GA · Georgia on my mind · Sense of Place · The marshes of Glynn · Theorizations · Why I love the South

The captivating salt marshes of St. Simons Island, GA: My Happy Place

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“….Somehow my soul seems suddenly free

From the weighing of fate an the sad discussion of sin,

By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.” – Sidney Lanier, 1878

So wrote Sidney Lanier over a century ago about his beloved South, and today this feeling continues along the land still untouched by development. St. Simon’s Island, in Glynn County, GA is a magical place that holds a great deal of relevance to my life. This is one of the most calming places I have ever spent time in. The island has its share of modern development but there is still enough wild land to keep the same picture Lanier had of this region so long ago. Continue reading “The captivating salt marshes of St. Simons Island, GA: My Happy Place”

Community Relations · Sense of Place · Theorizations

Northern and Southern?!? The identity crisis of a state just below the Mason-Dixon Line

“I’m visiting my cousins from the south,” as my cousin Tim from Massachusetts referred to my brothers and I on a phonecall. “Y’all’s a bunch of Yankees,” said a Florida man my friends and I encountered in a town near Lake Worth, FL. When our Northern neighbors call us Southern and when our Southern neighbors call us Yankees, what do we as Marylanders consider ourselves? It really depends on what region and how many generations back one’s family goes in the state because various responses will happen based upon who is asked. So to try and settle the debate, let’s look at some relevant facts:

Geography

*Maryland is below the Mason-Dixon line

*Along the east coast, Maryland is north of five states and south of nine

* Maryland is considered part of the Mid-Atlantic region which also includes VA, DC, WV, PA and DE and in more recent times has been included as part of the Northeast

* Though a small state, MD does have various regions including mountains in the western part of the state, flat farm land in the southern and eastern regions as well as a beach on the eastern shore. Due to these differences the climate will vary but in the geographic center, Prince George’s County, the summers are hot and humid and the winters can get into the 20s at night, sometimes lower and sometimes with snow and/or occasional blizzards.

A Bit of History

* Part of the original 13 Colonies, it was founded in 1633 by Lord Baltimore and named for Queen Henrietta Maria of the UK

*Its major industry came from shipbuilding/ ironworks and agriculture including tobacco, corn, indigo, rice and wheat

* Maryland was nicknamed the Free State as a place where  Catholics could leave New England and openly practice their religion.

* It is historically considered a Southern state whose cash crop was tobacco. The state was a plantation economy largely reliant on the labor of enslaved people and indentured servants. Harriet Tubman, from Dorcester County, MD guided many slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad network.

*During the Civil War, a major reason Maryland did not secede was based upon President Lincoln declaring martial law on the state in 1861. With Virginia already part of the Confederacy, Lincoln could not risk having the capital of the Union surrounded completely by Confederate states. That being said, there were many Union supporters in the state and MD was considered part of the Union in the War Between the States.

Present Day Culture

Currently, the state is comprised of people from various areas who have come to call Maryland home. In fact, my brothers and I are the first Maryland-born members of our family. In the face of the economic crisis,  the Washington, D.C. area was deemed one of the most recession proof in the nation. Montgomery County,  just outside of D.C., includes cities such as Rockville, Bethesda and Silver Spring, all of which have a high concentration of newer residents. This part of the state is also considered politically a more liberal region and may relate to the many government workers who arrived from the North, typically associated with more ‘blue’ states. Maryland itself is considered a blue state. There are also high Democrat populations in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City. If you go to the more rural areas of Southern MD and the Eastern Shore, where it is more likely that people have been there for generations, there is more of a Republican leaning. But can politics alone define if Maryland is Northern or Southern?

Maybe other, lighter issues need to be considered. Many restaurants do not offer sweet tea, and the response ‘We have sugar on the table’ to put in cold tea just won’t cut it. However, many foods considered traditionally Southern are also part of the culinary offerings of Maryland. Fried chicken, corn bread, greens, veggies fresh from the garden, and seafood seasoned with Old Bay (the seasoning which was invented in Maryland) are all common at many tables throughout the state.

Because the regions in Maryland are so different, it is hard to speak for all of the state, but having grown up in the Southern MD/DC Metro area and living briefly on the Eastern Shore and Baltimore, I can relate my experiences best to these places. Many consider there to be an overall rude attitude in the city areas but I can say in SoMD and small towns on the Eastern Shore there is a more hospitable and laid back vibe among most of the people I have encountered. Plenty of people from P.G. County and all points south say “y’all” and much of the vernacular architecture (i.e. tobacco barns) reflects a more Southern style. One is just as likely to see Rebel Flags displayed in Southern MD as they are anywhere in the Deep South. Not condoning this practice, just noting as an observation.

