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Friday, November 22, 2013

A Favorite Place - Living and Writing in Woodstock, GA

Woodstock is situated on a collection of hills. The bustling metropolis of  Atlanta lies southward, and the untamed mountain world rises northward. Here, the locale is more livestock pasture than wild animal lair; although, the occasional coyote or a rare bear comes down from the upper regions to visit our neighborhoods. I prefer the gentle end of the critter spectrum.

There is a place I often drive by, and today that tranquil scene made my day again. Around Woodstock, we refer to it as "the sheep corner." The scene whispers to every car that reaches the tranquil junction of Arnold Mill Road and North Arnold Mill Road. A pastoral landscape, this place always reminds me to slow down, take a deep breath and let my sight travel the meadow that feeds two dozen sheep and a donkey or two. A crimson barn sits at the far corner. I'm renewed as I watch the slow-moving, un-agitated sheep. 

Click on  image to enlarge photo

Winter is coming and the sheep search for the last nubs of grass that are more preferable than the dry hay that will be laid out for them as cold temperatures put every green thing to bed for the season. The weeks pass. I patiently wait for that special day in February when I'll drive along and look toward the pasture. A big change will make my eyes go wide, just as it has each year. The warm sunlight streaming down will relieve my concern as I view the frosty ground dotted with bundles of white fluff--the babies have arrived, most of them. I learned from Mary Lou Reece, owner of the field, that offspring can show up any time of the year.

When my husband and I (formerly inside-the-Atlanta Perimeter-apartment-dwellers) first considered moving to Woodstock over thirty years ago, we weren't prepared for living in the country or in the presence of farm animals. Housing buys abounded here, then. I persuaded myself and my husband that we could get used to the quiet and uneventful atmosphere--I still remember the little goat corral on Highway 92, before that slim road became multiple laser-lanes and a modern strip of commerce.

Early on, when we moved into our first home neatly tucked within a new subdivision, we went to bed exhausted from the move. Dawn came and we were jolted awake by a long, earth-shattering bellow. We shuddered but pretended calmness. Something massive stomped and ripped through our backyard, mangling vegetation, snorting as it went. My husband threw off the covers and darted to the window where he yelled with excitement, "It's a steer, with horns!" I raced to find my glasses, gave up and dashed to the window. In the dim light, the angry behemoth was gone.

Ever since that brief drama so long ago, my husband and I get excited about the animals still making Woodstock their habitat. We pause. We watch. We count. Mallard, fox, beaver, blue heron, groundhog, turkey, possum, giant snapping turtle, deer and great horned owl--we've caught sight of them all, in our yard or not so far away. The natural world has become important to us. Beauty is all around. We look at each other and grin. We know there is no better place to live . . . . Sometimes, people change for the better.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Writer's Inspiration - Living and Writing in Woodstock, GA

