Arts & Culture
Behind the Stories of our April/May 2020 Issue
G&G editors share some of what went into producing the “Saving the South” issue
Hearing Her Southern Accent
By CJ Lotz, Senior Editor
When we editors started brainstorming ideas for the Southern Heroes issue, I reached out to the author Frances Mayes and asked her what the words “saving” and “disappearing” brought to her mind as they related to the South.
We batted around a few ideas about gardens, because G&G readers adore her lovely ode to the scent of magnolias. We talked about fading sites throughout the South, and about her travel writing—she’s most known for her best-selling Under the Tuscan Sun and just published her latest book, Always Italy: An Illustrated Grand Tour.
Then she brought up the idea of accents—how there isn’t one Southern accent, but many distinct voices harmonizing all over the region. And her worry that Southern accents are, in some cases, disappearing with the next generation. So she fired off this funny and knowing essay exploring her history with accents, her current opinions on the topic, and her thoughts on the future of our regional brogues, and it struck a resounding note with readers. Here, she reads the first few paragraphs. Listen to that accent—one shaped by her childhood in Fitzgerald, Georgia, her schooling in Virginia and Florida, and her current home of Hillsborough, North Carolina (when she’s not in Tuscany)—and delight in her distinctive voice.
The Gullah Geechee,
in Their Own Words
By Amanda Heckert, Deputy Editor
In the South, perhaps more so than in other places, where we’re from becomes intrinsic to who we are. Despite the regional stereotype, I’ve never asked anyone, “Who are your people?” But for better or worse I can’t stop myself from asking someone I’ve just met, “Where did you grow up?”—not so I can pass judgment, but to see how much of a common language we might share. The bonds that may tie us, even as strangers.
If you’re where I’m from, in the Upstate of South Carolina, that might mean realizing our high schools played one another in football, or that we both had family that worked in textile mills, or that we both know the particular glories of peach season or a chili cheese a-plenty from the Beacon Drive-In. But those elements are not in immediate danger of being lost—the history of even bygone elements, such as textile mills as economic drivers, live on.
The African Americans who grew up on the sea islands along the coast from North Carolina down to Florida share a bond as well, one that is at risk: that of the Gullah Geechee culture. For decades, the Gullah Geechee, the descendants of enslaved Africans, lived relatively isolated on these islands, developing their own foodways—ones that would, in many ways, come to define Lowcountry cooking—dialects, and more. But as G&G contributor Latria Graham writes in her introduction to a roundtable discussion with BJ Dennis, Sallie Ann Robinson, and Amir Touré, three of the Southern heroes helping keep this culture alive, “the term Gullah Geechee encompasses more than a way of talking—to the descendants, being Gullah Geechee is a way of life.”
Lately, though, the champions of the Gullah Geechee have been feeling understandably frustrated. With the influx of people into the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, especially, over the past couple of decades, gentrification has pushed out many of those longtime residents. The culture itself has been co-opted and commodified by outsiders, particularly in the food world, without giving recognition or benefits to the Gullah Geechee.
Even so, there are passionate people working to combat these problems, and the best way for their stories, perspectives, and concerns to be heard is in their own words. I’ve long admired the work that BJ and Sallie Ann have done, particularly around Gullah Geechee foodways, and asked them to participate in the roundtable. They in turn recommended honoring Amir for the laudable work he is doing to keep Gullah Geechee history in the forefront in Savannah, where, among other initiatives, he leads tours.
Getting the three together took a bit of coordination—BJ would be coming from Charleston, Sallie Ann from her home on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, and Amir, from Savannah. Latria, who moderated the discussion, and I wrangled a central place for them to meet: The downtown library in Beaufort, South Carolina, which generously agreed to provide a conference room.
What followed was a frank, enlightening discussion, which you can read here. Afterward, the photographer Gately Williams took the group over to Whitehall Park and captured this shot of all four of them.
