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Toasts, tributes, white ashes, black water

By Walter Geiger Courtesy of Shep Marsh, a group of us spent the weekend at the Satilla River Club which sits hard by the black water from which its name is derived near Waynesville in extreme southeast Georgia. We hadn’t been on this trip, which originated as a father-son outing nearly a generation ago, for a few years. The sons are now grown but they love the place as do their dads. It is a weekend filled with fun and frolic. Fishing, canoeing, kayaking, skeet and target shooting, horseshoes and idling in a rocking chair on the screened porch of the old plantation house fill the daylight hours. The evenings and nights are spent around the poker table. The table fare is pure south Georgia soul food: eggs, bacon, grits, sausage, biscuits and flapjacks smothered in cane syrup for breakfast and fried chicken and pork chops with all the trimmings for supper. The annual sojourn to the Satilla was the outing our fallen friend Doug Walter lived for. He spent months in preparation. His red work van was always crammed full of milk boxes brimming with supplies. If one needed a bandage or a potato bazooka ‘“ a snake hook or a kayak paddle, he was sure to have it. Once we watched warily as he milked the venom from a rattlesnake snared in the nearby piney woods. Two of Doug’s three sons, Chris and Matt, were among the group on the latest outing. We were lounging about when they called us down to the river bank near dusk. They had their dad’s ashes in an urn. They each said a few words and dropped some ashes in the river. We all followed suit. There was laughter, tears and toasts as the lily white ashes ran with the current and sank in the dark river water. It was a touching time and I got the impression the Walter boys, now grown to men, need the closure. Later that night, lightning flashed, thunder roared and smart phones lit up with tornado warnings. The power went out and we lit old-fashioned hurricane lamps that cast odd shadows on the ceilings 20 feet above us. A tornado tore through the vast wilderness on the other side of the river. We all knew who it was. ’Maybe we shouldn’t have let Dad out after all,’ one of the sons quipped. Captain Doug was ripping and roaring along the Satilla one last time. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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