Excuse the often reviled opening phrase, but it truly was a dark and stormy night several weeks ago when Mary Hood, the award-winning writer, formerly of this locale, came to revisit Woodstock. Despite the raucous weather, we had fun. Her talk engaged us as easily as her short stories with characterizations done in the most original, Southern ways that her readers can't help but grin and want to preserve the woman's quirky, dead-on expressions for later conversation. One of my fellow-attendees at FoxTale Book Shoppe commented to me that she was new to town and was surprised to learn so many residents are busy writing. Don't I know it. There must be something in the drinking water that activates writing genes. In reality, I think Woodstock, itself, plays a role in stirring inventive and visionary tendencies. Only a theory!
Why the bias? After spending my early years on the outskirts of three large cities, Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta, the smaller and more alluring area of Woodstock, Georgia, earned the favored spot of home in my heart. My husband and I built our lives here.
You may question whether Woodstock is as wonderful as portrayed in my novels. Yes and no. In the short span of the three most recent decades, the slow-paced town and agricultural community adjacent to  a rural highway, forty minutes north of Atlanta, transformed itself into a bustling, vibrant scene. Expansion brought its own set of problems, although soon mastered. Within area history, there are some sad stories, just as in any place where human beings interact. On the positive side, our city is blessed with many appealing features such as: a tree-filled environment that is lush and hilly, native residents who hold their arms open to welcome newcomers from all over and, finally, a boundless spirit of energy and creativity resulting in more layers of charm. These numerous aspects of inspiration can keep a writer's fingertips dancing on the computer keys.
Why novels? Well . . . I've always loved story. As a little girl I listened to my grandmother's tales, like the ones of her growing up as the oldest of eight children on a turn-of-the-century farm in Chipley, Georgia. Not exactly a girlie-girl, she often drove the team of horses while corn was loaded in the wagon. Every morning, she rose at 5 a.m. to run to the dairy barn, turn the hand-cranked creamer and clean the device, all before school. When she first married and the cotton market crashed, her young husband's frustration grew until one day when he shoved the plow against the barn and quit the crop ravaged by boll weevil and a fallen market. The couple learned of work in hotel construction, although they'd have to leave the familiarity of Georgia and be situated in a drained-swamp settlement with an Indian name--Miami. That leads me to another of my grandmother's chronicles, the hurricane of 1926. As a Georgian, she probably witnessed the quickly spun-out anger of a tornado or two. Like most early Floridians, however, she was not prepared for the frightening novelty of home-imploding gales that continued for hours. Her husband was on an important trip, many hundreds of miles to the north. The strange storm ramped up its power and battered the southern end of Florida like nothing ever seen. Seeking safer shelter, she trudged head-down with her toddler through ripping winds and sideways rain, grabbing palmetto after palmetto to stay on course. Her daughter, my mother, was blown from her grasp but found, and they made it to sturdier surroundings. Filled with dread, my grandfather raced southward, helping authorities collect dead bodies along the way. He knew nothing of his own little family. In a Red Cross shelter, he eventually found his baby girl babbling contentedly next to the cot that held his wife who battled pneumonia. She survived.
From the Spanish side of my family, we heard accounts just as harrowing. My grandfather, Manuel, was only six years old in 1892 when his father succumbed to yellow fever. One year earlier, the family of four had left Spain on a sailing vessel and spent most of those twelve months in Mexico City watching their brief business venture fail. On the return trip to Spain, they docked in Cuba where the mosquito-borne disease raged, and the family was torn apart by death. Manuel, stranded with his destitute mother and sister, forfeited schooling to begin a lifetime of work, initially as a lonely, mistreated house servant. Later, he learned to play the mandolin and eventually made it to Tampa where he rolled fine cigars for a living. Each day, a person seated on a platform read literature to the large roomful of men cramped over their delicate work. I imagine that great storytellers like Cervantes, Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens chased away the tedium contained in the room and soothed the ache radiating from each worker's crooked neck and upper back. Their diversion also included the daily newspaper, front to back. Such was my grandfather's education in the school of hard knocks. Naturally, with his offspring, he gave academics a position of importance. In a reversal of fortune, his six children (the WW II generation) received post high school training or college, which resulted in successful careers. The two daughters became teachers. The males also flourished: a business executive, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force who later served at the Academy, an electrician and a science teacher.
Those kinds of family stories laden with personal struggle and resolve never left me. When I came to this place that became "my town," new stories reached my ears and filled my heart. My narratives begged to be set in Woodstock--hence, my novels.  
In this blog, I hope you've enjoyed hearing about Woodstock, Georgia, history and especially about the people who left their stamp on the attitudes, structures and direction of a locale. Thank you for your interest over the months. Visit us! There is so much to see and do. For me, I'll be taking a break from posting blog articles. Other writing projects call me.
For now, this writer, plans to keep her pen inky and her keyboard letters worn and fading. I wish you many of your own intriguing tales in the future, and I hope you never lose sight of those meaningful stories from your past.   Your Woodstock friend, Patti Brady

Photo of Woodstock Public Library--Our spacious library with a modern design reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century train terminal is the perfect place to meet, browse or get lost in a book. The building is centrally located and relatively new in a series of four versions popping up through time. A striking prominence with a background of poplars, oaks and sweetgums, the land was donated by a Woodstock benefactor from the Johnston family. In our city, reading has been valued since early times. The former, small population produced some scholars, mathematicians, a physicist, a doctor, businessmen,  engineers and even a statesman in Federal government to name part of the array.

