My mom grew up on a farm in central Georgia. She was the youngest of 10 children, and her family spanned generations in a way that was unusual even for the Deep South. Her father, Wirt Little, was born at the tail end of the Civil War and had his first child with his much-younger wife, Kate, when he was in his 50s. Mom’s oldest brother, Buddy, died in World War I from mustard gas, which the Germans used to turn the Allied trenches into killing beds.
Her other siblings were every bit as colorful as their names, which included Marshall, Kat, Sis, Bib and, my personal favorite, Longino. That name had a typically Southern origin… Kate went into labor during a horrible storm, and the local obstetrician, Dr. Longino, survived a rough trip in a horse-drawn buggy to deliver the baby, which was named Longino in eternal gratitude to the good doctor.
I loved visiting the farm as a kid and seeing all my aunts, uncles and cousins (Wirt and Kate were long gone by then), but the drive south in the early Sixties definitely had a Joad-like quality to it. The interstate was largely unfinished, so my dad would test the very limits of our Dodge station wagon – fully loaded with mom, six kids and luggage strapped to the roof – by negotiating the hairpin curves on Route 441 through the Great Smoky Mountains. It was a nerve-wracking, three-day trip, which made all of us even more delirious when we arrived at the Georgia farmhouse with the fragrant scent of boxwood shrubs along the front porch (remnants of the Victorian tastes of Georgia’s early settlers). To this day, the smell of boxwood takes me back to the wonderful summers I spent in Milledgeville.
Kat and Sis lived in the farm’s main house and always welcomed us by “putting the big pot in the little one,” as mom would say. Fabulous southern dinners with big roasts, squash soufflé, cornbread and mashed potatoes were often followed by bowls of homemade peach ice cream with Kat’s famous pound cake. Nothing in the Rubber City – not even the first-rate Italian dinners on North Hill – could compete with these feasts on the farm (although mom’s cooking came damn close).
I’d wake up to the sound of a rooster and a few cows outside our small guest room. During the day we’d go down to a dock on nearby Lake Sinclair and swim for hours. If it rained, we’d sit together on the porch and listen to my Uncle Longino, his droll wife Dunk and our older cousins tell stories about the rattlesnakes and water moccasins that apparently killed hundreds of small Yankee children every year.
Milledgeville was filled with notable characters – Southern Gothic author Flannery O’Connor among them – and Longino was near the top of the list. He received a Purple Heart in World War II after taking over a troop of soldiers by default (the officers lost their lives on or just after D-Day) and getting riddled with machine gun fire. He came home with a little lead in his side and a slight limp, and spent the next 20 or so years earning a pension with an uneventful assignment at the Robins Air Force Base near Macon.
But Longino was an entrepreneur at heart. He always seemed to have two or three ventures – moneymaking or otherwise – going on at the same time. At one point or another, he ran a par-3 golf course, a teen dance club and a small restaurant. He also bought a few houses and other property throughout the area, which he would tend to almost as an afterthought. The only piece of his kingdom I wanted, though, was his WWII Willys Jeep. I may have been too young to drive in Ohio, but down south I tore through the woods in that jeep like Richard Petty’s demon seed.
I spent one summer working for Longino, doing odd jobs at his various properties. He was constantly frustrated with my ham-handed approach to basic tools, like hammers, saws and paint brushes. And if I did a particularly good job of screwing something up, he’d let loose with one of his oddball Southern expressions, like “boy, you remind me of the ox that walked a mile to shit on an axe handle!” Guess that meant I took the long road to nowhere… but I never bothered asking Longino for clarification.
His most humiliating admonishment, though, was completely non-verbal. I was doing some light construction at the “clubhouse” of his par-3 course, and he asked me if I could knock a wall into place by hitting a 2×4 with the flat end of an ax – without burying it in the drywall, of course. I said sure and swung away, missing the wood by a couple of inches. Longino studied the fresh, gaping hole in his wall, looked down his nose at me, then calmly pulled a pen from his pocket and wrote my name under the hole. Ouch!
Longino gave my mom a log-cabin structure that once housed a restaurant (and whorehouse, as I found out later). Against all odds, my mom had the cabin moved down the road and onto the 50-some acres of pine forest she inherited just outside of town. Longino then went to work replacing one of its side walls and building a massive family room – and that cabin became my main summer destination, with or without my parents, throughout my high school years.
In the early Seventies, central Georgia was both way behind the curve and ahead of it. For example, the “Summer of Love” that Time and Life magazines documented ad nauseam in 1967 finally hit Milledgeville around 1972. My cousin Shep led the charge with his long (albeit well-groomed) hair and newfound prowess on his Gibson Les Paul. He also was a star on the ultimate stage for local stoners, the foosball table. His cousins and their friends from “Up North” became his hapless posse – and it’s probably best that we avoid any more discussion of the summers of ’72 and ’73.
