Some Southern Cookery Not Aways For Everybody

     The nip of fall in the air brings to mind for some of us old enough to remember it the ritual of hog-killing. Along with everything else − the salt and sugar cured hams, the bacon, the sausage, the fresh cuts eaten before the rest, even the head cheese − there was one item that excited many in those days that hardly does in these.

     I speak of the lowly “chittlin,” or “chitterling,” if one wants to be proper. Or as proper as one can be when talking, in this case, about the small intestines of a pig, carefully cleaned of contents then repeatedly washed, followed by frying or boiling. Some, Creole cooks for instance, even make a ragout of sorts with them.

Fried chittlins

     In days past, the fall hog killings were almost invariably followed close at hand by a “chittlin supper.” Often neighbors who had butchered their hogs at the same time would pool their chittlins and invite other neighbors, who would of course be expected to tender invitations when their own pigs had squealed their last.

     Southern cookery has been faddish for some time now, and even grits no longer have to be explained to Yankees and other outliers. Shrimp and grits, though not a combination I favor, can now be had even on the upper West Side in New York City, in restaurants that drizzle sauces on your plate to look like the oil leaks under an old pickup. The proper way to cook grits − simmered in milk and water (or on low in just milk) − is now common knowledge, with the concepts of cheese grits and fried grits easy enough to make understood.

     Chittlins, however, are not likely to follow this trend.

     First of all, though they are most often associated with Southern cookery, their provenance goes back further. English cookbooks from the early 1700s mention “calves chitterlings” as a stew of calves organs with bacon, and Hannah Glasse’s 1747 classic “The Art of Cookery” repeats this. This was probably something similar to menudo of Latino cookery. Since the Southern diet has traditionally favored more pork than beef or mutton − the heavy Celtic influence of the colonial and early republic years is at work here − it’s natural this would be expanded to give the pig his due respect.

     Why “chitterling” entered the language, according to some lexicographers, is because the cleaned intestines resembled the ruffles on shirts worn by the fops and dandies of the time, which were called “chitterlings.” True or not, this works for an explanation.

     I have been in years past around events where chittlins were served to the true believing, but I’ve never eaten them. Nor am I likely to barring some apocalypse, and then only after all the other parts of the pigs have been eaten and all the grubs, maggots and cockroaches are gone.

     “But you’ve eaten haggis,” say some who know that I have. “How can you say you won’t eat chittlins”?

     Yes, I have eaten − and enjoyed − haggis, Scotland’s national dish of sheep innards finely chopped and mixed with oatmeal and spices and boiled in a bag made from a sheep’s stomach. It’s traditional in Scotland especially on New Year’s Eve, which is when I ate it and almost where, since I was at the time just a few miles south of the Scottish border. Customarily, it’s served drizzled with Scotch whisky, which has much to recommend it as a condiment. Especially when eating haggis.

Haggis, in the sheep’s stomach bag in which it is boiled.

     No, my reason for never being tempted by chittlins is rooted in a family story about a chittlin supper that could have gone awry.

     Once in some Depression year, so the story goes, in the planning for the chittlin supper the fear arose that more had been invited to eat than there were chittlins to well feed. To run out of chittlins during one of these annual affairs was an affront to the unwritten rules of hospitality, and maybe even to public decency.

     After some thought, the fellow hosting the supper said not to worry, adding, in effect, “I’ve got this.”

     In due course, the chittlins were fried up and the eating began, and shortly into it the host reached up to the corner of his mouth, took out a fragment of a corn kernel and laid it beside his plate. He soon followed with other fragments, all the while praising the chittlins as some of the best he’d ever had. The other eaters weren’t so engrossed in the delicacy, however, that the pile of corn kernel fragments growing beside his plate escaped notice.

     One by one, as soon as they could politely manage, they pushed their plates away, rubbed their stomachs, wished they could eat more but their stomachs were telling them they had eaten their fill, more than their fill even.

     There were more than enough chittlins to go around. There were leftovers for the next day.

     The chittlins had of course been thoroughly cleaned. The host had palmed a few chewed up kernels of seed corn and only pretended to take the pieces out of his mouth.

     But every time I’ve even thought of trying chittlins the story comes back to me vividly, along with the thought, “What if …”

Cajun-style chittlins

Stepping In It

Stephen Heard, as he is depicted in a painting in the gallery of the Georgia capitol. Based on an early 19th century rendering supposedly accurate.