Photo of the interior of FoxTale Book Shoppe - This establishment is a favorite addition to Woodstock, starting in 2007. A constant stream of well-known authors mesmerize the audience that flocks here, even from so far away as Big Town. The serene decor will make you forget the summer heat or winter bluster outside. The owners, three women oozing individual talents, will have you laughing at one of their anecdotes or will gently guide you to a new treasure on the shelf. Don't miss this reading spot, located next to city park and the gazebo!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Somebody's at the Door - Living and Writing in Woodstock, GA

I have a very sweet husband, although the manly type. As an independent businessman, he's had people try to pull the wool over his eyes. They seldom succeeded. But throughout this same period, he's also been a "softie" to anyone selling anything at our front door, things we don't need. He feels for people striving to make a way for themselves, and he admires hard work. In regard to women these days, most make a point not to answer an unexpected, ringing doorbell.

In Woodstock of long ago, door-to-door salesmen were viewed differently by the farmer's wife. Unlike modern women, she wasn't flooded with junk mail advertising, endless internet commerce or enticing stores on every corner. In 1910 Woodstock, you could go to the Chandler-Dobbs store to buy a casket, or Haney's Store to purchase overalls. At Dean's Store you could even enjoy a fountain Coca Cola (an unopened jug of really old but bona fide syrup still sits on the shelf). Yet, a niche remained unfilled by those establishments. Earlier, beginning in 1879, the railroad made up for the lack of uncommon goods, by trickling in the occasional salesman with his satchel full of wonders able to make the daily labors and ailments in a woman's life easier to bear. Her own little bit of commerce, her egg money, came in handy. Lodging for the salesman--he had numerous farms to visit--was a simple fix: a room for rent. When money became tight, or the cotton crop failed, or the man of the house died, some of Woodstock's turn-of-the-century in-town homes made adjustments and served as boarding houses at one time or another. Outside town, women were stuck on the farms except for a Saturday trip to their modest, little city and on Sunday when they rode in a buggy the short distance to church; so they looked forward to visitors, even a salesman, who would break the monotony of their duties. Nearby, husbands or sons kept an eye out for flimflam techniques. Justice could be swift. Imagine the wares a smart salesman displayed for his potential customer. Nothing practical, like the items she could find in town. Mainly those things that would spark a woman's need for beauty, novelty and a little work relief.

A knock at the door meant a break in her humdrum day. 

All door-to-do business is not so pleasant, as you know. The charming memoir of Mary Howell came into my hands recently. Her former home is now Beverly's Day Spa, and she is still appreciated by older Woodstock natives who remember her. Others also can't help but love this woman they've never met except in her true-life story. Humble, funny, self-deprecating, she had her challenges with sales-folk, even calls herself "green," that polite country term for naive. Mary once gave money to a man who claimed he worked for a well-known department store in Marietta and was taking orders for new shoes at 25 cents a pair, hard-earned money back in the late 1920s. Actually, he fooled everyone for a day or two. Several folks decided things didn't add up, so to speak. Suspicion grew. Someone got to a rare rural phone and called the store to check his story. Then the sheriff took charge. Another incident concerned some Gypsy women who tried to fleece Mary. She was living a few miles out, in the Mill Creek area, when she fell under the spell of their unique lace doilies and table runners, although proficient at tatting, crochet and lace making, herself. I can picture extroverted Mary distracted by their fine work and a discussion of needle arts as they wormed their way inside. In her memoir, she confesses that she felt vulnerable with these "big" women inside her house. Her husband was away at the cotton gin. Eager to get them down the road, Mary made some selections and told the Gypsies she had no money, a suggestion to barter. They replied that they would take three hens as exchange. Almost robbery! Still, Mary was about to feel better as they drifted toward the door, but one of the women wanted more. Beside the pretty hens, they carried out three pints of blackberry jelly and four quarts of pear preserves.

Yes, she was duped and she'd be chuckling if she were still here, today. Obviously not one to take herself too seriously, she's given us a glimpse of the old days and we're grateful. And she's prepared us, too! I don't make preserves, and I'm not about to let go of the company's-coming-beef-roast tucked away in my freezer. I also know how to be blunt and brash when I need to be. . . .But for you: Good day, gentle reader.

