Janie Slater, White Fence Realty

Archive for the ‘Past Columns’ Category

At Christmas, All Roads Lead to Home

In Past Columns on 10/05/2009 at 5:33 pm

All roads at Christmas time lead to home.

Snow Covered Country Lane

People ask me all the time if I”ll be traveling over the holidays. I say, “Yes, we”ll be going home.” “Where”s home?” they ask.

Where IS home?

Cleve and I are working hard to create a home together for us and our kids. Last week I sang along with Christmas tunes on the radio while I swept the kitchen. Oh there”s no place like home for the holidays... Carolina broke in, “Yes, there is! There”s Mimi”s and Grandmama’s!” She didn”t want any part of staying at her “home” for the holidays.

Cleve says our home is his refuge after a long day at work. But we both know that our home in Alpharetta isn”t our “home” in the deepest sense of the word.

What is the deepest sense of the word?

On one hand, home is tied to a sense of place. A town”Metter. A landscape. A house:”the old homeplace.” Even an ecosystem: the pine barrens (Have you read Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Raye? You need to.). Some place where you”ve clocked in a lot of time in your life and created memories. It”s roots. Where family stories were created and are retold year after year, generation after generation. It’s a place filled with the smells of freshly plowed sandy soil, fresh baked pear tarts, fried catfish, boiled peanuts, and clean spring rains. It’s a space filled with the gentle sounds of the wind blowing through the tops of tall pines, whippoorwills before a rain, the distant hoots of owls, and noisy buzzy summer nights filled with the symphony of many creatures small and smaller.

On the other hand, “home” is people: those you love and who love you. “Home is where Mama is,” Cleve wisely concluded one evening after discussing the concept at length. Home is only home because that is the place where you were loved, or fell in love, or maybe if you are really lucky, both.Home is a place filled with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends and neighbors, and years of memories, both good and bad.

At the innermost heart of it, “home” is just that”of the heart. An intangible, a feeling , a collection of memories. A sense of belonging somewhere. Acceptance not for what you”ve done, but for who you are. Home is the place of refuge and safety, where worldy cares fade, where things and people you love become the focus. To our soldiers in Iraq (soon to include my nephew Stephen!) and Afganistan, thoughts of “home” this time of year are both precious and painful. As you enjoy the holidays in your home wherever that may be, let’s keep those who are keeping our homes safe in our thoughts and heartfelt prayers.

I”ll be home for Christmas. “Country roads take me home, to the place I belong…”

(originally published 21 Dec 05, Metter News & Advertiser. By Janie Mercer Slater)

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Champions Among Us

In Past Columns, Writing on 10/05/2009 at 5:17 pm

I didn”t know there were such things as National Champion Trees before I received a book of outdoor adventures for Christmas. Byron, Georgia, just south of Macon on 75, has the National Champion Blackjack Oak Tree, meaning it is the largest tree of its kind in the entire country. So I wanted to lay my eyeballs on this tree.

It”s a bummer when a book on outdoor adventures prints wrong directions. But that”s what happened. So the kids and I chased a wild goose trying to find this tree. It sits in the churchyard of Byron United Methodist Church. When we pulled in, I was looking for something the size and impact of, you know, the Eiffel Tower. Instead, we finally asked somebody and they pointed to the right tree. Standing beside it, it was impressive. Kind of. It”s a tall tree with a thick trunk. “Is this all?” asked Carolina. “You mean we drove all this way to see THIS”!” echoed Joseph. “Hmmm,” I muttered back, studying the tree with narrower eyes, hoping it would transmit some wisdom back to me. I waited for something deep to strike me.

Nothing. Frankly, my first thought was that the old oak tree outside Evergreen Baptist Church outside Metter is much more of an impressive “presence.” But the fact is, this tree is a champion. Using a point scoring system of four criteria, it beats out every other tree of its kind in the nation. It doesn”t matter how it compares to the trees around it”or to the Eiffel Tower.

On the threshold of a new year, it”s fitting to consider the concept of what makes a champion–of someone. Like the champion trees, champion people can go unnoticed and unlauded. People doing amazingly selfless and sacrificial acts who will never make any national, or local, registry (many, at least, not this side of heaven). Like the Blackjack Oak we visited, unless someone points them out, and says “it”s at least 20 feet taller than any other of its kind,” we wouldn”t take notice. They do not draw attention to themselves. They”re simply busy being the best that they can be — soaring above the rest, quietly.

