Elvis, Resilience & the Garden Club

This is the story of resilience, of making something out of nothing, of rising out of the bad times.

From Nothing

Elvis Presley was born

  • in the poorest state (Mississippi)
  • during the poorest time (the Great Depression),
  • on the wrong side of the tracks.

How did he rise from the depths to mega-success?

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Elvis’ birthplace, left (courtesy of the Elvis Birthplace Museum)

His Father had Gumption

In 1934, Elvis’ mother was expecting the future King. So her husband built a tiny home for them (above) — with his own hands!

  • Time was running out, so he asked for help from his father and brother to build the shack.
  • He didn’t have the $180 for building materials so he borrowed it from the farmer for whom he was a sharecropper. Elvis was born in the shack in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi.

Elvis’ father had can-do, will-do attitude!

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Elvis and his parents (photo courtesy of Elvis Birthplace Museum)

When Elvis was three, his parents defaulted on the $180 loan. They were evicted. Elvis’ father lost his job. For the next 10 years, they worked odd jobs in Tupelo.

The Kid’s Got Talent!

At age 10, shy, be-speckled Elvis entered the talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show at the Tupelo Fairgrounds. He sang “Old Shep” in a WELO Radio broadcast of the show, and won $5 in fair ride tickets.

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Elvis, far right, wearing glasses. Note that he is the only boy wearing a tie & suspenders. Even then, Elvis was a snappy dresser! (photo courtesy of Lee County Courier)

And Generosity

By age 21, he was famous. He had moved to Memphis but came back to Tupelo to perform at the same fairgrounds where he had won the prize at age 10. Click here to see the 1956 concert. The next year, he gave a concert in Tupelo and donated all proceeds to the city to build a park on the land surrounding the shack.

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(photo courtesy of the Elvis Birthplace Museum)

But It Almost Didn’t Happen

One day in Tupelo, long before Elvis was famous, his mother wanted to buy a present for his 10th birthday.  So she and E walked to the hardware store (pictured below).  Because Elvis had always been fascinated by music, his mother wanted to buy a guitar for him. But when they walked into the store, Elvis saw a rifle and wanted that instead! After the store clerk allowed him to test it, Elvis decided on the guitar. Click here to read a letter from the very same store clerk.

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(photos courtesy of Tupelo Hardware)

His Church Pastor taught Elvis to Play the Guitar

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Elvis’ childhood church (photo courtesy of Elvis Birthplace Museum)

Elvis first heard gospel music, which influenced his singing, at the little church he and his parents attended regularly.

Elvis and the Garden Club: Really?

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Elvis’ birthplace (photo courtesy of the Elvis Birthplace Museum)

“In 1971, the East Heights Garden Club [in Tupelo] began to improve the birthplace as a club project. Over the years the club purchased furniture and other pieces to duplicate the house’s contents from when the Presleys lived there in the 30s,” according to the Elvis Birthplace Museum.

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Garden club ladies (photo courtesy of activerain)

Faith, Hope and Love

Elvis had all three. Maybe that’s why he was able to catapult his talent out of the ashes.

Visit Tupelo’s Elvis Birthplace Museum to see the shack and the family church. Drive to the nearby hardware store. While Graceland is fun, the EBM is touching and inspirational.

 

 

Georgia Fan

I’m a Georgia fan! You’ve seen my posts on wild, undeveloped Cumberland Island and the lovely, languorous Savannah

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Cumberland Island

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Savannah

But here are five Georgia gems that may not be on your radar… and should!

Thomasville

Come see the gorgeous houses built by the rich “Yankees” (e.g., Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. B. F. Goodrich, Alexander Graham Bell) when they came down from cities in the Northeast and Midwest in the late 1800’s.

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Col. Oliver Hazard Payne,  an organizer of the American Tobacco trust, who also assisted with the formation of U.S. Steel, and was affiliated with Standard Oil, bought Greenwood Plantation in Thomasville for a shooting plantation. (photo, circa 1899. courtesy of the Pebble Hill Plantation)

“As the terminus for the railroad, Thomasville was accessible from the north and, during the late 1800’s, became known as the ‘Winter Resort of the South.’ In the beginning of this era, Northerners and other visitors came to Thomasville for their health, breathing the pine-scented air as a curative for pulmonary ailments. They were soon joined by friends to enjoy hunting, fishing, and an active social life, including golf, horse racing and bicycling. Thomasville came to represent the best of Southern hospitality with the lavishness of the resort lifestyle…

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random gorgeous house in Thomasville

Once they discovered that it cost less to purchase land than rent hotel rooms, these wealthy families bought property and built grand Victorian mansions and plantation homes. Many of these plantations are still owned by the families who built them and…have been lovingly restored,” according to Thomasville’s website.

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I desperately wanted to buy this pre-Civil War house!

