Thanksgiving Blessings of Times Past Remain to This Day

The bang of the door, the scent of home, and the love and laughter that comes from being surrounded by our kinfolk never grows old

Thanksgiving dinners were always held at our house on Georgia Street. Situated at the center of the block, it also held center stage for our larger-than-life family. Kinfolk gathered around 10 o’clock in the morning and the festivities ended well after dark had settled on the day.

Coming in from the outside cold, your senses were assaulted with scents of home as soon as you opened the back door. The kitchen was filled with whiffs of cakes baking in the oven, the sweet potatoes still warm, and the steam from the turkey giblets simmered on the stove-top. The turkey sat patiently on the counter next to the stove, waiting its turn to roast.

At the heart of the activity was Mama, standing at the kitchen table mixing up the cornbread dressing: one pan with oysters and one without.

Soon, the top of the deep freezer, now covered with a white tablecloth, as well as the kitchen counters, would be filled with enough food to feed an army. The buffet in the dining room was already laden with Japanese fruit cake, four pumpkin pies, four lemon meringue pies, two pecan pies (pecans were expensive) and Mama’s famous lemon-cheese cake.

More delicacies would arrive with the family. Next to their strong and unwavering sense of family, the Clarks loved food.

Carloads of relatives arrived and unloaded, and the yard and house soon filled to overflowing.

Uncle L.G., Uncle Noah Lee, and my mother, Gladys, each had families of five children. Uncle Laverne, Aunt Mildred, and Uncle Elbert had a combined total of 5 children.

Even though the children were instructed to stay in the yard, it was only a matter of minutes before the whole lot of us were off and running toward the barn, our favorite place for adventure. Slipping under the fence, we carefully made our way across the pasture. Walking as fast as we dared, no one made a sound for fear of alerting the horse or the cows, but especially the bull. The bull had never attacked anyone, but being kids we assumed the worst.

The mob reached the barn with one objective in mind. Climb it.

Reaching the top of the slanted tin roof required a special technique. After stepping on the lone cross tie, where the old hand pump stood on a pole, you would wedge your foot (shoes were recommended, although being barefoot was always an option) in between the smooth wooden slats of the lean-to. Then, begin slowly inching yourself upward by grabbing the end post, by which you pulled yourself up to the first level. This surface comprised the only flat portion of the roof. After the first kid was up, it was customary to give the city cousins a hand, as barn climbing was primarily a holiday experience for them.

After levering yourself upward another foot, you were now on the rooftop. Balance and caution were required, as the ground was approximately 20 feet below. The situation was better if everyone sat down, but when you were double-dog-dared to walk the length of the roof and back, no South Georgia kid worth his salt would refuse to take the dare.

Cobs of corn and hay string were passed out to everyone, with the instructions to securely tie the hay string around the corn cob, because there were no extras and once you were up, you didn’t go back down. After the corn was tied tightly to the cob, you would walk as far as you dared towards the edge and lie down on your stomach, meticulously dropping your string. Then, you’d wait. Pretty soon, one of the cows or the horse noticed the dangling piece of corn and came to investigate. In hushed, excited whispers we gave the warning.

“Be quiet. Here they come.”

The endeavor was kind of like fishing, except the unshelled corn was the bait, and we were trying to catch a cow instead of a fish. The first tug of the string as the cow took a bite was exciting, but a little scary. More often than not, the string was dropped in lieu of being pulled over the edge as the cow grappled with the corn.

Soon, we could hear the adults calling us to Thanksgiving dinner.

“Y’all come on in. It’s time to eat.”

Dropping our makeshift poles and lines, we clambered down, the older kids helping the younger ones. No child was left behind. The horse and the cows were occupied, busily eating the discarded corn. They paid no attention as we ran past them in a herd, headed back to the house.

Soon, 20 little angels said the blessing.

The men stood outside talking while the young’uns were served. Granny sat at the head of the dining table, smiling and enjoying every minute of the festivities, while Aunt Nita fixed her a plate.

As always, the boisterous and booming laughter and loud voices which accompanied the meal rang through the house. Kids ran in circles around the living room, playing with Uncle Noah Lee. Mama darted from the kitchen to the dining room in fast motion. Daddy removed to the den, trying in vain to hear the TV.

After dinner, we children drew names for Christmas, the day when we do the whole thing over again. Around dusk-dark, leftovers were served for supper before everyone headed home. Those who didn’t stay for supper filled a box, taking it with them to enjoy later.

As the last car departed, quietness settled over the house. Thanksgiving was over. But, the blessings of those days remain with me to this day.

