I looked up and saw the grin. Immediately, I caught my breath and I remembered - picnics under the tree, Grandma Franklin, the Elvis moment - all surfaced. I gasped. She gasped. And the rest was a reunion of best friends.
My memory has never been too favorable; there are jabs at the past, flashes of light that will illuminate certain moments. At this age, flashes of light are favorable. I need jabs. I need reminders. The grin was my jab.
It had been at least 35 years since I had seen Sharon Franklin. She lived in Woodstock; I lived in Clarkesville. The summer brought us together as she would spend three months with her Grandma Franklin on the hill in the little brick house underneath the towering oak tree. I can't for the life of me tell you how we met. All I know is that we were inseparable. We were besties before besties were cool. We swooned over Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, vowing I would marry Bobby and she, David ( I think Peter Frampton was in the mix somehow?), and we'd be happy forever. Instead, she married Ricky, a pure stud in Habersham speak. I was jealous. I started college with no Bobby in my future and certainly no Ricky along the way. Sharon settled down with Ricky, made babies and well, our lives drifted apart. Until last Saturday . . .
You never forget those who make you feel good about yourself, those that just make you so stinking happy. Sharon make me stinking happy. Our hot summers spent in the shadows of Grandma Franklin and the old oak tree prepared us for life, although we had no clue that that was happening. Those summers taught us to delight in the simple things, the beauty of best friends, the wonder of really old people, that laughter cools just like lemonade, that going places is overrated, and jumping sky-high on beds won't bring down the house. True friendship requires bed jumping and lemonade sipping and secret sharing.
Last Saturday, Sharon smiled and I cried; I felt Grandma Franklin and mama doing their happy dances in heaven for the girls were back together. Time and geography may have separated us, but in a split second, we were back on the hill, underneath the oak tree, running silly. We exchanged numbers, and I promised I would not let time separate us again.
My book has given me earnings that weren't penciled in my contract. I got to return home, to hear heart-felt stories of how much the community loved my mama and daddy, to be part of a family again and visit with relatives that I miss so much my body aches, and this - for this reason - I am most thankful; I made a new best friend with my old friend Sharon.
Tonight, I am pondering Georgia or North Carolina. Which one is it?
I've spent the last week immersed in North Carolina's Yadkin Valley, the lush green soy-beans/grapevines/tobacco mecca of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Rolling hills which obviously furnish these plants with the nutrients required set the stage for a simpler way of life that many have left the Fort Lauderdale's and New York's to find. Walk in any shop in Elkin or Mount Airy or Dobson and you'll understand the excitement which propels these shopkeepers on a daily basis. They laugh. They smile; no, they grin - that lippy grin that can't suppress the joy that lives deep down. They've found it here. Miss Angel and Ed Harris and Tony Bowman understand and hope you will, too, once you eat the freshly prepared heavenly treats, sit upon a hand-carved leather saddle, and praise God in person while thousands listen out there in radio-land.
That was yesterday; tomorrow begs the question, Georgia or North Carolina?
Georgia whiskey or Carolina moonshine? The war of words and spirits has raged since prohibition reared its ugly head in the early 1900s and continues today while the now legals still allege their dominance. Then, there's cars . . . Which one raced cars lightning fast around those snaky mountain strips of road and escaped the suits? Which is the purest? Which is just rot-gut crap? It all depends upon who you talk to, I imagine. Tomorrow, I'll get to meet another legend, Junior Johnson. We'll talk and he'll know quickly that my allegiance lies within the peach state; I'll give North Carolina a chance, but you'll never out-shine my Georgia.
No matter where you leave your heart, we do have this in common: it lives in the South. Our deep abiding, soul-inspiring, can't get enough of my South. It's a place where pumpkin pie ice cream is a reality, and it is so good that you'll forget about all the rest; where sonker makes sweet ice tea seem rather ordinary; where French, American or Italian grapes are the choices and they are all correct; where you perfect your mama's skill of monogramming and change the lives of an entire generation; where you can make history simply by what you choose to do with corn, water and sugar.
And these stories are only the beginning. On warm summer evenings like tonight, I can't believe how lucky I am.
Get all your ducks in a row before you get started. I've heard that advice from most writers in my life, and now, that's exactly what I'm trying to do. Get organized. Figure out a road map. Get fueled up. Then, write.
Getting fueled up means getting the facts. Digging and researching and letting your mind explode with all the tiny clues that lead up to the big reality. It's a process that if not followed, will lead to many blank stares and hollow pages. As an editor, I hate that; as a writer, I hate that more. I'm trying to avoid that and learn from those who excel at this process much more than I.
With that in mind, our first event - an evening with the Lovells at The Old Pal in Athens. Carlos (Master Distiller) and his brother Fred swept through the crowd like long-lost friends and converted many to whiskey drinkers. Lovell Bros. whiskey, that is. And never far from her father is Carlene, the woman he entrusted to make his life-long love a legal reality. There's lots more about their story in the book, so consider this a tease.
My discovery and point is this: that each new journey contributes to who I am as a writer. Each time my eyes burrow into newspapers and my ears attend interviews, the big picture is sharper. The people that I have met thus far on this journey are incredible and already, this is already proving to be one of my greatest undertakings. At the end, the content will not have changed me, but it will have definitely made me more cognizant. Knowledge is imminent, but so are the relationships. It's the people you meet along the way - the historians, the sources - that make the path to publishing so rewarding. As far as relationships go, I consider Carlene to be one of my latest and greatest - a sidekick and friend in the nick of time.
