Genie Maude, Plain and Simple
Story by Jamie Miles • Photos taken from “The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman”
hat began in 1915 as an agreement with a young teacher to furnish “occasional school notes” to The Madisonian, the local newspaper, evolved into 63 years of chronicling her life as a country woman. Genie Maude’s weekly columns or “letters” as she referred to them quickly became the most anticipated corner of paper. She wrote through the Depression, wars, joys and sorrows. When age forced Genie Maude to lay down her pen, the paper’s publisher, Adelaide Ponder, wrote an open letter pleading:
“Please don’t quit! ... To be honest, I don’t think that anyone CAN take your place. Your Fairview News in The Madisonian has been everyone’s favorite column for more years than even I can remember.”
December 14, 1978
The best of her beloved columns have been compiled into a book for long time Morgan County residents to relive and recent arrivals to discover. Compiling “The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman” was a labor of love by two of Genie Maude’s granddaughters, Rachel Wilson Harper and Sally Wade Stephens. “Some people even started a collection but never finished it.” Rachel added with a laugh, “Now we know why.”
Born in Morgan County in 1892, Genie Maude graduated from Madison High School and gave the valedictory speech. After receiving her teaching degree from The Normal School in Athens, she came back home to fill a position in the one teacher school in Fairview just a few miles south of Madison. It was there she agreed to pen her first column under “School Notes.”
“Our school is going steadily forward in the improvements begun in 1913-1914. The floor has been reoiled, the lawn cleaned and the woodpile straightened.
An old-fashioned county flower garden has been started. Pope Alliston was the first boy to bring a plant. He has contributed several crabapple trees. We are looking forward to their delicious perfume in early spring.
All the fathers and mothers are asked to encourage the children to bring flowers to school.”
January 22, 1915
Marriage to Jacob Wilson in June 1917 signaled the first major transition in her life. Ending a much loved teaching career, Genie Maude entered into a wonderful 52 year union with “her man, Jake” as he became known. With the birth of daughter Harriette and son Jake following close behind, she became a farmer’s wife in the truest sense. Her column was renamed “The Ideas of a Plain Country Woman of Fairview” with family, farm life and faith becoming the framework for her weekly notes.
In 2007, Rachel Harper, a Citizen columnist in her own stead taking over the Tri Bee News from her aunt, Francis Brewer, saw an advertisement about creating a family history in book form. After recruiting cousin Sally Stephens, they found boxes of clippings under beds Baldwin. The first order of business was to sort through everything. “We would work around the dining room table,” remembered Rachel. “Sally would get on one side and I would get on the other and we would start picking.”
They combed through old issues of The Madisonian in the county archives then moved to the genealogy room of the library. “At some point in this, we developed a system. Before that there was no system.” Sally laughed describing their effort. “We were very primitive.” Their “system” was Sally reading the columns into a tape recorder then Rachel transcribing Sally’s recordings.
They often found their own triumphs and tragedies among her stories.
“The first serious milestone in my granddaughter Rachel Wilson’s life has been reached. She is about to shed her first baby tooth … I made a big mistake. I told her that there would be a little drip of blood on her lip and she would know the tooth was out. Poor child–the first serious happening in her short life; a trouble she alone has to live with and face. … I do hope that the tiny tooth will soon turn lose and come out so that Rachel will realize the process is not so world-shaking an event she thinks it is now.”
August 29, 1957
Genie Maude shared how the smallest heartaches affected their family.
“We are saddened by the loss of Sally Wade’s parakeet, Pete. ... Pete always had his plate with bacon, egg and toast on the table with the family. How he enjoyed it. … On Friday morning, Harriette opened the back door to run out for something. Pete flew to light on her shoulder. He darted on to the corner of the house and around it. No one ever saw him again – all of us hunted and called all day. Grief gripped the family—”
December 19, 1968
She and “her man Jake” met all the challenges that life threw at them. Their house burned during the Depression when there was no insurance. Her dearly loved Fairview school closed forcing their two children, Harriette and Jacob, to live in Madison with their grandmother during the week and visit only on the weekends. Weddings, harvests, her Sunday School class, the death of a friend’s beloved dog, what was growing in the garden and most of all, her faith served as inspiration.
“I have seen a lot of Easter Sundays which were a great disappointment to those having new Easter outfits, but I think this was the wettest Easter Sunday I ever remember. …We thank God for springtime and the resurrection and the coming back of all the beauties of nature. May we never forget to thank Him for His loving-kindness toward us, who so little deserve it.”
April 2, 1959
The Georgia Press Association presented her with a gold medallion for being a country correspondent for more than 50 years. Her son-in-law, Leon Alligood, whose lifelong career in newspapers started at The Madisonian, recalled her as a “gifted story teller” and a great historian. An editorial at her passing expressed what she meant to the community for so many years,
“Her uniqueness as a person, her devotion to home and family, her wisdom and her strength, are all strong proof of that in the columns that she wrote for this newspaper. We felt impoverished when she stopped writing and now that she is gone, we feel even more impoverished by her passing.”
-Adelaide Ponder, The Madisonian
As she sat down to write at her kitchen table each Monday, Genie Maude poured herself into the subjects she wrote about and into the readers with whom she shared her life. Through her pen and the loving hard work of her granddaughters, Morgan County history comes alive for a new generation of readers.
Sally and Rachel will be signing and selling copies at the Madison Chili Cook-off this weekend, Oct. 2 and the Bostwick Cotton Gin Festival. Books are available at the Madison Gift Mart and The Madison Drug Store. And you can call or e-mail Sally or Rachel (email@example.com) and they’d be happy to get you a copy.
Printed in the September 27, 2010 edition.