ROVIN’ AND RAVIN’ WITH MIKE

 

When we began discussing these columns, I wanted this article in the series. At last, I am pleased to present it to you. Joanne Bishop and her family are linked by bonds of friendship with my family, and besides, she was my teacher, and I was her daughter’s teacher. But, I wanted her to write this column because she is the niece of Caroline Miller, author of a magnificent novel, If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Lamb in His Bosom, I hope that this article will move you to remedy that. If you have read the novel, you will notice that literary talent runs in the family. Keep your feet dry, your heart full of noble thoughts, and a great novel on your shelves. Mike 

  Caroline Miller: A Lamb in the Bosom of Georgia

Copyright © 1999 by Joanne Lott Bishop, All rights reserved  

Brought to you by Peanut.org

 

      In May of 1934 everyone in Georgia was reading about and talking about Caroline Miller, who lived in Baxley. She had just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel about Georgia, Lamb in his Bosom, Georgia’s first winner for fiction. Barely thirty, she was young, beautiful, delightful—as well as a gifted writer, a natural subject for the media.

      Before 1934, two other southern writers had won the Pulitzer award for fiction; T.S. Stribling in 1933, for The Store, and Julia Peterkin of South Carolina in 1920, for Scarlet Sister Mary. Due to the success of Lamb in His Bosom, Harpers sent an agent south to look for other southern writers. He found another Georgia writer, Margaret Mitchell, who received the award in 1937, with Gone With the Wind, which quickly overshadowed Georgia’s first Pulitzer winner with its popularity.

      In the 1960’s Caroline Miller wrote to Atlanta book reviewer Frank Daniels that she never resented that Margaret Mitchell "cashed in where I had trod but lightly. She did a very beautiful thing for the South—and I shall never forget it." The only other Pulitzer awarded to a native Georgian was to Alice Walker for The Color Purple in 1983.

      Lamb in his Bosom is now recognized as one of the best existing examples of the Southern dialect during the Civil War period. Historian Fox-Genovese of Emory University describes the book as perhaps the most complete and accurate account available of the lives of non-slaveholding whites before the Civil War. According to Dr. Emily Wright of Berry College in Rome, Lamb in His Bosom corrected the impression that white southerners were either rich plantation owners or poor white trash, impressions created by books written earlier by Georgia writers. The people of this story were poor but of noble character and strong faith, the progenitors of the modern middle class.

      The award of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction catapulted the book to the top of the best-seller list in 1934. It has been in continuous publication for almost 65 years except during a brief period in the late 80’s. In 1987, fifty of the Pulitzer Prize books that had been published were selected as the most important, the most enduring works ever awarded the Pulitzer Prize and were re-issued as The Franklin Library of Pulitzer Prize Classics. Lamb in His Bosom was one of the fifty selected for this special publication. More recently, Caroline Miller was one of nine Georgia writers featured in a special Olympic exhibition at the Fulton Central Library in downtown Atlanta July 19-September 1,1996.

      Carrie Pafford was born August 26, 1903, in Waycross, the youngest by six years of the seven children born to her school teacher father, Elias Pafford, also a licensed minister, and his wife, Levy Zan. Both parents were descended from a long line of preachers and teachers. As the youngest of the family, she received abundant love and attention from the whole family. Her next older sister, Maggie, my mother, was her confidante all of her life.

      After the death of their father while she was in junior high and their mother after her junior year in high school, her six siblings provided for Caroline’s material needs as well as her personal needs. They continued their avid support as long as they lived. She lived with her two older sisters until she graduated from high school. Maggie, a talented seamstress and designer, made her clothes, including her graduation and wedding dresses, and arranged for her piano lessons, paid for from her salary as a secretary for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. She also chaperoned her to the Georgia Literary Meet in Athens, where as a district winner in oral interpretation competition, she won second place with a humorous reading during her senior year. The first place went to a reading from Shakespeare, perhaps a better selection. She graduated from Waycross High School in June of 1921.

