Author Sams takes an insider’s look at Fayette history

Fri, 05/18/2007 - 3:47pm
By: Cal Beverly

[Editor’s note: Known to many as Sambo, Dr. Ferrol Sams Jr. has written a roman á clef, a novel in which real people appear with made-up names. The Fayetteville physician’s first novel — 1982’s “Run with the Horsemen,” published when he was 60 — was a regional bestseller and won several awards. Below is a section of his newest work — “Down Town” — in which the origin of Peachtree City, thinly disguised as Magnoliadale, is described.]

What Mr. Big Buncombe Braswell did for our county was to put it on the map with a reputation as prestigious property. Atlanta, just like he kept saying, was coming our way, and the zoning pretty well excluded poor people. A bunch of entrepreneurs, from up north of all places, bought up several thousand acres of land out west of our town while land was still cheap, paid five dollars an acre for some of it and never more than fifty. Then they hired an ambitious young graduate of Georgia Tech and had the property incorporated as Magnoliadale. They built a great big lake and put in even tighter zoning than the county. They had an industrial park, a city hall, a bank, a golf course, and so help me God a country club. They even paved golf cart paths all through the city, but they didn’t have the first sign of a trailer court or mobile home village.

Magnoliadale grew so fast it made heads in our town spin and tongues wag. Sometimes accurately. You never saw the likes of people who moved into that new city. Started off it was mostly airline pilots, a heap of whom were working on second marriages and were trying to make mama happy. Then by cracky if that Tech graduate didn’t commence to attracting real industry into Magnoliadale’s industrial park and here came a bigger pack of yankees than had come through with Sherman, and a good many of them from Ohio, too.

None of the newcomers had the faintest idea how and why the Huddlestons, Adamses, Stinchcombs, McElwaneys, Turnipseeds, and Dettmerings were kin to each other. This was before any of us had even heard of DNA, but there was a considerable amount of it shared in our county, although the old-timers didn’t need it. We could look at somebody and know why a McElwaney nose was on a Dettmering face or a Huddleston jaw showed up on an Adams woman, no matter how many generations back it went. The newcomers acted as though it wasn’t important and they could care less. Believe you me, that young Tech graduate put in and learned all about us though, which was just one of the many factors that contributed to his success.

With most of the newcomers playing golf and drinking cocktails and acting like they were colonizing Lower Patagonia or something, we locals began to feel threatened, especially when somebody started the rumor that the Tech boy wanted to move the courthouse to Magnoliadale. Personally, I would have traded it in a heartbeat for the golf course and the golf cart paths.

All this new development did to Mr. Big Bunc was to reenergize him. He worked even harder on the county zoning, and before you knew it, land prices had skyrocketed to five or even ten thousand dollars an acre, and dirt farmers were selling out. In fact, as soon as we all realized the courthouse was sacrosanct, a few of them even took their newly acquired money and moved to Magnoliadale and started playing golf. They are obliged to have known the rest of us were watching them closely, but they did it anyhow. Like that fancy doctor said at the Grizzelle wedding, “Money talks, you know.”

The unspoken attitude in our town toward Magnoliadale became guarded tolerance. It was all right to be nice to those people, but don’t let your daughter date one. You can’t ever tell when a young person might fall in love.

By Ferrol Sams
To be published June, 2007
Hardback 309 Pages
Mercer University Press
Price $25.00

Below is a review of the novel by Carolyn Cary, Fayette County’s official historian and a frequent contributor to The Citizen:

Ferrol Sams uncorks tales about Fayette


Once again, our local humorist, storyteller, and recently retired physician, Ferrol Sams, 84, has told the story of his beloved county.

It is told in the voice of a lawyer, who was reared and worked until retirement in the county of his birth.

The books is subtitled, “The Journal of James Aloysius Holcombe, Jr. for Ephraim Holcombe Mookinfoos.”

Lawyer Aloysius relates the rising and falling fortunes of the town’s former and present citizens, beginning with those returning from the War Between the States. It introduces various men and women who come from poor backgrounds, backgrounds similar to Aloysius and those who pretty much were townspeople most of their life.

It includes shrewd politicians, not very nice politicians, honest business store owners, shrewd store owners, the local mortician who always went above and beyond, men who marry women who do not show their manipulative characteristics until after the “I do” and bankers who are determined to remain the only bank in town, no matter what.

It tells of the hard times after Reconstruction, those returning from World War I, surviving during the Depression of the 1930s, World War II veterans, and what happens to the 190 square miles of the county when pilots seek land away from the airport and their first wife, when businesses discover a brand new pre-planned community, complete with train tracks, and an industrial park all rolled into one.

He relates with pride the peaceful integration of the schools and the love of the families for each other, both black and white, through the years.

Aloysius chronicles how the native-born cope with the changes, and seeing the population increase 1,100 percent in the last 30 years. They are still active in the Kiwanis, the Rotary, etc., their churches, and looking out for those less fortunate.

As Aloysius frequently states, “this is a marvelous town, we sure tend to look after our own. If Geoffrey Chaucer had known these folks, “Canterbury Tales” might have been longer. And possibly even richer. What a town!”

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mapleleaf's picture
Submitted by mapleleaf on Sat, 05/19/2007 - 8:14am.

“Roman à clef” is a French term. It can also be written as “roman à clé,” as the spellings of “clef” and “clé” are interchangeable. It is pronounced as ro-mah a klay, with the middle “a” as in bag (or the first letter in Alabama).

The expression roman à clef could literally be translated as “novel with a key.” It is a true story, but with the characters and facts disguised. You can decipher the story with a “key,” which can tell you that Magnoliadale, for instance, stands for Peachtree City.

Sambo (whose name gives you an opportunity to use your “key”) has always been good with this genre, and his age, wisdom and experience, not to mention his good sense of humor, have given him a wonderful opportunity to instruct and entertain us all at once. His new book will be a welcome addition to his older ones: I have read them all and they were a pleasure to read.

Submitted by tonto707 on Fri, 05/18/2007 - 4:35pm.

to get a copy of this book. Being a latecomer to Fayette County and Magnoliadale, I am sure Sambo will be sharing a lot of juicy stuff with us, stuff those folks up in Fayetteville really wouldn't care if we never knew.

Go Sambo.

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