I attended public schools here in South Carolina in the eighties and nineties, and terrific though my teachers were, I recall few lessons being taught on the Gullah Geechee and their contributions. Maybe that’s changed—I hope so. But it’s also why I’m grateful for the trio’s efforts and honesty. The Gullah Geechee bond may be shared between fewer and fewer descendants these days, but through the efforts of BJ, Sallie Ann, and Amir, more people—in the South and beyond—are able to understand why their culture deserves to be respected, preserved, supported, and encouraged to flourish.
The Ultimate Comeback Story: Brown Furniture
By Haskell Harris, Style Director
Sometimes good things come to editors who wait—and wait a little more. Case in point: our profile of the legendary Boone’s Antiques near Wilson, North Carolina, was actually seven years in the making. I was in Wilson in the spring of 2013 reporting a story about the hospital-turned-home of Beth and Chris Collier, and Beth, a furniture designer who loves to mix old and new, told me about Boone’s and how antiques dealers from all over the country would camp out there for sales…in the middle of rural tobacco country.
Beth’s fantastical stories about Boone’s and all of the folks who made pilgrimages there (Johnny Cash, for one) made me want to dig deeper, and we assigned G&G contributor Logan Ward to distill the essence of the place into a feature for our readers. Logan wrote a beautiful tribute, but at the time, it looked like Boone’s might not survive. At that particular moment, beautiful Georgian wood furniture from England (which Boone’s specializes in) was at its lowest value in decades. So we decided to hold the story, with the hope that things would turn around. And turn around they did. In the last year or so I’ve been watching and covering the comeback in the decorating world. And the owners of Boone’s are starting to see it as well.
The current renaissance is likely a reaction to millennial minimalism and the deluge of cheap, big-box midcentury everything, and the yearning for pieces with real history, pieces that have survived centuries of use. And if the historic Sotheby’s sale of interior designer Mario Buatta’s prized possessions (which raked in over $7 million for many lots of brown furniture and beyond) ahead of our print date is any indication, the demand for old, good things is here to stay.
The best part is that Southerners have known this about antiques all along. And now they know about a gem like Boone’s, too.
Why These Post Office Photos Have a Special Meaning for Me
By Caroline Sanders, Assistant Editor
In troubling times, I find solace in Eudora Welty’s reading of her quirky 1941 short story, “Why I Live at the P.O.” It’s the single most delightful audio clip I think I’ve ever heard (aside from perhaps University of Georgia football announcer Scott Howard’s elation as Sony Michel crossed into the end zone at the end of the 2018 Rose Bowl). In her Mississippi lilt, Welty speaks through her young narrator who is so irked by her idiosyncratic family that she opts to move out. “And as to where I intend to go, you seem to forget my position as postmistress of China Grove, Mississippi,” Welty writes. “I’ve always got the P.O.”
Welty’s inspiration for this story, they say, sprang from a photograph she took of a woman ironing laundry in the back of a post office. In researching and writing for the “Southern Heroes” feature in the April/May issue, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Boillot, another photographer inspired by the South’s zip codes. For her master’s thesis at Duke University, Boillot traveled throughout the rural South shooting endangered and defunct post offices. In places like Sherard, Mississippi, and Harkers Island, North Carolina, Boillot’s shots capture empty window fronts, salvaged mail slots repurposed in a home, and foundations where P.O.s once stood. In them all, I see my favorite post office: Culloden, Georgia, 31016.
photo: Rachel Boillot
From 1947 to 1973, my great-grandmother Carrilee Ouzts Sanders, served as postmaster—she rejected the term postmistress—in Culloden (population hovering beneath 200). A formal, no-nonsense powerhouse of a woman, she took the job after her husband died in 1943, leaving her to raise two young children. My dad remembers visiting the post office when he was a child, exploring the stately former bank building with its heart pine floors and lofty ceilings, helping sort mail and playing amid the clerk’s desk, stools, mailboxes, and bins. Carrilee put up mail every day of the year, including Christmas. The post office was the only place that every citizen frequented, and she saw herself as Culloden’s lifeline to the world outside.
