Trying to write about this weekend in Savannah with a group of Ted’s friends from high school – which happened to include Paula Deen – is going to be like trying to herd chickens – crazy, all over the place, and in some cases just about impossible.
When I sat down to map out how to do this, after returning to the lake this afternoon (Sunday) and unpacking (one more time), I finally decided it’s going to take three parts – one for Friday night at Paula Deen’s home, one for Saturday in Savannah (lots of Savannah photos), and one for Saturday night at Uncle Bubba’s Oyster House (lots of Paula Deen photos). Except for the header and the invitation photos, there won’t be any pics on this first post, because cameras were not allowed – I’ll explain that in a moment. So, I’m just going to have to try and describe – in words – Friday night’s party. I will do my best, but dang! I wish I had photos!
We dropped Maddie and Bear off at the kennel Friday morning around 11 a.m. and set out for Savannah – about a three hour drive from the lake. Bless their doggie hearts, when they saw the suitcases going back in the truck and had jumped in, they settled right down with those smug little looks on their faces like, “Back to Michigan, I guess. A little bit of a fast turn-around this time, but no worries as long as we’re going!” Those smug looks turned into little whines from Maddie and nervous pacing from Bear when they realized we were making too many turns to be heading for I-75. We really felt bad about leaving them, but Marsha at Mardon Kennels takes very good care of her “babies”, and we knew they would be fine – pouting big time, but fine.
We arrived in Savannah around 3 o’clock, after stopping for lunch on the way. We had reservations at the Four Points Sheraton, which is in the historic district of Savannah. I’m embarrassed to tell you, after living in Georgia practically all my life, that I had never actually toured the historic district of this fine, old Southern city. Now I have – only a very short tour – and it left me badly wanting to go back and stay longer. More on Savannah in Part III.
Of course, I almost cried when I saw the “no camera” part, although I certainly could understand the reasoning behind it. Even though Paula’s home has been seen by millions in magazines and on TV, no one wants someone going through their medicine cabinets or laundry basket and posting the contents on Facebook. Little did I know that the request for “no cameras” was a lot more dramatic than that!
Around 75 friends of Paula and their spouses/significant others had been invited, and almost everyone showed up. We were spread out over four or five different hotels, but we were all within walking distance of Johnson Square, where we were being picked up to go to Paula’s house. It took Ted and I only about five minutes to get there, and there were already at least 50 people waiting to load onto the city shuttles lining the street. Each shuttle carried about 40 people.
When our shuttle was full, a gentlemen came aboard and asked for our attention. He introduced himself as Paula’s chief “organizer” and explained the “no camera” business. It seems that Paula and Michael (her husband) have just moved into a new home. They kept the home you see in the magazines and on TV and will continue to produce Paula’s shows there. But this new home is where they now live, and they are trying to keep it as private as possible. Made perfect sense to me and everyone else aboard, although I’m sure none of us can understand what it’s like to be a public figure like Paula is now. I’m sure they try to keep at least part of their private life “private”, and I know it must be so, so hard to do.
As soon as the first two shuttles were loaded, we were off. After riding for about 15 minutes, we crossed the Wilmington River (when Julie and Matt were first married, they lived on Wilmington Island, so Ted and I recognized immediately where we were going). We rode and rode and finally pulled up in front of massive gates that, after a quick phone call from our driver, immediately swung open to allow the two shuttles to enter.
I so, so wish it had been daylight because I really can’t describe the outside of the house to you except to say – big! I did notice large oak trees and lots of Spanish moss. The entire front porch was decorated for fall and Halloween, but no one was really looking at that. We climbed the steps to the porch, where double doors opened into a foyer that ran almost the entire length of the house. A friend of ours from Atlanta, who is best friends with Paula, greeted us at the door, as did a beautiful young lady who is Paula’s personal assistant. Once inside, we were greeted by Paula herself, who welcomed each classmate (and us spouses) with a beautiful smile and a hug.
Ok – here is where I wish I were an interior decorator, or at least someone with a rudimentary knowledge of furniture, styles, and decor. Sadly, I am none of those things. There is just no way I can tell you about every detail of the house – one reason being that we stayed outside the majority of the evening. Here are a few little “word snapshots” of what my eyes saw, but no words are going to adequately describe:
- I would call the house “Country French”, but like I said, I’m not a good one to determine these things.