      Her unusual artistic talents were obvious early in life. As a small child, she delighted her father with her interpretation of "The Night Wind" by Eugene Guest and he would reward her with a quarter. The three sisters harmonized beautifully and were sometimes invited to sing for local groups. She possessed a mimetic gift, played the leading role in a number of school plays, including Little Lord Fauntleroy when she was twelve, Evangeline, Enoch Arden and the role of Galatea in Pygmalion while a senior in high school. She was acclaimed for her outstanding dramatic performances by the Waycross audiences.

      Later, Caroline’s triumph as a writer came as a surprise to friends of her childhood and girlhood, who had sensed her genius but had expected it to flower in the theater, either as an actress or playwright. Her family also believed she would make her mark on the world in the area of the dramatic arts and that she would have been equally successful in the field of drama as she was to become in literature. Maggie retained a vivid image as long as she lived of her sister standing "like a marble statue" in the role of Galatea. Perhaps Baxtey could not provide an audience for her dramatic talents and writing became an alternative outlet for her creative energies.

      After graduation in 1921, she was the sponsor for the high school drama club and directed a number of plays for that group, later named The King-Miller Dramatic Club, in honor of Mrs. Miller and a younger student also talented in writing, King Bowden, who died several years later. They wrote a number of scripts including one that won first honorable mention in the Town Theater of Savannah prize contest for original one-act plays. On May 9, 1934 The  Baxley-News Banner reprinted an article from The Savannah Morning News, printed on March 30, 1928 entitled "Caroline Miller Submitted Brilliant Play in Contest."

      On August 7, she married her high school English teacher Will D. Miller, at the home she shared with her two sisters. She was given in marriage by her oldest brother, Morrison Pafford, and her attendants were her sisters, Maggie Lott, who had recently married, and Ollie Mae Pafford. Most of her classmates attended. Will D. had taught her much of what she knew about writing and literature and she later said, "He was my college."

      Two years after marrying she entered the Quarterly Sunday American Short Story Contest and won first place for her story, "The Greatest of These." The story, the first recognition for her literary efforts, was printed in The Waycross Journal Herald on February 24, 1924.

      In September, 1928 Will D. Miller became Superintendent of Schools in Baxley, Georgia, where they moved and were living when Lamb in His Bosom was written and published. When the twins were born on March 13, 1929, Maggie went to Baxley for two weeks to help care for the premies. Born and cared for at home, they weighted three-and-a-half and four pounds. Tuck had some trouble breathing and Dr. Holt dipped him alternately in cold and warm water; an accepted procedure during the 30s but later found to be ineffective. Caroline credited Tuck’s survival to Maggie’s care, maybe more of an expression of appreciation than a medical fact.

      Maggie would later remember that getting them both to sleep at the same time was a challenge and sometimes daylight would break before her head hit the pillow. As sometimes happens, as toddlers the twins created their own unique language which was also spoken and understood by Bill, their interpreter for the family. His analysis of their behavior became a standard quote in our family for any bizarre behavior. "No sense!" he would lament. Aunt and nephews were always close and Tuck, the sentimental one, wrote on his last Christmas card to her, "Next to Mama you were the most important person in our lives." Three months later he would drive all night to attend her funeral.

      The birth of three sons in less than two years (called "the three twins" by Caroline’s bachelor brother) would have at least moderated the aspirations of less determined writers but had an opposite effect on her. The stress of running a home and caring for three small children stimulated her curiosity as to how pioneer women, especially her mother and grandmother, had managed with larger families and fewer conveniences. She began gathering the stories of pioneer life she had heard from her family (her own parents had buried six infants, including two sets of stillborn twins, and two toddlers) and from the people ten miles back in the country from Baxley where she bought butter and eggs. In an interview with Nell Bates Penland she explained:

When my twins were two years old (and Billy was four) I thought I would break under the strain of trying to take care of them and do the hundreds of other little things any normal wife and mother is called upon to do. But one day it suddenly occurred to me that I was not half so weighted down with duties as the pioneer women used to be. Even my mother and grandmother, who had such large families, seemed to get through with much less effort and energy than I was expending. I couldn’t help wondering why. They had something, something very real, very tangible, yet almost indefinable, that anchored them and gave them faith and courage, and I needed that something so much.

