Autumn has reached the Deep South bringing clear, bright days, cooler nights, and beautiful ‘fall color‘ to the woods surrounding our home. We fill a whole bucket with pecans collected from Mr J’s air force base, our friends’ yard, and President Carter’s boyhood farm in Archery.
With Thanksgiving week off school, I put our children to work sweeping up leaves and pine needles for 25¢ per bag. They earn $1.50 each. It is a valuable lesson in repetitive tasks when they wake the next day to a new layer of leaves on the lawn…
Autumn is probably the prettiest time of year in Georgia and we take advantage of the milder, mosquito-free conditions to catch some unique outdoor events.
First comes our day out in Yatesville, home of the Chitlin Hoedown. We have driven through Yatesville many a time on our way to Woodbury – the setting for the Walking Dead comic books, and now home to the charming and lively Blackbird Cafe.
We have never been to a hoedown. And Mr J needs to satisfy his curiosity: what on earth are Chitlins? It is time to pull over just beyond the town’s only set of traffic lights and find out.
When I describe Yatesville as a town, it is little more than a crossroad of derelict stores; the crumbling facades of former feed stores testify to the fragility of rural economies and the power of the Dollar General.
The Urban Dictionary’s definition of chitlin tells you all you need to know: “Pig intestines, smells bad.” Defying all expectations, our ‘picky’ son is the only one who can stomach the fried delicacy…
We sit upwind of the unique and unforgettable smell coming from the kitchen and enjoy over an hour of Bluegrass music. Banjo player and Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame inductee, Gary Crenshaw, chats with us backstage as he tunes up. The humidity makes perfect pitch a constant challenge, he says. Gary invites us to his next solo concert in December.
A couple of weeks later we bundle up against the cold and drive 45 minutes to Gray, GA, venue of America’s second largest chainsaw carving event: Chaptacular. This annual fundraiser for cystic fibrosis research attracts heavy-duty carvers from all over the country, from New York State to New Mexico. We wander through the old pecan grove to watch timed competitions and marvel at the items for sale, all carved using power tools.
Finally, last Sunday we return to Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, and President Carter’s Sunday School. We continue to be amazed at how many Georgians are unaware of Jimmy Carter’s unique and intimate Sunday ritual.
Mr J and a fellow Royal Air Force officer are in uniform for a belated Remembrance Sunday ceremony. They stand to attention when the former president enters the sanctuary and each is asked by President Carter where they are stationed and in what role.
Rosalyn Carter quietly takes a seat two rows behind us. I could almost reach out and touch her… except the church is peppered with secret service agents! The Carters themselves have an air of informality – although in true Southern style Rosalyn Carter looks as polished and radiant today as she did back in the ’70s.
President Carter’s Sunday School is delivered from a personal perspective and he uses vocabulary to include of all God’s children: man, woman, Jew, Muslim and Christian. Rosalyn calls out from just behind us to remind her husband that there is a Syrian refugee in the congregation. We welcome him with polite applause. There are also a number a of Central and South American students visiting from Fort Rucker, Alabama. An Argentine Captain, born around the year of the Falklands’ invasion, is the one student to come over and chat with Mr J and his colleague. The gesture is appreciated.
After lunch with Maranatha church stalwarts, Miss Jan and Mr George, we head to Oak Grove Cemetery, Americus. Here we commemorate the life of Clarence Johnson, a British trainee pilot who died far from home in 1942. We are joined at the graveside by three representatives of the US Air Force, plus Adrian, the daughter of a local Vietnam Vet who helped us find Clarence’s War Commission grave in 2014.
It is a corner of a foreign field that is forever England.
We formally hand over our annual remembrance of Clarence’s ultimate sacrifice to a new British military family; letting go of one of the many rituals we have established during our posting… The next six months will see us letting go of more rituals as we prepare to return to the UK.
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