Being fan of public radio and, obviously Georgia, I have taken an interest in the show On Second Thought with Celeste Headlee. The stories have specific ties to Georgia and do inspire some extra thought. Monday's show was no exception.
A specific segment grabbed me by Gabrielle Ware. The segment featured the Gullah-Geechee people of coastal Georgia. Geechee is the more Georgian name, as the same people in South Carolina are referred to as Gullah. I'm including a link to the segment and I promise the few minutes it takes to listen are worth the time.
So the number is down to 48. The architecture, the language, the folklore, the community, all of it, is on the verge of disappearing forever.
This is not acceptable. It's not acceptable to me because I see this as a uniquely Georgian culture. There is only one other state in the nation that has such people. This group represents so many elements that All the Biscuits in Georgia was founded to celebrate and preserve. It's history. It's traditional. It's community. It's agrarian. It's Southern. Most importantly, it's in danger. It is likely that my children will see the age in which living historians are hired and trained to interpret the Geechie way of life on Sapelo because the last of their culture will be swept from the Earth. But we live in a time when real Geechie people can interpret their culture for us right now. And if you heard the segment, you heard a specific concern is that the Geechie people are able and willing to do something themselves to preserve their buildings and more.
I keep thinking about our way of life. These days it seems to be passed down from commercial to commercial. Our arts are nothing more than passing fads. Everything is disposable. Then there's the rat race. And in the midst of that it is easy to find ourselves thinking of the Geechies as backwards. Living in small old houses, weaving grass baskets, speaking some weird language no one 10 miles inland can understand. But listen to the story. "I'm 86 years old. Grandmother lived to be 105..." How many rat-racers are living to be 105? How many rat-racers are 86, still in possession of their faculties and leading productive lives?
Maybe we need to learn a thing or two from this culture about how to live and how to thrive.
But this story hits close to home. A few weeks ago, my sons and I set out to find a landmark. The remnants of a community populated by freed slaves. In 1871, Thomas Freeman, a freed slave and Civil War veteran of the USCT, acquired 80 acres near Lavender Mountain in Floyd County. He started a community for freed slaves that thrived. There were homes, businesses, a church. When Thomas Freeman died in 1893 he owned over 300 acres. And in the interest of full disclosure, I use a variation of Thomas Freeman's sister Martha's cornbread recipe.
Stories live on through the descendants of the residents and a historical marker placed by Berry College memorializes the community that began to break up around 1916. By 1930, the only product of the community's labor remaining was the small cemetery that held several of the former residents. Today that cemetery is hidden away, tucked in a corner behind a barn. The various stones, mossy and mostly unmarked, are all that remains of a community that likely resembled Hog Hammock. No structures remain. The people have all left in search of better opportunity. Larger cities have siphoned off the life blood that sustained Freemantown's very existence. "Opportunity", in all it's various forms, was the death knell of a unique culture.
And we are on the verge of watching that same disaster befall Sapelo Island. What a shame that would be.
Flashback to 1993.
When pilfering through Mr. Lambert's shelf of books that he provided for students to borrow, I decided on Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean. There were rumors, even forecasts, of a historic snowstorm, perhaps even a blizzard in the North Georgia area. A possibility of 18 inches of snow and several days out of school made this seem like a good reading choice.
Plans were made for my two best friends and I to spend the night together so that we could all enjoy the snow together. Enjoy. That is such a foreign sounding term to associate with snow now. I'm sure people in New York or even my beloved Maine family members might think nothing of being stuck up to their armpits in a snow drift but that stuff ain't supposed to happen in Georgia. And 18 inches of wet Georgia snow drops pine trees on power lines everywhere. It was a disaster. In the chaos that followed, I wound up returning the book to Mr. Lambert unread.
Thus began my rivalry with winter. I've never even read that book. I think I'm afraid to.
These days I don't mind so much if some snow falls while we're in the mountains on a trip or something, but I still don't enjoy winter weather at home. Cold weather is just downright un-Southern.
I'm writing this while the low temperatures for the next two days are 9 and 11, respectively. Anytime there are fewer degrees than teams in the SEC that's a problem. If I go outside and find my car door handles frozen shut, that's a problem. If the vapor from your breath freezes in front of your face and falls to your feet with a clink, that's a problem. Christmastime is over. Football season is over. Winter has worn out its welcome. Time for it to be moving on.
And we're still almost a full month from the anniversary of The Blizzard and almost 2 months away from the all clear for frost. So I shan't be trying to catch up on Ice Station Zebra any time in the next 60 days.
Instead, I'm opting to do a sun dance. No, not the film festival, I mean the opposite of a rain or snow dance. It might look a lot like Chunk the Goonie's famous "Truffle Shuffle". After all, I'm a writer, not a dancer. But if it keeps the sun out and the snow away, it's well worth any embarrassment it might require.
Stay warm, Y'all,
Most of the world spent the day trying to get their way through a regular Wednesday with silly overplayed camel jokes or some other hump day cliche.
But not ABG. No, all staff offices were closed today and no official activities were undertaken outside of this update. This is effectively an activity to document a lack of activity.
The occasion? It's the 203rd birthday of Alexander Hamilton Stephens. So, we celebrated
And while many people might find it odd to celebrate the birthday of a 203 year old dead guy, the post office will be closed on Monday.
Our celebration wasn't a blowout, which suits the quiet man we were remembering. We had one of our favorite meals, and then lit candles on a cake, and sang "Happy Birthday" which presented a challenge once were were trying to keep tempo while trying to get in his entire name. But we got it done, blew out the candles and enjoyed a piece of cake. And we remembered Little Aleck. And we remembered him for the good things he did. We remembered him in context of the time he lived in.
We remembered "The Great Commoner". The boy orphaned as a child. The statesman that plead for wisdom, justice, and moderation. The attorney that represented slaves. The landowner that took in tramps. The orator that spoke against secession but refused to stand against his neighbors and countrymen when he didn't get his way. A man so complex he was good friends with both Robert Toombs and Abraham Lincoln. We remembered the man who remembered where he came from, and who took in benefactors like he was taken in as a child. Numerous men and women, including the children of freed slaves, received a college education which the funding Stephens supplied. He was a true Georgian, s true man of the people. And we remembered him today.
And so tomorrow, it's back to the salt mines. Back to scouring the Earth, looking for pertinent, funny, meaningful, frivolous, boring, and, most importantly, Southern, things to write about, take pictures of, preserve, and remember.
We can't wait.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire