Our Georgia history is rich
By Carole Townsend
We live in a fabulous state, all things considered. The weather is pretty near perfect, if you can overlook the brutally long, hot summers. They beat the brutally long, cold winters in upstate New York, I can tell you that.
There are live green plants in the landscape here year-round. I never knew that some people endure months on end with nothing but dismal grays and browns to look at, until I left Georgia for a short while. I went to school in Nashville (which was great), but then I moved to New York City for three months and seventeen days. And eleven minutes, but that’s another story entirely.
The people here are a little more laid back than people up in the Northeast are. While it’s true that many of those Northerners came down here for school or work and just never bothered to leave, even they seem to mellow after a few years of endless sunshine, deep blue lakes, serene forests, inviting coastlines, rolling hills and a healthy (but not overdone) use of the word “y’all.”
Incidentally, a friend of ours who moved here from Syracuse a few years ago dropped the word “y’all” into a story he was sharing recently. He didn’t even realize he had said it until he saw the looks of confusion on our faces. We thought he had said “y’all,” and that was shocking enough, but the way he pronounced it was more like “yozz,” kind of a hybrid stepchild of “y’all” and “yous.”
Our conversation came to a screeching halt until someone (me) was brave enough to chuckle at our friend’s unintentional faux pas. Once he realized what he had said, he laughed so loud that we all got to laughing again. “Y’all” just doesn’t sound right unless it was born in your mouth, does it? And it doesn’t sound right when it’s intentionally over-used, as in the case of our favorite Savannah cook, does it? It sounds forced or, in her case, it sounds like a marketing tool.
Anyway, I love the South and everything about it. It’s true that the region has some dark and shameful pages in its history, but even those melt together to form a sort of hospitable, warm, quirky, sometimes tragic but mostly beautiful story. I make my living writing about her, and it’s work that I cherish. Researching the history of the South, and of Georgia in particular, is a labor of love for me. The more I learn, the more I understand how very little I know. With each book comes a new opportunity to unearth some fascinating gem, or a strange and unbelievable story, or yes, even another painful story of the crimes against humanity that took place right here on red clay soil.
Just today, I was having a casual conversation with a woman at my hair salon (the one place on earth a wife and mom can go and not be disturbed except for the most dire of emergencies). We were talking about my books and our shared love of Southern history, and she asked me a question. “Have you ever heard the story of…” she asked me, and no, I said, I hadn’t. She began telling me the stories, the mysteries, the rumors and whispers that have been passed down for generations. I couldn’t wait to get home to my trusty Mac and do some research of my own. Sure enough, there was the story. The mystery. The pearl inside the tightly closed oyster. The possibility so strange that it just might be true. And just like that, I have the fascinating foundation for my next book.
And so it begins, the joyous process of reading, interviewing, poking around and asking questions. This is the part of writing a book that I love most. People fascinate me. The things that we do fascinate me even more. Getting people to talk to me, to tell me what they know about these things is a still greater joy. And when all of that comes together – the reading, the poking around and the interviews (conversations, really), the tale that is spun of all that rich gold thread is a thing of great joy. At least, it is to me. I’m happy to say that there are some readers out there who happen to agree with me, who are happy to take that journey with me, breathless to see where it begins and how it ends, usually all too soon.
I have spent countless hours in the dark basements of historic county buildings and libraries, reading dusty old books and thumbing through public record files. I have spent still more hours in conversation with folks who saw something, or heard something, or with those who actually lived something. I have literally dug in the dirt of the north Georgia hills and picked cotton in the fields of south Georgia, all in the name of getting the story right.
With all those research tricks up my sleeve, do you want to know what the best source of all that priceless information and lore is, hands down? It’s not the books and public records, though they are of great value. It’s not libraries or the Internet, though I use both when researching old stories and delectable legends. No, it’s the longtime residents of an area and yes, you heard it here first: it’s small town, southern-bred attorneys. Both are veritable vaults of information, remembered well and tinged with likeable humanity. I have learned this through trial and error, and I have practiced it because I have a true love of the hand-me-down stories people tell.
Some stories survive the generations for a reason.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.