Watch Out for Those Yucky Pumpkins! A Cautionary Tale

Before making your pie, make sure you know your yucky pumpkins.   

Three years ago, my youngest grandson, Logan received a diagnosis of ASD, Autistic Spectrum Disorder.  While the finding does not define him, autism is a part of who he is and for that reason, we embrace it.  

He sees this world differently.  It is no easy task for any of us, but especially for him.  

The happiness and laughter outweigh our sadness, as we live with this delightfully intelligent child.  He has a unique way of making sense of things, with a language and an operating system all his own. 

Occasionally, he is downright refreshing.   Oftentimes, he is entertainingly funny.

Last fall, his class assignment was to draw his favorite part of the book, The Ugly Pumpkin, and write a sentence describing the book.  He drew and colored four orange pumpkins, three with happy faces and one with a sad face.  

The sentence read, “The pumpkin was happy.” 

 Aunt Wendy was bragging on his pumpkin picture.  

“Oh, Logan,” she said.  

“These are beautiful pumpkins and they’re so happy. But, why is this last little pumpkin so sad?” she asked in a pitiful voice.  

Without hesitation, Logan replied, “He’s a YUCKY pumpkin.”  

“Oh.” Wendy responded. 

“If I was a yucky pumpkin, I would be sad, too.” 

Logan stopped.  

Without missing a beat, he looked at Wendy.

“You was a pumpkin?” he asked.

The moral of the story? 

As you whip up that pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving, please make certain it’s not your favorite Aunt Wendy! 

This year, as you carve your family jack-o-lantern, will it be a happy or yucky pumpkins? Logan and his Aunt Wendy would love it if you would post a favorite pic of your family pumpkin to the wall on our Facebook page.

Post your pumpkin here.

A Harvest of Leaves: a Rare, Golden Moment Between Summer and Autumn

As a child, our backyard was home to several oak trees, filled with Spanish moss and leaves.  In the fall, we spent Saturdays raking and burning leaves. 

Most folks don’t realize that here, oak trees are evergreen. The rare, southern native live oak is evergreen, not deciduous. Each year, the 60 to 100 feet of canopy is tipped with new leaves which push the old ones aside to make room for next year’s growth.

Our yard was full of old oaks. 

We had never heard of a burn permit. You simply piled up the leaves on the side of the street and struck a match.  I remember throwing moss on the fire, listening to the crackling as the old, dried moss caught and burned, leaving a thin trail of black smoke, as the moss quickly disappeared.  

We’d pile tons of leaves into the back of Daddy’s old International pickup and climb on. Flowered scarves around our heads, round pink movie star sunglasses on. Then, too soon piling off with the leaves underneath the grape vines. 

The distinctive scent of a South Georgia bonfire leaves us yearning for marshmallows and simpler days and early fall afternoons spent outdoors.

A 300-year old live oak grove like this one is almost unheard of in these parts after decades of timbering. We took great care to site the lodge around the trees, leaving the natural habitat intact for everyone who comes here to experience and enjoy. 

Why don’t you join us at Newell Lodge and enjoy this rare, golden moment between late summer and early autumn? You'll love our Buffalo Creek campsites and the understated elegance of the nature that surrounds us this time of year.

Yes, at Newell Lodge, the Buffalo Creek RV and tent sites are open for the area’s festival friendly month of October.

During festival season, we offer a special rate for tent campers, glampers, and RV homesteaders who want to escape to the quiet elegance of the Newell landscape after a day – or night – of fun and frolics. 

This private offer is extended only to our loyal community of subscribers, and you won’t find it anywhere else. 

You’re invited to set up your home base at Newell Lodge for $30 night for tenting or 30-amp sites, and $40 night for 50-amp sites, now through October 31, 2019. That’s a 15% + savings over our regular rates, and it includes use of the amenities.

Newell Lodge lies in the middle of beautiful forested land accessed by sandy dirt roads. Burning daylight or rubber in these parts isn’t wise, especially late in the day. Therefore, RV check-in is not allowed past 6 p.m. Please plan accordingly.

Remember, we are located within an hour, give or take a few minutes, of many of the finest fall festivals our region has to offer. During October, we encourage you to consider the annual Okefenokee Festival and Pioneer Days at the swamp.

Plus, we’re set up for the best of the region’s outdoor living, from campfires and trail rides, picnics and bike rides, to clay shoots and bird watching. Or, ask us for directions to the area’s best-kept secrets for antiquing and sightseeing.

Let’s fest!

