Regular readers of my blog, and books, know that despite living near a giant, mega, monster metropolis I am passionate about sustaining a small-town feel; which is why I agreed to an event held at Cheeses & Mary on Valentine’s Day. Nothing says love like a meet and greet with your neighbor.
Cheeses & Mary is situated on a sweet spot where Milton meets Crabapple, Crabapple joins Roswell, and where history runs deep. This area wasn’t always 3-side brick homes and mega-retail. This particular patch of Georgia clay was once farmed, sharecropped, cotton picked, and cultivated into a vibrant community. Back then folk lived just fine and dandy without retail, but without community they starved.
The event began, as one might expect, with loads of luscious nibbles. Mary recreated “Escape Pods” using the recipe found on page 97 of my book, Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches.
Mary solicited donations from fellow small business, Vino 100, who provided the wine. Then we waited.
Event planning is risky, but then again so is owning a small business. Cheeses & Mary is partnered with another local business, Hello Lovely. They share the same retail space. On Valentine’s Day, guests opened the door and felt like they were walking into their own surprise party. A couple of times we actually said, “Surprise! We’ve been waiting for you.”
That doesn’t happen in Big-box Corporate America.
Hello Lovely is, in a word, lovely. I can’t exactly describe this store without overusing the word “lovely.” So I think the best way to describe the store is to say that when you leave, you feel beautiful. Comparatively, entering Cheeses & Mary is like stepping into the home of your best friend. Mary is the Queen of Cheese. Local cheese, jams, and butter so delicious it will “make you want to smack your grandma” (Farmer Billy’s words).
I don’t exactly feel loved or lovely when I leave Kroger, but I digress.
Also attending the gathering, Abbe Laboda who worked the room snapping the beautiful images I’m sharing here. Abbe Laboda and her husband Steve of Capstone Building Group serve as cornerstones for a community that has become very transient due to corporations relocating employees. Steve builds exquisite homes, and Abbe is the type of gal who runs to the grocery store for a gallon milk and ends up baking a meal for a sick member of the community.Being around this woman makes my heart leap with joy. Truly. God smiled when he put us together. My papaw had a label for folk like her: “Good people.”
These days, not many people have earned that title.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was when Kendall and her mom popped in. Miss Kendall played a crucial role in my book launch. I needed a volunteer to tweet, snap pictures, and post real-time Facebook posts. Kendall jumped in and invested about 6 hours on a day hot enough to make Lucifer sweat. And you know what, Miss Kendall didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat.
Nope. She just wanted to help. Who does that? Kendall, that’s who. Kendall and people who understand why community matters.
Sometimes I reflect on that day and tears prick my eyes. Every time I looked up Kendall was snapping a photo. I am in her debt for many, many years to come.
As the day progressed visitors dropped by including Wayne Boston, whose finger is on the pulse of small businesses in the area. As I introduced him to owners Mary and Melissa, Billy Albertson entered. If you’re new to my blog, Billy is the subject of my latest book, Farming, Friends and Fried Bologna Sandwiches, (traditionally published and available everywhere including Indie Bookstores). This was our reason for gathering, a celebration of heritage food, and hard-working folk.
“You know these are my old stomping grounds.” Billy said to the guests while gesturing with his hands. “Right up the road was Crabapple College.”
I was pleased that Billy’s daughter, Janet, had the opportunity to witness the love heaped upon her Daddy. For years she and her sister had said, “I wish someone would write a book about Daddy.”
They had no idea that I would end up writing two !
Wayne was listening to Billy speak about education. “Yeah, I grew up with reading, writing, and writh-ma-tick, but when I got up here they called it math! Oh, I had a dickens of a time with math.”
Wayne chuckled as others eased over to listen. Billy and Wayne continued speaking, when I overheard someone say, “No way!” Then another said, “Wow.”
Wayne Boston, who had dropped in on Valentine’s Day to support his community, met Janet Albertson, who chauffeured her Daddy to join us for a little nibble of cheese. Guess what? Wayne and Janet worked together many years ago! After Janet graduated from UGA she secured a job at The Southern Company. She worked there for ten years, married, and relocated. The event at Cheeses & Mary reconnected them.
This happens all the time, which is why I encourage folk to reach out and touch the hand of their neighbors. You are connected. Somehow, you are. We aren’t separated by six degrees. Abbe tells me that in Milton, folk are separated by three degrees, but when I attend these events the separation feels more like one.
Facebook friend, Diane also dropped in. I adore meeting Facebook friends in person and Diane is a darling. She’s one of those folk who drop things off at Billy’s whenever he needs something. She gives out of the kindness of her heart. She gets it . . . that community matters. So does Debbie, a member our our just-formed Milton Writers Critique Group who also popped in for support.
Mary approached Billy, who commented that it was “so cold outside I’ve got on two layers of over-hauls.”
“Would you like a glass of wine?” She asked.
“You know, I think I just might,”he answered.
Janet and I looked at each other. Janet said, “oh, no, he’s hitting the bottle!”
Laughter. Lots of laughter. This is what you miss when you can’t make it to one of my events. You miss stories. Hugs. Laughter. Love. But those who couldn’t make it were supporting me in other ways. My phone chimed, and wouldn’t you know, several folk with schedule conflicts had ordered copies of my book through my website.
Billy leaned in close to Mary and whispered, “You know I make a bit of wine myself.” As Mary poured he continued, “Yeah, the doctor told me that a bit of wine every now and again would do me good.”
I’m sure the fine folk at Vino 100 agree.
A little bit of food and fellowship does the body good too my friends. In a blink the event was over. Time for one last pose, one final squeeze, one last moment to love each other and remember that we were made to connect to others.
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Renea Winchester is the award-winning author of Farming, Friends, and Fried Bologna Sandwiches; Mountain Memories: True Stories and Half-Truths from Appalachia. A Hardscrabble Christmas. Her first book, In the Garden with Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes earned her a SIBA and GAYA nomination. Order signed copies or, email her through her website at www.reneawinchester.com. She welcomes new friends on Facebook. Follow her on Twitter Here.