Category Archives: People

Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Georgia’s Royal Connection

With the death of Queen Elizabeth dominating the news, Stan looks back at Georgia’s historic connections to Great Britain, the monarchy, and the British Empire.

The Power of Things Left Behind

“I carry you with me,
A ghost inside,
And in these shattered arms
You’re still alive.”

Heather Nova, “Walking Higher”

My father died one year ago, on September 5. A Sunday afternoon. 5:25 p.m. To say that I miss him doesn’t do justice to the wound that occupies the space he filled. I feel as if I’m drifting downstream, and I can still see him, standing on the riverbank. But I cannot swim back to him, against the current, and he can’t hear me calling for him. Every day, the waters that rush us along in life enlarge that gulf.

Some days I just want to call and talk to him about the latest Braves rookie phenom, or how good the Bulldogs look, or the best way to fix the belt on my lawn mower. I want him to know my knees hurt, just as his must have, when I painted the porch at our cabin this summer. Other days I want to hear his laughter, the way he laughed years ago when time and disease had not robbed him of the ability to let loose when something really tickled him.

Some days I just want to hear his voice say, “Hey Doc,” the way he always did whenever I called, and he picked up the phone. These are things I knew I would miss long before he was gone and knowing it has softened the blow not one whit.

Dad was a devoted Georgia Bulldogs and Atlanta Braves fan, and both teams won their respective championships in the months after his death. I know how much he would have loved to watch them win. I keep wanting to talk to him about it, to relive those glorious moments together, and it bothers me deeply that I can’t and never will.

I want to tell him that I know now how hard it must have been for him when his own father died in 1979, when Dad was 46 years old, how sorry I am that I didn’t try harder to comfort him and be there for him. But I know that, even then, he expected no comfort from a 14-year-old boy. Still, I wish that I could have shared that pain with him in a more meaningful way, now that I fully comprehend how crushing that loss was.

I regret the things we never talked about, but the truth is, I asked him everything that I really wanted to know. Except one. In his last weeks, when he could no longer stand or walk, when he must have known the end was near, I wanted to ask him if he was afraid of dying. And I wanted to tell him how badly we would miss him when he was gone. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want him to think there wasn’t hope, that we had given up, and so I remained silent.

I think I know what he would have said, though, given the example he lived throughout his long years. Afraid? No. It always seemed to me that Dad was incapable of fear. Death is part of life. I’m sure there were some days he welcomed it. But knowing him, I doubt he spent much time thinking about it. For Dad as for T.S. Eliot: “For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

The last month was hard, but after reading about others who suffered from cancer or Alzheimer’s, there was much to be thankful for. His mind was clear up to the last 24 hours before his death. As he battled idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, we feared in his last moments he’d be gasping for breath. When the end came, however, it was as peaceful and easy as if he’d gotten up out of his chair and walked out of the room. Sometimes that’s what it seemed like. It still feels at times as if he’s just gone somewhere and will be coming back. The finality of it, the eternal-ness of it, knowing I won’t see him again if I live to be a hundred—that part has been hard to accept.

I remember walking into my parents’ bedroom shortly after his death, and there, peeking out from the dresser, was a pair of his shoes. It wasn’t as if I didn’t know about the power of things left behind, but I wasn’t prepared, in that moment, for those shoes. He would never wear them again. The reality of it seized me, strangled me, reduced me to a quivering mess. I fought through it then, as I’ve done many times since. Sometimes I can’t.

I have many of his things left behind. The hat he wore when he first began driving a truck professionally in 1959. His pocketknife. Many of his shirts, his smell living in them still. His belts. And his handkerchiefs. I tuck one in my pocket every day as I go off to work, just as he did. A tangible reminder in a small piece of fabric of a loss still deeply felt. I owe him everything.

Grief is ever constant, silent, unseen by those around you. Grief is navigated on muggy morning runs, on quiet walks, on Sunday evenings, watching a crimson sky fade to black. It sits with you in the silent watches of the night.

James Baldwin wrote that “after departure, only invisible things are left.” The world, he said, is held together “by invisible chains of memory, loss, and love.”

Podcast S6E1: Star Trek, Horrifying Cliches, & Goodbye Georgy Girl

This week Stan looks back at one of the most popular TV shows ever, a Mad magazine cartoonist who left his mark on the holidays, a critical day in the American Civil War, a milestone birthday of a legendary football coach, one of the most momentous days in Olympic history, Travis McGee novels, and much more.

The Small Light Still Burning

My aunt Corine turned 95 on Sunday, August 7. She is my father’s oldest sister, the last remaining child of nine born to my grandmother and grandfather, who were both born in the first years of the 20th century, 120 years ago. As a historian, I probably appreciate this kind of longevity in a different way than most people.

Corine was born on the first Sunday in August in the summer of 1927, when Calvin Coolidge was president. He was the 30th president of the United States, and we are currently on number 46 (and remember that FDR served four terms). Coolidge has been dead since 1933, 89 years.

When she was born the Great Depression was still two years in the future. World War II was fourteen years away—and has been over now for 77 years.

Consider this: There were nearly 400,000 veterans of the American Civil War still living when she was born, a war that had ended 62 years earlier.

The very first major talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer, debuted that year on October 6. Philo Farnsworth transmitted the very first electronic television image in history on September 7. Charles Lindbergh flew the first solo nonstop airplane flight across the Atlantic in May. Forty-two years later she would witness the moon landing. The 1927 New York Yankees, widely considered to be the greatest baseball team in history with its famed Murderers Row that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, won 110 games that summer and then the World Series. Forty-seven years later she saw Hank Aaron break the Babe’s homerun record, and 47 years after that she watched the Braves win the World Series again.

