I broke my own rule Thursday night and I am glad I did. I accepted a speaking engagement inside the perimeter.
Remember how Gene Talmadge used to say that he didn’t care if he ever got a vote in a county that had a hundred feet of streetcar tracks? It’s kind of like that. I have never cared for making speeches inside the city of Atlanta. The few times I have the folks didn’t think I was cute and failed to laugh at the appropriate times — so when I have been asked over the past 15 years I have respectfully declined — although Bell South once moved a conference to a hotel just outside 285 to accommodate me.
I ain’t making this up. They did.
I spoke at the Georgian Club at the Cobb Galleria this week, to a delightful group of patrons who were interested in keeping the Cobb County public libraries fully funded. If that’s not a good reason to sail into uncharted waters, I don’t know what is. The crowd was a bit smaller than when I speak locally, or in Athens and points beyond in the North Georgia Piedmont, but I suppose my own obstinate nature is partly to blame. At any rate, the audience was warm and receptive — and quite diverse. There were Georgia Tech people, native Alabamians and New Yorkers and even a Scot — along with a surprising number of locals — born and bred in the Atlanta area — and they got me. They really did.
After I had regaled them with stories of my youth and literary background (pause here for a snicker) I opened the floor for questions. That is one of my favorite things to do. I like to find out what is on people’s minds instead of just always telling them what is on mine.
When I was a schoolteacher, in a previous life, I always ended my lectures with, “Does anybody have a question about anything we just covered?” Sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t. Either way, I would then ask, “Does anybody have a question about anything in the whole world?”
That’s where the real education began and it couldn’t be measured by any state standards or common core curriculum.
I made the same offer to Thursday night’s group and was thrilled when the person whose hand went up first had been to Porterdale and had a question about my hometown. At first I thought he might ask about the recipe for Effie Boyd’s fried chicken at the Porterdale Hotel, or her candied yams, but he had a very different inquiry.
He wanted to know why they built the mill and all of the warehouse in Porterdale so blooming close to the river. He also wanted to know the name of the river that was so blooming close to the mill.
I explained that the Yellow River was dammed up and the mill was put on that site because the water coming over the dam was used to provide the power for the mill. I am pretty sure I forgot to explain about the warehouses, but if I had remembered I would have related how the train tracks ran right through the mill yard to transport materials to and from the mill — back before transfer trucks with “Bibb — First name in Textiles” dominated the Southern roadways — and the warehouses were built right along the trains tracks leaving the mill, which was beside the river.
I forgot that part because I got sidetracked bragging about how the Osprey Mill, which nobody ever sees, was one of the largest textile plants in the world at one time and how the people of Porterdale practically won World War II singlehandedly by producing so much material for the military and by selling so many Co-Colas in the dope house.
Who would have thunk it? I spoke before a sophisticated crowd inside the perimeter and not only did they laugh at my stories — and cry over a couple — and buy my books, but they also gave me a wonderful opportunity to talk about Porterdale. I haven’t been so tickled since a guy in London told me, after I made a speech on Southern Culture, that his grandfather had been an investor in Bibb Manufacturing and that his father was born in Porterdale.
Thank you to Terri Capote, for the invitation. I have plenty of stories for a return engagement. I hope next time I come somebody asks me about the Goat Man or Soap Sally.
Happy Memorial Day, y’all. Don’t forget the purpose of the party.