June 5, 2016
Savannah Morning News
Raise your hand if you have one of those wristwatch thingeys, the kind that tell you how many steps you’ve walked in a day. The magic number, I hear, is 10,000 steps.
There appears to be an App for everything. Have you noticed? But what about happiness? Is there an App that measures that?
A few Saturdays ago I watched Sandy West of Ossabaw Island-fame experience Forsyth Park from the seat of her rolling chair, a very convenient and basic contraption for people weak in their pins. She wasn’t wearing an App but she looked happy. Sandy is a centenarian plus three. That totals 103. An on-again, off-again resident of the Georgia coast for most of her life, Sandy knows about cabbage palms, marsh grass, elusive pigs, dogs, donkeys and horses. She knows art. She knows nature. After many a go-around with the state of Georgia, to whom she sold the island in 1957 at a bargain price, she knows runarounds, dead ends, and stalemates.
She also knows Forsyth Park. But it’s been a long time between visits. For decades she was busy with other things, like sharing the undeveloped barrier island with thousands of writers, artists, musicians, philosophers and mathematicians who might be interested in collaboration along with carving out time for the moon, the stars – and silence.
But now that she’s living on the mainland (money and safety the concerns) she’s doing mainland things to feed her soul, like navigating through Forsyth Park, Savannah’s gem of a green space. It starts with a visit to Brighter Day, where Sandy was one of the store’s first shoppers some 40 years ago, for the iconic avocado sandwich. The store “smells the same,” she announces. Later she and co-owner Peter Brodhead chatted like old friends. Peter remembered the vitamins Sandy took, “twice a day: Kal Multi Four.”
With the sandwich on her lap she and several compatriots maneuvered their way past a horde of Forsyth Farmers Market vendors and shoppers. At eye level she surveyed the season’s first cucumbers, bouquets of beets and bags of beans before stopping at a yellow and green creation that looked more like a flying saucer or a children’s toy than the pattypan squash it was.
“What’s this?” she asked. “Who dat?”
“Take one,” said farmer Adam Mincer, handing it over.
“But what do you do with it?” she said, a question I’ve wondered myself.
We pushed on and found an empty bench for our picnic.
“I remember the park,” she said. “It’s marvelous, isn’t it?”
“But what are they doing?” she asked, looking at a crowd of Frisbee-players.
Not so easy to explain Frisbee, not unlike pattypan squash.
When a young couple walked by with a dog wearing what looked like a satellite dish around its neck, she said, “What’s that?” The star-decorated plastic cone keeps the dog from scratching, the woman said. By then Sandy wanted to see the infant tucked against the chest of a young man.
“How old is the baby?”
“She’s 103,” I said.
Later on – because this is a public park where all kinds of people just keep on coming – another family passed by. These visitors came with a set of twin girls somewhere around four years old. When someone complimented them on their bright pink fingernails Sandy, sitting at their height and never one to skip a beat, handed over her tangerine-painted nails to compare colors. One of the twins was glued to Sandy’s polka-dotted socks and the green laces on her Keds.
After lunch we moseyed down the center of the park. We passed the balloon-man, tables of picnickers celebrating recent graduates, visitors with their maps turned upside down, the oversized chimes or xylophones and finally the fountain.
“I recognize that,” she said.
Strolling around the fountain and the purple agapanthus, we stopped to look up at the blooming magnolia trees. The flowers, too high to pick, were at their peak. But someone answered our wish. A woman with a tour guide sticker on her shirt and a coveted bloom in her hands stopped and asked Sandy if she would like the flower.
“I got it at the cemetery,” she said. “I probably shouldn’t have taken it but here, you can have it.”
Passing along the guilt, I guess.
We took it, stroking the shiny, silky bloom, feeling lucky and not at all guilty.
When I get old, I thought, this is what I want to do: stroll around Forsyth, mix it up with people, stop to smell the magnolia blooms.
A couple hours later we walked back to the car but not without some struggle getting over what’s supposed to be the handicap-friendly curb cuts. And not without passing what seemed like a hundred Harleys parked at an angle. They belonged to the wingmen, pilots who flew behind the lead plane in a winged formation. It was Memorial Day, after all. It looked as if Sandy wanted to climb one of those beasts and ride away. A few years ago she probably would have.