The Barbeque

Well, the Moreland, Georgia Annual 4th of July Barbeque is all but dead, confirming once and for all that the Moreland I knew and loved is nearly gone for good. It’s not the people that are slowly killing it, but the times. The Moreland of old was a small, country village in the best sense of the term. Most people know this little town as the home of celebrated columnist, author, and Southern humorist, Lewis Grizzard, who wrote often about his beloved hometown, lying about 40 miles southwest of Atlanta. But, that hasn’t been enough to save its most galvanizing tradition from the clutches of 21st Century homogenization.

I was blessed to know Moreland because my mother and her siblings grew up there as their father had. It is still home to a couple of aunts, uncles, and cousins. It was my home as well for three wonderful years. Throughout childhood and my early adult years, when not officially residing there, I spent as much time in Moreland as possible, visiting family for several weeks in the summer, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and many weekends. Moreland has always been one of my homes. But, my mother and my grandparents are gone now and the responsibilities of adulthood have kept me away far too often over the last 15-20 years. When I return now I realize how much we both have changed.

               The Moreland I grew up with remains a large part of my soul. My roots there run deep. In 1916, the most remarkable person in my family lineage moved to Moreland after marrying my Great Grandfather, a coal salesman from Moreland, and moving South. The whole thing was a shock and disgrace to Edna Twichell’s family. As Edna herself later wrote, “He was a Southerner to begin with, from an impoverished family, with little education and no profession except an acquired knowledge of farming.” Still, to the bewilderment of her family, Edna saw something in this odd southern man.

Edna grew up in a comfortable home in North Collins, New York. The only daughter of a father who was orphaned at age 11 and then clawed his way to success in the business world, Edna majored in Physics and Chemistry at Smith College, taught school for two years in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and then earned a Master’s Degree from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York. When she met Bill Bohannon through some friends-in New York City of all places-Edna was working for the Tuberculosis Foundation, studying the diets of TB families.

               When Edna first saw the little village of Moreland as a new bride in 1916, its Piedmont hills were full of cotton fields and peach orchards, the fruits of which were shipped out on the Atlanta & West Point Railroad. Less than 5 years later, the Moreland Hosiery Mill opened. Bill began farming his Uncle Will’s farm in Moreland, later acquired some land of his own, and eventually became the postmaster of Moreland.

               Edna set to work raising a family of 5 boys and a girl through the Great Depression. Like many of that time, she learned the art of subsistence. Edna wrote, “with our garden and home-grown meat, we lived very well”. It must have been quite a change for this well-educated aristocratic, city-girl from the North to build a new rural life from scratch out of the red clay hills of the Georgia Piedmont. What was this uncouth place in which she had arrived where people dropped the “g” from the end of words, used phrases like fixin’-to, only shaved the back of their necks on Saturday, and only buttoned one of the galluses on their overalls on a hot day? 

After a few hiccups trying to fit in, this intelligent, industrious, yankee woman made herself at home in the community of Moreland and began to put her gifts to work. I am told Edna had a green thumb and had gardens full of bulbs, annuals, and perennials, gladiolas, zinnias, marigolds, black-eyed susans and sunflowers that she often cut to adorn her dining room table. She was active in Moreland Methodist Church and became a member of the local Board of Education.  The work she took the most pride in was as a leader in one of the local home economics clubs and later as an officer in the state home economics association. These activities led to her prominent role as chairman of the Moreland Community Club, which lasted from 1947-1952.

               The Moreland Community Club (MCC) was born out of a meeting held by the Farmers Club of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Coweta County Extension Agents were asked to bring some local people to the meeting and Edna was invited. Regarding the meeting she wrote, “Those city men said they were interested in the progress of the country towns in Georgia.” The Chamber held a contest in the interest of developing community spirit and economic growth. “Since we felt life in Moreland needed some inspiration”, Edna wrote, “we decided to enter the contest”.

               The MCC planned and carried out a number of projects, including painting and numbering the mailboxes around town, upkeep of the local cemetery, putting up road signs, trash collection, and a community rat killing, which Edna noted, “was a great success.” Despite the triumph of the community rat-killing, the most enduring project undertaken was the 4th of July Barbeque, which has far outlasted the MCC itself.