After a lack of sales and no money for his lodging, it appears a hawker of bubbles bolted during the night, leaving only a note and his poorly received product as payment. Didn't he know scented Parisian soap rather than ordinary bars from Buffalo, NY would have slowed him to a shuffle because of the resulting coinage in his pockets? Not a tale from Woodstock, but it's likely something similar occurred at one time or another.

In 1935, Mary Howell and her husband, Luther, moved into town. In 1943 they purchased this home that many associate with the couple and their two daughters. Mary was involved in her church and had many friends. For a while she taught ceramics in a small studio out back.

Patti Brady is a member of Preservation Woodstock and author of the Woodstock novels.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Wise Physician - Living and Writing in Woodstock, GA

Thoughts of the physicians life have occupied my mind lately. My recent interest is a result of reading local-writer Polly Craig's compelling work, A Medal for Dr. Mary. The book is a stellar novelization of the life of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker of Oswego, New York. An intrepid woman, this true heroine was one of the earliest female physicians in the U.S.  She bravely served during the Civil War as a battlefield surgeon. Of course, after I learned of her, my focus turned to her Woodstock contemporary, W. H. Dean, a country doctor and somewhat a pioneer, himself.
W.H. Dean began shaping this town when it was only a scattered collection of farming settlements probably in desperate need of a doctor. It wasn't until the 1838 land lottery, that most of those first settlers arrived. The train hadn't cut its way through, yet. The community wouldn't qualify as a city for almost six more decades, in 1897. William Hiram Dean, born in 1824, raised in DeKalb County, graduated from the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta. His association with Woodstock becomes apparent about mid-century when he, a young man of twenty-six, joined Enon Baptist Church (later renamed First Baptist Woodstock). In 1862, he was ordained in the ministry. . . . Doctors have extensive knowledge of that mysterious and infinitely complex but orderly miracle--the human body; so it's not surprising that many who practice medicine possess sensitivity to God as well. When W.H. Dean wasn't saving the community from physical maladies or tending to his spiritual flock, he invested smartly in several small properties about town. Church minutes show the people had deep respect for this humble man who could foresee Woodstock's potential.
Dr. Dean's only son, William L. Dean, carried on the family occupation, a good one because every town treasured and venerated their doctor. Over time, several followed in this line of work--Van Sant, Boring, Freeman, Perkinson Sr. and Jr., Whitfield and McAfee--in the early years. The demand for medical attention was always high. Agricultural communities were susceptible to more than the usual diseases that made the rounds. Physical labor and antiquated machinery come loaded with pitfalls. Everyone knows the sad story of Mr. Kemp (long-ago owner of the home that Ipps Pastaria occupies today). While putting up fencing, Mr. Kemp scratched his hand on barbed wire. He sickened, developed blood poisoning and was dead within the week, despite all the dedicated efforts of Dr. W. L. Dean. In 1904, antibiotics were a thing of the future.

If you really want to take a time machine to the past, visit Dean's Store to see the medical bag once carried by the doctor and hear the rest of the story: his sensible decision concerning his wife and six children as his own health was failing due to a stomach ulcer. Today the ailment is a fixable condition, back then, not so much. Also, request a look at Dr. Dean's patient logs. Once you get past the Latin and French references, such as NOX for worsening condition and accouchement for childbirth, you will have your facts sharpened about the difficulties of living in those times and about the constant need for medical practitioners. . . . Thankfully, our town has always had its share of wise physicians.
Some Venerated Doctors of Woodstock Past:

William Hiram Dean, M.D., Rev. (1824-1912)

William Lemuel Dean, M.D. (1857-1906)

T. J. Van Sant, M.D., selfless warrior during the flu epidemic of 1918

 James R. Boring, M.D., Woodstock mayor in 1915

A Favorite Woodstock Physician of Today-

Dr. Michael Litrel - Our favorite commentator on family life is due to deliver, not one more patient's baby but another entertaining book. His essays have registered with our funny bone, touched our hearts and, sometimes, shaken us with their wisdom and courage. With this new effort, his wife, the talented Ann Litrel, will add her thoughts in response to his writings. Over the years, she must have had the composure of an angel, trying to create a home and raise two sons while her moves were affectionately chronicled on paper. Well, we women applaud her for a job well done, and we can't wait to see what she has to say! Be on the lookout for this new reading pleasure.