The D.C. area definitely does have a more Northern vibe though. So for me to answer this question I think it is that Maryland has influences from both. Sprawl from D.C. to the suburbs is making Maryland as a whole seem more of a Northern state as an increasing number of people relocate here for jobs, but in the areas unscathed by the sprawl, we can also get a glimpse of the rural and the Southern roots of this state. No place is perfect, but maybe Maryland as a whole has just the right balance of both.

At this point you may be thinking, “why does this even matter?” and maybe many do not think on this as much as I have but with my background in historical research and reading about times when MD was considered part of the South, it got me thinking. And talking amongst friends brings so many differing opinions based on what part of the state they hail from. Never having lived north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I don’t have a lot of cultural reference points to go by, so I am just going on what I myself have lived. This isn’t meant to glorify or talk bad about either side, but being on the border of two regions, it’s inevitable that there will be influences of both. The local characteristics that create a sense of place make people feel comfortable calling a place home, and at the end of the day that’s all that really matters.

I want to hear from you, especially Marylanders about what you think and why so go to the comments section and share your thoughts!

Maryland crabs, steamed with beer and Old Bay have reached legendary status. (Credit: captaindanscrabhouse.com)


oh no they didn't · Theorizations

McDonald’s Infiltrates Historic Savannah

This the first thing I saw on my way to work yesterday, and every day from now on. So out of place.

For the last two years, we knew it was coming. It just was put off for so long it still came as a shock to see the work begin on this historic building at the corner of Broughton and Jefferson Streets. Yesterday as I walked from the parking garage to work, my eyes were immediately drawn to the garish red and yellow sign pictured above. It is jarring against the historic landscape of Broughton Street. I can’t be the only one who is surprised that there wasn’t more of a fight to prevent this from happening at all, but even more disappointing right now is the simple fact that this sign was allowed. It really just is a distracting eyesore.

It’s highly unfortunate that they couldn’t arrange a different location for this. Although there are a few chain restaurants in operation on Broughton St., the loud presence of McDonald’s just cheapens the scenery. They are going to have a walk-up window on the Jefferson side of the building, and it will be interesting to see how it affects the foot traffic at certain hours, say when the bars let out, if they plan to stay open that late. I feel like allowing this caliber of fast food business into the historic downtown just starts a slippery slope of what’s next. Dollar Store? Burger King?

My main issue is that if the city of Savannah made it easier for small businesses to start up and thrive then this building could have gone to a local merchant. There are so many vacant and unused properties in this city, the wasted potential is maddening. Here was an opportunity to kickstart a new local venture, but instead the city chose to go with fast, cheap and easy. If that mentality sticks around, it won’t be long before the whole downtown is seen that way. Let’s hope it doesn’t ever get to that point and fight harder against similar situations in the future .

What makes Savannah unique-or any interesting locale, for that matter- is not the familiarity of commonplace chain stores and restaurants, but rather the things that stand out and make it unequivocally feel like Savannah. The sense of place experienced in a stunning historic city like this is not something that should go down without a fight.

Community Relations · Theorizations

Shopping Local for Christmas and beyond

Every winter the holiday season seems to get more and more commercialized, with corporate greed seeming to trump common sense and the whole holidays bringing people together idea. This concept is not lost on many people, as evidenced by the recent Occupy movement, as well as just conversations I have had with various friends and family members. As a retail worker, I was surprised at how dead my store was on Black Friday, but it seems most of downtown Savannah experienced a slower than usual start to the holiday shopping season. Even now, during what should be a very busy time of year in our store, it is slow enough for the company to cut back on our hours.

Clearly the current economic situation faced by many citizens is affecting the turnout in popular downtown destinations, but maybe people are just tired of all the commotion of the holidays. But this really got me thinking, maybe there is another reason keeping people from shopping on Broughton Street. Because downtown Savannah is filled with many small and independently owned businesses, they cannot offer the same pricing options that entice customers into the larger big-box retailers. I don’t know what the answer is, and I am not writing this as any kind of political statement, it’s more just my own observations of my local surroundings and the current economic climate across the nation.

