So there I was - sitting in front of 400 of Savannah's finest citizens, enjoying one of the most elaborate meals I had ever been served. Seared scallops, oxtail soup, poached shrimp, lobster and crabmeat salad - the food was so good and so plentiful that they served a lemon sorbet right in the middle of the meal just to help us get our bearings - and then the main course - braised short ribs of beef with Spaetzle and red cabbage. Dessert was apple strudel with whiskey sauce and French whipped cream.
And there were fine German wines to complement each course.
I was in high cotton, y'all.
What it was was, if I may borrow a phrase from Andy Griffith, the 45th annual banquet of the German Heritage Society of Savannah, Ga. - and what an event it was! There were about 400 men in attendance - all in black tie - and in addition to the incredible meal that I just described there was an authentic German band and plenty of fun and fellowship. The only blemish on the evening was the speaker, who seemed a bit overmatched among all the pomp and circumstance and perhaps overwhelmed by his environment.
The speaker was me.
Now I am not sharing this with you to boast. OK. Maybe I'm boasting a little. But I have rarely been so impressed by an organization or by a function as I was by the German Heritage banquet in Savannah Thursday night.
I met some wonderful people. During dinner I was flanked at the head table by Thomas Davis and Leo Beckmann Jr., the president and president-elect of the society, respectfully. Mr. Davis, who is retired, told me that he was fortunate enough to have worked in a business in which he looked forward to going to work every day of his life. I think Tom discovered the secret of contentment.
Leo is an attorney and Leo's father, I learned, was a golf pro and for 40 years was a course announcer at Augusta National.
Sonny Seiler was there and Sonny Seiler is one of the most interesting and entertaining people I have ever known. Most people recognize his name because he is the owner of the entire lineage of Georgia Bulldog mascots. He's Uga's daddy, in other words - but he is also an attorney - some would say legendary attorney - an important civic leader, author, (his "Damn Good Dog" is a damn good book) and accomplished actor, having appeared in such movies as "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," "Gingerbread Man" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance." Charlize Theron was in "Bagger Vance" and anybody who has been that close to Charlize Theron is a celebrity in my book.
I also met a gentleman, Bill House, who worked for Campbell's, the soup people, his entire life and whose business card is on the back of a Campbell's soup can. Hmmm, hmmm good! They even let a Florida Gator come to the party - Paul Ewaldsen Jr., who was on the receiving end of most of the passes that helped Steve Spurrier win the Heisman Trophy. There were doctors, lawyers, bankers and priests. I am not sure if there any Indian chiefs or not, but there was at least one general in the house.
It was a big deal, understand - and the reason these men dressed up in tuxedos and came down to the historic DeSoto Hilton on a Thursday evening was to celebrate their German heritage and ancestry. They are proud, in other words, of whence they came - and they are also proud of where they are.
These men are good Southerners - they unapologetically stood when the band played "Dixie," which warmed my heart - and they are great Americans who have an undying love for their country that supersedes their devotion to their Fatherland.
I was reminded, as I observed these good folks throughout the evening, that we, in America, truly are a great melting pot. We have blended the traditions and cultures of many nations into an American culture and the men of the Savannah German Heritage Society are splendid examples of how Americans can honor their individual heritages while embracing the freedom and opportunity that this country offers.
And I was reminded, all night long, of my friend, Mike Beshiri.
Mike is of German descent. His grandfather fought for the Kaiser in World War I and his father served in the German army as well. Mike immigrated to America as a small child, and I love to hear him tell the story of how he and his mother sailed past the Statue of Liberty into New York harbor.
Like the ancestors of the 400 new friends I made Thursday evening, Mike took advantage of the freedoms and opportunities this country has to offer for those who are willing to work hard and make the most of their God-given talents.. Mike became a career officer in the United States Army, obtaining the rank of colonel. After a lifetime of service in the military he became a teacher and coach, once again making the most of his talents and abilities. He earned a PhD in education and won back-to-back state soccer championships as a high school coach.
And last November Herr Beshiri, as his students call him, answered his country's call again and, at the age of 58, left his classroom and reported for duty in Baghdad, Iraq. He's still there, defending our rights and helping to keep us all safe. He will be back soon, though - hopefully within the month - and when he does get home, I can't wait to tell him about my experience at the Savannah German Heritage Society Banquet. Mike would have loved it. Those folks are his kind of people - the kind, like him, that make America great.
God bless her.