Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Savannah in August

While flipping channels one day last week, I saw Paula Deen on Oprah. I rarely watch the show, but seeing Paula brought back memories of meeting Paula and visiting Savannah, so I just had to watch for a few minutes. On that particular show (which was rerun highlights), Paula had a mishap with the mixer. That was her first Oprah appearance, they said, but she handled it with the style, grace and humor for which she has become known. I had the privilege of seeing that same grace and humor firsthand when I attended Paula’s cooking class in Savannah. The way I landed in the class was nothing short of amazing, but it is a twist of fate for which I will always be grateful.

We had the opportunity to visit Savannah that first time a few years ago. Ken, Matthew and I were looking for a different vacation destination location that summer. We’d been tossing around various ideas with our small group (Bible study) friends for a month or so. Donna and Harold (who have the lovely pond with the frogs I wrote about before) suggested Savannah on more than one occasion. I must have appeared skeptical, because Donna said, “I think you’d really like it,” Other friends, Dave and Ruth, who’d also visited, told us, “It’s got this really neat City Market with all these little shops and a wonderful historic district.” Well, it did sound appealing, but had I known the attraction I’d feel for Savannah, I’d have wanted to leave that night!

We did go as it turned out, and I should tell you that we went in August. Let me say that again. We went in August. To Savannah. Georgia. And we loved it! Yes, it was hot….meltingly hot (I don’t even know if that’s a word, but it was that hot, and we still loved it!). So that should tell you how smitten we were! Even though Ken and I had lived in South Carolina right after we were first married and also in North Carolina later on, we knew how hot it was that far south late in the summer. Yet, we wanted to try something different and we (amazingly) went to Savannah in August. And yes, we all loved it. It was an experience we will never forget.

First of all, we left for Geogia from Tennessee, where we had already been vacationing, and we had no reservations for our time Savannah. We never do that. We always have reservations, make plans, know roughly what we’re going to do in an unfamiliar area. We actually arrived in Savannah with no reservations. I was a bundle of nerves. WHAT WERE WE THINKING? We drove around Savannah, and we spotted a beautiful hotel on the river. Wow, wouldn’t it be awesome to stay there, we wondered aloud? Ken called, checked availability, and actually made reservations at that moment! In fact, we drove right to the hotel entrance and from within five minutes of the time we spotted the hotel, we were in the lobby, checking in. I remember being amazed at how easy all of that was. (On a side note, the heat of the summer season could misdirect an uninformed soul to think that's why such accommodations were so readily available. However, Savannah's Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau were hard at work because its its Convention Center was fully booked at that time!)

So, with Step 1 to ensure a fun Savannah vacation complete, Ken was on to Step 2: Securing a ticket for me to the Paula Deen cooking class. I should mention that this was when Paula was doing her cooking classes in Savannah in her restaurant. I learned before we left home for Tennessee that the ONLY classes Paula had left to teach that summer were being taught the very days we were in Savannah, but there was NO availability. I was so disappointed! I really wanted to go to one of her classes, and I was heartbroken that her only remaining class that year was full, and had been full, apparently, for quite some time. In fact, that’s why we hadn’t made reservations for Savannah earlier. When we talked with our friends about Savannah, I thought it would be a nice to place to visit, but would I feel the same if I couldn't attend the cooking class? I wasn't so sure. Yet, Ken was convinced we should venture to the southern city to give it a whirl...

So, here we were, in beautiful Savannah, where Ken, my dear, sweet, husband, was determined that I WOULD attend that class. So, with Step 1 in his proverbial rear view mirror, Ken was ready to take on Step 2. At this lovely hotel, with its concierge, surely, Ken thought, they must reserve some tickets for the Paula Deen cooking classes. He contacted the concierge to inquire. No, they were very sorry, but those tickets sold out very early because they were in such high demand. No kidding. However, might they recommend The Lady & Sons Restaurant? They could give the hours where, although they didn't accept reservations, guests could stand in line for a ticket for a time to return for dinner. You’ve got to be kidding? Ken thought. (It’s true, we learned. Twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon, a line forms where tickets are given for approximate meal times. These are similar to reservations, but they are not exact times and they do not refer to them as reservations. Sometimes these lines form hours before tickets are disbursed and people wait for these prized tickets in the hot, Savannah sun. Upon returning for the noon or evening meal, however, the wait is generally only 5-10 minutes, and the food is wonderful!)