This year I plan to do all of my holiday shopping in local stores for a few reasons. First, I have always been in support of local business and keeping basic principles of the ‘American Dream’ going for future generations. I believe that anyone who  wants to be an entrepreneur should have the opportunity to flourish without the threat of retail giants crushing their chances to make a living doing something they love. Second, finds in these downtown shops are more unique and can usually be of better quality than their ‘Made in China’ counterparts. That’s not to say everything sold in the larger stores is pure crap and vice versa, but just in general this is how I see it. Since the rest of my family lives in Maryland, I want to bring them something back that is special to Savannah. I just really like the idea of still only getting things made in certain places, things that make a place stand out. Finally, I just prefer the atmosphere of smaller shops where the owners are usually on hand and even if not, there are people who are highly knowledgable  about the products in the stores. It just feels more personal and being in these stores brings about a connection to the community.

Supporting small businesses is good for the economy even if it does not seem like it on the surface. Shopping at Walmart is not something I do any time of the year, but even if you can save money there, what is the greater cost? Walmart employees are among America’s working poor and if the corporation did not decrease the probability for small businesses to thrive, these workers might find better paying jobs with local entrepreneurs. It’s not just Walmart, this is merely one example. It is very difficult to get by as a modern American without having to shop and eat at any big box stores or chain restaurants/retailers, etc. but if I can make at least a little bit of a difference, then I’m all for it.

Theorizations

The reason why I vote

I was recently doing some research about the former students who attended the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City, MD. My hope is to find out what happened to the lives of these women after leaving school. True, Patapsco Female Institute transcended the typical ‘finishing school’ of the period with courses in natural philosophy, mathematics and physics, but even still women were not expected to go out in the world and start a career. Despite this fact, I wondered how many went beyond the expected domestic sphere and made a difference in the world.

I was searching alphabetically, and when I looked up Florence Bayard Hilles, I discovered that she was a vibrant figure in the women’s suffrage movement of the late 1910s and into the 1920s. While picketing in front of the White House, Hilles was among several women, the Silent Sentinels, who was arrested in July 1917. She was sentenced to a 60 day jail sentence, but only served three, having been pardoned by President Woodrow Wilson.

On July 21, 1917 she gave a speech about standing up for her beliefs and defending her right to protest, stating

“My services as an American woman are being conscripted by order of the President of the United States to help win his world war for democracy . . . . ‘that the right of those who submit to authority shall have a voice in their own government.’ I shall continue to plead for the political liberty of American women-and especially do I plead to the President, since he is the one person who by a suggestion can end the struggles of American women to take their proper places in a true democracy.”

It would still be three years before the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, was passed. There was a huge campaign against women’s vote, postulating that most women did not want to vote anyway, nor were they even qualified to make an informed decision. The right to vote was for all women, regardless of race, however many women from low income background did not vote because of high poll taxes.

Those patriarchal views of nearly 100 years ago, stating that most women did not want to vote anyway sadly do not seem too far off the mark. It seems many from my generation and younger, male and female, feel too apathetic to vote. I can’t say I blame anyone for feeling that way. But if everyone who said their vote doesn’t count got out and voted, maybe things would change. Even when I feel like I don’t particularly love any candidate, I always vote because I know how hard the struggle was not even 100 years ago.

Florence Bayard Hilles, giving a speech and wearing the tricolor suffragette sash. Photo:www.findagrave.com

Theorizations

The insulation myth

So I was having a conversation on the couch with my mother when there was a knock on the door. When I answered I knew right away not to reveal that either of my parents were home when the man asked if the homeowners were present. He gave me a pamphlet and said that if they are having any problems with insulation that his company installs vinyl windows and doors. I just told him I would relate the info and sent him on his way.  What I really wanted to do was to say, “no we don’t have insulation problems because the roof is insulated just fine, thank you.” But with my post-holiday exhaustion, I was just too tired for an argument.

The moral of this story is that companies get people to buy vinyl windows and doors under the guise that the majority of their insulation problems come from these places. The truth is that the majority of the success rate depends on how well your roof is insulated. Furthermore, vinyl warps and cracks with time and weather conditions, creating more air leaks. With an average lifespan of 15-20 years, these windows will cost homeowners more in replacing them and accumulation of PVC refuse from these windows in landfills is an environmental disaster.

I could go on forever about it, but I’ll stop here. This recent visit by a vinyl window salesman just brought these issues back to the foreground.