Ready to do a bit of camping at the Lodge – and grab this special rate - while you’re attending your favorite area fall or family festivities? 

We’re looking forward to hosting your visit. 

See you later, Alligator!

The Button and the Girl Who Could Not Sew

A missing button on pair of favorite slacks is such a simple thing to repair.  Yet, the task at hand would open a button tin of memory.

In a long-ago family of five daughters, four were excellent seamstresses.  When it came to a sewing project, there was nothing those girls would not attempt. The more complicated, the better they liked it. However, the middle child had no desire to sew.  At the insistence of her mother, she tried, tried again and each time, failed miserably.

This genetic flaw was a complete mystery to her talented mother and sisters.  They never understood how this could be. Even as adults, they would quietly commiserate to each other, “Kay has never learned to sew.”

Mine was a tightly buttoned family secret.

Just this morning, I stood looking at the slacks with the missing button, from out of nowhere, came the thought, “Call Mama to sew on this button.”

Just as quickly, reality reminded me that Mama was no longer here.  But, the memory of another morning, just like this one began to play in technicolor on a reel in my head.

“Mama, I need you so sew a button on for me this morning.”

“Do you have the button?”

“No, I assumed you could find one in that button tin.”

The bottomless assortment of buttons was always a good bet.

“I can’t believe you don’t have a button, a needle or piece of thread,” says Mama in dismay.

“Everybody ought to have a needle and a spool of thread in their house.”

“Why should I? "It is so easy to walk across the street to your house and have you sew for me,” I explained.

That response pushed her button, figuratively speaking.

Totally exasperated, she exclaimed, “I can’t believe you cannot sew on a button.”

We'd had this conversation more than once.

“You know I can’t sew.”  I offer, which was better than, “I don’t want to.”

"Who’s going sew on a button for you when I’m not here?” she retorted.

“I’ll take it to the laundry.”  I said, laughing.

Now, she’s mortified.

“I would be embarrassed to ask the laundry to sew a button on a piece of clothes for me. How much do they charge for sewing on a button?”

Still laughing, I reply, “I don’t know. You’ve been doing it for me.”

Ever the eternal optimist, Mama bought a small quilted sewing box for me. The flowered box was stocked with several packs of needles, two spools of thread, black and white, a pin cushion, and an assortment of buttons.

This morning, for the first time, I pulled that little sewing box from the top shelf of my closet and opened the lid. Each notion in that beautiful sewing box was still brand new, just as she had placed it there so many years ago.

Right on top lay a simple button that was exactly right.

That old familiar lump forms in my throat every time I think of my mother, and that button held an entire tin of memories.

Despite taking breaths as short as stitches, I could stop neither the smile, nor bittersweet tears that filled my eyes.

Yes, I sewed that button onto my slacks. Because I don’t know how much the laundry will charge, and I really need to wear those slacks today.

Thank you, Mama.

Pickin’ Butterbeans

Aunt Gussie always had a garden.  

As a child, I did not appreciate the value of that garden nor of the hours she spent in the boiling hot south-Georgia sun to keep it “going.” Yet, she planted an abundance of everything-tomatoes, butterbeans, squash, cucumbers, silver queen corn, snap beans, okra, watermelons, and any other vegetable that might catch her eye.  

Gussie Jean Carter Mitchell Miller kept her garden well-tended and plentiful.  She loved sharing the bounty of her efforts with her family, friends, neighbors, and her neighbor’s relatives along with their friends.  Filling bushel baskets of produce to overflowing, she’d grab a few extras, throw them on top saying, “Here. Take a few more.” 

Giving was what she did best.

With our large family, it was a given we were on the receiving end of her generosity and love.  My parents expected us to do our part in the harvesting and canning. So, we did. 

Tell me any kid who wouldn’t want to spend their Saturdays picking butterbeans on a row ½ mile long?  I know four. We complained. We argued. We bellyached. We did not want to spend our Saturdays in Aunt Gussie’s 5-acre garden.   

My mother’s philosophy was quite simple. 

“It doesn’t matter whether you want to go or not. Your wants won’t hurt you. Those tomatoes are going bad, if we don’t get them off the vine.”

 End of discussion.    

As soon as it was daylight, we loaded up in our ’57 Chevy and drove the 20 miles to Aunt Gussie’s for the day and half the night. Once we received our pickin’ instructions, Aunt Gussie would return to the house to start cooking.  Never mind that it was only 7:30 in the morning and she had just cooked an outlandish breakfast for us an hour ago.

Around 10:00 a.m. she returned to the field to check our progress. 