Thomasville is definitely worthy of an overnight. Stay at The Paxton and request the first floor room, as they don’t have an elevator and who wants to lug heavy suitcases upstairs?! The Paxton is in Thomasville proper, so you can walk to restaurants around this small town. Dine at the Sweet Grass Dairy, a cheese shop (123 S. Broad Street) and restaurant with cheese-centric dishes. Shop at Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel (111 S. Broad Street). In addition to hunting and fishing gear, Kevin’s sells beautiful tableware, splashy coffee table books, and even offers travel services

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(photo courtesy of Kevin’s)

If you would rather experience staying on a plantation, book a cottage at nearby Pebble Hill Plantation…or just visit for an afternoon. “Hard times during the Civil War and afterwards during Reconstruction created rundown, disheveled property all across the South. Pebble Hill was no exception. The beautiful Main House, designed by architect John Wind in 1851, was in desperate need of repair when Mel purchased the property in 1896,” according to the Pebble Hill Plantation’s website. “Mel” was one of the rich “Yankees” who came from the Midwest to escape the snow.

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Pebble Hill Plantation garden in winter

For an excellent list of more things to do in the Thomasville area, click here. BTW, did you know that Joanne Woodward was born in Thomasville? You just know she brought Paul Newman (swoon) home to visit!

Milledgeville

  • is on the Southern Literary Trail, connecting places in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi that influenced great novelists and playwrights of the 20th Century. Writers Flannery O’Connor (“Wise Blood,” etc.) and Alice Walker (“The Color Purple,” etc.) grew up near Milledgeville. Visit peaceful and evocative  Andalusia Farm, where Miz Flannery completed the bulk of her literary work when she lived there from 1951-1964.
  • is a thriving, small college town, thanks to Georgia College & State University, founded in 1889.
  • has a dramatic Governor’s Mansion with an interesting history.
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Governor’s Mansion in Milledgeville

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Alex Hitz

Alex Hitz, who The Wall Street Journal called “the very best host in the world,” grew up in Atlanta. This summer, I have been cooking my way through his beautiful and sophisticated cookbook, “My Beverly Hills Kitchen.” His recipes are classic Southern cooking with a French twist. Three traits make his cookbook a stand-out:

  • The recipes are consistently good.
  • The intro paragraph to each recipe is always interesting.  For example, did you know that Vichyssoise was invented in the U.S.?
  • Most of his recipes include recommendations for accompanying dishes.

You might want to make some of Alex’s pimento cheese for a snack on your road trip around Georgia. When my friend, Mary Ann, took me on a trip to a small town in Georgia, I was offered glorious pimento cheese sandwiches from three different hosts within 24 hours…and that’s what I like about the South!

Plains

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Jimmy Carter’s former presidential campaign HQ in Plains’ old train station

  • President Jimmy and First Lady Rosalynn Carter are from Plains, a small, unpretentious, rural town, where the Carters were prosperous peanut farmers. Jimmy and Rosalynn were high school sweethearts, whose families were good friends. This couple has come a long way, baby!
  • Visit the Old Schoolhouse Museum for the story of President Carter’s life from boyhood to the presidency.
  • I have heard from a reliable source that the Buffalo Café (118 Main Street) is wonderful!
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random street scene in Plains

  • Visit Maranatha Baptist Church where President Carter still teaches Sunday school, attracting people from all over the world. So impressive, especially given that he is 94 years old! Click here to read an article about this in The Washington Post.
  • Check out nearby Andersonville Civil War cemetery, former site of a prisoner of war camp.

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Between Plains and Macon is beautiful Massee Lane Gardens in Marshallville, home of the American Camellia Society. Best in winter for blooms.

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Farmer Brown’s (photo courtesy of my friend from Georgia)

Also en route from Plains to Macon, stop at Farmer Brown’s Produce Market in Montezuma, GA.  Summer or fall for peaches, produce, peach blossom dessert and ice cream, and zinnia picking. Sounds like a little slice of heaven to me!

Macon

Check out its…

  • eye-popping architecture
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Macon’s Cowles-Bond House, circa 1836

  • Southern throwback comfort food at
    • S&S Cafeteria
    • H&H Restaurant located downtown, with the same wonderful food as S&S, but almost a shrine to the Allman Bros. along with other musicians who dined there in the heyday of Capricorn Records, per my Georgia friend, who took this scrumptious photo…IMG_8496.jpg
    • Dovetail – “divine new Southern cuisine downtown,” according to my Georgia friend, Mary Ann, who knows good food!
    • Rookery – “downtown institution with great bar food,” says Mary Ann.
  • Wesleyan College, the first woman’s college in U.S.. Ever heard of the Soong sisters? I bet you’ve heard of Madame Chiang Kai-shek. Well, before she was Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, she was one of the Soong sisters, from far away China. They attended Wesleyan College. Click here, for their intriguing story.
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We stayed at Macon’s 1842 Inn (pictured here), which was okay and in a great neighborhood.