Meanwhile, 30 miles down the road in Macon, the Allman Brothers Band blazed a new trail by layering jazz-like improvisations over tight, rootsy arrangements. They had an arsenal of talent few other rock bands could match, with Gregg Allman’s deeply soulful voice and Hammond organ serving up the blazing twin guitars of brother Duane and Dickey Betts. The Allmans single-handedly created, and then completely dominated, a new sub-genre labeled “Southern Rock” – much in the same way that Bob Marley cast a long shadow over the rest of reggae. Here’s a little sample… Done Somebody Wrong/The Allman Brothers Band (live)
I think my mom got a charge out of the Allman Brothers – especially when they became “The Nation’s Official Rock Band” after Jimmy Carter won the election of ’76. By then, mom had become very active in Rubber City politics and even served as a delegate for Carter at the Democratic Convention in New York City that year. She also ran the district office for Congressman John Seiberling, became the first woman to chair the Summit County Democratic party, and helped launch more than a few successful political careers.
Mom had qualities that worked well in politics. She was whip-smart and very determined, but always masked her intentions with healthy doses of down-home charm and wit. Like many Southerners, she used a combination of sweet talk and brute force to get exactly what she wanted from unsuspecting Yankees. And she didn’t take shit from anyone, from the Congressman to her kids.
In the 40-plus years she lived in the Rubber City, my mom never lost her Southern drawl. And she hung on to the same crazy-ass expressions shared by her family back in Georgia. If someone handed her a ridiculous assignment, she’d say “what do you want me to do, stand on my head and stack BBs?” Which usually led to the room-clearing “I’m so mad I could just spit!”
Over the next decade or so, we continued making pilgrimages to Milledgeville for family get-togethers at the cabin. It remained a magical place that seemed worlds removed from whatever problems we were dealing with back home. I never saw my father happier than when he stood in the corner of the big family room, holding a bourbon-fueled drink while listening to his kids play bluegrass music.
After my dad passed away in ’86 – and the rest of us began raising families with their own preferred holiday destinations – the log cabin became more of a burden for my mom, who eventually sold it and the surrounding acres of pine forest to Shep. My wife and I made a bittersweet trip back to Milledgeville nearly 20 years ago, but I haven’t visited since. Maybe it has something to do with the growing sense of loss as Sis, Kat and Longino passed away. Then my mom’s passing in 1999 closed the book on a farm family with especially deep roots.
I know we’ll make the trip back to Milledgeville someday – and it won’t have anything to do with a wedding or funeral. I’m sure I’ll be saddened by everything that’s changed, but maybe some quality time with Shep, cousin Jane and the next generation of Littles will help fill the void.
Since this is usually about the music, I’ll end with a gospel number that we sang at my mom’s graveside – I’m sure Jane sang along too. Angel Band/The Stanley Brothers
Spoken-word Jane… When we realized mom wasn’t long for this world, my sister Caroline started taping her stories about the Littles. I highly recommend this to anyone else who’s in the same situation. Here mom recalls how her parents found out about Buddy’s death: Buddy’s Death
More spoken-word Jane… Hey, I’m just doing this for my own enjoyment – bail out any time you want! Wirt gets ready to meet his maker: Wirt’s Last Goodbye?
Jane meets The Black Keys… Dan pissed off more than a few buyers of “The Big Come Up” with this hidden tribute to his grandma Jane, which followed about 20 minutes of silence in the album’s final cut. Jane with The Black Keys
I love that Dickie Betts was booted from the Allmans for taking too many drugs. Think about that. That must have been an incredible amount of dope to get chucked out of that band. I knew a lot of their crew from growing up in Fla. That band would go through kilos of c & d every day……
Yeah, that does seem odd… Didn’t they have some special ops guy from Nam doing security for them? Read a recent interview with Greg Allman in Rolling Stone… I was mesmerized. What a beautiful mess that guy is!
Don’t you just love that old shot of mom and Longino? Ah youth. Super post, T.
Very cool article. I rember Milledgeville Summer of “73 almost dying in Longino’s Jeep, Poison Oak everywhere even my schween! and Jesse young black fellow our age that worked and hung out some with us. But didn’t quite know what to make of the Yankee boys. It was as close to time travel as I will ever see great experience and great grub!
Yeah, I think we made Jesse a little uncomfortable, welcoming him into the cabin and all. And I felt bad about your schween — not that I was going to do anything about it. Someday we’ll go back and find that goddam jeep!
That’s a great overview for an “inside outsider ” to have. It explains so much!…cheers.
“insider outsider”… that pretty much explains my entire life! Thanks, Douglas.
I love the way you paint with words Tim.