She was born into a region where segregation and all its ugliness would reign supreme for another 40 years, and in an era when many of those formerly enslaved were still very much alive. She lived long enough to see the first African-American president serve two terms.

Corine remembers the 1936 Gainesville tornado, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the day President Roosevelt died in 1945.

She also remembers the sound of people’s voices who were born more than 150 years ago. She is the last living person on this earth who knew my great-grandfather (her grandfather), the man she called “Grandpa Deaton,” born in 1873.  He died in 1943, almost 80 years ago. She remembers not just him, of course, but every other relative alive then, all of them now only names on a family tree, their voices long silent. In her memory alone they survive as flesh-and-blood people.

Mother Teresa said that “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” Corine’s life has been a life of service and sacrifice. She was the oldest girl in a family of sharecroppers—six boys and three girls—with long years of hard toil in hot Georgia summers. (Dad used to jokingly tell listeners, “There were six of us boys in the family, and we each had three sisters.”) She revered her mother and father and lovingly helped to raise the seven siblings born after her. Indeed, she witnessed the entirety of those seven lives, literally from cradle to grave.

She labored as hard as her six brothers on that farm and remained on a first-name basis with work throughout her life. One summer afternoon years ago my father and I were repairing the roof on the garage at her house, and I went down the ladder for more supplies. When I climbed back up, there was Corine on the roof next to Dad, hammering away. She had seen her opportunity and didn’t miss it. Whenever Dad went to her house to do some work, he’d inevitably turn and find her by his side, whether yardwork, carpentry, or something mechanical. They were cut from the very same cloth. 

Her cooking is legendary, and for good reason. Generations tucked in at her table, always groaning with fried chicken, fresh-cooked vegetables, delicious cakes and pies, every mouth waiting for her gentle invitation to “take out and eat.” Not for her the cookbook or the recipe on a 3×5 card. It’s all in her head and every attempt to learn how she makes her biscuits (unmatched), or her sage cornbread dressing (a Christmas staple) was met with a laugh: “Lord, Stanley, I don’t know, I just make it like mama always did.”

Corine (top right in the photo above) is now the last of Hubert and Reba’s nine children still alive, a singular fate that she neither understands nor welcomes but accepts without complaint. Age gains ground, little by little, and then in bursts. She is still in strong mind if faltering body, still living alone though lovingly cared for by two of my cousins, Susan and Kelly, who are surely angels on earth. She is a lone messenger from a long-distant and irretrievable past, the last living link to a vanished time and place, to the people who passed through those years with her, who laughed and prayed and sang and loved, now all left behind with tears and a promise to meet again.

Corine’s long journey continues, day by day. As she has always done, she faces the future squarely, with courage, strength, and quiet dignity, patiently awaiting the summons, prepared, as Elizabeth Gray Vining said, for the great change that comes after this life of so many changes, whenever that may be. She enjoys life, and she endures it.

On her birthday and every day, we honor her and all that she represents, the living embodiment of the love that shaped her and has radiated outward to all of us through all those years and the lives that live on through her. She is dearly loved and treasured.

The Freshest Advices

Hello again. It’s been 8 months since I last spoke to you directly in this space, and a lot has happened since then. A lot. War in Ukraine. A landmark court case. Historic Congressional committee hearings. Divisive legislation in state houses across the country. FBI searches. Monkey pox. The University of Georgia won the College Football National Championship. The Major League Baseball season began. Our beloved Braves are winning though still underperforming. Better Call Saul is ending. I discovered honest-to-goodness Keto bread at the Red and White.

Much has also happened at the Georgia Historical Society, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading on this blog about some of the great scholars who have been visiting our newly renovated and expanded Research Center and the interesting projects they’re working on. We’ll continue to do that from time to time.

There’s a lot to catch up on regarding history in the public arena, and I hope to do that in this space very soon. To say that we live in interesting times would be an understatement.

For now, besides re-introducing myself here, I would be remiss if I didn’t note two recent deaths, one quite well known, the other less so but equally deserving.

Just this week, on August 7, we lost David McCullough, one of our very finest public historians, whose work in print and on television touched millions over the last 50 years. The large pile of books that he click-clacked out of his 1940 Royal manual typewriter in his small writing shed on Martha’s Vineyard were all deeply researched, beautifully written, and magisterial in scope. Two won Pulitzer Prizes. Every word was written for the public, not other scholars, and few practitioners of Clio’s craft did it as well as he. He proudly carried on the tradition of William Prescott, Francis Parkman, George Bancroft, Esther Forbes, Margaret Leech, Allan Nevins, and Bruce Catton. He will be sorely missed.

On July 29 Fred Mingledorff died, one of the last surviving combat veterans of World War II living here in Savannah (or anywhere else, for that matter). Three years ago, on the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Guam, in which he fought, I had the privilege of interviewing him for a podcast. He shared his vivid memories and nightmares about The War and his hopes and fears for the future. He had earlier donated to the Georgia Historical Society many of the artifacts he brought home as a US Marine from the Pacific, now preserved for educating future generations . It was honor to know this gentle, kind man, beloved by his family, friends, and the community that he served so long and so well. Fred Mingledorff, Marine Corps veteran, one of our last living links to the generation that saved the world in the darkest period of history, lived to be 98. Well done, sir. Semper Fi.

My long disappearance from this space may have prompted you to fear or hope that I had gone to seed somewhere, never to return, moldering blissfully away glass in hand, whiskey-sodden in a malaria-infested backwater or mountain-top aerie. No such luck for you. As this blog has attested over the previous months, work here at GHS has been busy, and summer hiatus is now over. Long-suffering readers will once again be afflicted with blogs, podcasts, videos, book and movie reviews, articles about history and sports, food, or whatever else is on my mind.

Stay tuned and stay safe, and as always, thank you for reading.