               The first Moreland 4th of July Barbeque took place in 1947 under a shaded grove of chestnut oaks between the Moreland School and Highway 29. It was a relatively small gathering of locals in which only 3-6 hogs were cooked. The following year, the event was moved to the grounds of the Masonic Lodge, just a stone’s throw North of the chestnut oak grove.

               Over time the concrete block barbeque pits behind the lodge grew to hold twenty-two 100-lb hogs, and even that would not be enough to meet the demand for barbeque. One of the great early thrills of my life was being allowed to stay up all night with the men to turn hogs on the open pit. Each hog was wrapped in chicken wire and run through with two lengths of rebar with which to turn the hogs on the pit. We lucky children were given squirt bottles of water. It was our job to squirt water on the coals when they got too hot or, alternatively, to squirt the pigs themselves if some of the fat caught fire. Sometimes the men had to shovel more coals in or the coals had to be shuffled around to keep the temperature right. The first sign of change came when they switched from hickory coals to charcoal. But, all the work was still done by the Moreland townsfolk.

               Brunswick stew, made of cut-up hog’s head, chicken, corn, and tomatoes was cooked in large iron wash pots or kettles over hot coals. The stew had to be constantly stirred to prevent it from sticking to the pot and scorching. In the early years, it was hot work to stand over those pots in the middle of summer and stir the stew. Fortunately, the Lord provided in the form of the new pastor at White Oak Presbyterian, Reverend Bell. The new pastor made his way down to the barbeque and noticing the hot labor of the stew stirrers, went home and fashioned long handles to attach to the paddles so that the men didn’t have to stand directly over the hot coals and pot as they stirred. In 1987 over 2200 plates were sold. For the price of a ticket, you got pork, stew, pickles, potato chips, and white Colonial bread. Sweet tea and lemonade were ladled out into cups of ice from big tin wash tubs.

               Almost from its inception, the barbeque was sponsored by the three main churches in town, Moreland Methodist, Moreland Baptist, and White Oak Presbyterian. The entire community pitched in to do the work of putting on the barbeque. The thing about this event was, as much work as it required, the townspeople enjoyed each other’s company and seemed eager to work together and visit at the same time. As a young teen and even pre-teen I felt guilty if I was not washing, stirring, squirting, fetching, or helping in some way and I think that’s how most people felt. There was a sense of pride in helping with the barbeque. My grandmother joined many of the other ladies from all three churches inside the lodge on the day prior to cut up the hogs’ heads for stew. The hogs themselves took about 12 hours to cook so most of the meat cooking was done at night. This is when the real fun began.

The men gathered around the barbeque pit under the stars were careful not to use certain words or tell certain stories if they noticed kids around. But, if you could sneak up on them, you could hear snippets of stories, many of which you wouldn’t understand at the time. Sometimes these colorful tales slipped out, unbeknown to the storytellers, even in the presence of clergy.

One year, Floyd Tinney, the Methodist preacher who would one day marry my parents, arrived in Moreland for his new appointment as pastor of Moreland Methodist Church on July 1. He moved into the parsonage and then went down to the barbeque as it was being prepared to see how he could help. He ended up staying all night to help cook the meat. At the time, not many of the men knew who he was, so they let loose with a few tawdry tales. The following Sunday, Reverend Tinney stood in the pulpit, introduced himself and informed the congregation of his academic pedigree—where he had graduated from college, mentioning his degree from Emory Theological Seminary, etc.—and then stated that he had learned more in one all-night hog cooking than in all his years of college.

By the early to mid-90s, many of the old Barbeque men—Will Jackson, Rob Haynes, John Evans, Wes Tidwell, and LeVoit Johnson among others, had either passed away or grown too old to do the work anymore. People like Lamar Haynes, Myron Haynes, Jerry Evans, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles stepped up to keep the tradition alive. But, many of them eventually passed on or moved away and before long there weren’t enough hands left willing to do the work. I can’t imagine why young housewives aren’t lining up at the door to cut up hog’s heads today, but it’s not happening.