The heat was rising and so were our tempers.  We were sick of this. It was hotter than blue blazes out there. Why were we the only ones picking peas in the dust and dirt?  

I was at the far end of the mile long butterbean row when I saw Aunt Gussie headed my way.  

“What now?”, I thought.  

I watched as she scrutinized every blessed bush along the way. Occasionally she would stoop over to get a closer view. With each passing step she made, my annoyance grew exponentially. 

Might as well get this over with, so I headed her way.  I knew what she was going to say by the way she was looking at those gosh awful butterbean bushes. 

“When you get to the end of row, I want you to come back down on the other side and re-pick this row.  Let’s get all these butterbeans, so y'all will have a good mess,” she said. 

Inwardly, I screamed. “Nooooooo!” 

Over half the butterbeans I had in my bucket were so small you could hardly find a bean inside the shell. This butterbean horror would never end. 

How many butterbeans does it take to make a mess? I wondered, but kept my thoughts to myself and instead said, “Yes ma’am.” 

At the end of that two-mile butterbean row, sweat was trickling down my back.  The salty dampness found its way into my eyes. My irritation was so great, I could hardly speak. 

Finally, my spirits lifted as I approached the end of that three-mile row of butterbeans.  

We lugged our buckets to the truck four-miles away and helped Daddy hoist them onto the back of Uncle Roy’s truck.  

Headed home.  Finally. 

Nope.  Aunt Gussie had dinner ready.  Another feast.  

Fried chicken, ham, fresh peas with ham hocks, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, rice, stewed tomatoes, Silver Queen creamed corn, biscuits, pound cake, and sugar free sponge cake for Uncle Roy. (He was a diabetic.)  And, of course, a huge bowl of fresh butterbeans! 

Reluctantly, I ate my fair share of those butterbeans knowing the leftovers would re-appear on our table for Sunday dinner! 

As Aunt Gussie handed me that bowl of butterbeans to place in our take-home box, only one thought was running through my mind. As the old saying goes, “Spill the beans.” 

My life was richly blessed because I had an Aunt Gussie, who left me with a wealth of fond memories and a low tolerance for butterbeans.  

Happy Shelling. 

Newell's Last, Great Cattle Drive Sparks the Legend of Trail Boss and Cookie.

Growing up, did you want to be a cowboy or a cowgirl?

Saturday morning’s TV western line-up was a sacred time at our house. My sisters and I would sit on the floor in front the black and white TV with bowls of cereal filled to overflowing. We waited impatiently for the rugged Marlboro Man cigarette commercial to end and our shows to begin.

In the Old West, good triumphed over bad.  Right overcame wrong. There was no middle ground in Gunsmoke, the Roy Rogers Show, or Bonanza. Every Saturday morning, we were exposed to gun-totin’ good guys, outlaws, bank robberies, shoot-outs, and fist fights in Miss Kitty’s saloon. We’d imagine wearing the worn, dusty boots, and the broad, curled brim hat while sitting in the saddle, waiting to “ride out.”

To us, our cowboy heroes were as real as real could be.

Marshal Matt Dillion could break up a saloon brawl single handedly and never pull his gun. Remember Rawhide?  I had no idea who Clint Eastwood was, but I certainly knew Rowdy Yates. I travelled from Missouri through the Rockies on Wagon Train. Little Joe, Hoss and Adam were weekly family visitors here on the Ponderosa.

Fast forward some 40 years later.  Most certainly, you’d think the appeal of those childhood heroes had faded like Miss Kitty’s wallpaper. That we’d left the fascination with the Old West and cattle drives had been left in the dust.  

Think again.  

At Newell Lodge, we had the horses.  We had the cattle. We had a buckboard wagon, also known as “The Chuck Wagon.”  Most importantly, we had my husband Harvin’s imagination, creativity, and love for a crowd of people.

What comes next now, in retrospect, seems inevitable.

Word of the cattle drive spread quickly in our community.  Despite south Georgia’s scorching July heat, we turned horse and rider teams away. When time came to hit the trail, the ratio of horses and riders to the cattle was two to one.

The plan was to “drive” the outnumbered cattle a short distance to an adjacent property. There, a hearty cowboy repast would be prepared and served at the Chuck Wagon.  Our lunchtime layover would allow the cows to water and guests to enjoy a reprieve from the browbeating sun.

My husband, Harvin was the trail boss and I was “Cookie”.  Cookie was not a term of endearment. I was the cook. As in food preparation.    On cattle drives, it was common for the “cookie” to be second in authority only to the “trail boss”.   


