If you’re a newcomer and want to meet the best people on St. Simons, here’s some advice.
Forgo the parties — island casual attire — where you can get your picture in some society magazine with a glass in your hand. Forget drinking group coffee that cost more per cup than Juan Valdez’s mule. And spare yourself the dues.
If you don’t have a dog, get one and go to the beach as the sun rises. That’s where the good people are, people who greet Augie, Stella, Frey and other dogs before they acknowledge the humans. It’s like Cheers except it’s the dogs’ names that everybody knows.
Like some other canine compatriots, Dixie, a 9-year-old chocolate lab, has a business card. “Birds and Grandchildren are my specialty,’’ it says. “My motto: No ball is thrown too far.”
“That’s her business card,” says Phil Thacker, who relocated from Dublin with his wife Nancy. “My information is on the back.” Among other things, it has his and Nancy’s names, their phone numbers and an invitation to St. Simons Methodist. Any Southerner who doesn’t invite you to church probably cuts his grass on Sundays and drinks something besides sweet tea before 5 p.m. even on the Sabbath.
You can tell by the way people talk where they came from, but their dogs have no giveaway accents.
They range from low slung Corgis to high strung Labrador puppies, except Labs seem to never lose their puppiness. Perhaps the most blessed among them are the mixed breeds whose wagging tails and sweet eyes won them release from animal shelters. They have as many variations of DNA as there are verses of “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
Dottie, who left the island for Chattanooga years ago, was back on the beach with her three “Adventure Corgis.”
“They like adventures everyday,’’ and find them everywhere, she said. “The back yard, a park, meeting a new friend. They make people happy.”
They find them on Chattanooga’s running trails and paddling on the Tennessee River. Eight thousand people share those adventures on Facebook. They’ve been known to hang 20 on a surfboard.
The biggest dog award goes to Frey, Deford Smith’s Great Dane. Smith wears a T-shirt he had made of Frey riding in a roller coaster with eight dog friends.
Like other human-dog partnerships, he carries a couple of bags, one for Frey’s droppings and another for whatever beachgoers drop. And they drop plenty.
“Everybody picks up trash,’’ Smith said of his fellow dog owners. “Massive amounts.”
People grouse about dogs on the beach, but if it weren’t for the dog owners, the beach would be a lot dirtier, he says.
“This is a dog-friendly beach, and it needs to stay that way,” he said. He likes the rule that dogs have to be off by 9 a.m. and says it’s good for humans and canines.
A few years ago, a woman told your columnist she moved to St. Simons because her dog was welcome on the beach.
Mary Virginia Keith came with Bandit, her beagle, and Tag, her bagle, as some call the cross of a beagle and basset hound. Tag, now gray as a London dawn, wasn’t always hers. He was one of her friend Jennifer Whiden’s three pets.
During the Christmas season after 9/11, Keith and Whiden decorated the skeleton of myrtle tree that had washed up and settled upright on the beach. Other people added their own decorations, but this is St. Simons where there is always someone to complain about anything that brings joy without a user fee.
“They called the tree trash,” and they wanted it removed, Keith said. “The problem is, people started making it a memorial.”
And so it still stands above the high tide spangled, tinseled and bangled.
But in January 2012, Whiden died suddenly, leaving behind Tag and her other two dogs.
Keith took Tag, and two other beach-walking dog owners took the others. How could they not? They were dogs who would be missed as much as Whiden.
The dogs chase each other into the waves, stage friendly fights, steal each other’s tennis balls and collect in scrums around their owners’ shins.
Allan Moody was throwing a ball for his dog, Stella, as he does every morning between 6 and 7. She chased it down, snatched it off the sand and raced back to Moody a couple of times before she changed course and dropped it at the feet of Emery, a 5-year-old girl from Watkinsville. Stella stood panting with expectant eyes and dripping Atlantic water until Emery threw the ball. Stella brought it back a couple of times, and Emery had a good morning at the beach with a new friend.
Perhaps no dog made more friends than Margaret, Jane Kelly’s Corgi puppy. While other dogs chased around, Margaret waddled around on her stumpy legs checking out people’s shoes and untied the ones with laces.
“She’s 9-weeks-old and already a beachgoer,’’ Kelly said.
And a cute one. If Gerber made puppy food, Margaret would be on the label.
The dog owners treasure their time on the beach and each other. They get together periodically for lunch or dinner without their pets. And they’ve been known to be activists. When the county was considering a beach parking fee, they argued against it.
“It’s so wonderful,’’ Keith said of the beach. “Our dogs don’t bother anybody.”
Chris Simmons, who figures he’s walked the beach 20 years, doesn’t have a dog, but he certainly isn’t bothered by anyone else’s. He now walks with Carl Shellhorn, who moved to St. Simons more than five years ago and who owns Augie, a black poodle.
“That’s how we met. We go every morning at 6,’’ said Simmons. “I guess I live with their dogs vicariously. I know everybody’s dogs.”
So if you’re new and want to meet nice people, get a dog and go to the beach between dawn and 9 a.m. Before you know it, everyone will be on a first name basis. At least with your dog.
Terry Dickson has been a journalist in South Carolina and Georgia for more than 40 years. He is a Glynn County resident. Contact him at email@example.com.