Ok, back to Step 2....
So, my determined husband who was not easily deterred, called the Lady & Sons Restaurant to inquire if they had any tickets available for Paula’s classes that week. No, they didn't, but he did learn that the following days’ class would be taught at Bubba’s Oyster House at Tybee Island (Bubba is Paula’s brother and this was his new restaurant). That was only a ten minute drive or so from downtown Savannah, they told him.

So, no luck with the Concierge or the Lady & Sons getting tickets to Paula’s class. Yet, my husband was determined that I was going to that class. “But honey, it’s filled,” I said. Needless to say, on the morning of the class, we were off to Bubba’s. The staff at Bubba’s warmly greeted us and when I explained that I had come all the way from Orrville, Ohio they were impressed and then promptly explained that they were very sorry, but unless someone cancelled, they had no openings for the class that day. In fact, they further explained, they were already doing a double class that day due to a bus line scheduling problem the previous day and were completely full (thus the relocation to Bubba's). They told me I was welcome to wait. If someone cancelled, they would love to have me in the class.

Afraid to leave the place I had inside already with all the excited folks waiting to see Paula and attend her cooking class, I used my cell phone to call Ken and Matthew who were waiting outside. (Even though I had no ticket, and no reason to think I'd get inside the class anyway, it was like I thought the enthusiasm of those around me would whisk me inside with them, I guess.) “Just wait there,” Ken assured me. “You’ll get in.” Even though everyone showed up (it was, after all, Paula Deen!), amazingly, I was able to get in. At the last minute, a staff member approached me, smiled, brought me the bag of "goodies" that went with the class, and asked for a credit card to pay for the class fee. I'm not sure if it was the look of determination on my face, the fact that I was willing to sit and wait for an opening, or the sheer will of my husband (and perhaps his prayers on my behalf for a gift he so wanted to give me), but for whatever reason those dear people at the Paula Deen Show let me attend class that day.

And it was the most wonderful gift! It was 3 hours of cooking, sampling and 'dishing' fun (Ken and Matthew made their own fun - golfing maybe. Quite honestly, I don't even remember!) I don’t normally see myself as a starstruck person, but Paula really was wonderful. She made so much effort to make those who attended feel welcome and special. I found her to be warm and genuine. I felt like we were sitting in her kitchen while she cooked for us. She shared a lot of her personal history and if you are familiar with Paula, you know she tends to share a lot of herself. In fact, it could be said that she shared way too much personal information, but she just laughed heartily while doing so, like she didn't have a care in the world. It was really like being with an old friend or like someone I wished was an old friend. She was fun and feisty. She put humor and life in the kitchen where my mother showed me it should always begin. She showed all of us that we can enjoy ourselves while we're in the kitchen. That's a lesson I first learned from my mother and I was thrilled to share it again with Paula in her cooking class.

As far as Savannah....we loved every part of Savannah, with its dozens of beautiful city squares and moss-draped trees and its rich history, not to mention City Market with its lovely shops and River Street, with all its lovely shops. We returned to Savannah a couple of years later and stayed at the Hamilton-Turner Inn, a Bed and Breakfast on one of Savannah’s beautiful squares. It was the first house to have electricity in Savannah. We stayed in one of the beautiful suites on the 4th floor, and even when we made the reservations, we knew there were no elevators. This is a historical mansion and I really wanted to experience what it would be like to stay there. I somehow convinced Ken and Matthew they did, too. And guess what month we went that year? Yep, we went again in August! What were we thinking? And yes, we loved it! And it was so hot! We'd go outside and melt! Amazingly, we did get a little used to the heat after a day or two. I want to vist next time in May, when the magnolias are in full bloom. That sounds like pure heaven on earth! Even though Savannah is like no other place I've ever lived, in many ways I feel like I've gone home when I go to Savannah. I look forward to returning. In May this time. Or August. If it's Savannah, I'll even go in August.


Tina said...

How fun to read...I was just sharing with a friend yesterday about you and your blog. I described you as a a beautiful lady with southern hospitality...a woman straight from Savannah Georgia!

No wonder you liked Savannah so much!

Vanessa said...

What a very sweet thing to say, Tina!! Thank you so much for the lovely compliment! :)

Janet Carsten said...

Gotta love that brother of mine! His optimism is something I wish I had more of. Sounds like you had the time of your life!

Vanessa said...

There only one! But then, you knew that even before I did, huh?
Love ya!