As you may remember, my Mother turned 80 in June.
We had planned to throw a big celebration. We had grand plans.
And then she decided she really didn’t want that center of attention, look at me, kind of party. When pushed, she asked instead for a trip, around Christmas time, to Savannah, Georgia.
Now Mother, a romantic of the first order, had read enough about Savannah to figure that it certainly must embody the dreams of her Southern imagination. Visions of plantation owners and Scarlet-I-really-don’t-give-a-damns had to be part of any Southern city’s ancestry that played host to colonial life. Mother was certain the pleasant ghosts of that gentler, pastoral time still echoed for those who would choose to visit. (Minus the slave part. To say she frets over that part of her ancestors’ Southern past is hardly indicative of how deep her tender and remorseful heart.)
Besides the allure of a fantasy Southern city, Savannah is also the home of Paula Deen.
If you don’t know who Paula Deen is you clearly don’t watch the Food Network Channel.
And you probably don’t like to cook.
There are lots of reasons for my Mother’s interest in Paula besides their mutual sisterhood of cooking good food for those they love. Paula was a single mom, two sons in tow, thirty years ago and managed through the magic of her hands, head, and stovetop to create an empire. On television she seems down home and genuine. Shock white hair and laughing blue eyes, honey dripping from her drawl, she takes you into her homey kitchen, right there in Savannah and makes you biscuits or corn pone. Sometimes, when cooking, she seems a little bit naughty, if you know what I mean. Cooking can be so… earthy and appetite whetting. But no longer struggling and delivering handmade sandwiches to make ends meet, Paula is a force in the world of gastronomy.
“I don’t want to meet her,” Mother says as we boarded the plane for Savannah on Monday. “I just want to go the Lady and Sons.”
“Well, I would like to see her house.”
I knew that was coming.
Mother has made me her accomplice in many a stalking expeditions.
Women from my mother’ side of the family have a history of feeling entitled or at least alarmingly comfortable indulging their curiosity when it comes to celebrities, love interests, or neighbors doing things that look interesting. There’s clearly some kind of rule of ethics in play that even me, her daughter, finds difficult to get a handle on. My mother is truly one of the most respectful, sensitive people I know. I’ve tried to explain the Biblical position on gossip failing that I am not clever enough to show her where God has addressed stalking specifically. She remains convinced there is no problem with asking me to do whatever it takes to find out whether or not such things as a prospective love interest’s financial disclosures on the dance floor are true by driving past his house numerous times, very slowly, around the block, back again, as she takes inventory on everything from the state of repair of his home to what he has in his carport.
I’ve driven from Houston to Palacious to do this for her. (It was never adequately explained to me what this old fart was doing at the northwest Houston granny grab where he made the acquaintance of my Mother or why she would even consider a long distance romance clear down to Matagorda County. Thankfully, he seriously overstated his financial wherewithall and being that the lie mattered more to her than the lack of financial liquidity, the romance was aborted.)
It’s embarrassing the lengths I have gone to please her in this regard. I don’t know why I do it except that I love her. She is so happy when my reconnaissance produces results, especially so when it confirms her suspicions, be they good or bad.
So going past Paula’s house was never an option. I had always known that.
I Googled ahead of time.
Paula doesn’t want you to find her house.
The first day we fell for Google’s misdirected driving directions and ended up in some alley that dead ended into what looked like a drug dealer park off of a canal. I assume this was to discourage further attempts. Not those of us made of sterner stuff.
Mother, dejected, rolled her big green eyes up at me, a pitiful smile on her face, and told me it was okay. Okay as in I couldn’t be more disappointed but I know that you tried and failed.
I researched better that night.
Hand drawn maps from Google earth and a satellite image, we headed out the next morning. (You should know that when youngest son couldn’t tell me where he was in his first deployment to Iraq I successfully found the base using only past army soldiers blogs and 30 year old sat maps).
Driving along the canals and into the island that looked to me like the right configuration from Google earth, we turned onto a street that had no street sign.
“I think you turned too early,” Mother says.
Periodically while doing our surveillance, Mother is known to interject comments like this. Usually she’s holding my maps and has no clue what street we are on.
“Mother, what are you talking about?” I say, as I try to figure out which tiny little hidden street is the one I’m looking for.
“This doesn’t feel like where I think she would live.”
I’m thinking we are lucky Paula isn’t into gated communities and I see the dead end I am looking for. We pull up under at least three surveillance cameras, a no trespassing sign with a clear message, and a caterer’s truck unloading party rentals.
