I went to see the locally written and produced play “A Good Life” last night and it was wonderful. Madison County resident Stephanie Astalos-Jones interviewed many, many Madison County residents and recorded their histories, their memories, and their stories. She collected these stories and edited them down, auditioned actors, again all local, and produced a staged reading. Though to their credit most of the actors did not read but acted. The Georgia Council for the Arts and the Grassroots Arts Program made it possible through a grants and support.
Held at the high school the play opened with a traditional folk song “Bright Morning Stars are Rising” as the entire company marched in from the rear of the auditorium. It is a traditional spiritual sung a Capella.
The stories began with local lore and information about the times of the Native Americans, Conestoga wagons, and then the first set was struck with a very cute roundabout in the old General Store, 1949. If you wanted moonshine, all you had to do is ask for a pair of shoes, size 10 1/2 with a wink wink. The men dished, “Didja hear about the deacon that ordered liquor and had it shipped by freight? Well, my cousin works for the railroad and he saw the manifest. That deacon thought no one would know! But my cousin did. When the box got here it was marked “songbooks” but it was leakin’! Omer called him up and said “Joe, yer songbooks is here and they’s leaking!”
Memories of the river: baptisms, cooling off after picking cotton, family outings…the party lines on the telephone. The woman who wore a gunny sack with a string but when her house caught fire ordered the firemen to unearth all her lard cans full of hundreds. She was filthy rich all along. Chicken Alley: the place where the farmers brought their spare chickens or their eggs once a week and sold them to the man who came around, offering wives a few pennies to stretch their meager budgets between cotton harvests.
The Sheriff in the 50s who stopped a speeder. Asked his address, the speeder said “Pocataligo.” Sheriff goes back to his vehicle, asks the deputy, “How do you spell Pocataligo? If I don’t spell it right, the judge gonna throw it out.” The deputy says, “I dunno.” “I know!” says the sheriff. “We’ll let him go and then pick him up in Ila!”
Relations between blacks and whits were addressed, it seemed that at times they were easy, other times very hard. One black man spoke of the times in the 1940s and 50s when the Klan was trying to make a comeback. He spoke of parades down Route 72, and the men in white sheets trying to recruit at the high school. The sheets, he said, were the men’s pathetic attempt to shield their identities. But, he said, the blacks were all domestic workers in the white’s homes. “We washed those robes. We knew who they were.”
The overwhelming theme was one of connection to the land. This is agricultural country after all. But also that the land provided a good life. The people, the churches, the games, the socials, all were good, hard, clean…lives of people who care for one another. And the lives, black and white, educated and poor, from Carlton to Danielsville, all combine to make the tapestry that is Madison County.