- The living room (or great room) and dining room flowed together. There were at least three distinct sitting areas – groupings of couches and chairs, a fireplace, and a baby grand “player” piano that provided the indoor music for the evening. The room was so large that even the massive accessory pieces looked just right. What I loved most about it was that even though it was so big, it was still comfortable, homey and very livable.
- On one wall of the long foyer was a large built-into-the-wall aquarium with beautiful tropical fish.
- The kitchen doors stayed closed most of the night, opening occasionally when staff hurried in and out with platters of delicious goodies. When I passed by once on the way to the ladies room, the door was open and I got a glimpse, and it was not nearly as large as I thought it would be, although it was about four times the size of mine. Paula’s two Shih Tzu’s, who seemed very at home with the crowd of folks, seemed to hang out most in the kitchen. Smart dogs!
- The media room had wrap-around couches and a huge TV built into the wall. Others walls were decorated with framed photos of Paula with dozens of famous people. The highlight of that room was Paula’s Albany High School cheerleader uniform, which was encased in glass and the focal point over one of the couches.
- Amazingly, the house only has one bedroom (there are three guest cottages on the property). Their bedroom is gorgeous, with its own sitting area.
- There is a “beauty salon” where Paula’s hair and makeup are done.
- Paula and Michael’s closet is a wonder to behold. Again, it’s not as large as you would imagine, but it is equipped like a dry cleaner’s, with a conveyor track that runs up the wall and around the ceiling. All they have to do is “spot” what they want to wear, push a button, and it comes to them.
The great room opens up to a huge outdoor entertaining area, with pool. On the far side of the pool is a platform, and when a button is pushed an imax-size screen rises up from the platform. “American Graffiti” was playing on the screen while we were there. A full bar was provided, and the group kept the two bartenders busy. A cozy sitting area with a fireplace took up another end of the patio.
The house sits on a large lot on the Wilmington River. Paula told us during the evening that there was another house on the property when they bought it, and at first they thought about just renovating that one. But, after everything had been considered, the decision was made to tear down that house and start from scratch. That took a year, and the house took two years to build – including the guest cottages, docks and boathouse. Sometime during the evening, Ted and I walked out the long dock to what I guess was considered the “boat house”, although both he and I declared we could easily take up residence there and be blissfully happy. It was really a small guest cottage, with a nautical theme and everything you would need to be comfy for a long time – including a kitchen.
We happened to be in Paula’s bedroom when she walked in, and Ted had a chance to talk to her about a certain letter he had brought with him from Mackinac Island. John, who Ted works with at the Visitor’s Center, has a little granddaughter named Lauren who claims to be Paula Deen’s biggest fan. She had written a letter to Paula and asked that we take it with us to Savannah. In the letter, she asked Paula to autograph the letter for her so she could use it for “show and tell”. Paula read the letter, and then wrote her a note on the other side.
Michael, Paula’s husband, is very nice and as down to earth as Paula has remained. He still works a couple of days a week as a harbor pilot, boarding the huge ships that come into the Savannah harbor, and assisting them in the docking procedure. He says he has no plans to quit work anytime soon.
The party lasted about an hour longer than planned, and we once again loaded up on the shuttles to ride back into Savannah. A small group of us had drinks together at one of the hotels before Ted and I walked the rest of the way to the Sheraton and a good night’s sleep.
Paula was an extremely gracious hostess. She was funny, friendly, and very, very beautiful. For anyone who says that her Southern drawl is “put on”, let me just assure you that it isn’t. She would have been a perfect coach for Vivian Leigh in her Scarlett O’Hara role in Gone With the Wind. As I heard so many of her classmates say over the weekend, “Paula has not changed one bit since high school. Paula is ‘just Paula'”. After meeting her this weekend, I believe that’s true. But she is also a one in a million, small town Southern girl who started out packing bag lunches for carriage drivers working the squares in Savannah and is now a household word all over the world. As we say in the South, she “done good”.