Let's play a game of "What if."
What if Harold Lawrence had not researched and written about so many Southern stories?
The stories would not have been preserved. They would have vanished with the passing of time.
But thank goodness he has been so prolific, as evidenced by the many books and articles that he has written over the past 40 years.
"Harold's one of the brightest people I have ever known," said Jan Hardy, a former art history professor at Georgia College and one of several colleagues who offer thoughts and ideas to Lawrence. "He can think of some of the weirdest things that nobody else can think of. That's why he's so much fun to work with."
Lawrence's previous books include “Memory Hill,” a collection of poems about some of the notable people buried in the famous Milledgeville cemetery, and “Southland,” which is full of poems rich in Southern history and lore.
Hardy said she and a friend used to bump into Lawrence at courthouses across Georgia. They shared Lawrence's interest in historic preservation and wound up getting 95 Georgia county courthouses on the National Register.
"One should be aware of the history around you," Hardy said. "We are all part of our past."
Of this, Lawrence is acutely aware.
AN IDYLLIC TOWN
Calhoun Falls, S.C., where Lawrence grew up, "was a thriving mill town," he said. "It had everything anyone could want. We did things like having a Christmas parade with Santa Claus on the fire truck. It was an idyllic town of about 3,000."
But eventually the mills started closing and the schools and businesses followed.
Lawrence likes a story from his father's youth.
"When my dad was a child, he and a buddy ran away from home," he said. "They went to the turpentine farms in places like Albany, Ga. and McRae, Ga. They about starved to death, hopping trains and things, before coming home."
Lawrence was graduated from Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., before earning a master of Divinity at Emory University and a doctor of ministry at Emory.
He was the pastor at churches throughout Georgia, including stops at Tignall, Lavonia, Prospect in Lawrenceville and Cumming before coming to Milledgeville's First United Methodist Church. He served the Milledgeville church from 1990-2004. He retired from the First Methodist Church in LaGrange after serving from 2004-1015.
His published works include “Methodist Preachers in Georgia,” “Historical Directory of North Georgia Methodist Churches” and “Moved by Faith: The Relocation of 1st UMC, Milledgeville, Ga.”
KERNELS OF MEMORY
Lawrence's latest book, “Evil Eye and Other Stories,” completes a trilogy. “Nightflyers and Other Stories” came out in 2017, and “Water Sprites and Other Stories” followed in 2018.
Lawrence will sign copies of “Evil Eye” at The Marlor House on Sunday (Oct. 6) from 2:30 to 5 p.m.
There are 63 stories in the three volumes that Lawrence called "a personal adventure to revisit so many people from my past who have inspired these forays into the realm of the hidden and the mysterious."
The stories are a work of Lawrence's "imagination and creativity," wrote Donald A. Randall Jr. in the introduction of “Evil Eye and Other Stories.”
But "all the stories are based on people that I ran across at one time or another," Lawrence said. "Things would emerge in my memory. Things that made an impression on me when I was a child. Things I could not forget. Things that were lodged in my consciousness or subconsciousness."
Then he took those kernels of memory and applied his own "What if" test as the stories developed.
In the story, “Guardian,” in his new book, Lawrence writes of a young boy named Miles Whitmire, who was born with a facial hemangioma, a curl in his left hand and a withered left leg.
In Calhoun Falls, Lawrence said there were two children who had physical disabilities. One wore braces on both legs and had to have help moving around. The other could not maneuver at all so his father built him a metal contraption with hand gears and a motor.
Then Lawrence asked, "What if they could outgrow their conditions? What if there could be a medical breakthrough or a miracle cure?"
You'll have to read his new book to find out what happened to Miles Whitmire.