The air was scented with dust, saddle leather and excitement as the cowboys and cowgirls readied their horses for the drive.  We burned daylight and then some. Turned out Trail Boss was experiencing few coordination issues. Everyone had a different approach to “driving cattle,” complicated by the fact that there was no one amongst us who had ever actually done so.  

Finally, Trail Boss said we were ready to go.

“Head ‘em up, move ‘em out.  Keep them doggies rollin’.”

He actually said, “Open the gates.”  

The cattle were a little confused by the open gate. They stood there looking at their horse counterparts, wondering what they should do and in need of a little encouragement.

Trail Boss and his horse worked their way inside the holding pen with an impressive cowboy whoop and a downward swipe of his hat.  In hindsight, Trail Boss should have maintained his lead position.

Cattle bolted from the pen in one direction, a blur of brown and white. Horses and riders scattered with pounding hooves as they quickly moved out of the way of the stampede.  

“Close the front gates”, shouted Trail Boss over the chaos.  Luckily, Cookie heard the call and quickly ran to close the front gates.  

If only it had ended there.  But alas, it did not.

The more experienced riders rounded up the strays and quickly had the livestock huddled together. Then, the front gates were re-opened and we made our way through with a sense of freedom, accompanied by high spirits.

Once the steers stepped through the front gates, they left us all in a dead run.  Several ran straight ahead. A few turned around and went back through the front gate. The remainder dispersed in every direction through the woods.  

As second in command, Cookie decided to turn the chuck wagon around and set up camp.  For the next several hours, riders searched for the cows. By sundown, the riders had long since eaten their hearty meals at the Chuck Wagon and headed home. Full on darkness approached and several of the livestock were still missing in action.

Trail Boss and Cookie took the pickup truck and a flashlight to search the dirt roads for stragglers.  We’d counted heads and come up two steers short. After hearing distressed bellows in a thicket, we parked and trekked into the woods.  With only a flashlight and sheer determination, we found the last two cows. Surprisingly, they seemed happy to see us and walked docilely back to the dirt road. Wiser now, we used the truck to guide them safely home.  

Nigh onto midnight, the gates were finally closed for the day.  The cows, at least, were fed and contented.

As we returned to the truck, Trail Boss said to Cookie, “I think everything went pretty well, don’t you?”  

My husband, the Trail Boss and eternal optimist.  

Happy Trails.

Words to the Wise for Would-be Brides

Getting Married? Getting Everything Done Can Be Easier Than You Think

Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, More
Check Out Wedding Websites Galore,
Wedding Planners, Magazines,
Internet Articles, Old-Fashioned Opines
Random Thoughts from Family & Friends,
Wedding Apps – Oh, the list never ends!

The options for planning your wedding run like an endless litany through your head.

Think you might just go crazy? Try this before you run down the road to insanity, which has more traffic on it than I-95.  

Stop.  Take a deep breath.  Breath in. Breath out.  

Look at your beautiful engagement ring and think of that wonderful man who has just asked you to marry him.  Enjoy the wonder of being engaged.

First things first.  The wedding is not tomorrow.  But if it is, no worries.

Run down to the county courthouse, apply for your marriage license and find an officiant to perform the ceremony.  Tomorrow comes and you’re married. Whew! That was easy. It’s possible, it’s inexpensive, and you’re married.

But I imagine that’s hardly what you have in mind.  

Here’s my recommendation.  Before thinking of size, décor, style, money, bridesmaids, money, honeymoon, more money, or extended families, there’s one big question to ask yourself.

Here it is. Are you ready?

“What’s important?”      

Take a moment and answer that question truthfully. Your wedding is a time of celebration, when you share your most special day with the people you love.  

So, how do you, me, and we get to the wedding on time?  

We plan, using the 5 Phases to a Perfect Newell Lodge Wedding:

Phase 1.    Organization.

◻︎ List your thoughts and ideas in a wedding planner or use an app, whichever works for you.
Include those you love in the planning stage, especially your fiancé.  Even if he has no opinion and agrees with everything you say (which is fantastic) he’s included and has the potential of being a great husband.
Set a flexible budget.  (Flexible: Bending easily without breaking.)

The budget gives you an idea of what you want to spend vs what you can spend.  Sure, the $15,000 wedding would be phenomenal, but a smaller, less expensive wedding is equally beautiful. Plus, you’re married.