Patti Brady is a member of Preservation Woodstock and author of the Woodstock novels.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cracking Mysteries - Living and Writing in Woodstock, GA

I've noticed something about human nature. One aspect of our composition occasionally makes us wonder if everything is truly as it seems. That's how certain stories are able to tug at us and leave us eager for revelation. Sometimes the news is good. Sometimes the news is bad. In any case, mystery has power like creek mud, sucking on your waterproof boots until little water oddities swimming about captivate your thinking and you lose interest in traipsing off to dry ground.

A thrill tickles the mind when mysteries are solved, like the one cracked by our town historian. Juanita Hughes is an inquiring sort of woman, always scurrying here or there, pulled by some bit of history that intrigues her. She was designed for unraveling knots, making connections and drawing conclusions. Not so long ago, she did just that after poring over a historical document copied from a beloved, now deceased, Woodstock citizen's papers. Ms. Hughes was hooked by the description of a Civil War banner reportedly sewn by the women of Woodstock for the local military Company called Cherokee Dragoons. That word dragoons is derived from French and means heavily armed mounted troops. Despite what a few people may have imagined, today's Southerner considers the conflict to have been the South's folly. Regardless, we also believe the story  must be preserved. By the way, the report Ms. Hughes read was not signed, but she recognized the penmanship. W.H. Dean (1824-1912) physician and preacher, helped shape Woodstock, and she's read everything she can find that he wrote. When she encountered his handwriting again, the little document instantly earned some gravitas.

So where had the banner gone? Was it lost in battle where it rotted in some field? Had it burned in one of Woodstock's house fires of olden times? Might it be packed away in one of the attics of over a dozen architectural relics about town? Well . . . there were no thoughts of cie le vie in Ms. Hughes' mind. She wasn't about to let the puzzle go unsolved so easily, but all she had to go on were written details, the Company name and their motto--no picture shed light. Her determination and her awareness of the merits of internet research brought success! Who knew that the flag, donated by a descendant of the Dragoons, had been on display alongside artifacts of South and North, fifteen minutes away at Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park Museum. I wonder how many Woodstock natives visited the museum over the years, unaware they walked right by embroidery woven through silk by their great-great granny or long-ago aunt. 

The motto reads: "Either with it or upon it."

Now I have a little mystery for you. Many of Woodstock's increasing population are from somewhere else. It's time for them to be indoctrinated into one of the town's architectural secrets. Have a look at one of my favorite buildings below.


Yes, you've seen that 1908 structure with ornamental brickwork decorating the roof line, situated at the corner of Main Street and Towne Lake Parkway, across from the town mural. Our historian says one of the town's last hitching posts, positioned on the long side of the building, escaped the scrap heap until modern times. Don't you just love the name Samson and Delilah Antiques? Well, let's go inside . . . .


Wow. There's so much to see--those old gramophones, china of yesteryear, charming figurines, antique furniture, delicate linens and so on. The ceiling, it's so high. Everywhere I turn, there's something to snag my interest. Hours could be spent here. But wait. . . . Things may not be what they seem. I sense an air of mystery. What's that in the far left corner? Let's go look. . . .


Interesting. I'm not referring to the hanging tree of hankies or the white fedora. Look instead at the elaborate metal molding of the outer door frame . . . and that strong hinge that must have held a weighty door, now gone. . . . I wonder what strangeness waits behind that inner portal. . . .

No, you haven't fallen into a Stephen King novel. . . . On the other side is a closet-size vault. Stacks of money once sat on the shelves. This turn-of-the-century building served as the town bank many decades ago, a monetary establishment  that held steady during the Depression. Now you know one of the hidden town secrets. . . . Sh-h-h-h-h. Don't tell. 