The lessons of this champion Blackjack Oak: Stop making unnecessary comparisons. Realize you will hear occasional voices around you saying things like, “Is this all?” — these voices don”t make you any less who you are. Use the resources God gives you and grow where you”re planted. Champions don”t spring up overnight — they”re a lifetime in the making.

Back at home, I did some digging and found that Metter has a National Champion Tree. The National Champion Yaupon holly tree grows in the Guido Gardens! Guido Gardens also grows the Georgia Champion Common Apple Tree. The Georgia Champion American Sycamore grows here in Metter, owned by Robert Bell Jr. The Georgia Champion Bradford Pear is in Aline, owned by Jack Martin. Wow, all these unnoticed, unsung champions among us. Who knew?

For more information about Champion Trees, visit the Georgia Forestry Commission website at http://www.gfc.state.ga.us and do a search on “champion trees.”

(originally published by Metter News & Advertiser 18 January 06)

“Charge!” Living Reenactments offer Thrills for Youngsters

In Past Columns, Writing on 10/05/2009 at 5:03 pm

History comes alive when people reenact past events. You get to see and hear and richly experience what it must have been like to live and breathe then. Simply reading about history often leaves us wanting.

Cleve reawakened the lurking redneck in me by suggesting one day that we drop in on the Battle of Resaca (Civil War) reenactment. What a thrilling, if tragic, spectacle it was! Jo and Lina (our kids) stayed big-eyed and engrossed while the dramatics played out in front of them in living color. You won”t believe how “real” it feels to stand outside on the rolling countryside in Resaca and hear the artillery fire, smell the smoke of cannons, and listen to the rebel yells.

Civil War Reenactment-Confederate-web

The reenactors are professionals. They study the food, clothing, grooming, utensils, tools, and weapons of the period down to the details for authenticity. Confederate soldiers enter, marching, behind you, led by the general on horseback. You notice Yankee activity on the far hill. And before long, all (er, hot-place) breaks loose. Cannons fire. Gunshots pop and crack. Smoke blankets the landscape. Men fall. Carnage. War. Hell, indeed.

And my heart breaks at the sight and at the loss”on both sides. In every color. Blue and Gray. Black and white. Death, and loss, for all.

I”ve participated over many years past in a reenactment of a different sort”a sloppy, thrown-together, often haphazard improvisational exercise known informally as the Bagwell annual Christmas drama at my mom”s old homeplace in North Carolina. The 13 children of 7 sisters and brothers on my mom”s side of the family formed the cast. We reenacted the Christmas story told in Matthew chapters 1 & 2 and Luke chapter 2. Sheets were costumes. Cousins and siblings were shepherds, angels, and wise men. Once, (to my now horror, mind you) my Aunt Bertha”s dog, Bridgette, got forcefully thrust into the role of baby Jesus”which she played awfully. Our (then) goofy cousin, Mark, asked to play the “worm” one year (you won”t find that one in the gospels). We accomodated. Never was a role more suited for anyone.

Somehow, amid, and in spite of, missed cues, fumbled lines, chuckles, and a dozen red shades of embarassment, something came alive. The Truth of Christmas. Much ado about a baby. Surrounded by an ordinary, unlikely cast of characters. Jesus came to earth for the likes of”us. And my heart rejoiced every time (and does still) at the gain–the gift offered to all people. Life for all. Every color. On every side of every human conflict. No one is left wanting.

Plan Ahead. Here are the details: ” Battle of Resaca Reenactment, Resaca, Georgia. More info: http://www.georgia division.org ” (Closer to home: Fort Pulaski outside Savannah offers reenactments throughout the year.)

(Column originally published by Metter News & Advertiser  16.NOV.05)

Easy, Breezy Tybee

In Past Columns, Writing on 10/05/2009 at 4:56 pm

Every year about this time I feel the lure of the ocean. The weather warms, the days lengthen, my bare feet itch for the feel of sand and surf, and my chalky-white skin screams, “tan me, tan me!” When I”m knee-deep in the routines of life”kids (husband included), bills, meals to fix, house to clean”I often find myself daydreaming of Tybee. There is something about Tybee that is just so…right.