Times change, values change, and great local traditions like the Moreland barbeque eventually fade away. The old barbeque is a casualty of the times in which culture and tradition are sacrificed to an economy that thumbs its nose at such nonsense. I haven’t been around as much or as often as I would have liked in the last few years, so I can’t say for sure what’s happened to the Moreland Barbeque. They don’t cook whole hogs anymore. I’ve even heard the Brunswick stew now has whole kernels of corn in it, which by the way, is the cardinal sin of Brunswick stew (Mr. Will Jackson is turning over in his grave). The barbeque is catered from a restaurant, which I’m sure is fine barbeque. But, its not the same. For many of us, the preparation was the best part of the barbeque. The working together, the visiting, and being around the old timers. I’m not even sure the churches are responsible for putting it on anymore.

Moreland is simply falling prey to the same forces that have diminished most small communities—suburbanization. I don’t mean to imply that Moreland isn’t still a wonderful place, because it is. The old mill building, the churches at the center of town, the old homes, the green trees. But, Moreland is transitioning. Atlanta has moved in. Forty miles isn’t as far as it used to be.

Back in the early 90’s the last remaining old timers who were there in the early days of the barbeque saw enough value in this town tradition to put together a book about the history of the Moreland Barbeque. That’s where I learned of some of the old stories of the folks who came before my time who had so much to do with putting the event on each year. One name that comes up frequently in that book is that of Edna T. Bohannon.  “I don’t think she could be given enough credit for what she did in her lifetime to support this barbeque, because she really did work hard.”, said Frank Kee. According to Lamar Haynes, “This was started by Mrs. Edna T. Bohannon and is the best info I get out of here.” Maybe that’s why seeing the town and the barbeque change as it has, bothers me so much.

I was born too late to really get to know my great-grandmother. She remains at the edge of my memory as the elderly lady across the room who scolded me for “smoking” as I held my grandfather’s unlit pipe in my mouth. I wish I had understood then what a remarkable lady she was. Edna passed away at the age of 94 in 1982. Most of what I know of her now comes from the memories of family members and from Edna’s own memoirs.  She’s remarkable to me, not because she overcame hardship. Lots of people do that. Edna T. Bohannon is remarkable to me because she chose hardship. A well-educated woman during a time in which college education, particularly for women, was rare, Edna gave up her comfortable life and moved with her new husband to a place, that to her eyes, must have seemed stuck in the stone age. There she used her gifts and spirit to build a good life for her family, her town, and those who came after her. She didn’t judge, she didn’t consider herself better than her neighbor. Edna Twichell Bohannon became one of them. She bloomed where she was planted and for that, Moreland became the place that it was. The place that I knew.

Moreland’s peach trees and cotton fields had turned to pastures and woods by the time I came along. Now, the pastures and woods are turning to subdivisions. And with that, Moreland has lost much of what it was to me. I mourn that. But, nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When I visit Moreland now I try to remind myself of Edna T. Bohannon. She wouldn’t complain about the changes. She’d find something to love about Moreland. Edna T. Bohannon would find a way to make it better. She would smile, plant some flowers, and get to work. She wouldn’t look behind. Edna T. Bohannon would look ahead.

6 thoughts on “The Barbeque

  1. I remember your grandparents fondly, I hate to see Moreland as it is now. I have lived there all of my life and knew your Mother as well.


  2. What a wonderful article. Makes me remember the good times in Moreland. You know, your mother volunteered me to make the vats of tea one year. It was really fun making tea with Lenn. Randy used to help turn the hogs and loved it. Grandmother told me a funny story about making an apple pie with salt instead of sugar. She said she was trying to impress the family as a new wife and failed terribly. She always made me mulberry pies-as long as I picked all the berries. I miss her.


    1. Thanks Jane! We got up to Newnan on the 4th and visited with Kate and Sally and Bill and everyone. Jody came with her two kids and she and Dave have moved from Virginia to Rome. Its nice to have her close by again. I hope you and the family are all doing well. Tell everyone I said hello.


  3. We sure could use more people like Edna these days. And more community barbecues. Maybe I’ll do better and be a little more like Edna.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s