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What You May Be Missing in Athens


Inertia cuts both ways. When you’re sitting at home, it’s too much effort to go out. When you’re on the go, it’s easier to keep on going. To put it another way, liberally paraphrasing the 18th Century English writer Samuel Johnson’s words about London, “If you’re tired of Athens, you’re tired of life.”

I’m certainly not tired of Athens, but I don’t go out much and therefore miss a lot. I was reminded just how rich Athens is by a recent week of unusual activity. First came the Black History Celebration and Michael L. Thurmond Lecture Series at First A.M.E. Church on Saturday, Mar. 2, featuring Michael’s speech, awards honoring Marvin Nunnally and the late Miriam Moore and recitations and music by some very talented youngsters. Mike, the former legislator and Georgia commissioner of labor, now DeKalb County CEO, is a natural public speaker with impeccable comic timing. His parting line, after reminding us that he is descended from three generations of sharecroppers: “I’m a sharecropper, but I’m a sharecropper with a law degree.”

Having unavoidably had to miss the fabulous (all agree) Flagpole Favorites party at Little Kings on Tuesday, Mar. 5, Gay and I stepped out Thursday, Mar. 7 to Heirloom Café, where Cassie and David Bryant were hosting an evening of cocktails made from her late father’s extensive collection of vintage cocktail-recipe books. I enjoyed a King Edward VIII, concocted of rye, sweet vermouth and pastis. Having abdicated all cares, we proceeded to supper at the Grit and thence to Lyndon House and the opening reception for the “44th Juried Exhibition”—a stunning panoply of local art, which you, too, have plenty of time to enjoy through May 3. The show is so rich that it is impossible here to do more than mention a couple of pieces to which I have a personal connection: Ian McFarlane’s intriguing photograph of Flagpole Arts Editor Jessica Smith, and Gay’s first-cousin-once-removed Rosemary Griggs’ creation, “Sylva and Her Quiver of Love” (see picture)—just two in a whole gallery full of local treasures.

I finished up Friday, Mar. 8, by dropping in at Hendershot’s for the lovely double bill of Kyshona Armstrong and Mary Bragg, but first we joined the gathering at the Globe in celebration of Phinizy Spalding, who died 25 years ago on that date. So many friends, so many years later, still loving that wonderful, eminent Athenian.

Stuart Libby, who has removed to Iowa, sent these words (edited for space), which shed some light on Phinizy’s gift for friendship.

In late August of 1989, my mother died, and I was floundering about in grief. One morning a short time after she died, I was opening my frame shop, and I noticed that an envelope had been slid under the front door. It was from Phinizy Spalding. I knew him from having framed several orders for him. It was a note expressing his condolences and his own knowledge of what it was like to lose a parent.

“My second encounter came when he dropped by the store a short time after his note, right before closing for the day, and he said he was meeting a few friends at The Globe and would I like to come along. I was very  pleased and honored. Yes! As we walked the several blocks of downtown from my shop to The Globe, I felt what a celebrity must feel when they are out. Every person we passed beamed and said, ‘Hi, Dr. Spalding.’ ‘Hello Phinizy.’ The positive energy that came forth toward him was transcending. I felt lighter and part of a communal effort.     

“The third encounter took place at Fulton County Stadium, then-home of the Atlanta Braves. We had gone over to a baseball game with four other friends. It started to rain in the early innings. There was a rain delay. Everyone headed for cover, except Phinizy. He had brought an extra large umbrella. He said to me, ‘Let’s get a couple of beers and wait this out in our seats.’ And we had good seats several rows behind the Phillies dugout. We waited out the rain, and I had the experience of just chatting and listening to Phinizy Spalding talk about his family, baseball, growing up in Atlanta and his love for history. It could have rained all night as far as I was concerned. The conversation and company I will never forget.”

So, it all just goes to show you that everybody can profit in unexpected ways by getting out more around Athens. Flagpole’s calendar aims you in the right directions.

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