     It was bound to happen and I knew that from the start. I expected a good hiding, as it were, and courted it. When you challenge a bit of long held lore, a piece of local history so deep-dyed in the local community’s fabric that it’s been told, retold and recorded in the only “official” history of the county that’s been written, it can cause a ripple.

     It’s taken a while, but a couple of people have delighted in passing on to me a few murmurs from the gossip grapevine that amounted to “Did you hear about what he said?” As one of the informants chided me, “You stepped in it.”

     I’m just surprised it took so long. It’s now the fall and my crime was committed in the spring. Now comes the time to explain it to all who didn’t witness it.

     In April I was asked to speak on local history at the Elbert County Library. I chose to deal the legend of local American Revolution hero Stephen Heard’s rescue from a British jail in Augusta by his loyal slave woman “Mammy Kate” the night before he was to hang. She refused the offer of her freedom as a reward and she and her husband are buried near Heard in the family cemetery in the Heardmont community. It’s a nice story. It just doesn’t have the added virtue of being true.

The historical marker indicating Heard’s grave and outlining the legend of his rescue by his slave woman, Mammy Kate.

     Local attorney and historian John McIntosh accepted it as gospel in his The Official History of Elbert County 1790-1935, published by the local Stephen Heard Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1940. The story has found its way into multiple histories and into the New Georgia Encyclopedia, though the writer of the entry gives some leeway for doubt by calling it a “local legend.” In October 2011, the story was given the imprimatur of a proclamation by the state chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, duly celebrated with a ceremony at the Heardmont cemetery.

     As a Heard descendant (great-great-great-great grandson), the story I grew up on always intrigued me. But it perplexed me that for such a celebrated hero of the Revolution, other than the fact that the Virginia-born Heard (and his extended family) was drawn to our area of northeast Georgia by the 1773 Cherokee land cession, had served some nebulous role as governor and was an intimate friend of George Washington (there is no evidence for that either), the rescue story was all anyone generally knew about him.

     Like many if not most historical figures who become cloaked in legends of some durable fabric, the truth turns out more interesting than the tall tales.

     To begin with, for the story of his rescue to be at all true there is one necessary condition that would have to be met: It would have to have occurred during a time when Augusta was occupied by either the British forces or their loyalist allies. Augusta was occupied by the British for a few weeks in early 1779 and by mostly loyalist forces from June 1780 until June 1781. In both cases we can, with primary sources, reliably place Stephen Heard elsewhere.

     The fall of Charleston, South Carolina, to the British in May 1780 precipitated a surrender of rebelling forces on both sides of the Savannah River. In June 1780, over 400 members of the Georgia militia surrendered to the loyalist forces that had recently occupied Augusta. The only exception was Lt. Colonel Elijah Clarke, second in command of the militia, and a handful of his veteran backcountry fighters. They crossed the river into upcountry South Carolina to join with other diehard holdouts and continue the fight. With Clarke were Heard and the refugee government of Georgia.

     Heard, serving on the Executive Council of the state government, had become the council’s president early in 1780 after the previous holder of that office had died in a duel with a political rival. (Georgia’s revolutionary government was factious and contentious enough to embarrass a banana republic. Heard, it seems, possessed a vital talent for avoiding any taint of partisan rivalry, resulting in his leadership by default.) In time, this made him the de facto governor for some months. He also did not surrender and take the British oath of allegiance. With the rest of the Executive Council, he joined Clarke in the field.

     Thus begun an odyssey leading him farther into upcountry South Carolina, into North Carolina (where Georgia’s state government records eventually ended up via another means) and finally to Virginia. In March 1781, he wrote a letter from Henry County, Virginia, giving a broad but fairly detailed account of the struggle in the Carolinas and Georgia since he had fled Georgia but nowhere mentions any capture by the British or loyalists. Neither do any of the considerable body of dispatches from the loyalist commander in Augusta, Colonel Thomas Brown to other loyalist commanders and even British General Cornwallis mention the capture of the head of Georgia’s revolutionary government.