Musical Travelling Companions

Pack your CDs, hop in your car, crank up the volume and get your groove on with Southern rock and soul bands produced by yet another Georgia gem, Capricorn Records!

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Sing to me, Otis!  (photo courtesy of performingsongwriter.com)

We’re talking the incomparable Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Delbert McClinton (that man’s got soul) and many more.

Literary Travelling Companions

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, and An Hour Before Daylight, by Jimmy Carter

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peaches from Farmer Brown’s

A hearty thanks to my Georgia friend, Miz Mary Ann, and her wonderful parents, without whom I would not have known about most of these gems. It sure pays to know interesting and interested people!

England’s Gravetye Manor has it All

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This looks like countless country house hotels, at first blush. But it’s far, far better than them all. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Gorgeous Gardens created by a Groundbreaking Designer

The gardens were designed by one of THE GREATS in garden design, Mr. William Robinson, who pioneered the English country garden look. Robinson’s home was Gravetye Manor for many years, during which time he transformed the 1,000-acre property. Today, Gravetye Manor employs eight full-time gardeners, lest you be wondering why your garden doesn’t look quite like this.

Long border view

(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Take a stroll through the gardens, cocktail in hand, as the sun is setting before dinner. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Garden design revolutionary, Mr. William Robinson, on his 94th birthday surrounded by the 94 white peonies he received as a present. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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Gravetye Manor grows much of the fruits and vegetables it serves, as well as a profusion of flowers, which you will see on tables, windowsills, desks, everywhere around the house. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor) 

Beautiful Restaurant with a Well-Deserved Michelin Star

Gravetye Manor Hotel & Restaurant

That’s the Michelin-starred restaurant in the glass-fronted room looking onto the garden (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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When sitting inside the restaurant after dark, one can see the garden thanks to tasteful up-lighting. (my fab photo)

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Eating at Gravetye Manor’s restaurant is like eating inside of a Monet painting! (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

I usually find food photos intensely boring but had to make an exception here.

ALC Starter (Salad)

When I requested a starter with lots of vegetables, they whipped up this beauty with a perfect egg yolk in its center, despite its not being on the menu that night. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

ALC Dessert (Souffle)

Rhubarb souffle with ginger ice cream: Swoon! (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Old, Pretty Manor House in Mint Condition

Built in 1598 Gravetye Manor has had many an owner but its most notable was Mr. William Robinson, who lived here from 1884-1935 AND pioneered the English country garden look. He grew up poor, became a gardener, worked on increasingly fine gardens, wrote about them, and gradually saved enough money to buy the 1,000 acres that make up Gravetye Manor today. Read about him here!

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The wood is polished to a sheen and nary a speck of dust is in sight. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Hall

Reception: warm, welcoming, and flower-laden (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

Gravetye Manor has 17 big, handsome bedrooms with beautiful views. Holly and Chestnut are among the best.

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This was our room, called Chestnut. (photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

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This is the view from our window! Despite it being early Spring, the garden is still stunning. (photo courtesy of moi)

Flawless Service

Among THE best service I have ever experienced anywhere, including Asia, which is famous for its service. The managing director is a gentleman who is down-to-earth, has a sense of humor and believes it’s important for the staff’s personality to shine through because only that way does the customer receive genuinely warm service. Perfect! Considerate attention to details included:

  • When I merely glanced in the closet, the lovely woman who showed us to our room volunteered to bring more hangers.
  • When I asked for another soap, she brought two.
  • When we arrived back to Gravetye after a hike, they offered to clean our hiking boots, as if they were the finest of shoes.
  • Room service arrived when requested.
  • When we came back to the room after dinner,
    • the TV guide was open on our bed with the controls on top of it,
    • the tea kettle had been filled with water for the next morning,
    • a detailed map of the local area with the sites marked on them was open on the desk,
    • and a bookmark had been placed by each of our books.

Fun Facts

  • Gravetye Manor is 12 miles from England’s Gatwick Airport…though nary a plane will you hear when staying there.
  • While Gravetye Manor is 30 miles from central London, don’t think about taking a day-trip here, as you will be sad to leave after dinner.
  • We went to Gravetye because I had seen this article in Flower magazine about its glories. Check it out!
  • Things to Do: Many historic houses, famous gardens and fun activities abound nearby, including Winston Churchhill’s home, Chartwell, and Hever Castle, the girlhood home of Anne Boleyn, one of Henri VIII’s wives.
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My photo, of which I am VERY proud!

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(photo courtesy of Gravetye Manor)

When you go the Gravetye Manor, please try to get that Rhubarb Soufflé recipe from the chef and pass it on to me. So good!