Letting go….or not…

Less than two weeks til the Tour of Homes. Our house looks like something exploded. I keep trying to clear clutter from all the rooms, but all I seem to be doing is shovelling it from one spot to another. Take the upstairs guest bedroom. Boomerang Boy has annexed it into his own personal closet/laundry area. So I’m dealing with that. For months, I’ve been eyeing this tattered cardboard file box. Sunday it was time to deal with it. Chanting my new mantra…”letting go. this is me letting go,”
I lifted the lid of the box. Inside were several years worth of my old life as a newspaper reporter. Before switching careers in mid-life, I spent 14 years as a journalist, the last ten at The Atlanta Journal Constitution. One of the things you do as a journalist is save your stories, or clips, as they’re called in the biz. This box seems to have clips from the late 80s. My intention was to just dump the whole box in the fireplace and toss in a match. But then I looked at the item on the top of the stack. It was a story from 1987. Apparently I’d interviewed Pat Boone for a story about his taking over hosting duties on the PTL club, after the scandal-plagued Jim Baaker had been forced out. I totally had NO memory of ever talking to Pat Boone. I sifted through more pages. And the thing was, since my stories generally played on the front of the AJC’s features section, my stories ran right alongside the column of Celestine Sibley. If you never read Celestine Sibley’s column, which ran for more than 50 years in the AJC, or read any of her wonderful mysteries, novels or collected essays, you’ve missed a rare treat. Celestine was an Altanta, even a Southern institution. She died in August of 1999, and the AJC has never been the same since. I met her when I went to work at the AJC downtown in 1983, and despite the age difference–she was literally old enough to be my grandmother, we became fast friends. We both loved covering crime stories, which we’d both done earlier in our careers. We loved antiques, and gardens, and cooking, and writing. When I decided to try to write a novel, ‘Tine cheered me on. When my son Andy was born, she wrote a column about racing back from her second home on Dog Island, and stopping along the way to buy him a baby gift–a pair of Blue Willow cups and saucers. She knew I collected Blue Willow, and, as she wrote in that column, she wanted him to have those as a gift from her–to him and his future wife. I still have that clipping, pressed into Andrew’s baby book. When I’d only written five chapters of EVERY CROOKED NANNY, ‘Tine hand-carried it to her longtime editor at HarperCollins, and pestered Larry until he read–and eventually bought and published it. When NANNY came out, she wrote another column telling the world what a good book it was. My career as a novelist was officially launched. I have that column too. When the old downtown Rich’s Department Store closed, shortly before I left the paper, she took me and another friend to the Magnolia Tea Room, which was another Atlanta institution, for one last lunch. Or rather, I ended up taking her. As so often happened, when ‘Tine opened her billfold to pay, she was flat broke. She’d probably handed her last five dollar bill to one of the bag ladies who regularly visited her in her office at the paper, or to a wino, who waylaid her on her way to the office from the Five Points MARTA station. It didn’t matter. The old-timey staff in the Magnolia Room recognized her as soon as we arrived. At the time, the store had a baby grand piano in the restaurant, and the pianist came over, introduced himself as a fan, and asked what she’d like to hear. Show tunes, ‘Tine said, so that’s what we listened to with our chicken potpie and iced tea. Show tunes. Rich’s is gone now. They bulldozed the old building years ago, and a couple years ago, the corporate suits at Macy’s decided to do away with the Rich’s brand altogether. Celestine, as I mentioned, passed away in the summer of 1999. This past year, the AJC, in all its wisdom, downsized and forced most of its veteran reporters into retirement. Time marches on, right? And I still have that cardboard box of bylines and memories. So maybe I won’t let go just now.

6 thoughts on “Letting go….or not…”

  1. Oh no, don’t let that go. I’ve only been writing full time for 2.5 years and I’ve kept EVERYTHING…much to my husband’s chagrin. I figure one day, if this writing thing doesn’t work out, I can at least read what I wrote and enjoy it!

  2. I’m such a sentimental fool, I keep everything! I also teach preschool, my motto in life seems to be “I’m sure we can use that for something”. Ugh- my basement is busting at the seams. Those are awesome stories though, lovin’ old times in Atlanta. Christmas brings out the sentimental part of me as I pull out decorations from my Grandparents that I remember from when I was little, ornaments my husband or I made as kids, things people have given us …. ahhhh… let the memories flow!

  3. I remember the old Rich’s. Our grandparents always had a cake tied up in a white box from there when we’d visit back in the good old days.

  4. I remember the old Rich’s too. When I was a kid, my mom and dad would pack us four kids into the station wagon at Christmastime and drive downtown from Marietta. It was a wondrous store! Today’s department stores just aren’t like the old downtown department stores. My favorite sections were the books, the perfume section and the Christmas ornaments. My mom still has some of those ornaments that she hangs on her tree every year.

    Celestine Sibley was a family favorite. My mom and I would read her column in the AJC faithfully. My mom was a teacher at St. James School in Marietta and one of her students gave her the book “A Place Called Sweet Apple”. We spent many Sunday drives as a family driving around North Fulton County trying to figure out where “Sweet Apple” was. Ironically enough, a friend of mine was in the play “Turned Funny” this year and I told him the story about our search for Sweet Apple. He told me he had been there and gave me directions how to get there! It turns out I drive right by it on my way home from work every day!

    My husband and I were at a street festival in Marietta a few months ago and a used book collector had a few of Celestine Sibley’s old books for sale. I grabbed them up and dropped a cool $50+ on them! They have been added to my cherished old book collection.

  5. Found your blog this afternoon, on a cold snowy day, here in the midwest. Will be a fequent reader as I love your books and now will enjoy your blog. Keep it coming!

  6. I found your blog when I did a web search of a Celestine Sibley “clip.” My cousin mentioned Christmas night what a delight her 12-year old son had turned out to be, surprisingly enough. I remarked that Celestine wrote a column about that once that I remembered. It was about one of her grandsons I think. One of those precious treats of hers that has stuck with me for twenty years or more. What a wonderful connection between my reading habits of yesterday and today . . . I’m a big fan of yours and I was raised on Celestine . . . yes my mama, grandma and aunts were on a first name basis with Celestine, Jack, Muv and all the usual characters. How lucky was I to grow up in a family of readers? Some of my earliest “reading” memories are of my mother sharing a column with me. And here’s a little bit of Sweet Apple trivia – my 4th great-grandfather, James C. Adams built the original cabin that Sweet Apple was constructed from. Imagine what it was like to find out I have a connection like that to the Sweet Apple I grew up hearing about!

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