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Stirring up memories


Sharing—memories and grapefruit
January 16, 2008

Wednesday mornings at our house, Bainbridge news shares the breakfast table with the coffee. News, coffee—and memories. Because as soon as I have cased the front page, I check out Past Tense where the news from years gone by hits the paper one more time. It's fun to see the familiar names attending parties and marching in parades; amazing to learn the prices of coffee, bread and a good steak.

One December Wednesday, the 75 years ago—1932 grabbed my attention. It recounted how grapefruit will grow in Bainbridge; indeed they were growing in Bainbridge right out on Lake Douglas at the Elcan place. I took another bite of my grapefruit and grinned, because I was sitting in the kitchen of the Elcan place and I was putting away an Elcan place grapefruit, one I'd picked that morning in the Elcan place yard.

No, it wasn't from the same tree, but when I planted my tree about ten years ago, I knew that likely it would thrive because I'd heard the grapefruit story before.

When the Post-Searchlight first ran that story, the Elcans were newcomers, not to Bainbridge but to the property. It had become their home earlier that year, on July 22, 1932, purchased from Carl Wallace who had undertaken to raise citrus fruit commercially there. (Mr. Wallace acquired the 10-acre property in May, 1925 from J. I. Reynolds, by the way.)

Am I sure of this? I surely am. I have the deed of the Reynolds-Wallace transaction and a copy of the Wallace-Elcan deed. I know they are authentic, I have checked them out at the courthouse. But I did not need to do that, these two documents were given to me by the little girl who grew up in the house and went on to spend most of her adult life in the barn-made-into-a-house a couple of hundred feet to the South, Mary Lightfoot Elcan Nichols.

The story? I have been in love with this house since mid afternoon, April 15, 1987—right at 21 years ago—when my realtor, Linda Atkinson, drove slowly by it saying, "I'm not sure, but maybe this one is for sale."

All my bargaining skills flew out the window right after my heart—within a week we'd signed a contract with John and Dee Provence.

No sooner did we move in, than I began to ask about our house, though most folks still call it the Elcan place and that is fine with me. Sam Griffin told me the Elcans called it "Whispering Pines." Loyd Poitivint recounted to Bob the details of the cookout where he ate his first broiled steak. A local citizen who will remain forever nameless confided to me that, "I kissed my first wife for the first time right there in your porch swing." Ah! The stories.

My interest became more serious early in 1998 when the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation (largely, I suspect at the suggestion of Board Member Mary Ann Griffin) invited us to share our home with visitors to the Georgia Trust Fall Ramble. Naturally, we were thrilled. Overnight I became a combination of Nancy Drew and a serious history scholar—that is, when I was not painting, fixing and gardening.

I traced the ownership of the property (or rather the larger property that our acre and a half had been carved from) back to the middle 1800s. But I got most of my information and stories from the best source, Mary Lightfoot Nichols, who then lived in Norcross. We had several telephone conversations—long ones—and then she generously shared her memories of her home, her family and her friends on page after page of notebook paper that she mailed to me.

I wrote a very short history of "the little (practically only) the house on Lake Douglas," as it was once known, to hand out at the Ramble. It began as a small "four-square" farmhouse built, according to its architectural features and various local legends, around 1910. When the Elcans moved in, they expanded it to the low and lovely bungalow that snatched my heart. Mr. Elcan (or Professor Elcan as most folks still remember the long-time superintendent of schools) designed the house. He also did much of the work alongside Methodist minister Mr. Marshall, who was quite a craftsman. (Can someone help me learn his first name?)

The Elcans wanted their 10 acres to resemble their childhood homes in Virginia and Alabama. While most folks recall E.G. as a distinguish, quiet gentleman, Mary Lightfoot shared memories of a farmer/father who got up early to milk Pet, the cow, and who did almost all the gardening himself right up until his death in 1973. There was lots of gardening going on.

The story I heard most often was about "the Professor's lilies." While the citrus trees are long gone, I still treasure the lilies growing in my front flowerbed. Drive by any July or August and share their beauty. I've found other lilies around the grounds and moved them into that bed. The Professor's hard work continues to pay off.

(If you would like to enjoy some of Professor Elcan's lilies, I'm donating some to Birdsong Nature Center's Old-Timey Plant Sale on March 22. Details later!)

After the Ramble, I put away my research. It slipped off my horizon, though I still love hearing stories about our house. On December 9, 2007 we lost Mary Lightfoot. I am so thankful that because of her generosity, we haven't lost her memories. When her family returned Mary Lightfoot to her home to be buried at Oak City Cemetery, I had the chance to meet her two children, Lawre and Bill and to share some memories with them.

Then, on December 19, I read about the grapefruit. In a flash, I was on hands and knees in the library cabinet looking for my house-history box. After a long time sifting through it, I e-mailed Bill. Did he remember the grapefruit? He did, and maybe the persimmons. He, for sure, remembers the lilies.

The best thing to do with a really fresh grapefruit is pick it, peel it and eat it. Or, if you make it to the kitchen, cut it in half, loosen the sections, maybe sprinkle with a little sugar. What more could you do?

Our early January hard freeze helped me find out. We did a hurried final harvest, shared part of the bounty with pals, and I hunted up some recipes. Just a little gussying-up makes a half grapefruit a dandy dessert, as the Pandos will both testify. It would be good with oatmeal for a dress-up brunch as well.

Baked Grapefruit
1 grapefruit
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or apple pie spice)
2 maraschino cherries with stems

Cut the grapefruit in half. Using a grapefruit knife cut sections and loosen fruit from shell. Dot each half with 1 teaspoon of butter. Sprinkle each half with 1 tablespoon of brown sugar. Sprinkle ½ teaspoon of cinnamon over brown sugar.

Place in baking pan and bake in preheated oven at 350 degrees for 5 minutes, then broil until top is bubbly. Remove from oven and place in serving bowl and put a maraschino cherry in the center.

Post-script: I plan to celebrate our twenty-first anniversary of calling "Whispering Pines" home by sharing some of the tales of this house and Mary Lightfoot's memories of growing up in Bainbridge in the 1930s in this space later in the year. If you have memories of either the house or the times please share them with me. Especially, if you attended the Elcan-Nichols wedding in the garden in 1942.

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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network