.Patti Brady is a member of Preservation Woodstock and author of the Woodstock novels.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Women Drivers, Oh My! - Living and Writing in Woodstock, GA

We women drivers are not so bad, really. Many are actually quite good and enjoy handling a car. A psychological study would probably show that our affinity for driving stems from all that horsepower managed by the ball of our little right foot. Yes, I'd say it's downright thrilling. Accepting our lack of big muscles, we find our enjoyment in being car-strong. Now I don't advocate speeding or reckless driving, but it is fun controlling two tons. We also happen to have a few abilities unique to women, ones that suit driving. First, who can lickety-split hull three dozen strawberries while flipping crepes in a pan? Our superior wrist agility suggests excellent steering wheel control, wouldn't you say? Second, who can step on a bug quicker that we can, which hints at our good braking reflexes. Finally, it's common knowledge that a woman can spot a child misbehaving from fifty yards away. That's why our sharp vision easily apprehends the occasional, approaching, vehicular miscreant and so we drive defensively. Just, let's curb the urge to holler some motherly correction.
Recently my habitual Woodstock inquiry revealed that women have always had a penchant for motoring. For instance, the young woman in the picture below is a good example. Delicate appearance, right? Sheltered and retiring, it would seem. Well, Edna Haney should make all capable women smile.
In 1905, after her high school graduation, Edna McCleskey married Dave Haney (in photo), a successful Woodstock farmer and businessman. The old Haney home still sits on Main Street, across from Linton Street. Edna loved to take care of her family and to read. Her life was not a long one due to illness, but until then, she led a robust life and delivered seven children. According to the family chronicles, Edna was one of the first women drivers in Cherokee County, and one could speculate that she was the first in Woodstock. The record states that sometime in 1913, Dave came to the decision to buy a Model T, which came with driving lessons. He insisted the transaction would be completed only if Edna received training also. We'll never know the instigator of this stipulation, but I imagine demure-looking Edna to be the one. To my surprise, this turn-of-the-century lady became very proficient at driving.

At times Edna planned trips to Atlanta where she liked to purchase cloth for sewing. I imagine Dave would watch her trundle off in the auto while he scratched his head at her willingness to launch out. It was no easy trip, traveling on rock-filled dirt roads from Woodstock all the way to Fancy Town; the journey plus errand probably required an entire day.

The Haney family history tells of one such occasion. After Edna left, the day became stormy. As the hours progressed and turned toward dusk, Dave began to worry. His Edna was nowhere in sight. The red-clay roads must have turned into sludge; and worst of all, as each tired driver neared Woodstock, he had to climb the dreaded Noonday Hill on what we still call the Canton Road. I know . . . you've never noticed that hill. That's because our modern-day automatic transmissions hardly allow us to regard elevation changes. Instead we glide in our cars upward as we listen to music or plan dinner, barely aware of the mechanical exertion taking place. Not so, in those old-timey autos.

Well . . . poor Dave probably pictured in his mind Noonday Hill and a line of automobiles as well as wagons and buggies stuck at the bottom or floundering up the muddy ascent. So he took off from Woodstock, hoping to aid his girl. The Haney history implies that when he arrived at the hilltop, the family vehicle already sat there. He must have searched for Edna because the history states that he looked down at the next vehicle climbing the slippery incline. Who was behind the wheel? His capable Edna. There she sat doing a good deed, dealing with someone else's clutch and gears and easily managing the power beneath the ball of her little right foot. . . . Oh Edna, if I had lived in Woodstock then, how I would have loved to know you.

Patti Brady is a member of Preservation Woodstock and the author of the Woodstock novels.

Woodstock as it looked when Edna traveled through town in her Model T. Notice there weren't any women out. Too much work to do at home! Perhaps the poles in the background are telegraph wires.  Transmission lines for electricity did not arrive until 1925, so people relied on kerosene lanterns. Main Street was paved in 1929. The scarcity of cars and the smooth surface made Main Street a favorite place to roller skate in the 1930s.

Edna's 1913 Atlanta destination for her cloth purchases.

Wonderfully Capable Woodstock Women Drivers of Today

As she drives, it's certain Ann Litrel's artist-eyes are always scanning the landscape for visual inspiration. No one has portrayed Woodstock on canvas as masterfully as she has.

Lauren Lester enjoys the freedom driving gives her. A transplant from New York, she says the drivers here are a little more polite. Keep up the good work, gals. 

Stacy Crabtree is a hardworking, homeschooling mom.
She is an Auburn grad; the emblem shows proudly on her car. 

Sidney Droesy, a student at KSU, has a dog named Mojo. While driving, she listens to music but doesn't use her phone then. Smart young woman!