No, I’m not from Hart County, but I got here as fast as I could. And that was 20 years ago, when we bought our farm on Lake Hartwell. I’ll never forget the day I stepped off Buck Chapman’s boat and climbed that hardwood-studded bluff overlooking Lightwood Log Creek. A fraternity brother, an Atlanta real estate wizard, was offering commentary every inch of the way. When we topped the hill and checked the vista, Will Shankle mused, “This looks like a lot of work.”
I gave Will’s eulogy about 10 years ago, but his words still echo inside my head. I hear him Himself.”
On the eve of this Thanksgiving, we pause to thank the Lord for His blessings. He’s been right there with us on the farm. And Will was spot-on. The to-do list grows faster than the crabgrass in the vineyard. That’s why we are grateful for three hay-wagon loads of friends who have helped us transform our patch of weeds, grass, trees and structures into a place that has given us so much joy.
I know that I am going to step into a hole here and forget some friends. I apologize in advance, but I want to thank some folks. The best place to start my gratitude is with Buck. My UGA fraternity big brother, Steve Smith, married Buck’s sister, Carol. In 1969, I was in their Hartwell wedding. That’s how I met Buck. In 1995, I called Buck and rattled off our wish list for Lake Hartwell property. He said, “You better come soon.” A day or two later, I was in his boat.
On closing day, I walked into Buck’s office with a cardboard box. I told the sellers—Margaret Burns Craft, Jimmy Burns and Mary Burns Montgomery—that I wanted to pay in cash. Their eyebrows arched. Laughing, I opened the box and handed them jars of South Georgia tupelo honey. I promised my check was good, and we’d strive to make them and their late parents, George and Mary Madge Burns, proud.
Pete and Margaret Craft have treated our family as family. We’ve done our best to reciprocate. Over the years, Pete has been our first-responder and Hart County Google. When I asked Roy Cheshire to dig holes to plant sugar maples, I met his dad, Raymond. Roy has hauled us a mountain of gravel since. And his late father’s fingerprints are on dozens of projects. Raymond was our ever-eager Mr. Fix-It.
Across the road, Carlton and Rosa Stamey embraced us, too. Until Carlton died, he was always ready to open his cabinet shop to lend his tools and skills. Rosa was quick to break out a funny story and a warm apple cake. Down behind the mule barn are our friends, Neal and Joy Story, who live on the lake. They love our animals as much as we do. Well, I did have to move our eating-through-the-fence goats away from their flowers.
You can count on Judy and Dan Lee for a kind word and a wave on their daily walks. Across the back-pasture fence, neighbors Donna and Bobby Pate are good for waves, too. We’ve watched Dr. Ed Wysong jog up and down our road for two decades. And if I’ve needed as little as a two-by-four, Larry Ford has sent Tyrone our way. When I pass Modern Tire, I honk at Larry Haley. Larry and his helper, Clarence, have strung fence wire and cut hay from the beginning.
These days, the Milner brothers—George and Tim—are our irreplaceable helpers. With their wide range of talents, the retired teachers just keep on rescuing me out of tights. And farms generate plenty of tights. The work never ends. That’s why I am grateful Dick Philips is one my trusted agricultural advisors.
This list could run until Santa slides down your chimneys, but I’m keeping you from your Thanksgiving-turkey dinner. So, if I’ve missed expressing my appreciation to you, forgive me. Every one of you has made our years in Hart County a cornucopia of happiness and blessings.