     The first picaresque story of northeast Georgia’s other legend from the Revolutionary War years, the heroine Nancy Hart, did not see print until 1825, and that in a Milledgeville, Georgia, newspaper that evidently just printed a story the writer had heard. Others would follow, maybe only three plausibly based in fact, later ones obviously of whole cloth. The first written account of the rescue of Stephen Heard, however, does not appear in print until a September 1901 story in the Atlanta Constitution, one of several on a page devoted to stories from Georgia’s past by Atlanta’s Joseph Habersham Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The story even quoted Mammy Kate, as reportedly told to her grandchildren, in a dialogue that echoes 19th century minstrel shows. As with the stories of Nancy Hart, the rescue story does not appear in any historical account until it appeared as a newspaper feature with no cited sources. Then, like the Hart stories, it took on a life of its own.

     If the story isn’t true, it’s difficult to fathom how and why it might have been told. There is one vague mention − McIntosh’s Elbert County history − of Heard’s father and brother being imprisoned in Augusta in one instance, but not time is mentioned. Perhaps the genesis of the story, if it has any factual basis at all, grew from that.

     If the Heards were imprisoned in late 1780, they wouldn’t have been alone. After Elijah Clarke’s first failed attempt to attack Augusta in September 1780, many suspected of rebel sympathies were held prisoner. The British also issued orders expelling from the area upriver from Augusta relatives of those known to or suspected of having joined with Clarke. An estimated 100 farms were burned. The line of expulsion ended at the Broad River that now forms Elbert County’s border. (If the stories of Nancy Hart dealing with marauding loyalists are true, they likely stem from this time when loyalist troops prowled north of the river.) An estimated 600-700 settlers from the area sought refuge in the mountains of western North Carolina, traveling en masse under Clarke’s protection. (All of this noted in Heard’s March 1781 letter from Virginia.)

     The revolution brought a hard time to this corner of northeast Georgia in those months, when life could be more “nasty, brutish and short” than life on the 18th century frontier already could be. Perhaps both the Nancy Hart story and the story of the Heard rescue, if they did in fact originate from this time, were part of a picaresque mythology that grew up to mask what must have been some starkly unpleasant memories.

     In the case of Heard, if Mammy Kate and her husband “Daddy Jack,” are actually buried near Stephen Heard in the family cemetery (and their grave markers were not placed until the mid 20th century), it could be the story was told to mask something that embarrassed the Heard family. That Kate might have been Heard’s mistress must at least be considered. It is established fact that Heard’s grandson, Thomas Jefferson Heard, fathered children by at least one of his slaves. And having a mistress buried near the master wasn’t without precedent even within Heard’s own extended family. The brother of Heard’s son-in-law (my great-great-great grandfather) had his mistress buried between himself and his wife.

     This possible relationship, of course, can be nothing more than speculation, a stab at explaining why.

     Even if this speculation is true, it doesn’t genuinely diminish the man Stephen Heard who was in everything known about him a man of his time, and who should be judged in that light.

     Freed of the rescue story, in fact, he emerges a more interesting and more important figure. He refused to surrender in the face of what must have seemed hopeless odds, and kept Georgia’s revolutionary government alive, if on the run. By accounts, he was just a shade over five feet tall, but he stood much taller in the face of the direst adversity.

     Legends and mythologies have their place, even when they involve people who actually existed. They are part of the cultural story and tell more about the times that spawned them than they tell about the figures at the heart of them. But one must overshadow the other, and let that one be the truth. As in the case of Stephen Heard, it’s usually much more interesting.


“I’d Climb The Highest Mountain”: Then and Now

     The controversy over the recent opening of the reportedly extremely violent movie “The Joker” reminds us once again that controversy over what movie audiences want, don’t want, will accept or won’t is an old one.

     For movie studio executives to want more action and violence in a movie project is hardly a new trend. That very thing almost killed one of the first major films ever made in Georgia, largely in White County but with an Elbert County connection.

     About eight years ago, White County writer Emory Jones snapped up a chance find on Ebay, an original script of the 1951 release “I’d Climb The Highest Mountain.” The movie was filmed in White County in 1950 − starring Susan Hayward, William Lundigan and Rory Calhoun − but was based on the 1910 novel “A Circuit Rider’s Wife” by Corra Harris, born in Elbert County in 1869. Included with the script were appended notes from movie executives that showed the uphill battle Atlanta native screenwriter Lamar Trotti had between 1947 and 1950 getting anyone interested in bringing the story to the screen.

