This past weekend, we got away to Atlanta for a little mini-vacation. Our main objective in going there was to visit the Georgia Aquarium for the first time, which we did. However, in looking for other things to do (on the cheap, at that), Steady Eddie stumbled upon the Wren’s Nest, the home of Joel Chandler Harris, online. (Bless him, after ten years of marriage, he really speaks my love language! 😉 ) Another one of our objectives in going to Atlanta was to visit that mecca of all things cheap and organizational or decorative, IKEA, which we also did. However, in order to take advantage of 1:00 storytelling session at the Wren’s Nest on Saturday afternoon, we had to go to IKEA, look around, and make plans for what we would purchase later that afternoon after we returned there after our trip to the Wren’s Nest. That’s two trips to IKEA in one day, folks, and made by a pregnant lady, her longsuffering husband, and two children under the age of six, at that. (If you’ve even been there, you know that there is no such thing as a quick, easy trip.) Now that it’s over, I can say in all honesty that the Wren’s Nest was worth every ache and pain in my legs and back after re-tracing our steps across the very hard concrete IKEA floor to find some things to put the finishing (maybe! finally!) touches on our school room.
When Steady Eddie first brought the possibility of visiting the Joel Chandler Harris home to my attention, all I had was a vague memory/assumption that Joel Chandler Harris is actually a little politically incorrect. Uncle Remus, Black dialect, a white author writing stories told by slaves–you know. My only recollection of an Uncle Remus tale is of having a book-and-record set of “Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby” when I was a child. I found an audiobook of More Tales of Uncle Remus at the library, so I naturally added it to our book basket for the trip. We made it through one of the stories before Louise fell asleep, and I insisted that we listen to four of them before I gave in and let Lulu go back to Josefina. Even Julius Lester’s superb narration couldn’t capture her attention, most likely because of the heavy dialect. Steady Eddie and I, though, found it quite entertaining. (I mainly persevered in our listening because children who have read five of the Uncle Remus tales earn a free t-shirt, so I thought we might as well get in on the act. Obviously, though, we’ll need to save this little treat for our next visit.)
First, the storytelling. It was superb. We were a little late, but the docent let us into the storytelling room and we joined some half dozen other guests and sat under the spell of Curtis Richardson. Mr. Richardson was funny and animated and worked hard to get the audience (especially the younger members) involved in the stories. He emphasized the fact that each storyteller makes the Uncle Remus tales his or her own, so even though we might hear others of the storytellers tell the same story, it wouldn’t really be the same story. That’s good storytelling. My favorite was his prequel to “The Three Little Pigs.” Oh, that and watching Lulu’s face while she watched him.
Our tour began with some background information on Joel Chandler Harris, presented by our docent, Nannie Thompson. I’ve been to a lot of museums and enjoyed a lot of historical presentations, but Ms. Thompson everything a docent should be: knowledgeable, friendly, and obviously passionate about her subject. She painted a very different picture of Joel Chandler Harris: that of a poor white boy, raised by a single mother, who spent much of his time playing with the children of slaves in their homes on the plantation. Even after he moved to Atlanta and made it big as the editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, he was still a very retiring man whom famous figures sought out, but who himself never wanted to be in the spotlight.
The house itself was amazing, especially considering the fact that Joel Chandler Harris remodeled it from a single-story dwelling to the Victorian showplace you see above while his wife and children were gone north to visit her family. She came home to an entirely different home. Wow! Many of the original furnishings are still in the home, including the rocking chair Harris sat in to do his writing. (Imagine that!) Ms. Thompson gave such a excellent, detailed tour that I felt like I knew the man and his family when I left.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. As is true in many museums, photography was forbidden in most of the rooms, so I have few pictures to share. (My dear husband took the ones I do have, even braving a VERY cold day to stand out front of the house and get the shot you see above.) The best part, though, was hands down the great tour we received. I could’ve listened to Ms. Thompson all day. Knowing the controversy which surrounds the author, I was especially interested to hear Ms. Thompson’s tale of how she came to work there. I won’t share it here, but be sure to ask her about it if you ever visit the Wren’s Nest.
Of course, I couldn’t come away from this place without purchasing something, and what is more appropriate than a book to add to our collection? I chose a picture book entitled The Classic Tales of Brer Rabbit: From the Collected Stories of Joel Chandler Harris, adapted by David Borgenicht. I’ll let you know what we think after read it. 🙂 It turns out that the executive director of the Wren’s Nest is none other than Joel Chandler Harris’ great-great-great grandson, so when Ms. Thompson suggested that I have him autograph our book, I jumped at the chance. I’m not sure how much of our visit, beyond the storytelling, that our girls will actually remember, but I think I’ll always remember it. If you’re in Atlanta on a Saturday and have some free time, check it out! The staff of the Wren’s Nest also maintains an active and entertaining (and I’m sure, at times, controversial) blog, if you’re interested.