Welcome to the adventures of traveling during Covid. Did you hear about the Alaskan state legislator who refused to wear a mask? She caused so much trouble and upset in trying to fly from Anchorage to Juneau (which is only accessible by plane or ferry), that she was banned from traveling on Alaska Airlines (the only airline flying to Juneau from Anchorage). She supposedly embarked on an all-day journey by car and ferry to Juneau, all for refusing to wear a mask. (It’s unknown if the ferries allowed her to travel mask-less.)
Our recent trip to Georgia and Alabama was our first occasion to travel since Susan and I arrived back from Israel, Jordan, India, Dubai, and Nashville on March 5, 2020. Society, including our company, Healing Healthcare Systems, shut down totally at the end of that week. Luckily, our HHS employees were able to work from home. Our brilliant HHS chief engineer was able to arrange web access to office files and databanks. And so for the rest of 2020, the only people regularly working at our office were our hardware managers, alternating workdays, who handle our shipping and handling of hardware going out to our hospital clients. Our bookkeeper/accounts manager would come in once a week for half a day. I would meet her every week or two to sign checks as needed. But she had my signature stamp just in case we couldn’t coordinate our masked socially distanced meetings.
2020 was the most time that Susan and I ever spent together without interruption. We only went out to shop for food. We didn’t meet any friends or otherwise break the necessary social distancing. We gave ourselves musical purpose by recording forty weekly concerts which we posted on my Facebook page. (Many of these concerts are still posted on my page for viewing—www.facebook.com/dallas.smith.904).
Susan’s and my trip to the South was a mission to check in with different friends and family. The most momentous family event is that in 2019 I sold my inherited “country place” to my cousin Scott, who is the youngest of eight siblings borne to my mother’s sister, Marguerite.
Susan and I flew through the “world’s busiest and best organized airport,” Atlanta’s Hartsfield International. Masks were required throughout the airport and on the planes. Signs stating the mask requirement as an FAA requirement were everywhere. As far as I could notice, there were no mask-protestor-deniers. But did you hear about the mask-protestor who settled into her airline seat and proceeded to pull down her mask and slowly consume a big bag of popcorn, one kernel at a time, for the duration of the flight in order to escape donning her mask?
Columbus, Georgia, my old hometown, is Georgia’s third largest city, after Atlanta and Savannah. These three cities gave Biden the margin to carry the presidential election. My old homestead is the forty-one acre country place in Russell County, Alabama. After working all morning at the country place, when we were ready to go to lunch at a popular barbeque restaurant in Russell County, I was told, “People don’t wear masks in Alabama.” Indeed, the employees weren’t wearing masks. And the couple of guests I saw wearing masks upon entry to the restaurant immediately took them off. This is a stark demonstration of the difference between Democratic and Republican America.
Susan and I (along with most of our close friends) have had our two vaccine shots (Pfizer in our case). There is a great impatience among a large part of the US population to declare Covid to be under control, so that we might all resume the activities that we had to pause during 2020. I hope that this wish will be fulfilled. Just as India, Italy, Brazil, and many other countries have experienced unexpected surges in infections, it is quite possible that the virus-deniers and mask-refusers will infect each other to the extent that the virus might mutate into more dangerous, deadly, and contagious variants. I certainly hope not.
When my parents died (mother—early 2000, father—late 2001), my country place remained a virtual museum, unchanged from when my parents had lived there for over half a century, until it was necessary for them to move into an assisted living facility. After a couple of years, I rented the place to a couple who were good friends of my parents through their having attended First Presbyterian Church together. The couple had originally intended to rent for a short time, first one year, then intending to stay only five years, but finally staying until mid-2020 after my cousin Scott had taken possession of it.
Scott’s purchase was the best possible outcome for me. I hadn’t known what to do with the place. I couldn’t bear the thought of selling to a stranger who would erase my parents’ presence. Scott intends to use the place as a family retreat for his siblings and their families. He was very close to my parents and visited the country place many times in his youth. He is very respectful and curious as to my father’s many projects and unique constructions. On the other hand, he has boundless energy and sufficient resources to update and renovate my childhood home in ways that I would never have done. Also, I will have lifelong access to the place because it remains “in the family.”
