Perhaps I should be ashamed that, after a dozen trips to the Golden Isles, I have done little exploring of the lands, the sands, and the water that have created beautiful works of art.
The truth of the matter — or at least, the partial truth — is that one day, about 12 or 13 years ago, suddenly, out of the blue, I said, “I’m through with swimsuits.”
I had bought two expensive swimsuits (an oxymoron because all swimsuits are costly; the less fabric in the suit, the higher the price) because we were planning a trip to Hawaii. I had been several times and so had Tink, but we hadn’t been there together. We wanted to create a memory that would blend our memories together and make it a special place for us. To my heartbreak, it never happened. I took the beautiful swimsuits, put them away, and they have never been seen again. I am clueless as to where they are.
I have never worn another swimsuit — not even to sunbathe in the privacy of the Rondarosa or wade in the creek that runs through our property. That season of my life has come and completely departed into a deep frost.
That is not to say, however, that I don’t walk the beaches, usually with a dog tagging along. I pick up shells and admire the blueness of the skies. For well over the last year, I have studied the ship that overturned, measuring the slow progress of removing it and thinking of the thousands of cars in its hull that were completely ruined.
Now, there are island explorations I have done: Tink and I took a fascinating trolley car tour with Cap Fendig. We’ve climbed the lighthouse, twice. And we’ve been on a tour, by small boat, of the islands with a well-versed captain and mate who were filled with engaging tidbits of information.
I still hope to see the turtles. I’d love to hide on the beach, nearby — close enough to spy a turtle as she settles into her spot to lay her eggs and perhaps even see the little ones emerge from their shells — but far enough away not to startle them.
Several years ago, I was hired to speak to a state-wide convention on Jekyll Island. Most of the rooms on the island were booked so I found myself farther down the beach, staying at an old Holiday Inn that has now been beautifully re-modeled. Then, it still had the look of a motel built in America’s mid-century. I grinned broadly as I stepped out of the car, felt the damp late afternoon humidity, and heard the sea splash noisily onto the beach.
There is nothing that could buy that sensation from me. Every moment of that second in time was beautiful. The wind was blowing my hair every whichaway and the smell of the salt and the stickiness of the sea droplets are all strong childhood memories. Imagine how that felt to a mountain child who knew only of sweet breezes that played among the towering hardwood trees and rivers, quietly rippling over rocks, its water headed hundreds of miles to the sea.
The beach there is quiet, almost isolated from other sanded areas. The ocean’s roar and the loud crashing against enormous, jagged rocks were beautiful sounds. The motel was an updated version of the first one I ever stayed in — when I was four. The rooms still opened to the outdoor and small Coke machines were placed on each floor. It looked like the Holiday Inns in the 1960s when families began to make long road trips to see the sights of America.
The original hotel was built on Jekyll in 1959. Surprisingly, Elvis Presley had an indirect hand in creating the motel on an island that had yet to be descended upon by the masses.
The story: Elvis was discovered by an incredibly brilliant, forward thinking Memphis studio owner named by Sam Phillips. Also in Memphis was an entrepreneur named Kemmons Wilson who dreamed of putting motels across our country, especially as the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was being built, stringing together America in an easy, drivable way.
During this time, Elvis Presley’s career was exploding, making it hard for the small-time Phillips to make him a bigger star. So, he sold Elvis’ contract to RCA Records in 1955 for $35,000.
“Do I regret it?” Phillips said, repeating a reporter’s question in the 1970s. He grinned. “Not at all. I invested it with my friend, Kemmons’ Holiday Inn chain. I multiplied that money many times over.”
I’m glad that one of the earlier motels was on Jekyll Island and that it’s still there.