◻︎ Involve the financial-decision makers in the planning process (if you’re not paying for your own wedding). Your parents want you to have the best but may not want to take out a 2nd mortgage on the house.
Choose your theme, style, colors, décor, & wedding attendants.
Choose the menu for your outdoor Newell Lodge rehearsal supper, traditional reception, or buffet dinner. Customize your preferences with your catering pro.

Phase 2.  Make plans.     

◻︎ Make your guest list.  This is important. The number of guests will affect your overall budget and play an important role in your choice of the Newell Lodge Gazebo, the larger Pavilion, or choose a natural setting for your ceremony.
Decide on a venue & book your date, as early as possible.
Now is the time to mail “Save the Date” cards.
Book the officiant who will perform the wedding ceremony.
Choose your photographer, florist, entertainer, caterer & menu, hairstylist
Choose your wedding gown
Register for gifts
Create your wedding website. Optional.

Phase 3.  Double Check.  

◻︎ Check your Phase 1 & Phase 2 lists, making sure all items have been resolved.
Select & Order Wedding Attire for attendants.
Honeymoon Plans. Ask about our special arrangements for newlyweds.
Book your Newell Lodge reservations for out of town guests.

Phase 4.  Small Details.  

◻︎ Order the wedding invitations.
Order the Wedding Cake & the Grooms Cake.  Ask the venue for details on delivery & setup.
Rent formal wear, if necessary.
Double-check lists.

Phase 5.  Finishing Touches.

◻︎ Do you have special requests to include in your wedding vows?  Plan them now.
◻︎ Touch base with your wedding vendors.  Make sure everything is ready to go, confirming dates, times, and deliveries.
◻︎ Apply for your marriage license.
◻︎ Take care of yourself by scheduling a manicure, pedicure, and massage.
◻︎ Mail the wedding invitations at least 6 weeks out.  

Everything is in place.  Your wedding day has arrived.  You’ll inevitably create special memories that you, your family, and your friends will fondly remember in years to come.  

To the happy South Georgia bride, it doesn’t really matter that the buttercream icing was melting before the cake was cut, or that the flower girl went to sleep as she waited patiently in the church vestibule.

When joined by loved ones beneath timeless, Spanish moss-laden oak boughs, yours will absolutely be the perfect wedding you always imagined.

Okefenokee May Is Beautiful, But You'll Need to Remember Your Swamp Manners

The last of the missing Easter eggs has been located under a sofa pillow, and the egg salad sandwiches have long since disappeared. Spring is moving quickly this year, so quickly that the month of May has taken us almost by surprise.

May is one of my favorite times of year. The sun is warm, but not yet hot. The Swamp hums with new life and honey bees. The Satilla and the Saint Mary’s Rivers reflect a Monet-worthy landscape of curved tree roots, Spanish moss, and wildflowers. The Tupelo and Laurel Bay add a sweetness to the air, and the skies are never a brighter shade of blue than right now.

At the Lodge, we keep our eyes peeled for any sign of animal babies. There’s the dappled fawn that follows her mother on dew-laden grass across the horse pasture. Or the young squirrels chasing one another’s tails while being scolded by their mothers.

Too, the lightning bugs resembling fairies at play twinkle at dusk among the palmettos.

A few years back, the New York Times sent a writer down here to canoe the swamp. They do that about every 10 or 15 years. The Okefenokee may not be as well known as the Louisiana bayous or the Florida Everglades, but in my humble opinion, it’s 100 times more beautiful. But don’t take my word for it. You’ll want to judge for yourself!

If you do go canoeing - which you’ll be tempted to do in this weather - just be certain to keep your hands inside the boat. Don’t be tempted to rinse off your hands in the silent water. Because the truth is, those still waters run deep. Alligators can smell you and your lunch coming from a mile away. A young, hungry gator could very well be sitting underneath your boat waiting for you to forget your swamp manners and reach out a hand.

Same goes for swimming. You don’t want to go swimming in the swamp, and don’t let your dog run about, either. Alligators will find either option whets their appetites in the right circumstances.

When it comes to alligators, it’s important to be respectful of their wallows and nests. You know that song, “Never Smile at a Crocodile?” Well, the same is true of mother alligators. Don’t look them in the eye, and don’t wait around if you do.

Not long after that New York Times article came out, my niece and her significant other decided to go canoeing. The pair accidentally happened upon a Mama alligator on her nest when rounding a bend up from King’s Landing. The outraged Mama bumped the canoe from underneath, then turned on a dime and snapped her jaws in warning. She put her snout right in my niece’s face, so close that she felt the air move and spittle hit her cheeks.

Do you reckon they paddled fast enough in the opposite direction? You’d be right!

