and less than 48 hours later I was waiting tables at the Jekyll Island Club Hotel.

Maybe it was the cold of the New England states, or the 26-hour drive I undertook to get there, but I instantly fell in love with the area. As I dipped my feet in the Atlantic Ocean, and watched the sunset tinting the marshes even more golden, I knew I had found my paradise.

The St. Simons Island Pier with the old lighthouse in the background.

My return visits now are to reaffirm my discovery. Little changes on the island, though progress is felt in its small quantities.

The golf resort, the area’s financial cornerstone located on Sea Island renovates its courses and accommodations occasionally, but the work barely registers a ripple with the residents.

More shocking news on this return trip was the closing of Frannies. It was a piece of the charm of the Village of St. Simons, but is gone forever. The owner, struggling to keep the restaurant afloat lost the battle and her famous Brunswick Stew went along with her.

It will be replaced with a coffee shop, whose survival is success is optimistically predicted by the owners. They have not lived in the area long enough to make that bold of a claim.

People don’t pass through here. They live a long life on this island.

The appeal is almost indescribable, its charm psuedo-mystical. Somebody once characterized it as Mayberry by the sea, but that almost sounds insulting, though not the intent.

Michael won’t leave St. Simons and nor should he. He is connected to this area like the old oak trees that provide shade on the roads.

His roots run deep and though he has a wandering soul like myself, this is his home.

Michael Conyers at the St. Simons Pier

This last visit we talked about life like we often do. He was disappointed I could only stay a couple of days. So was I. There is much to catch up on and my time with him always seems too short.

He knows, though that I will be back. This is his home, but I am always welcome here.