Cookin', Critters and Chillun

On the swampy road to alligators

SOUTH GEORGIA – We were on the road to watch alligators, to eat fried catfish and visit relatives living and dead, not necessarily in that order.

If you read my column last week, you know I was consumed with a need to get my Georgia fix, so Bill and I set off on a little 1,265-mile-round trip to South Georgia.

A little 6-foot alligator waits for a snack of hushpuppies in the river behind Ray's Mill Pond Cafe in Ray City, Ga.
A little 6-foot alligator heads for another hushpuppy in the river behind Ray's Mill Pond Cafe in Ray City, Ga. Photo by Meg Hibbert

As much as I love Virginia, to me the food just isn’t quite right. People around here don’t grow enough okra, field peas, collard greens and channel catfish for my taste buds.

I should also mention all of my Georgia cousins are either farmers who have given that up for small gardens, or were raised on farms; naturally, much of our conversations revolved around growing things and eating them.

After visiting Bill’s cousins Buzzy and Bug in the North Georgia town of Washington, we headed south on I-75 to visit cousins on my Mama’s side south of Tifton, near the Georgia-Florida line.

Originally the plan had been to stay a couple of nights with cousins Margaret Ellen and Jack in Hahira.

Once on the road we found out she was down-in-the-bed sick, so we called her next sister, Lynda. “Come on down,” she said. “Terry and I have plenty of room. We have two guest rooms.”

This was formerly the mill pond where Ray's Mill Pond Cafe is located in Ray City, Ga., above, in Deep South Georgia. Photo by Meg Hibbert
This was formerly the mill pond where Ray's Mill Pond Cafe is located in Ray City, Ga., above, in Deep South Georgia. Photo by Meg Hibbert

We made it in time for the four of us to meet up with two more of her four sisters – Fredda and Latrelle – and Latrelle’s husband Edgar at one of the local catfish restaurants. Mmmm, fried catfish rolled in cornmeal – the 7-inch-long ones that are still sweet and tender – and hush puppies, served with grits and fried sweet potatoes.

I guess the last time the cousins had all been together was at the funeral of my mother, their “Aunt Mary,” five years ago. She was the last of the five sisters and two brothers, and lived to be the oldest, at age 93.

We waddled out of the restaurant, stayed up until past midnight talking some more and getting to know Terry, and sample homemade wine from grapes he grows in the side yard.

The next morning he cooked us breakfast: scrambled fresh eggs from a local poultry farmer, bacon, the works. Fredda’s home-grown tomatoes made ‘mater sandwiches for lunch.

We drove over to visit ailing cousin Margaret Ellen, then Jack, Bill and I spent two enjoyable hours picking five gallons of high-bush blueberries from their bushes. They really should be called blueberry trees. Those things were taller than my head. I have pictures to prove it

Supper was at my favorite catfish restaurant, Ray’s Mill Pond near Ray City, Ga., where for laid-back fun you can see who can count the most bobbers hung up in the trees while waiting to feed leftover hush puppies to some of the alligators that populate the river.

I’m sure the restaurant owners have a deal worked out with the local alligators. Right on the dot of 5 p.m., the first one appeared, a little thing, only about 6-1/2-feet long, who obligingly floated for about 30 minutes while we kids of all ages tossed hush puppies until he/she was full.

Bill wanted me to be sure to mention he had a fried alligator-tail appetizer. We didn’t feed any of those to the gators. And before you are horrified that one of the “entertainers” met a terrible fate, I should point out the menu says it’s Georgia farm-raised alligator meat. Bill couldn’t describe the taste; suffice it to say the texture is like white meat chicken and tastes a little like fish.

We got to see cousin Nancy and Donnie’s place. The cancer he is fighting hard against has forced him to quit farming but he still gets around the 10 or so acres. He enjoys getting out to the pond where they and the children and grandchildren delight in tossing food to, what else, catfish.

Another of the highlights of the trip for me was a favorite past-time of my mother’s family, the Cobbs and Connells, of visiting relatives who have passed on. In other words, going to the cemetery.

We bought a colorful arrangement of silk flowers at the local Harvey’s grocery store to place on my mother and daddy’s gravesite in the city cemetery in Adel, and paid respects to my cousins’ parents who are buried there, too.

Over the weekend Bill and cousins obliged by stopping for me to take pictures of the headstones of my our grandparents, Asa and “Maggie” Connell Cobb out in the country, and great-grandparents, Oliver and Nancy Malloy Cobb near Ray City. In Nashville, Ga., I took pictures of the courthouse with its four-faced clock.

I'm standing in front of the four-faced clock in the courthouse in Nashville, Ga., that my great-great granddaddy used to service on Sunday mornings. Photo by Bill Hibbert
I'm standing in front of the four-faced clock in the courthouse in Nashville, Ga., that my great-great granddaddy used to service on Sunday mornings. Photo by Bill Hibbert

I don’t know if it’s the same clock, but the family history says my great, great-grandaddy, Edmund Darling Morris, got up early on Sunday morning to service the clock before going on to sweep out church house of the First Baptist Church before services. He did it for more than 40 years. Now that’s dedication.

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