Those of you who want to spend a day in the swamp will relish this beautiful time of year. And those who’d rather not can kick back in rustic style and sip homemade lemonade on the front porch and listen to the woodpeckers tap happily away at breakfast. Or that’s how we do things around here. Come on by, and we’ll show you.

Spring Weddings

In spring, it’s not uncommon for a young man or woman’s fancy to turn to love and then to marriage. So many couples are planning to wed between now and the end of June, that we encourage the bride to wait no longer to choose the destination for the happy event.

Family and friends who visit Newell Lodge for the weddings held here tend to enjoy the relaxed, rustic yet elegant landscape and lodging that feels like home. The 300 year old oak grove at the heart of the lodge is a picturesque symbol of the enduring love to which newly married couples aspire. Beautiful by day, the grove is particularly enchanting at night, offering an affordable option for a quality destination wedding and unforgettable celebration of love.

If you or someone you love hopes for a Newell Lodge destination wedding in the near future, we encourage you to reserve a time to talk. As the on-site wedding and event coordinator at the lodge, it would be my honor to learn more about the bride and groom’s vision for their special day.

Here are a few hints about making it real:

  1. Timing is Everything - During this peak time of year, brides will want to reserve their wedding and reception sooner than later. Waiting too long means the choice venues, lodging and weekends will no longer be available.
  2. Involve the Decision-Maker Up Front - if someone else is paying for the wedding, having their buy-in at each stage of the planning process ensures there are no surprises.
  3. Budget Bodaciously - Know that one’s vision can withstand a smart planning strategy. For example, when planning the reception, a budget-conscious bride may opt for a buffet or barbecue as a crowd-pleasing dinner option. Or, she might consider a cash bar instead of unlimited pours, if she’d like to serve alcohol without blowing the budget.
  4. Destination First - The place often influences the theme and decor of the wedding. So choose your destination early, then explore the expression of themes with the on-site event manager and preferred florist.
  5. Experience Is Everything - A destination wedding is not right for every couple. However, local or regional ties plus the arrival of out-of-town guests suggests that planning around one destination is on the right track. At Newell Lodge, we help plan romantic, family style adventures that bring the people you love closer together.

If I can be of service, please do not hesitate to ask.


The Mother of the Brides: A Tale of Five Sisters and My Mama’s Wedding Woes

To be “mother of the bride” is a daunting role, at best.  Maybe you’re the mother of a cherished daughter or even two.  But, imagine being the mother of five girls!  

If there was ever a perfect role- model for the mother of the bride, it was my mother, Gladys Clark Carter. To play the part of “mother of the bride” is daunting, at best, and downright impossible at worst.  Maybe you’re the mother of a cherished daughter or even two.  But, imagine being the mother of five girls! I now wonder, “How did Mama do it?”  

Please enjoy these short tales of five beautiful daughters, their elegant weddings, and the Mother of the Brides.

Daughter No. 1:  Phyllis Anne

my eldest sister, and the opening act to our five-act play

In the 1960’s,  Amy Vanderbilt dictated the scene: the church, the flowers, candelabras flanking both sides of the podium, an ordained minister and the bridal party.

My mother and sister had worked together, making the most economical decisions while maintaining simplistic beauty.

The big day arrived on August 5, 1966.  Finally, everything was in place.  

My sister was getting ready in one of the Sunday School classrooms and crying.  She cried as much as she did the awful day Snowball, the family dog, tragically died.  My mother and her sister, Aunt Mildred, were there. Tears streamed down their faces.  

My three sisters and I cried because it seemed the thing to do under the circumstances. The situation seemed dire.

Finally, someone had the good sense to send for our Daddy, who was the most loving, patient and understanding man I have ever known.  Never raised his voice, slow to anger, a man of few words. Until That Day.    

 He stepped into the room and with one quick glance at my mother, who was sniffing into a Kleenex and said, “What’s wrong?”  

We all looked at the Bride, with enormous, black tears (from the Maybelline Mascara) running down her face.  

“What’s the matter?”  he asked.  “I don’t know,” Phyllis Anne muttered through sobs.  

“Do you want to do this?”  he asked again.  

“I don’t know,” she answered again.

“Stop crying, because I’m calling this thing off.” He said, as he turned toward the door.

“But I love him”, she said.  

“Then, dry it up,” he said.  

Everyone heard that. It was like someone had flipped the light switch to the off position.

Blessed quietness, except for a few leftover sniffles.  The wedding went on as planned.

