Yesterday I was the guest speaker at a luncheon in Wayneville. This yearly fundraising event put on by the women of Grace Episcopal Church is called "Tablescapes" and it featured some of the best-dressed tables you'll ever see. The one in the picture above was on the theme of my first book Signs in the Blood and it included a blood-red centerpiece, tiny plastic snakes (a nod to the snake-handlers,) earth-colored excelsior as a stand-in for the soil of Full Circle Farm, and a New-Age-ish mobile over the table to evoke the Star Children's cult. And there were packets of herb seeds at each place.
The luncheon was well attended -- almost a hundred women. And among them was one long-lost friend from my high school days in Tampa -- there she is on the right below -- Elizabeth Neely. It's been almost fifty years but I recognized her at once. There were a number of other Florida and Tampa folks there and at times it was like old home week. Waynesville has always been popular with a lot of Tampans.
It's fun talking to a group of women like this -- they were a mixture of native North Carolinians, folks like myself from away who'd been there a long time, and newer residents who "got here as soon as they could," as the saying goes. I love it when I talk about my experiences getting to know my local neighbors and I love it when I look out at the audience and see heads nodding -- because they've had similar experiences.
Afterward, when I was signing books, one lady came up, thanked me for my talk, and said,"I really enjoyed listening to you. I feel like I could ask you over for coffee."
And I love that too.
(Click here for a web album with pictures of more gorgeous tables with their amazing decorations. The quality of my photos is pretty mediocre -- I was zipping around and snapping pictures and talking to people and though I tried to get all the tables, one or two came out way too blurry to keep. But they were all beautiful.)
Hit was washday and I was haulin water from the spring when Levy Johnson come down the mountain. My fire was goin good but I needed me some more water for the rinsin. Levy was on his way to help Daddy with plowin the corn and he was ridin a big sorrel mare, all geared up, but when he saw me he slid down from the mare's back and said, I'll tote them heavy pails for you.
His hair was the color of Mister Tomlin's gold pieces and his face was smooth and put me in mind of the ripe peaches on our red-leaved Cherokee peach tree. I smiled when I thought this for just then the sun broke through the morning mist and I could see the fuzz, same as a peach has, all along Levy's jawbone.
When I wrote that scene in Signs in the Blood, I had this particular peach tree in mind -- red leaves, small pinky-red peaches. I have no idea what the varietal name of our peach tree (which grows down at our pond --not by the cabin) might be. But I know how free and easy my older neighbors were with proper names of plants and it seemed not unlikely that Little Sylvie might have known a red-leaved peach as a Cherokee.
A recent post on the Dorothy L list about authors who don't exercise due diligence in their research got me thinking and I asked Mr. Google about Cherokee peach. Turns out there is one -- but I doubt it's the same.
I also learned that peaches were a very early introduction to the Americas -- probably brought in by the Spaniards -- and they 'went wild' so long ago that many people (myself included) assumed they were native.
Peaches were cultivated by the Native Americans and one of the many sad stories from the Trail of Tears was that the soldiers destroyed the Cherokee orchards to force them away from their land.
But peaches are stubborn and wherever the fruit drops, before long a new tree will spring up. Resilient-- like the Cherokee.
That's a lot of different Souths. I'm trying to figure out what the commonalities are -- not gators, nor old plantations, nor log cabins, nor Elvis. Well, maybe Elvis. Maybe biscuits and gravy.
But special? What's a key element in Southern fiction -- in Southern mysteries? I have some vague, half-formulated ideas having to do with the Scots-Irish and story-telling and maybe even a tad of alienation resulting from the Late Unpleasantness, as John's Aunt Barbara called the Civil War.
So I'm asking, do you think there's anything special about Southern mysteries or Southern fiction in general?
(Let's hope so -- it'll be a long, awkward fifty-five minute panel otherwise.)
Help me out here, folks! And for those of you blog readers in other countries, I'd be really interested to know if you have any notion of the American South as being any different from the rest of the US -- any stereotypes, etc.
My friend Kathy, the original of Sallie Kate in my books, stopped by to visit the other day and brought us some Chinese Red Noodle Beans from her garden.
The guys were so long I had to get down my super big wok to stir fry them. Sure, I could have cut them into smaller pieces but where's the glory in that? I wanted to pile them on our plates in their full lengths.
Which I did, along with the stuffed squash and London Broil. Wow! Pretty amazing and not a little creepy.
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