Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Tree for "Miss" Margaret

Now most people think that I-95 is the main auto route from the north to Miami, and for modern day auto travel it is. But if you really want to experience the true South, you need to take Highway 301 as it winds its way through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, into the lower part of Georgia below Statesboro, where it takes a slow left turn to head due south into Florida.

Long before I-95 was on the drawing board, Highway 301 was the main north-south route through these states. It meanders its way through the old tobacco farms of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. In South Carolina and Georgia you can still see large expanses of cotton fields and in the late fall, the sides of the roads will be scattered with white fluff that fell off the large bales of cotton as they were taken from the fields to the cotton gins. All along this highway you can glimpse what is left of grand old homes, some just shadows of themselves, hollow and half hidden in cudzu, others standing firm as remnants of a time long gone.

When the interstate was built, it took the life blood out of hundreds of small towns that depended upon the tourist dollars. Highway 301, the main street of many of these towns, brought Yankees (and their money) through town on their way south to Florida - “Snowbirds” we called them. The interstate bypassed the towns and only those few lucky enough to be close to an exit had the chance to flourish. The others went the way of towns out west in the dust bowl.

Our town was one of those towns with Highway 301 running through the center. We still have the carcasses of old motels that closed soon after the interstate opened, of resteraunts that could not make it on local business alone. But, like most southern towns, we also had the beautiful farmland and grand old homes that graced the highway outside of town. This is where my story begins. Most of Highway 301 is four lane, with a grassy median, and no where along that highway is anything in the median. Well, no where except outside our fair town.

The Senator and his wife, “Miss” Margaret lived in his old family home, that everyone referred to as “the big house” just outside town on 301. It was a grand old white antebellum home, set in an established yard of old oaks, camellias, and azaleas. When the beloved Senator passed away, “Miss” Margaret wanted to do something in his memory that would be special and would, in her words “beautify the area for all the people.” Her idea was to plant a mature palmetto tree in the median of the highway in front of their home. Since he had been a state senator, she had plenty of contacts and set about seeing what would be involved in getting her tree planted. She was quickly (and most politely) told that it would not be possible to plant a tree in the median of the highway and given several regulations that stipulated such.

When the family learned of her plan, they were most happy that State had put an end to it, relieving them of that responsibility. They knew if she wanted it done, they were not only going to have to do it, but also provide the maintenance. But they should have known she was not going to take “no” for an answer. She continued petitioning higher powers and always, very politely, told no.

One day, her daughter-in-law and grandson were on their way home from town. As they got within sight of the Miss Margaret’s home, the grandson said, “Mama, is that a tree in the median in front of Nannie's house.” As she looked, and realized it was not a mirage, she answered, “I’m afraid so.” They immediately went to "Miss" Margaret’s to inquire about the tree. "Miss" Margaret was beside herself. “Isn’t it lovely? What a wonderful memorial to the Senator.” But who gave you permission?” asked her daughter-in-law. “No one. I got tired of asking, so I just called the tree service and had them plant it.” “And they just did it, no questions asked?” Then she stopped. “Never mind. I don’t want to know anything else.”
So, ever since, there has been that wonderful landmark, and memorial to the Senator, the only tree planted in the median of Highway 301. Folks often ask me, “I didn’t know you could plant a tree in the middle of the highway?” My answer, “You can’t, unless you are "Miss" Margaret.”

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