Darrell Huckaby - 10/09/09

I have a week off from school and find myself in Savannah, where this whole Georgia experiment got started. The British government wanted a military buffer to protect its profitable South Carolina colony, and James Edward Oglethorpe and his friends wanted a place where the "worthy poor" of England could get a fresh start, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now I have been to Savannah on numerous occasions, understand. I taught Georgia history to eighth graders for more years than I care to remember and I don't think it is possible to be an effective Georgia history teacher without having visited Savannah to pay homage to our state's beginnings. Back in the day, we would make an annual pilgrimage to this coastal city with several bus loads of adolescents in tow. Those trips couldn't be described as vacations by any stretch of the imagination, but they were a lot of fun, in a masochistic sort of way.

I have brought my own kids to Savannah, as well. In fact, we used to spend the week after Christmas in Savannah, almost every year, visiting close friends who lived in nearby Garden City. My lovely wife, Lisa, and I have even managed to escape to this beautiful city alone a few times, and at least a couple of times a year I get invited to speak at conventions or conferences that are held here at the big hotels down by the river.

But as often as I come to Savannah I never tire of her charm, and Thursday morning I saw this classy old lady in a way I had never really seen her.

I was awakened at dawn with the sun streaming through my hotel window. I had left the curtains open when I turned in, the better to enjoy the view of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist that is just outside my 11th story balcony.

Once I am awake I have a hard time going back to sleep, so I climbed out of bed, put on my walking shoes and went for a walk. And what a walk it was. There is history at every turn here, and as I strolled through the squares and down the brick streets lined with Live Oak trees I was able to take it all in, in a manner that I seldom have.

In one square stands a statue of John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Wesley came to Georgia from England to bring the message of salvation to the natives but found the colonists just as spiritually wanting. They say he set himself on fire with the Holy Spirit and people came from miles around to watch him burn.

Another square pays homage to Count Pulaski, the Polish hero of the American Revolution, and in yet another square stands a statue of young William Jasper, who lay down his young life on the altar of liberty so the fledgling nation, the United States, could free herself from the tyrannical bonds of King George.

I saw the balcony where the Frenchman, the Marquis de Lafayette, without whose assistance we would never had secured victory against the British, spoke when he visited Savannah. And I even walked inside a home that had hosted Robert E. Lee in 1870 - five years after the unpleasantness between the North and the South.

Speaking of which, I also got a glimpse of the house that William T. Sherman called home for a couple of months after his infamous march to the sea. I walked through the colonial cemetery where the tombstones read like a listing of Georgia counties - Habersham, McIntosh, Jasper, Troup, and on and on and on.

As I approached the Cotton Factors Walk down near the river, I saw the big guns donated to the city by George Washington himself, after our nation's first war - and I saw a monument to the Chatham County residents who lost their lives in Vietnam, perhaps our most futile war.

I even saw the square where Forrest Gump sat and waited for the bus to take him to Jenny's apartment house - although the bench itself was gone.

And after my long walk I dropped into Clary's, the breakfast place on Abercorn made famous by the author of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," and had my standard breakfast of two eggs over medium, with bacon, grits and toast. As I enjoyed my breakfast and watched the steady stream of locals and tourists that poured into the venerable old establishment, I couldn't help but count my blessings.

I am very cognizant of how fortunate I am to have been born in a community where people would help nurture me and help me become the best person I could become. And I never allow myself to lose sight of the fact that I live in the greatest nation of earth, one where every person is free to pursue his or her dreams.

If you ever need a reminder that the opportunities we enjoy today were purchased by "heroes proved, in liberating strife," take a little trip down to the coast and walk through the squares of Savannah.

Let me know when you're coming. I will meet you at Clary's for breakfast.