When we were tasked with "Going Home" for this series, I had to pause. Where is home? Is it the place you were born? The place you learned to ride a bike? The place you went to school? For many of us who moved around, there is no one answer. So, after some serious soul-searching, I settled on Georgetown, S.C.
My parents live in Georgetown. It is the place I go for the holidays. It's where I hide when I am stressed and can't take New York for another minute. It's where my son, Wyatt, put his sweet little feet in the sand for the first time. It's the place I very much hope to live one day. (I just need to convince my bosses that "Sharyn Alfonsi, ABC News, Georgetown, South Carolina" sounds good.)
I am never happier than when I am in mother's kitchen, and she insists on cooking me shrimp and grits, even though I am full.
I love that my father tells any tourist who asks that his dog, Fletcher, is a "Carolina Curly Coated Retriever." Fletcher is, in fact, a standard poodle, but Dad is not really a "poodle guy."
I love to sit on our front porch and read the Georgetown Times newspaper, holding a cup of coffee. It is an outstanding paper. I love that it covers the economy and the high school homecoming with equal zest. Today's edition included a story about some men "shocking catfish" out of the water with a wire. You can't make this stuff up.
Town With a Long History
But Georgetown is a place where the waters are rich with catfish and shrimp, the streets are lined with mossy oaks, and if you know just where to look, you can find some honest-to-goodness steel magnolias.
Our family home dates from before the Revolutionary War, and since that time, the view of the town from our windows has changed over and over again.
Pat Doyle, our neighbor and resident historian, says that Georgetown once thrived with "Carolina gold." That's rice, to the uninitiated.
Changing Industries in Georgetown, S.C.
"Georgetown County produced more rice than anybody in the whole world," Doyle told me.
But after the Civil War, the rice industry collapsed. The lumber company moved in, but it went bankrupt during the Depression. In moved the paper mill and, later, the steel mill.
This year, though, the steel mill shuttered, and the paper mill cut its shifts. Jobs have moved to China, and unemployment in the city now stands at almost 11 percent. Georgetown is looking to reinvent itself again.
One hope for the city, believe it or not, is algae. Algae is a key ingredient for cosmetics, and it can even be turned into biofuel. At one Georgetown company I visited, Renewed World Energies, they grow algae in specially constructed machines, which they also build.
Growing Green Jobs ... From Algae
Tim Tompkins runs Renewable World Energies. He has six employees, but he hopes to hire 50 more soon. Georgetown's warm climate, it turns out, is perfect for algae, but that's not the reason he chose to build his company here.
"I have relationships with people here," Tompkins said. "This is home. These are the people I see every day. You know, I don't see why anyone wouldn't want to make life better where they are."
So Tompkins has committed to keeping the jobs here in Georgetown, whatever the cost. New manufacturing jobs, now growing in the shadows of those idle mills.
"I think we're going to find a way to survive and to get better," said Tompkins. "That's what Americans do. That's what the United States has a history of doing, and Georgetown is no exception."
Welcoming New Businesses to Oak-Lined Streets
Algae alone can't save Georgetown, so the city is working to bring in more tourists. It is rebuilding and lengthening the Harbor Walk, which links the city's restaurants and shops.
The city is also now appealing for money to get its bay dredged so the old port town can welcome freight ships and the jobs that come with them.
And then there's the glamour of the movie business. Turns out the city's ancient oak trees are a setting coveted by Hollywood directors. They made "Shag" and "The Notebook" here, and today, they're shooting another big movie. The town is full of so many characters, and like so many other small towns, it's just looking for its next act.
Going Home: Georgetown, S.C.
Home is so much more than an address. It's a feeling. While I'd love to open up our home to everyone, I can't. But I would like to share some of the amazing places in Georgetown with you ... and hope it makes you feel just as welcome. Small businesses are so important to our economy ... support them. I promise it won't feel like work, and I promise the good people of Georgetown will make you feel at home, too!
There are so many good places to eat on Front Street, but these are some of my favorites.
BREAKFAST: Thomas Cafe
It's where the locals eat. Try the blueberry pancakes, the fried-green tomatoes or the bread pudding with bourbon sauce. You can not go wrong!
LUNCH: Coffee Break Cafe
Ron makes the best latte in the South, and the sandwiches are to die for. Stacked high, homemade, and sweet people! A must!
DINNER: Rice Paddy
A wonderful restaurant in a historic bank building. Try the Bacon Wrapped Shad Roe served with grits. You will cry.
DESSERT: Harvest Moon
A sweet ice-cream shop, named after a Yankee vessel sunk during the Civil War. You can actually still see part of the ships smokestack in the bay, when the tide is low.
Also, check out Scotts Barbecue in Hemmingway, S.C., about 45 minutes away, or nearby Hogs Heaven.
STAY: Harbor House
A wonderful bed and breakfast in Georgetown's Historic District. All the rooms have views of the harbor and the owner, Meg Tarbox, is a killer chef.
Doodlebugs: An adorable boutique for kids clothing. Wonderful smocking for babies. I get all of my son's "special" outfits from there. Ginger will take care of you.
The Kudzu Bakery: It sells everything from grits to wonderful homemade jellies. My favorite jelly is called Frog jelly. I've assure you there are no frogs in it.
Take the Swamp Fox Tour. You'll see the jeep with the blue-and-white canopy.
Just down the road, visit Huntington Beach State Park. I challenge anyone to find a prettier beach. I love to walk there in the fall and spring, and it's better than any pill at reducing your blood pressure.
Paige Sawyer Photography: Paige and his wife, Susan, took the first official portrait of my son. Turns out those iPhone pics aren't always frame worthy. He's a great photographer, and she is an excellent child wrangler. If you're heading to the beach and want that classic family portrait, call Paige.