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Heading east for a Jekyll family Homecoming

As soon as this issue hits the newsstands, I am keeping a family tradition alive and heading to one of my favorite destinations on this planet – the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel for the 2023 Georgia Press Association Convention.

For so many reasons Jekyll is most assuredly my favorite special place. And it is not just my favorite. If you were to mention Jekyll Island to either one of my daughters, Kaylee or Caroline, their eyes would light up and the broad smiles on their faces would tell you that Jekyll Island to them is a special place and a lifetime of special memories have been made there.

Throughout its history, the Jekyll Island Club has been a place where people have imagined an alternative. People came to Jekyll to escape, to be creative, and to dream, and they still do. From Native Americans to English colonists, to French privateers, to the members of the Jekyll Island Club – people have imagined Jekyll Island as a place where dreams begin.

From the time when Kaylee was three years old and Caroline less than a year, going to the Jekyll Island Club Hotel and the GPA convention was an annual beginning of Summer ritual for my family. I have always loved everything to do with history and Jekyll Island is overflowing with it. I do believe that the annual trek to the island and the daily exposure to its storied history, is the underlying reason for my girls’ love of history and their fascination for the people who lived it.

Each year, in addition to attending GPA functions, we have ridden bikes, horses, boats, and ferries, toured Sapelo and Cumberland Islands, played golf and croquet, pretended to be a sold-out audience as Caroline sang her heart out on the stage of the Jekyll amphitheater, marveled at the beauty of Driftwood Beach, toured every historical site on the island and spent quality, morning, noon and night, daddy-daughter moments in the courtyard cafe.

I have photos of Kaylee navigating and driving the horse-drawn carriage and talking to the horse named Sam who was pulling it; I have a photo of three-year-old Caroline, asleep and slumped over in the safety seat of the bicycle, and photos of each of them in or at every historical site on the island and in every shop in the village. To my girls, the most popular shop in the village was every shop in the village, but their true favorite, and the one most visited, was the ice cream, fudge, and everything else Island Sweets Shoppe.

A watercolor painting of the historic Jekyll Island Club Hotel hangs in Caroline’s room as a reminder of the place that is special. The year Caroline was five, and for the length of our entire stay, a very nice elderly lady sat behind an easel placed on the hotel’s croquet lawn – at a spot that offered her the best angle to paint her watercolor of the historic hotel. Caroline was fascinated with the lady, and for three days, she made a point to visit her multiple times, to watch her paint, and to ask an endless supply of five-year-old questions.  The night before we left I saw the lady in the dining room and offered one last apology for my inquisitive daughter and expressed hope that Caroline had not been too much of a distraction. The lady smiled and said, “Not at all.”

As we were preparing to depart the next morning a package was delivered to our room – for Caroline. When Caroline opened it, she squealed; when I saw what was in it, I screamed. It was the original, recently completed watercolor painting of the hotel signed by the artist and accompanied by a note that read, “I have been painting for over seventy-five years and I came here this week to get inspirited to begin working on my last painting. Thank you, Caroline, for inspiring me to keep on living, and to keep on painting.”

One year I had to attend a board meeting on St. Simons Island. As part of her birthday gift, Caroline, age seven, made the trip with me. Because I knew how much she loved the historic hotel – ever since she was two she had called the tower section of the hotel Cinderella’s Castle – I reserved the tower suite at the Jekyll Island Club. For that entire weekend, thanks to the tower suite, multiple room service calls, and gift shop visits, Caroline truly felt like the princess I always knew she was. To this day she will tell you that one trip is her fondest childhood memory.

We have so many special memories of this place. To my daughters, and to me, there is something special, almost magical about Jekyll Island. It is a place where time seems to slow down and worries seem to disappear. It is a place where we have grown up and older, and because of everything I have shared there with my family and my GPA friends, going there always seems like going home.

And now that this week’s edition is finished, I am headed east for a homecoming.

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