By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

Rohse: The South's many charms

I never want to live anywhere except McMinnville. But after a recent trip to Georgia and South Carolina, admittedly the South has much to offer.

For example, I’m thinking that Southerners are more hospitable than Oregonians. Not that we Oregonians aren’t friendly, but Southerners ooze hospitality. They seem to love every person they meet.

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We Oregonians, upon meeting someone the first time, at meeting’s end may say, “It was nice to meet you.” A Southerner says, “Honey, it was a joy to meet you all — and you just be sure that you all hurry right back. We can’t wait.”

Years ago, I experienced my first smattering of Georgia hospitality when, driving across country, we came to the Georgia state line. Attendants stopped us, and we thought we would be searched for infested agricultural products — as when we crossed into California

Not so in the Peanut State. The attendants greeted us with smiles, handed us travel materials and a bag of salted peanuts — containing more than ever received on an airplane.

Another thing: We Oregonians certainly have fun — but on that short visit, it seemed to me that Southerners may have even more fun than do we. Perhaps the reason for this is the unique way some have for dealing with worry. We learned about that on our first day in Savannah.

Our tour group of about 30, on that first morning, piled onto our bus to go pick up our guide, Tara. We were told that Tara “epitomized the very meaning of what a Savannah lady is all about.” When she came aboard the bus, we weren’t disappointed.

She exuded charm and friendliness. The brim of her picture hat, adorned with flowers, was so huge, it would have prevented her going through a narrow doorway — and hid most of her face. Below the hat was long blond hair, softly curled, and around her neck were so many strings of pearls, one suspected oyster endangerment. The beads were of varying lengths, some dangling almost to her waist. After detailing our itinerary, she held up a few strands of her pearls and explained, “These are my worry beads.”

We never learned the principle by which pearls “absorb” worries, but Tara seemed not to have a care in the world. And we gals on the tour put “worry beads” on our shopping list.

On River Street, we saw another example of Southern friendliness: the “Waving Girl” statue. And Tara told us this poignant story: In the early 20th century, the city light tender’s sister, Florence Martus, became known to soldiers all over the world for waving at every ship. One legend is that she promised her sweetheart to greet every ship until his return. She was still waving when we drove off.

As we tour the Savannah countryside, I see things that I wish we had in Oregon, such as Spanish moss — that beautiful ethereal cloud of growth found on Southern live oaks. But, Tara tells us, this Spanish moss is neither moss nor Spanish. Rather, it is a flowering plant with slender blue-gray stems up to 25 feet long and tiny inconspicuous flowers. It’s a bromeliad, getting nutrients from air and rainfall.

Spanish moss is not just a show for tourists. In 1939, more than 10,000 tons were produced. It is still collected in small quantities as a material for arts and crafts, and bedding in flower gardens. Earlier commercial uses were building insulation, mulch, mattress stuffing and car-seat padding. The last operating factory in the South, in Gainesville, Fla., burned in 1858 and never reopened.

If you want Spanish moss in your yard, merely gather the living moss, take it wherever you want it to grow — and if living conditions are to its liking, it will oblige.

Then I discovered something else I would like in Oregon: a climate such as in the South for growing peanuts.

As my son, his wife and I hiked historic Savannah’s waterfront on a warm, sunny day, many of the little shops had their doors open so we could peer in to assess their wares. One we assuredly did not pass by was The Peanut Shop.

In that sizable store, every conceivable space featured peanut displays — peanuts with every imaginable seasoning. And near most of those were open bowls filled with peanuts of that seasoning with spoons for scooping up samples: New Orleans Creole peanuts, wasabi peanuts, spicy smoky redskins, chipotle peanut crunch, praline-glazed peanuts, honey mustard, smokehouse, bacon and cheese, hot habanero chili pepper nuts, double-dipped peanuts in light or dark chocolate — and ever so many more. I sampled most of them. I found one I didn’t like: the savory dill variety. It was fun, fun. I’d like a Peanut Shop in McMinnville.

Then, despite the sampling, we were ready for a bit of lunch and something cool to drink. We found the perfect place: a seat outside on an upper balcony with a view of the Savannah River just a pebble’s throw away.

Immediately, a friendly young waiter appeared just as we heard three loud “toots” from inside the restaurant. Our waiter grinned and explained that every time a ship passes the restaurant, that signal is sounded — whereupon customers may buy “Kamikaze Chuggers,” three for $1. What fun. We ordered three. They came in small paper cups. We didn’t know what was in them, but we liked them. We hoped more ships would come by soon.

Those innovative Southerners also provide “open cup” hospitality. When a customer orders a beer or a hard drink, the server asks, “Here, or to go?” If it’s a take-out, the customer, with a filled paper cup of whatever, goes on his way.

Southerners also claim the birthplace of sweet tea. Summerville, South Carolina, was the site, and its makers claim it will provide visitors with “the ultimate Southern adventure.”

Believe me, I’m not moving from McMinnville. But assuredly the South has charms, and I’m anxious to tell you about more of them.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at rohse5257@comcast.net.

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