Cast Iron Magnolias
By Sam Burnham
One of my favorite stories my Grandpa told me was about visiting his grandmother on her 100th birthday. His knocking was no able to get her to the door and this concerned him. He found the door was unlocked and went in to check further but she was nowhere to be found. He heard a strange noise from the back yard and went to check. He walked through the back door just in time to see an ax come crashing down upon an upright log, splitting it into two pieces. His grandmother bent over to toss the suitable segment aside and then upright the log for another whack. Grandpa intervened asking what she was doing out there splitting wood. Her response? "They say it's going to be cold tonight."
And so I come to think about the famous Southern tale of Steel Magnolias. M'Lynn, Ouiser, Truvy, Clairee, Annelle, and Shelby were truly strong women, different from each other but a strong team together. I don't mean for this to be a rebuttal of their brand of strength or in any way cheapen the portrayal of strong female fictional characters. Instead, I want to highlight just a slightly different level of strength in women from my family and from history who, in an age filled with discussion of feminism, have shaped my thoughts on strong women.
As we start, there are stories today of women qualifying as Army Rangers and the Pentagon has cleared the way for the "first" American women in combat roles. I have to think that the road to this decision was at least partially paved by the numerous women known to have fought in disguise in American wars, including on both sides of the War Between the States.
I also have to mention the stories of two women that fascinate me. They are folklore heroes who actually have some evidence suggesting that the stories are, at least structurally, true. Molly Pitcher and The Warwoman. Both of these women, as well as others, played a role in fighting the British that did not relegate them to behind the lines service.
Molly Pitcher's story of heroism and leadership in the American Revolution at the Battle of Monmouth is somewhat supported in the identity of Mary Ludwig Hays by a annual veteran grant of (1822) $40 "for services rendered".
Then there's the Warwoman. The stories suggest that Nancy Hart would not have won any beauty contests. She was no Disney Princess. She was, however, a determined and capable frontier woman during the Revolutionary War time period. Her legend became so famous and impressive, a Confederate infantry unit named themselves The Nancy Hart Rifles. She worked extensively as a spy. It is also believed that she participated in the important Whig victory at Kettle Creek. The legend grew from stories like this one from New Georgia Encyclopedia:
"The most famous story of Hart's escapades as a frontier patriot began when a group of six (some accounts say five) Tories came to her cabin and demanded information concerning the location of a certain Whig leader. Only minutes earlier, the Whig, hotly pursued by the Tories, had stopped by the Hart cabin and enlisted Hart's aid as he made his escape. Hart insisted that no one had passed through her neck of the woods for days. Convinced that she was lying, one of the Tories shot and killed Hart's prized gobbler. After ordering her to cook the turkey, the Tories entered the cabin, stacked their weapons in the corner, and demanded something to drink. Hart obliged them by opening her jugs ofwine. Once the Tories began to feel the intoxicating effects of the wine, Hart sent her daughter Sukey to the spring for a bucket of water. Hart secretly instructed her to blow a conch shell, which was kept on a nearby stump, to alert the neighbors that Tories were in the cabin.
As Hart served her unwanted guests, she frequently passed between them and their stacked weapons. Inconspicuously, she began to pass the loaded muskets, one by one, through a chink in the cabin wall to Sukey, who had by this time slipped around to the rear of the building. When the Tories noticed what she was doing and sprang to their feet, Hart threatened to shoot the first man who moved a foot. Ignoring her warning, one Tory lunged forward, and Hart pulled the trigger, killing the man. Seizing another weapon, she urged her daughter to run for help. Hart shot a second Tory who made a move toward the stacked weapons and held off the remaining loyalists until her husband and several others arrived. Benjamin Hart wanted to shoot the Tories, but Hart wanted them to hang. Consequently the remaining Tories were hanged from a nearby tree. In 1912 workmen grading a railroad near the site of the old Hart cabin unearthed a neat row of six skeletons that lay under nearly three feet of earth and were estimated to have been buried for at least a century. This discovery seemed to validate the most oft-told story of the Hart legend."