On the set of “I’d Climb The Highest Mountain” just outside of Helen in 1950. The church is the Chattahoochee United Methodist Church, founded in the 1820s and still going strong.
Star Susan Hayward is front and center as the an interior shot at the church is rehearsed.

     Trotti’s story of the often heartbreaking travails and seemingly too small triumphs of a Methodist minister and his story narrator-wife in the north Georgia hills of the early 1900s did not attract a lot of enthusiasm.

     According to a story about Jones’s find that ran seven years ago in the Gainesville newspaper, 20th Century Fox studio heavyweight Darryl Zanuck’s script readers reported to him that it was “too preachy,” in their view a box office killer. Another studio executive, Samuel G. Engel, wrote Zanuck that “It falls short on too many vital counts for it to merit being considered for production.” Yet another executive thought the script too similar to the 1941 film “One Foot In Heaven,” starring Fredric March as an itinerant minister. Zanuck himself thought the script needed more conflict and violence. His own verdict to Trotti was, “I cannot find one person who liked it.”

     That wasn’t exactly true, as the notes accompanying the script show. One of Zanuck’s subordinates, Julian Johnson, penned him this note: “I think it has a great deal of what we need in the theatre today — simple, downright humanity, as opposed to the abnormalities, the crimes and the ‘isms’ which seem to possess the world almost to the exclusion of all the more normal impulses.”

     That over seventy-year-old observation could have been written yesterday.

     By early 1950, for reasons not altogether clear − maybe he sensed a changing market, or maybe he had taken Johnson’s note to heart − Zanuck bubbled with enthusiasm for the movie. “I want to do this story and do it as quickly as we can get it ready,” he wrote. “I can get very excited about this.”

     Even then it wasn’t clear that the movie would be filmed in Georgia. The Blue Ridge area of Virginia and the Ozarks of Missouri were rejected before Trotti was successful in pitching the north Georgia hills where the story was set as the actual filming location. The movie premiered in February 1951 in Atlanta’s Paramount Theater.

Corra Harris’s real life marriage to a Methodist minister was far from the happy one portrayed in her novel.

     Today, of course, there are many reasons why the movie likely wouldn’t’ be made. Most would probably echo the notes from the naysaying movie executives of 1947 and after. One would certainly focus on Corra Harris herself. She wrote two dozen books in all, fiction and nonfiction, nineteen of which were published in her lifetime (she died in 1935), and was a well known journalist for over half her life, including as a war correspondent during World War I. But today she would be a pariah. Her start in journalism came in 1899 when she wrote a lengthy piece to a New York newspaper, The Independent, defending a lynching near Newnan, Georgia, that the paper had attacked. On the strength of her writing, the paper’s editors asked to see more of it. Despite that beginning, her writing has merit in the study of her times. The best of her fiction has the literary bone and muscle to stand on its own. Like everyone else, she deserves to be judged by the standards of her own time, not through the purblind prism that produces perverse modern notions of “political correctness.”

     By itself, “A Circuit Rider’s Wife” as a story is hardly autobiographical. Aside from the young Corra Mae White actually marrying a Methodist minister and educator, Lundy Howard Harris, the story’s main turns bear little resemblance to Harris’s own life. (Though as in the film, she and her husband did lose a child.) In fact, her husband abandoned her a few years into their marriage before finally returning to her, along the way him making public confessions of adultery. As a result he lost his teaching position at Emory University and the Harrises faced years of poverty relieved in greatest part by the proceeds of Corra’s writing. Lundy Harris bore almost no resemblance to “the Reverend William Thompson” of the novel and committed suicide in 1910, the year “A Circuit Rider’s Wife” was published. If he ever read the manuscript, and it’s most probable that he did, maybe he couldn’t live with the comparison. The novel’s narrative, which has been described as “a spiritual journey,” perhaps tells the life story Corra Harris had hoped she would have. If Hollywood executives were at all interested in Corra Harris these days I suspect it would be her real story that would interest them and not her “spiritual journey.” But those are the times we live in. (And if future generations judge us by our times’ standards, I hope it’s with mercy. Not that that should be expected.)

