The case took wings as though it was as light as a feather. Flying through the air, daddy swerved the car to dodge the light blue bullet. It landed with a thump, rolling a couple of times before landing in the grass. "Stop," I screamed at daddy. "Let's get it." Knowing that you never pass by anything of worth, daddy pulled over onto the shoulder as we watched the car that once carried the case snug on its roof disappear into the horizon. It never slowed down; never paused. In my little girl mind, it was fate; the case was meant to be mine.
I bolted from the car as mama and daddy followed. I picked it up as if it were glass, taking care not to disturb what was inside. I held it tightly to my chest. I couldn't wait to open the latches to see what treasure was inside. For a split second, I felt sympathy for the lady who, around sunset, would discover she no longer had a traveling case and what was inside would be forever gone. That second passed, for now, whatever it was, was mine.
Mama grabbed it from me. "Get back in the car," she said.
I was devastated. I not only wanted, but I needed to see what was inside.
I sulked all the way to our cabin in Hiawassee. I pouted the entire night. Not once did mama open the case, or even offer to let me open it. It was a weekend of ignoring the case. I was mortified.
Sunday night, we loaded the car and traveled back home. The little blue case was shoved into the trunk, right beside my suitcase. "Open me. Open me." I couldn't stand it.
Before we went to bed that night, mama called me into her room and there it sat. On her bed. Top open. "Come look."
Inside was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Pastel pink. Chiffon. Ruffles. A long-flowing nightgown which I immediately held to my chest; it even had a little jacket. It whispered of a lady. In a pouch, lipsticks and powder, and even a mirror. I touched everything. I felt the softness between my fingers. All I had ever know was cotton; chiffon only lived in the movies.
That was the last time I saw its contents. The case was emptied and placed in the garage among things that were no longer needed. There it sat - on top of the pile - for the rest of my days.
Today, the case rests on top of other oddly shaped, nostalgic suitcases in my hallway. Every time I pass by, I remember the day it came into my life. The excitement that was born. The beauty and mystery it brought. I keep it as a reminder to keep that same childlike wonder inside me every single day. Granted, that's a stretch some days; but others, just seeing those silver latches makes me smile. I call it my "ten year old Grace Kelly moment." It was then I realized that suitcases + travel = chiffon. Who can deny that rationalization?
It's the best Saturday postal delivery ever!
In a small brown box, six copies of North Georgia Moonshine arrived via my postman in his little red Jeep. The first copies to see the light of day. They were all mine.
Surely, I would rip open the box, but no. It was a slow, savoring process. Securely wrapped in brown paper was the dividend of my last year. I touched, and as any book lover will do, I smelled. Then, I turned to my favorite parts. True, there were sections I wrote because I had to, but then there were the sections I wrote because it was the natural story. The narratives that painted a picture of a man and his legacy. A memory. A history. A story. If pushed, I probably could recite the entire book; I can't count the times I have read the finished book in one sitting. However, my favorite sections still give me chills. As a writer, you know when you nail a line, when the words are balanced in order and time. I nailed quite a few. I still read and ask, "Did I write that? Man, that sounds good."
It was just about this time last year that I switched from low to high gear and began working night and day putting words on the page that would tell a man's life story. It was a real test. This time, no procrastinating would be possible for I had signed on the dotted line. I had to do what I had never done before - finish the book.
I interviewed scores of people, recorded thousands of hours of interviews (and then transcribed them all), read dozens of books, drove thousands of miles to find experts, scoured through archives and captured thousands of photographs - all in the hopes that each little tidbit would contribute to the final story. Some did. Some did not. To this day, evidence of work remains: a tower of books sit on the floor beside my desk, a crate of notes and rough drafts shoved underneath the far corner of my desk, hundreds of files remain on my hard drive. What do I do with them now?
I am proud of the story and the finished product. It was hard work, probably some of the hardest work I've ever done. I hope those involved will feel the same; if not, I still have to be proud of myself, happy with the chapters I wrote, the stories I told, the photographs I captured of a family whose story is fleeting. The story, both the good and bad parts, is complete. And that's all any writer can hope for - a complete story. I have come full circle, and I am a better person that I was a year ago. Not that I'm a better person, but I have fulfilled something that was nothing more than a dream before. I finished the book.
I am a writer; better yet, I am an author. I did it. Yes, Judy, you did it. Enjoy this moment.
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.
my inspiration wall - pegged with people from my past. the v.k. hill sign sat on top of my daddy's mailbox for as long as i can remember. i found it in some of mama's boxes the other day, and decided, it should never be put away. he will be my inspiration as long as i live. so here he is - in front of my eyes.
it's amazingly cool this august morning. to have windows open in august - in georgia - basically unheard of during what is referred to as the most miserable time in the south- summer. humidity, we're not afraid of you anymore! at least not this weekend.
as a writer, i understand atmosphere. it's a writing aid. it gets my story and my characters in the right mood to do something note-worthy. i think they will agree that a breeze blowing is definitely reason to celebrate. i'm closing in on the magazine deadline, but wanted to sneak in a word or two here. really, just to clear my head of the civil war and bring it closer to home.
time for tea and then back to deadline. my inspiration is awaiting my return.