Thanks, Bill… Check back next Thurs for a post on Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers!
What a great post. Makes me long for visiting the states and especially the south even more. Great writing, beautiful photos.
thanks tq. really great post. i remember playing in that log cabin as a kid. i’ve driven through georgia what seems like a million times on tour and thought about stopping by but never have.
Thanks Dan… I wanna climb in some time machine and go back, so bad. Even if I could just play a few hands of “in between” at that bar (Chuck remembers!)
Thanks TQ. I had the great pleasure to meet the Littles a few times. Longino, in particular reminas an icon in my memory. When Tim brough his friends to the cabin, Longino figured out he could get some work out of us. He’d walk over to a pile of brush or a rock he wanted moved, and say “Come on ova heyeah, boy, and mash down on this crud.” Longino Little…even God has particularly good days.
God bless you, Mr… eh, Rock. Grab that hamma ova yonda!
Couple more memories: You haven’t lived until you’ve woken up to Valerie Carter’s “Ooh Child” on the machine and bacon sizzling on the stove…or playing bluegrass (as a drummer! there are no drummers in bluegrass!) with TQ and JQ…one of my proudest musical moments remains when I was playing with brushes on an aluminum TV tray, and Jimmie said “Damn, man. You could record that!” And coming home from a drunken night in Macon to find John D slamming on that old out-of-tune upright, having hiked half the Appalachian Trail to get there. Thanks Tim. I will not forget the cabin. Ever.
Dougal N. is the second person who has said to me “that explains so much” and I’m really not certain what they mean!
Other memories: deafening crickets, slamming screen doors, the big round table with the lazy-susan for family dinners, diving off the dock at night, red Georgia clay.
I loved the fact that the metal awning had a bullet hole in it from a failed robbery attempt, back when it was a restaurant/night club/whorehouse.
Dr. Jack Quine was on my dissertation committee at Florida State University. We had known each other for years and just recently we discovered that we were both born in Milledgeville, Ga. (Talk about a small world!) I found this blog to be both interesting and captivating. I am honored to have been educated and mentored by a member of the Little Family.
Thanks, Joycelynn… Anyone from Milledgeville is OK by me. Just keep Roethlisberger away from your women.
Now that’s too funny! Before the incident, no one really knew where Milledgeville was….but now everyone does.
Wow, your story brings back wonderful memories of that magical place and time. The music your family made together and the stories told all came back to me as I read your article. Wirt’s last goodbye made me laugh and it was so good to hear your mom’s voice and one of her stories again. I have a great photo of Caroline in that jeep. I appreciate getting to share those times with your family. Thanks so much. Kayne Platner Spooner
Hey, Kayne… Great to hear from you. It was the perfect time and place, wasn’t it?
Hey guys, long time lurker here so thought I would finally post. I’m a little shy because I’m a girl and it seems there are mostly guys here but I wanted to know why it seems you guys don’t have lives. Are the guys with very high post counts really better posters than the ones with less?
Ok, I’m a little late reading this. Thanks to Cousin Linda for showing me your site. AWESOME!!! I remember so well everything you mentioned about “the farm”. And I too loved that jeep. I remember Cousin Larry Corwin driving it the same. I also remember Thanksgivings there a lot more fun when the Quine’s were there. Thanks to Jane for moving that oh so HUGE log cabin. As a young girl, I always asked if you guys were going to be there too. Love You, and miss you guys. Let us know next time you’re in FL.
My sister was googleing the Almand Bros and found your article. What a “Little Treasur.” I grew up in the Milledgeville and can relate to the memorable experiences you had there. It was a wonderful little southern town which inhabited many unusual folks. I knew well Longino’s children, Jane, Bob and Shep, and we lived very close to them. Also danced many nights at the Log Cabin teen club. Loved the pic of the “Little Women,” they were all beautiful! I mentioned to my 30 year old son The Black Keys and he said he saw them at Midtown Atlanta and thought they were great. Thanks for the memories!
Donna Lord Webb
Thanks Donna. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. I went to that Keys show in Midtown too, then drove over to Bob Little’s house to catch up with his family and his sister Jane (named after my mom!). Now that was a memorable trip!
I lived down the street from Bob, Shep, and Jane. Dated Bob some in high school and we had a wreck one Easter Sunday in that jeep! I too danced many dances in the Teen Club. Such good times and memories in a great place to grow up!!
I enjoyed this very much.
Donna Ellis Turner
Thanks Donna… I really need to get back there!
I am Agnes Edwards, my husband Bill Edwards helped build the LOG CABIN in Milledgeville. We opened and run it for about ten years. It was run as a very nice place when we were there. We moved to Atlanta in 1962. Charlie Deason took it and run it don’t know how long. After we left don’t know how it was run or what happened to it. Just wanted to clear that up.