When Samantha and I were young, young in love, younger in body, we moved to Athens, Georgia. This was in 1994. I was a senior in college with no sense of direction or purpose. The only thing in my life that I was certain of at that point was Samantha.
One afternoon Samantha, myself, our good friend, Jeff, and my friend and roommate, Jason, were sitting in our living room. Jason was planning on moving to Athens to pursue photography at UGA.
“You guys wanna come with me?”
With less than a minute’s deliberation Jeff said, “Okay” and Samantha followed with, “Sure.”
For me, what followed was ninety seconds of pure panic. I was two quarters away from graduation, pursuing a path I did not love, but doing what I was “supposed to do.” My brain roiled over my choices. I could stick with my safe path, stay in Birmingham and finish school, that would mean saying goodbye to Samantha, possibly for just six or eight months–possibly forever. That was a risk I wasn’t willing to take. And so, for what may have been the first time in my life, I made a choice that reflected what I wanted to do, rather than what I was expected to do.
I still had to finish the quarter I was in, but over the next few weeks Jason and I closed out our lease on the apartment, we rented a large moving truck and in one weekend moved two apartments and Jeff, who was living at home at the time, to Athens.
Athens, Georgia is a college town. As such, real estate there is at quite a premium. It was not easy to find a place where all four of us could live together in town, but by expanding our search we found a place in Crawford, fifteen miles out of Athens. Crawford is a small rural town nestled in Oglethorpe County, one of the most rural counties in all of Georgia.
It had one stoplight and downtown Crawford consisted of three blocks–a car dealership, City Hall, a bank and the post office. We rented a large house for a very cheap sum from Clyde and George Maxwell, an elderly couple who lived next door. I know these names imply a gay couple, however Clyde is the first–and only–woman, I’ve ever met to bear that name.
Crawford in the 90’s was an extremely old and conservative place. The cemetery behind our house bore stones that dated back to the 1890’s with the names of families still in Crawford.
Besides the Maxwells, we never met these people. Samantha and I lived in this house for almost a year–the fifteen mile commute quickly proved too long for Jeff and Jason–and besides Clyde and George there was only one other couple we ever exchanged words with, Jack and Kathryn Doubrley.
Like ourselves, Jack and Kathryn clearly stood out in Crawford. And as mutual anomalies we were quickly drawn to each other. They lived at the top of our street in a two story, Victorian mansion. They were my first introduction into the Emersonian ideal of self reliance and two of the coolest people we had ever met.
Jack was every bit the self made man. He worked nearby as a diesel mechanic and every working aspect of his house bore his unique stamp–electricity was provided by solar panels he installed on the roof, heat from the wood stoves he had restored or installed–including the wood fired cook stove in their kitchen and the one that heated water for their shower. Both Kathryn’s greenhouse and his shop were of his construction, often made from salvaged materials. He brought a whole new understanding to what “off the grid” really means, water was the only resource he couldn’t provide himself and he grudgingly paid the city to provide.
In my mind’s eye he’s a giant pirate of a man, though in reality he stands several inches shorter than me–red hair pulled back in a man’s ponytail and a big bushy beard that spills onto his ample chest. With his red hair and his aptitude for all things mechanical he was the epitome of the Roman god Vulcan, made whole. It was Jack who first introduced me to working out, his upstairs gym filled one of the house’s spacious bedrooms–graciously donning a leopard printed Speedo instead of maintaining his usual habit of training nude.
Kathryn is every bit the yin to Jack’s yang. A master gardener, her stamp on their estate was purely organic. A modern day Demeter, she flowered her land with herbs and ornamentals. Her greenhouse boasted a substantial tea tree and a fruit bearing avocado she had nurtured from seed. Kathryn was a seamstress and a weaver and contributed to their household by making clothes for them both and costumes for a local theatre group.
Her greatest gift was in the garden. Her knowledge and skill in all aspects of plant lore earned her the moniker of The Answer Lady and made her the go-to resource for many a gardener throughout Northeast Georgia. Early on she introduced us to a salve made from comfrey, olive oil and beeswax. This recipe Samantha has perpetuated over the years and introduced to the Alabama Waldorf School, where it is known and loved amongst the nursery School and beyond as Samantha’s “Magic Cream.”
We only stayed in Athens for two years. By the end of that period Samantha was pregnant with Madeline and it seemed more prudent to move back to Birmingham. Here we could be closer to our families and I could finish college. Again back on the path of what we should do rather than what we wanted. Understandable, of course–we were so young and scared, risk and chance were to be avoided at all costs.
We kept in touch with Jack and Kathryn for a few years after we left, once going to spend a weekend with them and once having them come and visit us, but years and distance divided us. Jack eventually took a job running the maintenance department at the University and we became engrossed in our growing family and all the lessons and challenges to found there.
Even though we haven’t seen each other or spoken in years, Jack and Kathryn stay with us. Emerson’s Acre would not exist without their influence and scores of school children have had their boo-boos healed with the help of Kathryn’s comfrey salve.