Last night, I explored Savannah.
I’m ashamed to admit it was the only time I was able to do so in three days of being in that fine American city, but this was a work trip, not a vacation; I had two full-day workshops plus a new lecture to present (and reading for school on top of that.) This is the quilt teacher’s lament, you see: All dressed up, no time to sightsee.
But after my class finished yesterday, though my dogs were barkin’, I allowed myself only enough time to dip into my room to freshen up and turn right around to catch the Waving Girl ferry. The boat would take me to the Savannah riverfront and from there, I could walk downtown. When will I be back in Savannah, you know? Claus and I would like to take a trip to the American South. It could happen. But when?
When I got off the ferry, the no-see-em bugs were out for blood. They were swarming around everyone, landing in our hair and eyelashes. Batting them away was taking so much energy I was worried I had made a mistake, that I should’ve just stayed in my hotel room and promised Savannah I’d catch her on the flipside, but by the time I made my way up the steps to the city proper, there was enough breeze to blow the bugs away and my Savannah escapade* began in earnest.
Have you been to Savannah? The place is a dream. I’ve been reading about the place enough that I want to tell you all I’ve learned — but not yet. Tonight, a personal narrative, mostly because I have to get something off my chest.
By the time I hit the town, the sun was setting. I had an hour of good daylight left and this was causing me some anxiety; I was less interested in observing Savannah nightlife that I was in seeing its celebrated wedding cake houses and mossy, palm-studded squares. Luckily, I hit a few really good spots on accident right away: the Savannah College of Art and Design campus; a statue of John Wesley; and Broughton Street, which opened up to me and I walked along as the lights strung from either side of that main drag came on. The twinkle cast a lovely light and I got some good pictures you can see on my Instagram.
Because I was following my nose, I’m afraid I can’t trace for you my exact path through the city. But I can tell you that at one point I walked right past the famous Byrd Cookie. Open since 1924 and still using many of the family’s original cooky recipes, when I saw it I marched right in and bought a delicious Savannah souvenir for myself and a pal: a bag of Key Lime Coolers and Scotch Oatmeal cookys. Two-for-one. Score.
It was after that that something rather awful happened, and if I don’t tell the tale I’m afraid the memory will knock around in my head and become more vivid than it already is, here, a full day later.
I was crossing the street, munching. I had reached a paw into the bag of miniature Byrd Key Lime Coolers because I figured nothing could be more Savannah than eating those tiny, local cookys while walking through City Market. I had just reached the curb when I heard the unmistakable sound of a human body making hard contact with something it ought not to make hard contact with. The sound was a splat, a crunch; my ears witnessed a punching. The impact hung in the air for a millisecond and then I heard sharp intakes of breath and cries of alarm from nearby witnesses.
I whirled to my left and saw her. A woman lay prone on the paved street to the side of horse-drawn carriage. She had fallen while disembarking. From where she lay on the concrete, I saw how tall those carriages really are; the force of her fall was such that I had heard her hit the ground, face-first, from more than 30 feet away. A fleeting thought occurred: So many people were drinking all around me, with open containers. There was something boozy about her fall, but of course I didn’t know. All I knew is that the sight of her there, laying motionless on the hard concrete, flooded me with horror and the lemon cookie in my mouth went to paste.
I dropped the sweets from my hand. Breathless, I said, to no one,”Oh my god, oh my god,” for there was a broken face in our midst, a busted jawbone, teeth shattered, maybe a broken pelvis or slipped disc. The woman had caught her foot in the rail of the carriage and hit the ground hard. I was at least partly a witness to this terrible moment in her life and my night in Savannah was now indelibly altered from the light sightseeing trip I had envisioned. It wasn’t that I thought,”Oh, now my night is ruined.” It was that my vague, weird fears of being horribly disfigured in a freak accident were being validated, right there in Savannah, Georgia.
As I approached, all but covering my eyes with a sugary hand for fear of seeing what I knew I was about to see, the woman, miraculously, stood. I heard her say to the man who had hopped off the carriage, “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” Relief flooded me to see her talking and not screaming. But how? My body was tight as a spring.
I saw the woman give the man a pat on his shoulder and tell the other passengers in the carriage she was okay; they were all as aghast as I was. I stood, dumb, there at the curb, the blinding white, powdered sugar cookys at my feet. I watched the woman stumble across to the curb near me and keep going up the street. I realized, as I began walking again — only able to think of her bloody, broken teeth — that my left hand was clutching my breast and that I was still in full wince, still shielding myself from that sound of her body hitting the road from too-high up.
The woman passed me, limping. She was in shock. Of this there can be no doubt. She was a few paces ahead of me; suddenly, she turned and went into a bar. I didn’t follow her. I didn’t know what to do. I guess I thought she was okay; an hour later, I would think, “No, she was hurt. She was in a daze. She had broken bones.” And I wished I would’ve followed her into the bar to make sure she had a friend, a helper.
So that’s all I can tell you now. There’s so much to tell about QuiltCon and the other amazing thing that happened this week, but that’s all I can say for now.
*I love a thesaurus. I thought, “There must be a better word than ‘adventure.'” An “escapade” is “an act or incident involving excitement, daring, or adventure.” That’s more like it.