Do not cross the Warwoman of Georgia.
We can add to these stories:
My maternal grandmother who gave birth to six children and helped raise three others. She has buried her husband and three of those children while somehow maintaining her sanity. After losing her husband, she had to sell the farm that was their dream home, a home cut from the scrub brush and sedimentary rock of central Florida with much sweat and toil. But sell it she did and then set out to make a new future for herself. And she's done quite well in the endeavor.
My paternal grandmother had her own struggles. In the end, her doctors told us that she was living only on her will to live. There was no medical reason for her to be alive. Shortly thereafter she told me in her living room that she had 20 more years in her and roughly 20 years later, she decided it was time to go. And so she did - but not one minute before those 20 years were over.
My Aunt Tecola was about as small of a person as you'd ever expect to meet. She'd weigh about 110 pounds if she were carrying two five gallon buckets full of water. But I don't doubt for a minute that she could carry two five gallon buckets of water. She buried her only children in their childhood. Then she, and Uncle Sam, for whom I am named, played a role in raising several of their nieces and nephews, specifically my dad. A chicken in my Aunt Tecola's yard could go from clucking and eating bugs to fried and being eaten by her and Uncle Sam in a matter of a couple hours. And no one touched the chicken in that process but her. Kill it, clean it, cook it. Who needs a grocery store? Not her. A 90 pound woman snapping a chicken neck with one hand is impressive.
And then when my Uncle Sam was in the hospital, lying on his deathbed, the nurse came around to check his vitals. She placed the stethoscope on his chest and he looked up at her and this six foot six inch mountain of a man told that nurse, "You won't find anything there ma'am. Tecola took that 60 years ago."
These are a few of my "Cast Iron Magnolias". Women from historic folklore and women I knew who became part of our family folklore. When I think of strong women, these are the women I have to offer in comparison. When I talk about how a gentleman should treat a lady, it's not because I think women are weaker or less capable. I have first-hand evidence otherwise. On the contrary, I think women should be treated with honor and respect because they deserve it.
So if you see me scoff at Lena Dunham or Joy Behar, it's not because I am misogynistic, it's just that I have really high standards.
A Business Model
By Sam Burnham
I was back in Atlanta for an appearance on GPB's On Second Thought on Friday. Afterwards, I headed back over to Home grown GA for a Comfy Chicken Biscuit and also to talk to Kevin Clark, chef and owner of that establishment. After my review of Home grown, he had contacted me wanting to talk.
I can't imagine meeting a friendlier or more personable guy anywhere. He spoke of his employees and his customers as if they were his friends and neighbors...because mostly they are. He pointed out that people were happy to be there. It wasn't like North Korean propaganda. He was really stating the obvious. The dainty fork, coffee, and egg flowers on the logo are not some feel good facade. They represent the place as much as any image can.
But down to business. We talked about a well-known chain that can be found in the area, and likely in yours as well. This establishment, like many others, has signs reading "Please reserve booths for parties of two or more". He explained, in modern business spreadsheet style there is a formula to figure out how much money a seat is worth. One person at a table for four is costing the business three seats worth of cash. "I don't care about that" was his feeling on the formula. He stressed that he trains his employees to pay attention to the guests to the point that if someone returns, they get recognized and treated accordingly. For him, the business is not about formulas or spreadsheets. It's about people. If his customers are happy with their experience, he is happy. And as counter-intuitive as that sounds, he's running a successful business. He's making a living with happy employees and happy customers.
This all goes back to many experiences over my life that have taught me this simple business model: Provide a quality product or service, buy and sell via deals that are good for all parties involved, treat employees and customers as if they are important (because they are), and run an honest business.
This business model is not a secret. I'm not pretending to be promoting an idea I hatched in the drone of the tractor the other day. This is the business model that made Truett Cathy and Sam Walton very wealthy men. It's the business model used by the company that employed my dad in my youth. It's the business model a former employer of mine used to run a successful business out of a shed in his back yard for over 20 years without a business card, much less a web site.