     Darryl Zanuck and his minions were right in that “I’d Climb The Highest Mountain” wasn’t a huge blockbuster success on its release. But the film endures and gains fans while many others have been forgotten. Nostalgia movie channels have practically granted it immortality. Some latter day discoverers of it even seek out the 197-year-old Chattahoochee United Methodist Church on Ga. Alt. 75 in the Robertstown community just north of Helen. The church was used extensively in the filming. The nearby Stovall Covered Bridge, also appearing in the film, is another visited site.

     The film endures because its story of life’s gains and losses, troubles and triumphs, all met with faith and fortitude, that Lamar Trotti distilled from Harris’s best known book is timeless. And its endurance is testimony that even though the values it espouses are under attack, and as Julian Johnson’s note indicates have been for a long time, they are far from dead, and still sought.

     I suspect Julian Johnson foresaw that in 1947, even if right way the mogul Darryl Zanuck did not.

The Chattahoochee United Methodist Church as it appears today.

The Ol’ Time Music Isn’t Gone Yet

The reviews of Ken Burns’ documentary on country music are in, and most reviewers think that despite the sixteen hours spread over eight episodes the story it adds up to lacks something. On what that something is, opinions varied.

“Burns went broad but not deep,” according to one online review. “He dealt too much with the business and not with the music.” To another reviewer, Beverly Keel in the Nashville Tennessean, watching the documentary was like “watching the official memorial service for the Nashville I used to love so much,” the funeral oration for what Nashville and country music used to be.

The first reviewer missed a good deal of Burns’s point: For Nashville, country music is a business, big business, and has been since it became centered there. Hence when legendary guitarist and record producer Chet Atkins was asked to define the “Nashville sound,” he reportedly riffled a handful of money. Even though my own attention to the documentary was sporadic (only four and a half episodes) and distracted, Ms. Keel’s observation seems closer to the mark.

I am far from an expert on country music. In fact, I was late coming to a full appreciation of it, and that by an unusual route. I came to know in their later years both the late Georgia radio, print and television personality Billy Dilworth and Eastanollee’s own late “Doc” Tommy Scott, the legendary “medicine show man.” Billy was involved for years in promoting country music and knew many of the stars well. “Whispering Bill” Anderson was one of his closest friends. As for “Doc” Tommy, one of his earliest jobs was playing with Bill Monroe and Tommy himself began appearing on the Grand Ol’ Opry in the 1930s. Knowing both was like a graduate course in country music.

The “old tyme” country music, that is. A common complaint, one I’ve made myself, is that “country music doesn’t sound like country music anymore.” To me and many others I hear voicing opinions, it all tends to sound the same now. The music itself is so often hyper-amplified electronic squeals and clatter with little in common with the riffs of a Johnny Cash or a Buck Owens, more in common with a slow motion train wreck. In that, it’s virtually indistinguishable from modern rock.  (But still preferable to rap.)

The lyrics, when they can be deciphered above the noise, tend to be inane. They have little in common with, say, the almost Shakespearean lyrics of Kris Kristofferson or the earthy refrains of Willie Nelson, to say nothing of lesser songsmiths. Both country music’s strength and appeal are rooted in its recording the highs and lows of the human experience. That was a lesson learned from knowing Tommy Scott’s beginnings reinforced by stories from my own family, stories of Depression-era gatherings where my grandfather brought out his violin and others brought their own instruments. The music offered relief from hard times and celebration of surviving them. But these days, as Ms. Keel put it, with so much happening in the world, “with so much that needs to be said … we’re hearing only about beer, trucks and boots.”

Of course, like Ms. Keel, whoever she is, I betray being of a certain age by making nostalgic paeans to the older country music that I had a certain fondness for even before I appreciated country music as an art. It stems from associations made early between certain songs and singers and particular memories held more closely as the years stack up. That’s why of the music I listen to the most, the music downloaded to files on my laptop, among the Beethoven, Dvorak, Elgar and Sinatra, to name a few, are complete albums of Marty Robbins, Charley Pride and a couple of other country and western stars. These latter all evoke particular memories. Both Robbins and Pride, for example, were well represented on the jukebox of a café in Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, just across the Savannah River, that was often the Saturday night out destination for our family in the ‘60s. The owner, a little, always smiling woman named Lillie Mae Christley, served hamburgers in which the meat wasn’t a patty but a scoop of sautéed, seasoned ground beef, messy but still among the best I’ve ever had across half a century. If there was an “in” place in the mill town, Lillie Mae’s was it and a lot of beer was served over a counter bordering the full length of the open kitchen, but it was still a family place. A quiet wraith of a man, J.L. Ayers, hung around a pool table at the back, sometimes helping out at the counter but always keeping order on the rare occasions that was needed. Anyone downing enough Pabst Blue Ribbon to get loud, vulgar and rowdy would learn the little man could use both ends of a cue stick with equal efficacy. And Charley Pride was often providing the background music. Hearing the same songs now, I can still see it to myself just as it was then.