It's Easter weekend. although it's cool, spring is coming on soon, and I can't be more ready. My thoughts have been living in the past for most of this week for unexplained reasons. Possibly, the popping of the pear trees, the azalea blooms warding off the cold, the aroma of spring floating through the air. and i think of mama and daddy and spring in Clarkesville.
Right around this time of year, I always observed black dots in our pasture. Newborns. dropped whenever time came. Nothing made daddy prouder than waking me way too early in the morning and squealing to "come" see our newest baby calf. He loved on the mama cow and made sure she was as comfy as possible. and he didn't take his eye off the baby until it was on all fours. He was a good daddy.
On Good Friday, we always planted our garden. This meant hours in the field, driving the mule, dropping the corn, and complaining a lot. However, I didn't complain months later as I slathered butter on my perfectly formed ears of sweet corn. I strangely forgot about the heat and the dirt. I still try to plant my few tomato plants on Good Friday, a long way from the ten acres I walked as a child. I thought everyone planted on this exceptional day. If you were southern, you did. Occasionally, I forget that everyone is not that lucky.
It was the sunrise service on Sunday morning that always tested my faith. Rising early on the weekend never made sense to me, but on this weekend, it did. In the middle of a golf course, on the tallest hill around, church members watched the sun squeak over the hill. I grumbled, but that defined my Easter. Then, daddy and me would rush home. Id put on my bonnet, my froufrou of a dress and my always too-tight shinny black shoes, and we'd head to church. As I grew older, I sang in the choir - sans froufrou - and it was always the most spectacular song for that morning. After the service, the three of us would then return home where Sunday dinner and laughter would season that day and all the ones that would follow.
My rote movements through the years, I'm afraid, have failed my parents and myself for that matter. I still survey pastures this time of year for the arrival of black dots, and I can't help but smile and remember daddy. I try to plant when the weather allows, but I have left behind the sunrise service and songs of resurrection. I can't say why, only that I know it's not as I had intended. I watch, I listen, I inhale the heralds of spring and I remember. I stand amazed at how years change us, how circumstances mold us, and how what we think will never vanish, always does. Although my stirrings are quite different than before, the hollows those early traditions carved in my heart remain. There's not a day that goes by that I don't recall from where I came and know that with a little effort and inspiration, I can be back on that tall hill beside daddy watching the sunrise.
American Pickers on History Channel yanked at my memory this week. They were pickin' one of many outbuildings that every true Southern old-timer has sitting behind his house (and beside it, and in front of it, etc.), and they came upon something unique. I don't remember the exact item, but the hosts, Frank and Mike, asked, "Where did you get that?" The man lowered his eyes and his chin and said, with all the seriousness he could muster, "At the gettin' store."
I had forgotten that phrase. My daddy had spoken that many times when he had been questioned by this over-eager youngster who marveled at whatever daddy held in his hands. I had drilled him incessantly for the scoop about a what-cha-ma-callit or a thingy-ma-bob. Where did you get this? Each time his answer remained a carbon copy of the one before. I had never thought to consider that that answer served a single purpose: to shut me up.
My drilling never halted with a single question but continued until I hoped to uncover the location of this utopia. I wanted to see with my own eyes, the treasures, the finds in this gettin' store. Where could it be and why was it hiding? I would continue to interrogate, and by golly, I would wear him down until he would let me climb into the cab of his pea-green Chevy, Doris. We would thunder down to Main Street, and we'd find the parking space dead center of the front door. I would be there. At the gettin' store.
We never took that ride, for usually, something else would grab my attention and I would forget seeing past my own fingertips. It wasn't until we would uncover the next spellbinding trinket that I would become obsessed with that mystical wonderland all over again. My query would echo once more. That store must be great, I thought to myself. I can't wait to go.
On our farm in North Georgia, there was always a chore that had to be done, a machine to fix, a garden to plow, so going didn't always fit into the calendar. Nevertheless, no matter where he went, I would tag along with daddy, always with a curiosity that held endless questions on my lips. Daddy was always patient, never became angry or aggravated with me, and, there would always be an answer.
Answers are a mystery, even to some of life's simple questions. We avoid them, dance around them, skirt them, negate them. But where daddy was concerned, there was always an answer to the eagerness of my life. He made sure of that. And maybe, he wasn't trying to shut me up after all, but rather trying to satisfy an evolving curiosity with an explanation. No matter if his answer included the elusive gettin' store, I always knew I could count on daddy for every answer, every time.
It wasn't the gettin' store, but it was one of the few outings I had with my daddy that wasn't attached to the farm. He was a man of few words, but those words formed the answers to every question I ever raised. I loved my daddy, and he loved me - more than anyone ever has or ever will.
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.