By Mary Ann DeSantis | Photography courtesy of Corey Crouse
As families gather for the holidays, stories and family legends will flow as easily as the Christmas gravy. The authors of “Do Tell!” recommend writing down those oral histories to preserve cherished memories.
When Corey Crouse moved to small Greensboro, Georgia, in 1990 she was fascinated by the stories she heard from the local residents as she volunteered with the Greene County Historical Society. Before long, she and three other women were brainstorming a way to preserve those oral histories for future generations.
Crouse and the others – Susan Erlandson, Tamie Moran, and Cynthia Smith – pooled together about $500 to publish “Do Tell! Tales Told on Southern Porches.” The book contains more than 30 homespun stories that capture the history and character of a unique rural Georgia community, not unlike many others throughout the South.
She points out that every community has its own tales to tell. “It just takes someone to pull it all together,” she said.
Three of the authors grew up and lived in other states; only one – Cynthia Smith – was a Greene County native.
“For this little town, it took outsiders to put the book together. We were fascinated by the stories we heard at the historical society. Cynthia kept everyone honest and made sure we told the truth,” Crouse said with a laugh.
In addition to towns like Greensboro preserving their histories in writings, Crouse firmly believes families also need to take the time to record the stories that grandparents tell their children and grandchildren – especially at family gatherings. And often those tales are told on the front porch, a place that can be magical, say the authors.
“You need to do this… write your history,” Crouse said. “If you don’t do it, it’s not going to get down and it will be lost forever.”
The authors describe the book as “factual” stories, taken from people who lived during the time the stories happened or know someone who did. Some, including a 100-year-old who has since passed on, were videotaped as they shared their memories.
“When a story is passed down from generation-to-generation, it can get diluted,” said Joel McRay, Greene County’s official historian. “Stories tend to change from telling-to-telling, but when you interview a person who actually saw something happen, chances are it’s accurate.”
One of Crouse’s favorite stories in the book actually took place in the building that now houses McRay’s florist shop but was once a bakery. “The Mysterious Marble Slab” recounts how a special-order marble slab disappeared from a young girl’s grave and ended up in the town’s bakery where it was used for candy making. When Charity Grimes, the girl’s mother, demanded to go into the baker’s secret underground chamber, she found the slab smooth and polished. “They say ‘Aunt Charity’ engaged in some conversation that her name did not imply, and the baker did not misunderstand her meaning… the marble slab was returned to its rightful place where it remains today,” according to the published tale.
In another more recent favorite story, baseball legend Mickey Mantle stopped at the Greensboro Herald Journal asking for directions to Ty Cobb’s grave, and the editor, Carey Williams Jr., took him to nearby Royston, Georgia, which is also home to the Ty Cobb Museum. The story “Mickey Mantle and the Loudest Introduction” describes how Mantle and the editor stopped at a bar called “The Flats,” and the owner thought they were “revenuers.” When the bartender wanted to introduce Mantle to his noisy clientele, he pulled a shotgun down from behind the bar and fired into the air.
“It was quiet as a funeral after that,” Williams said in the book.
Mantle added to the story: “I’ve been introduced at Yankee Stadium and all over the country, but the loudest introduction I ever had was at a bar in Royston.”
Mantle and Williams became friends, and Mantle even lived and played golf in Greene County. Williams said Mantle could have lunch in downtown or shop at the local grocery store and go “pretty much unnoticed.”
In addition to the historical photographs and illustrations – the work of John Crouse, Corey’s husband – the book also contains bonus features in the back, including a map of frontier forts on the nearby Oconee River and a handbill from the 1917 movie, “The Flaming Omen.”
“That was Tamie’s idea to include those,” added Crouse. “This book was born out of the historical society, which was long on history but short on artifacts.”
The project was a team effort with all of the women collecting stories and photos. Erlandson did most of the writing while Crouse designed the layout.
Now in its fifth printing, “Do Tell!” has more than recouped the initial money the women spent to get it printed. They’ve used the sales from the book, which sells for $22, for subsequent printings. They are also thinking about a second volume.
“When people read it, they tell us they have even better stories to share,” Crouse said with a laugh.