I wax too much into maudlin nostalgia here, but it all does underscore a key point. It’s doubtful any of modern country music will conjure up the same sort of associated memories for anyone decades down the line.

One theme of Burns’s documentary is that the genre even in its early years was always gradually changing, the business as a business steadily growing, the “crossover hit” bridging two or more genres being a brass ring the producers increasingly sought. So the amalgam of it all, the fast, slick packaged, gibberish-laced cacophony that is so much of Nashville’s “country music” will endure and prosper so long as it finds a paying audience, as it evidently does. But bigger and flashier isn’t always better, in music and a few other areas,  and maybe it would do well to no longer regard a good deal of what’s now the “Nashville sound” as “country music.”

Now genuine country music is still a going concern, but you find it most often, it seems to me, in the quiet hideaways similar to where it began. There are still places around where talented amateurs gather and play some of the best to be heard.

There are many such places, but sometimes they have to be dug for like rare gems. One such I know of, a country store in Long Creek, South Carolina, just across from Rabun County, has been a gathering place on Saturday nights for years, drawing players from both Georgia and the local neighborhood. The store isn’t far from the stretch of the Chattooga River where “Deliverance” was filmed, and on a clear evening any urbanite rafters and kayakers still caught out on the river can likely hear the music. Of course, if the players think that’s the case, they tend to play the banjoes a little louder.

After all, traditional country music, real country music, has always included a little comedy, too.

“I wonder what happened to Carl Hamburger.”

Several times in his later years, my father would, in general reminiscing,   wonder aloud, “I’ve always wondered what happened to Carl Hamburger.”

Carl Hamburger was a young man who had worked at the Patz & Fortson store in Elberton in the early 1940s, and as the first German my father had ever met, he was a curiosity. But on his visits to the Patz & Fortson store with my grandfather, he, then about 12, and Hamburger became more than casual acquaintances.

Then came a day when Carl just wasn’t around anymore.

In my father’s recollection, the rumors around town were that Carl had been arrested as a German national found in possession of a shortwave radio. This would have placed his disappearance after Germany had declared war on the United States following the declaration of war against Japan. Having heard this story a couple of times over the years, I just mentally filed it away. Not long ago, however, I ran across the name Carl Hamburger in a newspaper account and it became spoor on the trail of what I found a fascinating story, and a bit of local history that should, if any of the old rumors linger, be set straight.

First of all, as rumors running rampant in small towns will as they run from mouth to ear to mouth, some things got mixed up, and other things were just plain wrong to begin with. There was at least one roundup of foreign nationals in Elberton, on October 13, 1942, in which the FBI netted four Italian nationals and one German. None were named in the newspaper account − the FBI refused to divulge any specific details to local authorities −  but all were alleged to have been found in possession of either firearms and ammunition, cameras or radios capable of sending or even receiving shortwave signals. All of these items were contraband for foreign nationals under edicts issued by the Roosevelt administration as a wartime measure once the United States was at war with Germany and Italy. The raid on Elberton was coincident with raids the same day in Athens and Atlanta. Elberton, though, with its significant Italian immigrant population employed in the granite industry, is apparently the only town of its size in Georgia that drew the FBI’s attention, at least in the raids of October 1942. Evidently, however, by the time the raid took place, Carl Hamburger had been gone from Elberton for some months. This is his story, both before and after his time in Elberton.

Carl August Hamburger was born July 4, 1922 in Wiesbaden, Germany, son of Anne Kahn Hamburger and Arthur Abraham Hamburger, a furniture dealer. According to an oral history given to the William Bremen Jewish Heritage Museum in Atlanta by Frances Bertha Hamburger Bunzi, Carl’s late sister, Carl and his father were arrested by the Nazis following Kristallnacht, ie “Night of the Broken Glass,” the nationwide November 9-10, 1938 pogram against Jews carried out by Nazi paramilitary forces. They were released on the condition that the family leave Germany. Arthur Hamburger was forced to sell his business for a fraction of its actual worth.

