Southern culture is a lifestyle; it’s a mentality; it’s a heritage and most importantly it’s unique. Seeped in an agrarian tradition, steel magnolias have it in their genes and pass it to offspring. Is it charm? Is it teachable? Or is it just so inherent in those who live in the Golden Isles that its part of their makeup.
One thing is for sure, there is a distinct culture here in the Golden Isles founded on tradition and so welcoming you will notice it immediately upon your arrival. A welcoming stance for visitors, an intense pride in a region’s history, a beauty of landscape, pine forests and meandering rivers - a blend of many components where the very isolation of the south refined and abated this special culture. Change may seem in the air, but low country boils, a good Saturday football game, the ocean, the golf, the beaches, the quaint towns, the family gatherings, the many churches both large and small and the music that hovers in the air, contribute to the term.
“Come by here”, "Stop and stay awhile", "May I help you?," "Oh, I knew your great-uncle," "So glad to welcome you." Hospitality that’s legendary defines the Golden Isles. Children taught to offer a firm handshake, to say “Yes, ma'am" and “No, sir” and to look elders in the eye, acquire these traits early. It’s an offering of friendship, a sharing of the table and a sense of wanting to make any and all comfortable and welcome. When a visitor can properly intone, “You all, come back, you hear,” another conversion has happened.
Music lingers in the air along the coast. Songs brought from the Scottish Highlands and England are comingled with spirituals and gospels whose roots lay in Africa. Long, hot summers offered up songs sung in the cool of the evening and in each and all, lay the stories and legends. Music spoke of freedom and hope; music sang the blues; then music fraught with words that collided with each other birthed rock and roll. Music rolled from the mountains to the shore. Georgia’s famed poet Sidney Lanier gave
“Ya’ll,” “I’m fixin’ to,” “I’ve heard that,” The language of coastal Georgia with colloquialisms, both standard and substandard define a way of speaking suffused with richness. Add a resonance with its deepness and bass sounds echoing the softness of an ocean swell or the might of an angry ocean and the patois of southern speech depicts its rich heritage. Often letters dropped or omitted, a certain brogue defining hometown and the overtones of the Gullah-Geechee language add yet another layer to the area’s richness of language cause visitors to listen and comment, “I wish I had your southern accent!” and “What does that saying mean?”.
Sweet or unsweet, half and half, and an Arnold Palmer? For lovers of the standard lunchtime or dinner drink, the epitaphs depict the area’s way with tea. Prized from the beginnings of the state, locals brewed tea from the sassafras as the Indians had during periods of war. Before the arrival of the white man, strong brews from the cassina berry were part of the annual migration of the native tribes to the coast. Tea is so cherished that some claim addiction to the brew. Likewise the cuisine reflects varied cultures and heritage. Grits, a natural, but now paired with shrimp enhances each of the components. Mullet, catfish, flounder reveal the bounty of the rivers and ocean. People come to the coast for shrimp dressed in many modes. Spend a night shucking oysters under a full moon teasing the river with light, and all agree there could not be any finer culinary experience. It’s one to be found from out of the way places to the elegant china and linen dressed tables of the area’s finest resorts.
First Sermon under the Oaks: The beauty of the Golden Isles has inspired worship since the first Native Americans made their annual visit to the coast. Spanish friars walked beneath the oaks in an attempt to Christianize the natives. Then Oglethorpe arrived with the Anglican Wesley brothers - who ministered to congregations in Savannah and on St. Simons Island. Shortly thereafter, the Anne arrived with a group of Sephardic Jews. Likewise, the Scottish established their roots and churches while settling the area. A blending of Methodist and Baptists followed, as did the addition of Lutherans and Catholics. Equally large congregations of the Church of Jesus Christ in Latter Day Saints, along with other denominations, project the strong roots of faith in the Golden Isles. Many churches have outreach programs for the pre-K, senior citizens, the homeless, and the traveling seamen. Faith still abides in the Golden Isles.