I was fortunate to hear my family’s stories from parents and grandparents. As we sat on the porch shelling peas into metal dishpans, Mama told her childhood stories—eerie tales of voices coming down the dirt road but bodies never materializing. She told of feuds between her uncles that lasted for more than 20 years and of hog-killing seasons when the cold weather made the work almost unbearable. She talked of the special bedroom in the house reserved for traveling strangers. She spent her childhood out in the back side of Jeff Davis County, not so far from Union Springs Church.
Daddy didn’t shell many peas and he grew up in another side of the same county, but he told us of driving the mule and wagon across the county to go courting, of turning down the ideal job at the post office because Grandpa didn’t allow his family to work on Sunday, and of fighting a war in a strange land. One night in his latter years, he told me my grandfather had taught school for $20 a month. I almost missed that story, but I’m glad I didn’t.
We all have these family stories, but we as a community share a heritage also. When I came to Baxley back in the ‘70s, the story of Caroline Miller’s writing Lamb in His Bosom completely intrigued me. I read the Pulitzer-prize-winning book and enjoyed it so much that I immediately read it again. I identified with Cean as she raised a family during hard times. I felt Alonzo’s pain when he chopped his foot open with the axe. I heard the cry of the panthers through my window as I read. It still gives me shivers to think of the hog-killing scene and yesterday I ordered another copy of the book since mine seems to have walked off again. Some former student probably has it sitting on a shelf somewhere.
Earlier this year when the Arts Council started considering a play to explore our local heritage and our stories—the stories of the ancestors that made Appling County the place it is today, I grew excited. What an idea. I’ve enjoyed “Tales of the Altamaha” for years and envisioned something like it for Appling County. We, too, have stories—hundreds of them. Caroline Miller walked downtown in her bedroom slippers to sit in Barnes’ drug store and talk to people. She then collected their stories into her beloved book. Why can’t we collect our stories into a play and give it to the public on the stage? No reason. We just need to get started, to get up and do it.
Of course, Laurie Jo Upchurch’s name came with the idea. Who better to lead this project? She’s done Community Theater for years and quite successfully, I might add. We remember the wonderful, colorful productions with local people—adults and children—acting. And now she has agreed to write and produce the new musical play, “In the Pines.” Contracts are signed. The Arts Council is fired up. The Board of Tourism, the Chamber of Commerce and the Development Authority are sponsoring it. Let the fun begin.
Casting call will be held on July 28th and 29th at the First United Methodist Church from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at acting, be there. If you want to help in some other way, let Laurie Jo know. She’ll need the whole community to jump in and work together to bring this play together by October 17. However, I’ve seen stranger things happen in these here parts. We Appling County folk tend to rise to the task at hand, especially when the task is fun, and this one promises to be.
Mark your calendars now for October 17, 2014. Who could ask for more than toe-tapping, knee-slapping music and never-before heard tales of our own ancestral kin? And stay tuned for more information. It’ll be coming right regularly.