I explored the Clarkesville Library yesterday and met the amazing historian, Bill Raper. Six hours passed at the blink of an eye and that was only the tip of the iceberg. Not only is he sharing his personal stories and documented facts about this Habersham County, he's also providing me a look into my past. How wild?
So here we go. Today, UGA. Tomorrow, UNC. The next day, who knows. I look forward to meeting the liaisons from everywhere and adding them to my list of comrades who seek to preserve the past for the future.
last february, i had this bright idea. it involved writing and its evolution of stored dreams (and word docs).
like most writers, i have writing archives, where dozens of beginnings to manuscripts and a few completed ones spend retirement. for those that skipped that stage of its life and were sent out to demanding editors, these chapters are stapled with their rejection letters. most writers possess them, a necessary part of process that i have fully come to accept.
today, i am a writer. that's my job (enter snoopy doing his happy dance). this part of my writing journey - the years that didn't involve endless pages of interpretive thoughts on great works of american literature - began at least 20 years ago in the romance genre. i was going to be a romance novelist; after all, it was romantic. and i had seen romancing the stone a million times, and i had known how the plot would end. i was searching for my own jack. i faithfully joined georgia romance writers, attended the meetings, even joined critique groups, but something just didn't mesh. i loved every second of it, but i could never write the end. i finally got the message: this isn't your genre, judy. find another way.
and so i did. i sat down and tried to figure out what i loved most in this world. and then i heard my mama's voice. the stories, the history, the truths she imparted on a daily basis, much that fell upon deaf ears. i loved travel, people, the past, old people, quirky stories - those stores you just can't make up. stories that will die if these deaf ears continue to be oblivious. and that is where you find me today - traveling and discovering unique tales of a people who make destinations so darn interesting. and in my travels, i met carlos.
long story short, i fell in love with carlos, his story, his family, his life - and as a writer, you should never let anything like that ever go to waste. so i'm not.
so i took the idea and submitted it to a publisher. in may, a publisher said, "i like this. maybe it will work."
part 2 of snoopy's happy dance!
now, it's july, and i'm not only in the heat of summer, and in the heat of the process. my path to publishing is real; the contract has been signed and returned, and i've had time to do some mind-processing (one of my workflows, i've come to discover) and it's time to buckle down. it's odd that you spend a lifetime dreaming of this moment, and now that it's here, you're scared senseless. time flies. sources evade. sure ideas wither.
so with an anticipated publishing date of august 2015, i'm hot on the trail of the following: moonshine in the mountains, north georgia mountains, old folks, young folks, copper stills in the moonlight, revenuers, spirits, carlos lovell, distilleries, recipes, new folks who can't get enough of those old folks, - and none of that rot-gut stuff allowed (carlos says so), etc. you get the picture.
first stop, the libraries: university of georgia, university of north carolina, clarkesville library,etc. next stop, well, i haven't figured that out just yet.
i invite you to come along on this pathway. for on the days when i just need to vent and explode - with words that have nothing to do with moonshine and history - i hope to find you here, exploding with me.
thomas wolfe said, "you can't go home again." for the most part, i think he's right. right in your twenties, your thirties and even your forties. but in the high noon of your life, when you find yourself alone in a big house and it's the memories that must offer contentment, you remember. however, yesterday, i got out of the big house and took the green jeep home.
my current project took me to mt. airy, a small town near clarkesville where i grew up. mt. airy and its sidekick cornelia were always where the rich kids lived, so needless to say, most of my friends were not from here. but, habersham was a small county with one high school, and clarkesville, cornelia and mt. airy kids were heaved together in the new habersham central which today has been replaced by a newer habersham central - conveniently located across the street. at one point, cornelia turned into mt. airy before you could shift from third to fourth gear. it's the home of lake russell, where my daddy (kimsey) and his brother (lamar) spent their last afternoon together, fishing. on the way home, lamar's heart gave out and daddy recovered the truck just in time before the huge oak took his own life.
this is the time to visit the north georgia mountains. they are especially beautiful in the fall with the leaves on the verge of turning. some have let go and whip through the air. i'm not sure what melds with the leaves in the wind, but i know it's enchantment and my memory explodes.
i hopped in the car with susan, headed to a girls halloween party at the lewallan's house way back in the woods. i tagged along with daddy to the trout stream after he watched the county truck go by to stock the river. i played baseball with ricky in the front yard, often opting to be the cheerleader so i could run (my first dramatic role) to him when he was hurt. i watched mama skillfully sew my newest dress on her mama's pedal singer and then turn the reigns over to me so i could learn, too. i walked behind daddy in the fields, dropping corn as he guided besse the mule in the straight-and-narrow. i ran up and down the front sidewalk after daddy added it so mama wouldn't have to get her feet wet walking to the mailbox. i helped daddy plant the magnolia by the garage apartment and wondered how in the world that little thing could possibly be a tree.
that sidewalk went on forever years ago; it seemed like that magnolia tree never grew. perception is everything, i suppose. today, i look with grown up eyes and mountains of experience, longing to return to running up and down that walkway, or to become that child whose daddy was superman and the master of my happiness. i miss them so much it hurts. i miss the simplicity that comes along with mountain living. i miss the learning experience i had each and every day of growing up - i wish i realized then how rich i was.
yes, thomas, you can go home again for god has provided mankind with a beautiful memory-machine for moments when yesterday is out of reach. i can go home again, and i will, every chance i get.
Whether it is exploring this amazing world or being content on my own piece of real estate near Athens, Georgia, I'm spinning stories and fashioning tales from a Southern perspective. As an editor and writer, I get to meet incredible people and share their stories. As a photographer, I get to cement these moments in time. As a wife and mother, I'm always excited to see what's around the next corner, For it's anything but ordinary.