I visit Culloden only occasionally these days when passing nearby (although not quite on the way to anything, it’s only a twenty-minute detour off I-75). I’ll stop in for a plate of fried chicken at Lockett’s Kuntry Cooking and a visit to the gravesites of the generations of Sanders who once populated that zip code—including Carrilee and now, my grandfather, too. While there, I always peek inside the empty, derelict post office that for so long marked Culloden’s place on the map.
Today, though the postal system no longer holds the same place in American life it once did, it still connects us, delivering bills and advertisements, letters, packages, wedding invitations, and of course, magazines. With Welty’s warm story and Boillot’s evocative images, no matter what happens to the postal system, these post offices and their places remain alive in the Southern imagination, as they do in mine. May we always have the P.O.
Interviewing Wendell Berry
By CJ Lotz, Senior Editor
I’ve been a fan of the poet and small farmer Wendell Berry’s writing since I was a teenager, and when Garden & Gun came up with the theme “Saving the South,” I just knew Berry had to be a part of it.
I reached out to Berry’s longtime editor, Jack Shoemaker at Counterpoint Press, and hatched a plan, editor-to-editor. We approached the writer Silas House, who is also a Kentuckian and a friend of Berry’s.
Perfect timing: House had recently spent the day with Berry at his farm in Henry County, Kentucky. The two went for a long walk along the Kentucky River and saw Berry’s writing studio. They drove back roads in Berry’s truck, and he pointed out the cemetery and church that are important to his family, as well as the post office where he picks up his mail.
With this new assignment from G&G in mind, House devised a plan to continue talking with the notoriously interview-shy Berry. Instead of the usual method—recording on a device—House wrote out his questions and snail-mailed them to Berry, who responded with typewritten answers, marking his edits in pencil, and mailing them back to House.
The process showed, as House writes, “Berry’s insistence on looking at everything—trees, rivers, words, discourse—with deep care and interest.”
As we edited the piece for the April/May issue (Wendell Berry: The Poet of Place), House and I looked back at Wendell’s typewritten notes, and considered Berry’s own edits in pencil. It was powerful to feel like we were all working on this project together.
About G&G’s Jell-O Salads
By Phillip Rhodes, Executive Managing Editor
I’ve heard from so many people about our In Praise of Jell-O Salads story in Garden & Gun’s current issue—that it called to mind happy memories and even spurred some to dig into their own recipe boxes and get cooking. That’s wonderful—exactly what any editor hopes for. So I want to share a little more about how it came to be…
When Editor-in-Chief Dave DiBenedetto first began talking about a special “Saving the South” issue of Garden & Gun last year, I thought a story about Jell-O salads, like the ones so many of us grew up with, would provide a complement to all the serious stuff elsewhere in the issue. Serious stuff is worth celebrating; so is light-hearted stuff. But now that I think about it, and given the present circumstances, this story is actually more serious than it seems.
My mom, Jenny, made the Sunshine Salad you see in this beautiful photo by Johnny and Charlotte Autry a lot, though her version looked very different. She usually prepped it in an ordinary little Corning ware casserole dish, and it would wait in the fridge until she needed it for one of the weeknight suppers we always sat down to. Because no matter what, our family of four ALWAYS sat down to supper together. No one retreated from the table to their rooms to watch TV; we had one TV, and it got four channels. Mom planned the family’s meals a week (or more) in advance and grocery-shopped for them with a list organized by aisle. Dinner was what dinner was and if you didn’t like it then that was too damn bad. Take-out wasn’t an option either. We lived two miles down a boulder-strewn dirt road twenty minutes outside of a small East Tennessee mountain town; restaurants were a treat, usually reserved for Sundays after church.
So instead of a moment of gentle nostalgia, what this story turned out to be is a tribute to three important skills my mom taught me: resilience, planning for the future, and being there for the people you love. Cheers to that, and thank you, mom. We all could use a little more of those qualities—and some extra sunshine—in our lives right now.
>>Get Phillip’s mom’s recipe for Sunshine Salad
Coming soon: More stories about the making of Garden & Gun’s April/May issue
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