Father, mother and son went first to Cuba and from there entered the United States by way of New York City. They arrived in Elberton in time for Carl to finish school, graduating with the Elberton high school class of 1940. (Frances Hamburger, who had worked as a governess in England, was able to return to England and made her way to New York City from there.) It is uncertain from records, but there seems a good chance the Hamburgers’ immigration was sponsored by the Patz family of Elberton.

On July 18, 1941, Arthur Hamburger told his story before a meeting of the Kiwanis Club in Elberton, or rather Carl did. Arthur’s command of English at the time was limited, so Carl acted as his translator. “I am here to make you a good citizen,” he told the group, “and appreciate all the kindness shown me.”

Due to sketchy records, there is no evidence that Arthur was the unnamed German national arrested and interned in October 1942. But it wasn’t Carl. He had joined the U.S. Army some months before. Records indicate that he served as a translator with an Army intelligence unit throughout 1942-45. That would seem unlikely had his father been interned as a suspected enemy alien.

After the war, Carl attended the University of Georgia Law School but evidently never practiced law. Instead he entered business, eventually acquiring and operating several successful businesses in the Albany and Columbus area. He died March 12, 2012, at the age of 89.

So an idle question is at last answered and an unfounded rumor put to rest. Just a footnote in the larger story of Elberton during the years of World War II, but it had been left to gather dust in a quiet corner of history where the truth often lies.

Some Thoughts on Sunday Alcohol Sales

Georgia saw various temperance movements come and go beginning in the early years of the nineteenth century, but it wasn’t until 1885 that the state legislature enacted a statute allowing counties to vote themselves “dry.” Most did. And in 1908, the legislature voted prohibition statewide. National prohibition came and went leaving Georgia still dry; alcohol wouldn’t be legal in Georgia until 1935, two years after national prohibition was repealed.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that Georgians in want of a tipple didn’t get one in the dry years. Those with access to bootleggers, which meant just about everybody, always did. For the more rascally of society, this presented no moral dilemma, but for the more piously-inclined who wanted an occasional drink there was a consensus on the Southern Protestant love-hate relationship with the neighborhood bootleggers’ wet goods. They could love a good drink but hate for most people to know that. (And those who did know wouldn’t talk about it, being mostly of the same brotherhood or sisterhood themselves.) Some unkind souls might make the claim this manifested rank hypocrisy. What it was, though, was the practical application of a utilitarian principle: The greatest happiness for the greatest many. With alcohol illegal, both the Baptists and the bootleggers could be happy.

I lay out all this as preamble. The residents of the city of Elberton, my sometimes acutely neurotic hometown, is on the verge of voting whether to join the other 251-odd cities and counties in Georgia in allowing Sunday sales of alcohol, both package sales and by the drink. The likely outcome isn’t clear. If the idle chitchat overheard in checkout lines has foundation, if the virulent brimstone-scented rhetoric in letters to the editor is taken to heart and if the similar offerings on social media that seem to channel Carry Nation aren’t just blather, the idea of Sunday alcohol sales in Elberton is still a subject that can raise ire, tempers and the odd fist slammed down on the odd Bible.

Other places around have been similarly divided. And oddly enough, the approval of one plank of the issue doesn’t necessarily mean the other is a sure thing. In 2014 the voters in Hartwell, eighteen miles north of Elberton, narrowly approved Sunday package sales by a vote of 514-507. But on the same ballot Sunday sales by the drink in restaurants was defeated with 512 No votes edging out 510 in favor. Knowing the train of thought of those three or four voters responsible for the split would be interesting, and maybe disquieting, like knowing how hotdogs are made. The unincorporated area of Hart County itself, incidentally, is still dry when it comes to distilled spirits.

Elbert County has a similar history of love and hate where legal alcohol is concerned. The county stayed dry for a long time after Georgia counties could choose to go wet and after several counties close by did so. Again, that hardly meant drinking wasn’t going on, regularly and sometimes copiously. It just meant Elbert Countians couldn’t buy legal booze close to home. Instead, they bought a lot of it just across the Savannah River in Calhoun Falls, South Carolina. Throughout my childhood in the 1960s, in fact, the Carolina mill town just a couple of miles inside the state line, and about sixteen miles from Elberton, was called little else around here but “Saloon Falls.” There were, as I recall, at least four thriving liquor stores within sight of the main thoroughfare whose carriage trade depended heavily on their clientele from across the river.