Phyllis Anne was beautiful, even with the swollen, tear-filled eyes and no mascara.

Thankfully, we must have gotten it all out of our system, as no-one cried during the wedding.

Daughter No. 2: Glenda Sue

Also known as the challenging, get out of my way, sister

Sue didn’t mind a good fight or pulling pranks on us kids.She never took her turn doing the dishes, refused to participate in household chores, and (when she chose) made our lives generally miserable.  

As Sue was always a source of concern for my mother, she felt it necessary to have a lengthy discussion with her fiance. In Mama’s infinite wisdom, and from her experience, she suggested that he call off the wedding.  

She underscored for him the above stated reasons, plus a few more for good measure.  

But her efforts were without avail. The young man couldn’t be swayed.

“But I love her,” he said.  

The wedding day arrived, and remarkably, not a tear was shed. (We clearly remembered the preamble to the 1966 wedding.)  

My mother whispered to the soon-to-be brother-in-law, as we waited outside the church.

“Remember what I told you.”  

Again, he ignored her.  He was in love.  

Fast forward to the second year of marital bliss.  An argument erupted between the husband and wife.  He was leaving. After some settling down and apologies, he thought better of his departure.  

“Where were you planning to go?” my sister later asked.  

Without hesitation, he replied, “To your Mama’s!”  

He knew Mama would understand his plight.  My mother and brother-in-law would maintain a strong bond until her death decades later.

To this day, anytime he needs extra ammunition, he reminds my sister, “Your Mama told me not to marry you.”

“Then why did you?” she responds. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sister No. 3.  Kay

The sweet one.  That’s me.  

The wedding was lovely: beautiful bride, handsome groom.  My two younger sisters, Grace and Kathy, were the bridesmaids.

Evidently, they were so young in the ‘60’s that they didn’t get the memo. Let’s just say that the no-crying mandate did not carry over into the ‘70’s.  

By the time to walk down the aisle arrived, they’d cried so much that both Mama and Daddy, had tears in their eyes.

“You don’t have to do this,” my daddy gently said. 

“But I love him”, I said.

So Grace and Kathy sobbed. Before the wedding, and during the ceremony, no less. Heart-rending, nose blowing sobs. With buckets of tears.

There were times, when the pastor paused because he could not be heard.  

Despite the overflow of emotion, the wedding was splendid. Amazingly, the photographs were also fantastic, despite my sisters’ swollen, tear filled eyes. After the wedding, they continued to weep, even as the cameraman tried to coax smiles.

Sister No. 4:  Grace

The dynamic, “I’m in charge” sister

If you know Grace, you know there’s no stopping her, although my mother tried, bless her heart.

“I don’t think this is the thing for you to do,” said Mom.  

“But I love him,” responds by sister.    

Grace, the fourth sister married shortly after our Daddy passed away, with an unenviable result: Mama had no backup on this one.

The wedding went off without a hitch, except for one small detail.

A well-meaning friend of my sister decided to stitch the fly of the groom’s trousers closed, a bit of a practical joke. A short delay ensued in the opening of the ceremony.

Everyone, with the exception of the groom, of course, thought the innovation hilarious.

Sister No. 5:  Kathy

The baby. Her wedding would be the grand finale.  

Mama wanted this wedding to be perfect in every way.  Maybe, because she had learned from the last four, and she knew this daughter’s marriage would be the last she’d orchestrate.

Phyllis Anne and Sue, my two older sisters, worked tirelessly alongside my mother.  Months were spent in preparation. Though, breaking with tradition, no advice was given to either the bride or groom.  Maybe, my mother decided there was no need to try, after four failed attempts.  

The wedding was perfectly peachy. No tears were shed. As the newly married couple finally pulled away from the church, tin cans clinking from the rear bumper, the entire family breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“Thank goodness,” said Mama. It was over.

What I learned about the qualities of a Mother of the Bride from my Mama:

A well-prepared mother of the bride is a godsend at a time when emotions run high. She fulfills many roles and performs numerous responsibilities.

As needed, she’s the driving force who makes it happen, with a smile on her face.

As the problem solver, she’s the go-to person for decisions and implementation.

The consummate wedding hostess, the mother of the bride must maintain her composure and listen to ideas from everyone.

Checking her list twice, she makes certain that Aunt Marthie and Uncle Arthur are on the guest list.

She navigates the emotional and financial roller coaster and smooths out rough spots.

Finally, she bears joyful witness to her beautiful daughters’ lifetime commitments to their new husbands.

Blessings to all Mothers of Brides. May they be as beloved as my own.