Besides visiting my old childhood homestead, appreciating the changes wrought by its new owner, and taking hours to dig through my parents’ possessions that had been in storage since their deaths twenty years ago, there was one more priceless event in our Georgia week. For years during our many visits to Columbus, Susan and I have stayed with our friends Bill and Linn. Bill’s and my father were childhood friends in the 1930’s. And so Bill and I have known each other ever since we were toddlers. As an only child, Bill is truly my “brother by a different mother.” Bill and Linn have accompanied us on several European cruises. We also plan to travel to Maui together this October, if the virus doesn’t prevent it.
Bill and Linn used our visit as an excuse to have a small party for their neighbors and whatever old friends of mine could attend. It was a barbeque in their backyard, with room for everyone to socially distance. Because most all the partyers were around our age, I think we all had had our shots, enabling everyone to feel safe to gather for this type of social event for the first time in over a year.
For me, the special guest was the man who started my musical life path by teaching me beginning clarinet at age eleven in elementary school. Dr. George Corradino and I have remained friends over the years. He is well known in the Columbus area as a “pilar of the musical community.” He is ninety-one years old and in amazingly good physical shape. He walks almost as easily as I do even though I’m twenty years his junior. I consider him a valued mentor and role model.
I had packed my clarinet on the trip specifically to play for George at this party. I played a short solo medley in his honor, a mash-up of Dixie, Way Down in Columbus Georgia, Georgia on My Mind, and concluding with a singalong, For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. By special request, George had brought his alto saxophone to play at the party. He is still a gigging musician at age ninety-one. Besides his woodwinds, he also plays string bass, as well as singing and leading his groups with a high level of entertainment expertise.
George played New York New York, Sweet Georgia Brown, and What a Wonderful World (made famous by Louis Armstrong). He recited the words of Wonderful World for the crowd, commenting how great it would be if we could all compose such a compelling lyric, that would bring inspiration and pleasure to musicians and listeners spanning multiple generations. I joined him on my clarinet, which was very gratifying in view of our long history and the formative role he played in my becoming a musician.
I would like to share a few general observations from this trip.
Springtime in Georgia is beautiful. The landscape is a deep verdant green. The vegetation is lush, covering every available piece of ground. Out West in our dry Nevada desert climate, any trees or shrubs must be irrigated and coaxed into survival. In the South, the struggle is to control the weeds, vines, and volunteer trees that will voluntarily spring up to fill every bit of land if they are not controlled. It rained copiously during our visit, which is the most important factor in the South’s lush landscapes.
Looking down from the plane, it is clear that the Southern landscape could support a much larger population than currently lives there. There is ample water and undeveloped land. Also, the prices of real estate and housing in general are much lower than out West. The prime example of this is my country place. What would you guess a property of this description out West would be valued at: 41 fenced acres with forest and a year-round stream running through it, a 1.5 acre pond, a three bedroom house, and an asphalt paved driveway? The answer: $300k. Russell County, Alabama…Location…location…location.
Finally, I’ll conclude with some cliches. “You can take the boy out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the boy.” There is an indescribable primal feeling that arises when visiting the place of one’s childhood with its familiar sights, smells, and memories. There’s also a particular feeling that arises being surrounded by friends and relatives speaking with a Southern accent. (In their presence I unconsciously fall back into my Southern-inflected speech patterns.)
Southern culture is distinguished by its cuisine, friendliness, and hospitality, manifested by the common “down-home feeling.” Of course, the abhorrent continuing racism and prejudice that lingers from the shameful legacy of slavery and Jim Crow oppression are still present. I can proudly relate that my grandfather, Oscar Dallas Smith, Sr., secured the vote for blacks in Georgia as the attorney for Primus King. The Primus King case, litigated in the 1940’s, is cited as a legal precedent in the history of securing voting rights for blacks in Georgia. That’s a story for another blog.
In spite of my affection for my Southern roots, I could never have developed my music career, nor founded (with my wife, Susan) our company, Healing Healthcare Systems, Inc. if we had lived in Columbus, Georgia instead of Reno, Nevada. Thus, my general advice is: Everyone should leave (at least for a significant span of time) the place where you grew up. You won’t be the same person when/if you come back, that you were when you left. Thus for better or worse, there is truth to the cliché, “You can’t go home again.”