Just as in the days of state and national prohibition, bootlegging was also a going concern hereabouts, catering mostly to the less prosperous of the county, and a bootlegger who made good stuff could do a land office business on the sly and was most often very well thought of in reputable circles. Craft distilling is one of Georgia’s small but growing industries now (there are 16 such distilleries in the state at the moment) but within my own memory from the 1960s it was a cottage industry even if it wasn’t legal. Elbert County never had the reputation of, say, the Gumlog community of Franklin County for its moonshining magnates, but I’m inclined to think that’s because Elbert County’s craftsmen of the pot stills were just better at keeping their wet goods trade within acceptable bounds.

My father never operated a still, but in the 1960s he built several. Besides auto repairs, at his shop at Pearl Mill he kept most of the local farmers’ equipment operating and did custom welding. He could build just about anything out of metal. And that’s how the still-making came about.

He never went near a law school but my father was an independent-minded man who had a fine natural understanding of the distinction between the concepts of malum in se, something evil or wrong owing to its own nature, and malum prohibitum, wrong (but never really genuinely evil) simply because someone, or a group of someones, thought it should be illegal, a good part of the time the someones being uptight self-righteous busybodies. If a small farmer needed to boost his cash flow in a bad year or if a mill worker with a large family needed to eke out his wages by making and selling a little ‘shine, my father didn’t care. Most people around in our community who gave an opinion on the matter that I recollect felt the same way. From my father’s perspective, at least, making the still was just a job of work. He had the hard and fast rule, though, that he’d never assemble the still in his shop or even have all the parts in the shop at the same time.

My memories of all this are clear, as clear no doubt as the consciences of all involved. Still, I’ll mention none of the names. Some of the sons and daughters of the moonshiners are still around and there’s no need to or use in causing them any embarrassment now. They’re from good families and some of them, in fact, are church deacons and Sunday school teachers, like their fathers before them.

Living in the unincorporated county, I don’t have a vote on Elberton’s Sunday sales referendum, just an opinion.

I understand most of the overall concern of those pious souls opposing Sunday sales. Like many other things humans can choose to take in, alcohol can be abused with terrible consequences, not just for the drunkard but for his or her family and sometimes for perfect strangers. Concern for all the aforementioned should be lauded. But the argument of many is still “Should there not be one day, and the traditional Sabbath at that, when temptation to drink should not be present?”

Except that that is never the case. Those afflicted with an inability to control their drinking inevitably take pains, like those facing imposed legal prohibition at all times, to ensure their own supply. And the well-meaning are thus left fighting a fatuous battle over vacuous symbolism. I respect faithful men (and women) of the cloth even when we disagree, such as this instance, enough to make the case that they would do more good where those potentially lost souls are concerned by speaking from their pulpits and acting through outreach programs than worrying whether the average citizen can buy a six-pack on Sunday to drink that lazy afternoon or have a beer or a glass of wine with their restaurant meal after church.

I’ll take my own cue from the Book of Benjamin. From Benjamin Franklin, that is. The rascally Sage of Philadelphia never addressed the matter of Sunday alcohol sales, per se, but in a 1761 letter written from England to a friend back in Franklin’s native Boston he did address the matter of the “Sunday laws” then common in Puritan-inspired New England. These edicts prohibited doing just about anything on Sundays that might lead one to crack a smile, much less laugh. You could do little within the law except sit and contemplate Scripture and all the things you could be doing if it wasn’t Sunday, all the things you could do any other day of the week.

Franklin wrote that he had met none of the so-called “Sunday laws” in England. Instead he saw people “singing, fiddling and dancing.” (Very likely, I would venture, with some drinking involved.) He noted, too, that the cities were in good order, the fields tended, the cattle and horses fat. “All this evidence,’ Franklin wrote, “would make one suspect that the Diety is not so angry at that offense [Sunday frivolity] as a New England justice.”

So if the Elberton voters approve the referendums, on some Sunday, in some venue, I’ll raise a toast to Ben.