Cleve and I have traveled to Destin and Panama City and Daytona and so on and so on. Those are some fun beaches… some of them beautiful. But Tybee is Tybee. No frills. No consumer-crazy mess (yet). It”s not overdone or overrun. I don”t have to try to look like anything or act like anything at Tybee. I can just be my own cut-off-jeans-and-t-shirt sloppy self. And it”s easy. Just park at the 14th street parking lot right next to the pier. Everything essential is right there”bathrooms and food. I like easy. Kids are absolutely in their element at a beach, aren”t they” Think about it: wide open spaces, endless sand, which means endless play, the constant rhythm of the waves to distract and delight, and they have your practically undivided attention. All I usually do is just sit there mindlessly watching them and everyone else with my mind lazily chewing on passing, random thoughts like a cow chewing cud. Carolina or Jo-Jo will occasionally look over to make sure I”m watching them, which I am, while my mind is far away considering the routes and destinations of cargo ships leaving Savannah”s ports, or remembering some scene in a Hemingway novel, or puzzling over how Chloe uploads such complex information into Jack Bauer”s PDA so quickly, thus averting national disaster”every single week.

I enjoy the wide open mental space the beach affords. Space to drift and mull things over. With virtually no shopping distractions (like at the mall), I get to really people watch at Tybee, too. I”m always amazed and refreshed by some people”s inhibitions. There is always the woman who, despite her obvious long-term affinity for things akin to Krispy Kreme donuts, nevertheless dons the two piece bikini I could have barely pulled off in high school. And there she walks, looking like a sack of taters bound by two slim scraps, as if it was the most natural thing in the world to do. My hat”s off to you, fearless woman! You couldn”t pay me enough to do that. Only by force”with sedation or mind control (again, I”ll make reference to Jack Bauer) of some sort. But it is for this very reason that I admire anyone who would so boldly march up to societal norms and brazenly slap them in the face. Just fearlessly be yourself, I lecture myself. Every year.

Tybee isn”t your place to brag about. (snootily: “We just spent a lovely week at our condo in Destin.”) But it”s a place to be your real bare-bones self”without pretension or fuss. That”s why I always can”t wait to get there.

For oodles of info on fun at Tybee, including the upcoming Arts & Crafts Festival on April 22 & 23 or the July 3rd fireworks on the beach, go to http:\www.tybeeisland.com.

(column originally published 19.APR.06 by Janie Slater, Metter News & Advertiser)

Wild Abandon…For Boring People

In Past Columns, Writing on 10/05/2009 at 4:48 pm

No way. This guy can”t be thinking of jumping, my mind was screaming.

Big boulders were everywhere. And only a little pool beneath the guy. I turned to look to my husband for consensus. His eyes riveted on the dim-wit, he said simply, “Oh no, he jumped.”

I heard the splash. I was afraid to look. But I did. And in a mili-second the jumper was up and swimming to shore like an Olympian. Bragging rights in tow. He had jumped from a rocky overhang some 20 feet up and was quickly followed by two of his buddies. Obviously there was a “spot” the locals knew was deep and safe enough to plunge into.

Wild abandon is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes, it”s the price of adventure.

This scene repeated itself the remainder of the afternoon along with other foolish-seeming acts showcasing something between bravado and recklessness. But what fun. Everyone young and old seemed to find their repressed playfulness here. Even Cleve caught the bug of wild indiscretion and took off to climb up adjacent to the falls and walk-wade across the top of the falls. Throughout the afternoon, Cleve and I alternately frolicked like kids in the creek or sunned lazily on the flat boulders.

The creek below (and above) Dick”s Creek Falls outside Dahlonega offers plenty of small-scale adventures for kids. Wading through the creek at ankle (or sometimes knee) depth, our kids (four- and six-year-olds) explored, rock-hunted, and splashed for several hours. My heavy pockets attest to the number of “neat” and “pretty” thumbnail-sized rocks to be discovered in the creek. Children have only themselves, the great outdoors, and their boundless imaginations to entertain them here. And it”s better than Nickelodeon. Bookoos better. After a day of creek-wading, rock-hopping, and hiking, we were ready for the sure-fire good eats waiting for us at Caruso”s Italian Grill on Main Street in Dahlonga. Then it was off to Connie”s Ice Cream Parlour for some cold treats. Wild abandon, even as it pertains to the realm of the edible, after all, is not necessarily a bad thing.

Directions: Dick”s Creek Falls sits at the junction of Dick”s Creek and Waters Creek.To get there, go north from Dahlonega approximately 13 miles on US 19 to the paved Mt. Pisgah Church Road on left (.5 miles before reaching the junction of US 19 and US 129 at Turner”s Corner). Turn left and go 2.6 miles to the falls which will be on the left (FS 34). The road that parallels the creek provides perfect bike-riding terrain for the kids. Plenty of campsites abound for overnight, tent adventurers.