Squirrels, chit-chat, downtown savannah

Savannah Morning News

Dec. 31, 2018

While the subject of Airbnb’s is not limited to the historic district (witness the brouhaha in Ardsley Park that has gone to court numerous times and continues to be acrimonious), the short-term money-making online scheme also has its plus side. It introduces people to each other. Neighbors who may have lived side by side for years but never spoken, never invited the other person into their comfortable, well-appointed homes, never even knew one another’s names, now sit shoulder to shoulder on cushy couches offering another set of ears, another point of view, another piece of their heart – just when each party thinks they have enough friends, a crowded enough social calendar, a busy enough day.

No matter our age, we always need new people to laugh at our old jokes, to keep the questions coming. Alliances may start as bulwarks against insensitive weekend partiers who’ve paid a lot of money to rent a beautiful place in a beautiful city to celebrate a wedding, a birthday, a reunion – neighbors living 50 feet away be damned – but long-term coalitions can ripple out from there.

It was over a lime float that downtown neighbors Maxine Pinson and Marty Barnes started chatting, first about how to handle the never-ending Airbnb problem that the city can’t seem to get a handle on, and then what they are doing with their lives.

It was during one of these tete-a-tetes that Maxine started talking about a squirrel in her courtyard.

“We call him Sammy,” she said. “He likes to swing from an ear of corn I string from a limb and put on a show as if we weren’t there.”

Marty, an amateur historian the other side of 70 who has finished one chick-lit novel, has a few others down the pike and writes a blog about Savannah’s historic romance chapters, has had her own experience with a squirrel. “He devoured my kale. He’s a vegan. I’m sure of it.”

Maxine, aka Grammy to her grandchildren, shook her head but kept on talking. “I’m thinking about writing a book about that darn squirrel.”

“Well, what’s stopping you?” Marty said without missing a beat.

After that Maxine had no excuse – neither grief from a death in the family nor frustration from hooting and hollering weekend revelers nor knee replacement surgery. No stranger to wring or publishing, Maxine, who has put out several cookbooks and travel books, found an illustrator, started and finished her children’s book, “Sammy and Grammy in Downtown Savannah.”

Maxine was generous with her credit. “I owe it all to Marty. She’s my proofreader (“I can’t help myself,” Marty said. “It’s a sickness”). “She never stops. I know this because her car is never there. She’s a docent at the Davenport House and a tour guide. She’s a former journalist, a writing teacher, a freelance writer. It’s so crazy. You start doing one thing and you end of doing something else. After what’s happened the last few years I could have been sitting back and popping pain pills but Marty got me going.”

“That’s one thing about Savannah,” Marty said. “We are never bored. “The other day we were walking our greyhound when I saw a group of Girl Scouts and heard one of them say, “Look, it’s a pet deer.”

Then Maxine launched into her latest adventure.

“Someone had parked outside my house and left their car running for the longest time – and he was taking up two spaces,” she started. “Horrible. I walked outside to give him a talking to but I didn’t see anyone, so I got into the car – the key was in the ignition – and there was a wad of cash on the passenger seat, just sitting there. I started driving the car around the block. That’s when he popped out of the apartment building across the street and started yelling, ‘What are you doing in my car?’ I think he must have been delivering pizza. I stopped, got out and said started telling him a thing or two about being considerate of people who live here.”

Marty listened, as friends so. Then she had her own story –  about Sophie Meldrim Shonnard, a member of a renowned Savannah family and a fashion designer who owned a boutique in New York City.

“She’s the one who got Jackie Kennedy Onassis to wear that pink boucle suit the day her husband was killed in Dallas,” she said. “Did you know that, Maxine?”