Foxfire Diary: From Bluegrass to Effie's Cafe

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On a dark and drizzly fall morning in Rabun County, Foxfire's folklore and mountain-music specialist, George Reynolds, begins the day's activities with a trip to nearby Tiger Elementary School, where two of his music classes will play for 3rd graders.

The musical fare is a blend of traditional songs ("My Darling Blue-Haired Boy"), Nashville country, and bluegrass.

But at least one student musician longs for a little more variety.

During the ride back to Rabun County High, she will try to convince a skeptical Mr. Reynolds to let her sing a song by Menudo--the Latin teen-rock group--next time out.

In performance at the school, the string group--four older boys playing guitar, banjo, mandolin, and bass--"stay together" fairly well through the two bluegrass instrumentals.

But nervousness locks some of the singers into a higher register than they had intended. Afterwards, Mr. Reynolds leads the performers through a self-critique.

"They really liked that last song," says one student.

"That's right," Mr. Reynolds says. "Finish with bluegrass and you'll leave them wanting more."

That afternoon, two seniors, Jo2p4seph Fowler and Annmarie Lee, take off in the boy's truck to do a Foxfire interview with a woman said to know how to make rhubarb wine.

Their destination is Effie Lord's Cafe in downtown Clayton, where the 84-year-old Ms. Lord serves home-cooked meals in a setting of marginal decor and stained walls.

In the kitchen there are open pots containing white beans, "snaps," cabbage, greens, sweet potatoes, corn bread, pork, and meat loaf. Customers serve themselves. In and behind a glass counter in the "eating room" is a jumble of photographs and oddities, including a miniature coffin decorated with a star-pattern formed with cigarette butts.

The students tape-record what Ms. Lord says and photograph the urn holding the rhubarb chunks, water, and sugar that is "working" (fermenting) into the sweet pink wine.

Ms. Lord says she is making the wine strictly for Foxfire's benefit; she neither drinks nor serves it.

A bit shy amid all the attention, the cafe proprietor resists attempts to lead her from recipe-giving into storytelling.

But an important moment occurs when she mentions making wine in a hollowed-out pumpkin--nobody working on the Foxfire Press's wine-making book has heard of such a thing.

Mr. Fowler gets so excited he runs down the street to the Winn-Dixie supermarket to buy a pumpkin. Unfortunately, there are none in stock--pumpkin wine will have to wait.

Other Foxfire contacts are considerably less audience-shy than Ms. Lord. The day before, one of the student magazine's most valued and productive sources, Lawton Brooks, had called and asked Eliot Wigginton to come by his apartment "just to talk."

Though Mr. Brooks is fond of saying he "feels 16--if you add 75," his supply of energy seems to match even Mr. Wigginton's.

And, in an informal interview, he certainly out-talks the Foxfire founder, holding forth on his superior grape-jelly making ("Taste that and tell me if it ain't the best durned stuff you ever put your jaws on"), his secret for growing gigantic potatoes, and the mysterious "fall off" of water levels in mountain creeks.

He also tells a childhood story about getting in trouble, along with his brother, for "aggravatin"' a big family turkey. Allegedly, the two boys made the turkey so angry on one occasion that the bird "butted grandpa" like a goat and knocked him down.

"That's one I never heard," Mr. Wigginton says afterwards.--ah

Vol. 05, Issue 14

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