Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Macon, Georgia

Macon, Georgia
The International Cherry Blossom Festival
Thursday, March 27, 2014


We never intended to stop in Macon on our road trip.  Actually, our loose plan was to drive from Sarasota, FL to Birmingham, AL.  We thought it would be interesting and educational to learn about all the historical civil rights events that happened with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The drive from Sarasota to Birmingham is a little long for one day, but we didn't mind since we were on a long road trip anyways.
Architecture in Macon, GA
Macon, GA - Cherry Blossom Capital of the World
When we stopped into Walmart, our itinerary completely changed.  I'd like to start by pointing out that Walmart in the deep South, for some reason, is a much, much nicer store than Walmart around the Chicagoland area.  Up here, Walmart is messy, sort of dirty, and often disorganized.  Down south, Walmart is clean, organized, has helpful staff, and has a completely different selection of higher quality items.  We were pretty surprised when we dropped in to buy some instant grits and found a store that looked more like a typical Target or even better.  (Grits aren't served up North, and so naturally, we were curious about them when we noticed that our hotel served them in the morning.)  Anyhow, Mom and I went in to buy grits and came out with a box of instant grits, a cocktail dress, a fall jacket, and tons of athletic wear.  Seriously, the merchandise at Walmart in the South is way different from the Walmart up here.  While we were trying on our outfits in the fitting rooms, the saleswoman, Joyce, picked up our lack of a Georgia accent, and asked where we were from.  We chatted with her for a while - She is this super sweet, friendly, elderly, Southern lady who says "ma'am" a lot and calls you "Miss" and sends you off with a "Y'all drive safely".  Joyce recommended that we stay in Macon for the afternoon since they were in the middle of their cherry blossom festival.  As she said, the cherry blossoms only bloom once per year, but the museums in Birmingham are always there.  We took her advice and went to see the blooms.

Oxford Circle dresses up for the Cherry Blossom Festival.  
Each year, Macon hosts the International Cherry Blossom festival, which is the largest cherry blossom festival in the world.  This festival celebrates the beauty of the Yoshino trees, which were rarely found in the South until William A. Fickling Sr. discovered one in his backyard and became obsessed with trying to identify it.  Down the line, he found similar trees on a trip to Washington DC, and realized that his tree was of the rare Yoshino species.  He began to propagate these trees around Macon and collaborated with Carolyn and Lee Crayton (the festival's official founders) to organize the annual Cherry Blossom festival starting in 1982.
Cherry Blossoms in Macon, Georgia
Pink Poodle
This festival, much to my extreme delight, is also known as "The Pinkest Party on Earth."  We began our visit to the festival at the information center/gift shop.  As we drove over,  we noticed that the entire building was pink, pink flowers sprouted from everywhere, the street lines were painted pink, and the sidewalks were lined with pink paw prints.  The gift shop was filled with information about cherry blossoms, stuffed animal pink poodles, and plenty of pink apparel.  During the festival, the fire department cooks and serves pink pancakes to the community.  Some people also dye their poodles pink and bring them to the festival.  (I'm positive my dear beagle would not like being dyed pink at all.)  Inside the information center, Brandi shared her enthusiasm for the Cherry Blossom Festival, explained where to go to see the cherry blossoms, and set us up with maps, guides, and everything we would need for a fun day in Macon.

Me and Brandi in the Cherry Blossom Information Center & Gift Shop

At Brandi's recommendation, we
went to eat lunch at Market City Cafe, where I ate what I think is likely the best chicken salad croissant sandwich I've ever had.  Highly recommended!  For dessert, the servers recommended that we split one piece of their colossal chocolate cake.  The chocolate cake was mediocre in taste, but made for some very fun photos (below).  What I really noticed at lunch was that nearly all the customers in the restaurant were wearing pink.  Women and men adorned pink shirts, arm bands, pants, shoes, etc.  I've always been a very pink, sparkly person, and finally felt like I fit right in!  Had I have intended to attend this festival and known about the attire ahead of time, I would have put together a fabulous and overwhelmingly pink outfit.

Chicken Salad on a Croissant at Market City Cafe
Colossal Chocolate Cake at Market City Cafe
Tubman Museum
As we drove around looking for the part of the festival where the actual cherry trees were, we happened onto the Tubman Museum.  In the Tubman Museum, we learned that Harriet Tubman's birth name was Araminta Ross, and she was called "Minty".  Harriet Tubman (1822-1913) was born in Dorchester City in Maryland and was hit with a 21-pound weight during her time as a slave.  Because of being struck with this weight, she sometimes had seemingly spontaneous blackouts.
Can you spot my neighbors?  :)

Over the course of her time working on the Underground Railroad, she made thirteen trips back to the South, despite the personal danger the travel posed for her.  On these trips, she lead seventy slaves to freedom.  After Harriet herself escaped, she bought land in New York and worked for the Union Army in the Civil War as a nurse and scout.  Despite personal risks, she returned to South Carolina as a spy for the army.  The museum shares the stories of Harriet Tubman's life, draws attention to prominent Black leaders in the United States, and displays an intriguing, wonderful gallery of folk art by various Black artists.

After we left the museum, we still wanted to see the cherry trees, so we drove around before departing from Macon.  We ended up driving through Oxford Circle, which is supposed to have one of the highest concentrations of cherry trees in all of Macon.  Up until this point, we had seen everything but cherry trees and wondered where they were all hiding.  Once we turned into the circle, however,  we were surrounded by cherry trees in full bloom.  Everywhere we looked, large Southern houses were hiding behind clusters of beautiful trees full of flowers.

While driving around and taking in the beauty, we stopped at a very pink lemonade stand.  Looking around the area, we got the strong sense that this neighborhood belonged to a very homogeneous group of people.  I can't explain exactly how we knew that, but we could just feel it.  Everyone we met while driving around looking at trees was very welcoming, friendly, and curious to know about the two travelers lacking Georgia accents.  We chatted for a while, asked about the history of the festival, took a few more photos of cherry trees, hopped back into the car, and set our GPS for Memphis, Tennessee.

Next stop: Elvis' house!

Cherry Blossoms in Macon, Georgia
Welcome to Mississippi
On the way to Memphis, we drove through Mississippi, which is perhaps considered the most "deep South" state.  We were passing through the state at night, and were absolutely amazed to look around and see nothing at all off the highway.  I don't mean expanses of cornfields with nothing to look at.  There was literally nowhere to stop and nothing around.  It was empty.  So very empty and dark.  Well, not completely devoid of life.  Every so often, we spotted a truck or a church, but literally nothing else.  Not even a gas station.  Upon arriving at our hotel just south of the TN border, we found various bibles in multiple drawers.  Not one bible, but several of them.  So we watched some HGTV and planned out our next day in Memphis.  In the future, I would like to explore Jackson, MS to learn about the Blues Trail and visit the Dixie National Quarter Horse Show.  Sounds both exciting and different.  Y'all sleep well now, y'hear?

No comments:

Post a Comment