They say the Gullah culture is on its death bed.
If that’s the case, old, cold Lazarus put on his long johns and sprang to life Saturday.
The day was cold but the hearts were warm at a special picnic at Jarvis Creek Park on Hilton Head Island.
Also warm were the smoked spare ribs, pulled pork, fried chicken, grilled chicken, steamed oysters, Frogmore stew, whole fried whiting, macaroni and cheese, stewed butter beans and okra, potato salad, cole slaw, baked beans, string beans, hoppin’ john and I don’t know what all else.
This is how the Gullah say “thank you.” And that they ain’t dead yet.
Volunteers from the Gullah community cooked till midnight on Friday and were setting up tents at the park in the biting rain at 7 a.m. Saturday.
It was all to thank volunteers and donors who helped restore the Talbird Cemetery after Hurricane Matthew.
“I’m a person who has to say ‘thank you,’ ” said the ring leader, Annie Mae Miller Grant. Her parents, Clifford and Bell Miller, are buried in Talbird Cemetery, alongside Gullah veterans of the Civil War, and the Rev. Ben Williams, whose burial took place there the day the massive cleanup job was finished.
Grant said that a cemetery is to the Gullah people what burial grounds are to the Indians.
“They are sacred,” she said.
She cried out in prayer on the banks of Skull Creek when she saw more than 20 giant oaks fallen in the Talbird Cemetery in October.
Some of those who unwittingly answered that prayer were there for Saturday’s feast.
The Rev. Larry Eckhart and Steve White of Island Lutheran Church were there. Lutheran disaster relief teams from several states came to saw and remove trees. Ned and Suzie Allen were there. He set up the Talbird Cemetery Fund at the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, and personally guaranteed money for a private contractor to finish the job.
And the Gullah said “thank you” with homemade food.
“And by bringing people together,” Grant said.
The Gullah underground — tighter than a hand-sewn cast net — sprang into action.
Annie Mae’s son Galen Miller grilled 20 racks of spare ribs and two boxes of boneless chicken breasts. He used a custom-made grill on loan from Frankie Denmark of Ridgeland, who worked for Hargray on Hilton Head for more than 30 years.
His uncle Ben Green helped pull it all together. He also caught and cleaned more than 50 whiting fish from Skull Creek.
Larry and Tina Toomer sent over pulled pork from the Bluffton Oyster Co.
He said Hudson’s restaurant donated shrimp. The Island Recreation Association helped secure the location. The Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association and native islanders property owners’ associations chipped in.
Irvin Campbell said grace as the group of blacks and whites held hands in a circle.
“There are many ways to say ‘thank you,’ ” said the Rev. Larry Eckhart. “None are finer than this.
“Ben Williams would have loved it.
“Except his prayer would have been longer.”