No, what I'm sharing is not new. But it is the way of ABG to pick up something that hasn't been used in a while, dust it off, polish or paint it, and offer it up to anyone willing to look. So here it is, a fool proof business plan that has been used by people with household names for centuries but is quite neglected by large businesses in America. Use this plan. Do business with other people who use this plan. No matter how big your business gets, be too small, too friendly, too service-driven, too successful to fail.
The Beginning of Helen
By Jennifer Perren
It's rare that I get to play tourist here in Georgia and I haven't spent much time in Helen. I have vague memories of a drive through when I was small on a trip to visit a friend of Mama's actually named "Helen" I thought that was funny. Anyhow, it's our own little "alpine village" but it's oh, so much more. I won't even begin to fully relay the experience, of this mountain gem, but I will let you in on a couple of the highlights from my latest and more memorable trip.
Anna Ruby Falls - The drive up - to the hike - up to the falls is just as beautiful as the hike and falls. You twist and curve around through Unicoi State Park and right now in the Spring, all I could think was a little poem I came up with for the season
"bianco, viola e verde"
Purple, white and green,
that's Georgia in Spring
The morning that I went up was crisp and sunny. There is a 1/2 mile paved trail up the the falls, easily navigated. I didn't need even need my walking stick, well, not for hiking - daddy would have a fit if I was alone and unarmed in the woods, even if it is a paved trail. The falls are great and one of many beautiful waterfalls that we have here in our great state. I can now check this one off of my list.
I'm here in the mountains for a purpose, my little neice, Avery, has a birthday on this day and since I am the President of the Procrastinator's Club International, Georgia Chapter (meeting tomorrow) I need to buy her a gift. I'm basically wasting time until her party later today so, I'll stop in at the Nora Mill General Store.
Nora Mill General Store - I walk in and this place is just so *pretty*!!! I adore it. I'm thinking, no way I can afford any of this darling stuff. All kinds of handmade, home grown, just beaufiful items that appeal perfectly to an old soul like me. I'm peeping price tags and whattayaknow? I'm able to get my neice a tin full of sea animals that she can toss rings onto their noses while she's in the bathtub AND my sister an apron (her birthday was last week) that says "You're doing it Wrong". I know her husband will thank me for this. It will save her from actually saying this to him. She will only have to point to her apron now. All of this, and the lovely shopkeeper giftwraps both things for me, for under $25.00. I will reserve my rantings about any large retailers for a later date and just say, that when you are in Helen. Stop in at Nora Mill. All this hiking and shopping and I'm starved. Downstairs is pizza.
Nacoochee Village Tavern and Pizzeria - I think Nacoochee means "great bourbon selection" in the Cherokee. I kid, it actually means "bear", but they do have a great selection here. I knew that I was gonna love this place when the first thing I noticed was a big ole' bottle of Virgil Kaine out front and center on the bar - and the Fireball was buried somewhere down below. My kind of tavern. I only had water, as I'm a lady and we don't show up to 3 year old's birthday parties smelling of bourbon. At least not on Sunday, but I thought I'd make note.
Yes, the is a pizzeria, and yes, I am part Sicilian, and I have a deep emotional bond with pizza - don't judge me. It is not often that I have found a great slice here in The South. Something that I will say, the north is just much better at - forgive me, but I'll call a spade a spade. BUT I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the menu and saw that the bear Tavern has my all time favorite topping, green, yes people, green olives. I'm thrilled when I get my slice and it's the best I've had since I was in Mystic, CT last year at the world and cinema famous Mystic Pizza. Yes, I'm in love.
What made my experience here even better though was, of course, the people. Marcus and Andrew the bartenders and the other beautiful lady with the lavender hair, (I didn't catch her name!). They made me and everyone at the bar feel welcome. I gathered from conversation that a few there were tourists here in Georgia, it made me proud to see our Southern hospitality at work. Everyone happy and laughing and "at home". Everything a neighborhood tavern should be.
Shop small. Tour your home state. Make a friend at the bar. Even if you have stuff to do later in the day, you can still take a hike.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire