Howard L. Puckett
Just outside Savannah in tranquil Isle of Hope, Georgia, a secluded manor hides amid centuries-old live oaks. Camellias and azaleas trail the banks toward the water. No true fences, other than low shrubbery, separate the adjacent properties. Residents share a view of Skidaway River easing through acres of marsh grass. They also share food, stories, and a love of their heritage.
This evening, neurosurgeon Roy Baker and his wife, Lynda, have invited neighbors to an alfresco dinner. Their family's 19th-century house rests on the tabby foundation of a previous estate built in the 1700s. Its columns and wide porches transport visitors to a slower, more genteel age. "When we first arrived, people said to set our clocks back 20 years," says Lynda. "It does feel like you're going back in time."
In fact, neither the landscape nor the families who live here have changed much since wealthy Georgians began retreating from the summer heat to these island "cottages." Friend Jan Curran grew up in the Bakers' house. "Now she lives down the street," says Lynda. "There's a real sense of sentimentality here."
As guests filter onto the lawn this humid spring day, relief from the heat comes on a gentle wind that sweeps through the Spanish moss. As the breeze picks up, Roy jests, "It's a little hot, but we'll turn on the air-conditioning for y'all." Soon the group sinks into cane-bottom chairs set around a formal table. The menu includes traditional fare with a twist. Instead of a typical Lowcountry boil with shrimp, sausage, and corn on the cob, Lynda places shrimp and sausage on top of cheese grits. For the salad, a sweetly tart vinaigrette stars Georgia's iconic Vidalia onion. A Coca-Cola cake, honoring the Atlanta-based company, drips with chocolate icing.
After the meal, Jan's husband, Michael, runs home to get a bottle of Scotch for the group to sample. "That's how we are. If you don't like what they're serving, you bring your own," jokes Lynda. When he returns, glasses are filled and toasts are made. All agree that they cherish the Isle of Hope's relaxed feel.
"This bluff is wide open," says Michael with a laugh. "When the Bakers throw grand parties, I wait until it's dark and sneak on over."
"Well sure," Roy replies matter-of-factly. "Neighbors are always welcome!"