Of Gardens & Guns

When Hubby and I took the family on vacation last week in the mountains of north Georgia, we stayed a week with his parents at their house in the Big Canoe private community, located in the Blue Ridge mountains there. I brought my September issue of Vanity Fair for poolside reading. I also like to get a sense of local news, politics and lifestyle cues when I travel, so I decided to get a local publication. While we stopped at the IGA supermarket just off of Steve Tate Road in Pickens County, to pick up supplies, I saw something at the newsstand that stopped me cold. There is a magazine there called Garden & Gun.

I had to have a copy. Not only is the name a trip, but the cover also teased an article by Rick Bragg, a very talented writer that I like to follow from time to time. Upscale Southern culture is what Garden & Gun appears to be about. That figures. Nobody wants to see Southerners offensively rendered as ignorant, Confederate flag waving, hayseed Appalachian dwellers, who only aspire to own a full set of teeth. What comes to your mind when you say “the South?” Thanks to popular movies and miniseries like Roots and North & South, I think of shooting, heat, bugs, and snakes. But I also know that the South is very diverse, and there is a lot more to appreciate than good cooking. Garden & Gun did not let me down. It had impressive features on land preservation, a profile on Lexington, Kentucky, plus great articles music and the who’s who among Southern designers. And yes, there were a couple of articles about gun culture, mainly write-ups involving high-end hunting rifles. Garden & Gun reinforced what I already knew about the region after having written about real estate development for several years. There is money in the American South. It drives the region’s higher-tiered architecture, fashion and music, and goes a long way toward supporting its underappreciated artisan culture.

Hubby’s parents live in a private community that defies a lot of those common perceptions about Southerners. High in the Blue Ridge mountains of north Georgia, their community attracts permanent families from all over the U.S. I met retirees who once lived in swanky towns near my hometown in North Jersey, and we ran across several British families who had swapped homes with Americans for their vacations. Almost everyone is educated, well-traveled and seem to be fairly open-minded and friendly people.  Many of them are older Americans whose adult sons and daughters have married outside their culture or are gay and partnered. Whether we are splashing around in Big Canoe’s private pool, lakes and beaches, or out in the local towns, no one gives Hubby, Baby and me daggers. I like to think it’s because everyone is open-minded about our situation, but let’s be honest. Unless these folks strike up a friendly conversation about a recent trip up to Cape May and their son or daughter-in-law from another culture, they probably aren’t interested in being progressive. They’re just minding their Ps and Qs to avoid an unnecessary scrap.

It’s just as well. I’d rather talk about local history. For instance, The Tate family owned the land that makes up Big Canoe today and then some. Stephen Tate, the marble mining industrialist, is probably the best known of the family, because he started the mining that brought attention to that area of Georgia. There is even a 19,000-square-foot mansion called the Pink Marble Mansion, because it uses a lot of pink marble mined from the area.

My father-in-law treated the eight of us to a relaxing afternoon lunch at a restaurant in Monteluce, a new neighborhood built around a vineyard in Dahlonega, Ga. All of the buildings there are rendered in Old World Tuscan architecture. But this is America, where we have a lot of space and we like things big, so a lot of the “cottages” actually looked like Tuscan McMansions. Anyway, Monteluce is another one of those unexpected treats that seem up pop up out of nowhere in Georgia. They serve high-end Bistro style food with Southern touches. I had the shrimp and grits, John had a yummy looking ham and cheese creation, and even Baby took a few nibbles of the pizza they made for her.

My mother-in-law took me shopping at a baby and children’s clothing store in Jasper, called Taylor’s. It’s inside a very unassuming, simple building off of the main road near the high school. But after we went in, I didn’t want to leave. The yummy, dresses, shoes and hair clips were absolutely charming. And I’m going to score Baby one ( or two or three) of those dolls, mark my word.

We took a nature walk in the wilder parts of Big Canoe. We made our way through miles of beautiful woods and ended up at a pretty waterfall. Along the way, some fellow hikers warned us about a nest of Copperhead snakes right near the falls. Those creatures fill me with dread and loathing. When my father-in-law accidentally grazed my heel with his walking stick I shrieked loud enough for all of Big Canoe to hear me, from McElroy to Wet to Sanderlin mountains, and I bet the county patrol down on Steve Tate Road picked it up, too. If I were younger, I would have probably taken off running and not stopped for many yards. But I stayed calm and took a few pictures in front of the waterfall with Hubby and Baby. Even if I were terrified, I couldn’t leave my flesh and blood behind!

I’ve spent time in Louisville, Ky., North Carolina, Florida, New Orleans and I enjoy myself every time I travel to the region. The painful history that Black Americans have had in the South with slavery, the Civil War, the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement can’t be forgotten, but if I, and other interracially married women didn’t take those things in stride, we wouldn’t have our families now. Doubtless, there are loathsome creatures creeping amidst all that is beautiful about the South, just like that nest of Copperheads near the waterfalls on our nature walk. But I lay all those things aside and focus on getting to know people one by one. I’m always willing to believe that most people are just as curious about me as I am about them.


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