“You think THIS is her house?”
I stare back at her incredulously, give her a moment to take it all in, and know exactly what’s going on in her head. She’s disappointed. This house, the place where it is, doesn’t really smack of the woman Mother had envisioned. Not wanting to meet Paula was because Mother didn’t want to be disappointed. She wanted Paula to have found the dream life truly. She didn’t want to know if the truth was different. She didn’t want to know if Paula was different.
“Can’t you get any closer,” her green eyes turned up, liquid in their pleading, reconciling to a little bit less of paradise for Paula.
As a novice stalker assistant I would have flippantly asked her if she wanted me to knock on Paula’s door. Experienced now, I know way better than to do that.
“Try driving down her neighbor’s driveway,” she says.
Remembering that there had been a public marina not far away, thinking it was a shame Paula’s neighbors had no idea how I had spared them from the embarrassment of stalkers gone rogue, I started back out to the unnamed street and headed towards the canal. I thought I might could get her a view of Paula’s place from the water. For a moment I wondered if the security cameras had taken pictures and if Paula’s security team had submitted my rental car stats to the Georgia DMV.
“They probably don’t have any idea we are tourists,” Mother said, craning her neck back to take one last look. “You could probably just go up and talk to those delivery guys for a minute.”
I drove a little faster when I realized that for the briefest of moments I considered her request.
The marina was about 7 houses down from Paula’s as a boat floats and while it was a decent idea, and moderately satisfied Mother’s curiosity, we couldn’t really see anything. I’d done about the best I could do for her. She’d seen the house where the TV shows were filmed from and she could fill in the rest with her imagination. She could think about Paula, beyond that white fence, in her beautiful kitchen, her family happy and prosperous, hard work rewarded. It was good enough.
Satisfied, we circled the cast off crab cages and rusted out outboards heading out of the marina when I noticed a late 40 something fisherman looking straight at us, a curious frown on his face. Stalking guilt welling into my breast, I confessed.
“We were just trying to see Paula Deen’s house from the water,” I blurted out as I jumped out of the car and walked towards him. “We probably aren’t the first people that tried to stalk her from the marina,” I continued unfortunately.
“She doesn’t live there anymore.” he said, looking at me a little bit like I was slightly, but not dangerously deranged.
I figured he was in cahoots with Google maps.
“Really. She doesn’t live here anymore,” he repeated. “I don’t think anyone has ever come here looking for Paula.”
Looking as if he decided something, he told us how to get to her new house. I choose to believe it was my bold, feminine approach to investigative cleverness that so enamored him he could but reward us with directions to Paula’s new abode and not that it was the most expedient solution to rid traveling lunatics from his marina.
Paula’s house was easy to spot. There were the same cameras and lettered sign, the difference was this house was beautiful, on the bend of the river spread out and spacious, even if all we could see was just over the privacy fence. It was a Southern fair tale come true.
Mother was enthralled and happy. She asked me to drive by once more.
And as we did, the big green beautiful gate, a gorgeous blend of low country style and 21st century knowhow, slowly opened. The cream colored Escalade with windows so tinted, we had to rely on our intuition to know that Paula sat primping as she was being driven by her driver. The cadillac moved in behind our stealthily slow moving Kia Rio. Paula’s SUV’s lights began strobing like mini disco balls plastered all over a vanilla police car and furiously pulled directly behind us. I pulled slightly to the right, her driver gunned it, passed us, and roared down the street. Either that or Paula has a led foot.
Turning to Mother to see how she was handling the event, she looked at me, glared straight ahead and grinned ferociously. “Don’t lose them!” she screamed as she grabbed her door handle to brace for the acceleration.
Two hours later, not in jail or arrested and as far as I knew, our names not on anybody’s restraining orders, we sat at our table at the Lady and Sons, the restaurant that marked Paula’s early and lasting success.
“These are the best greens I’ve ever eaten,” Mother told me.
“Paula is a good cook,” she continued. “I can imagine what this must have been like when she first started. I’m sure she gave them her recipes when she sold the place.”
Looking at Mother, I wondered if she was thinking of those lean years when her father owned a restaurant, the even leaner years before and to follow and the lot that was her’s in life. Eighty years makes for a lot of wisdom and if your still dreaming after all that time… well should she ask me to stalk again, I’d do it. And I might not ought to be the one quoting Bible verses. There’s something to learn from one who can share the joy of someone else hard earned, good fortune.
Happy 80th birth year, Doris Jones Huddle.