From that day I turned to the examples set by the pioneer women of Georgia. I gathered my material around Baxley and in the surrounding country, and it has been a wonderful help to me. Needless to say, I feel that I have derived more benefit from writing the book than my readers could ever obtain through reading it.

      The stories and notes of the colorful backwoods speech were carefully recorded in her notebooks and became the basis of the story. These people and her ancestors became its characters. Caroline Miller’s great-grandfather had come to South Georgia during the pioneer period and was the basis of the character Dermid O’Connor in the book. Her mother’s first child Naomi Elizabeth, who was buried in the family cemetery close to the country church built by her grandfather, Rowan Pafford, where her parents married and their children attended school, gave her name to Seen’s first baby who also died in childhood. The significance of this place in her life was recorded in a front-page story by The New York Times on May 8, 1934:

      My grandfather built with his hands a little church which still stands fifteen miles from nowhere; we go there every year. All my people are buried there, and there’s not one house in twenty miles in any direction—nothing but the little church and the graves, and the spring and sand and pines and whippoorwills. My mother’s grandfather came to this section as a "New Light" preacher. I could hardly tell where fact left off and fancy began.

      When we visited my husband’s family in Watkinsville, Georgia, shortly after our marriage in 1956, my husband’s mother surprised me by telling me that my aunt’s book had been written about a family living in Oconee County. On our next visit to my home I mentioned this to my mother, who knew of many people throughout the state who thought their family had been the model for Lamb in His Bosom.  Genealogists sometimes gather names and dates of family members and preserve them in a family record, but the family of Caroline Miller will be forever blessed because she gathered the faith, the hopes and dreams, the very hearts of her people, as well as the experiences of their daily lives, and composed a remarkable story of all families of that period.

      When Tom Bennet interviewed her at her mountain home ("At 80, she treasures Pulitzer Prize," The Atlanta Constitution, December 18, 1983) she recounted the following incident:

     I remember going to see an old farmer, and asking, ‘How do you make those bricks?’ Why do you want to know’?" he asked.

     "I’m going to put it in a book," I replied. At that, the farmer broke up laughing.

      Earlier in the year, at a luncheon hosted by Davison-Paxon-Company on November 24, 1933, where she was the speaker, she had given details of how she had assembled information for her story: I’d get in the Ford and ride about the country and talk to the people," she said:

     I’d buy chickens and vegetables from them, and they’d tell me about their lives, in the language which even today preserves many of the picturesque and graphic figures of speech which their ancestors used. These people are obscure, but they are an important part of our history. Their forbears fought in the Revolution, and in the Confederate army. They are loyal Americans, patriotic citizens, and people of high moral character."

     And while I found my book among these people, I also found something which helped me. I discovered the fine spirit in which they met the hardships and tragedies. What they suffered and their nobility in the midst of desperate conditions made my own problems less difficult. I hope that I have captured something of their patience and courage and faith, not only in my book, but also for myself.

      Her children were sometimes the source of her descriptions. "What does thunder sound like, Billy?" "Like a thousand horses running!" he replied, and his descriptive statement became a part of the book. He also contributed the phrase on page 21, describing the outer leaves of the magnolia as "silky and brown like a dog’s ear," and named the three cows in the novel, "Bonnie, Gypsy and Bess."

      Her husband, Will D. Miller, in a story published in The Baltimore Sun on June 17, 1934, gave added explanation to one incident in the book:

     She used one story, and it is a true story of a mother who was alone when her baby came in this cabin in the woods. Two hours after her baby was born she saw a panther in the cabin. She got up out of her bed and killed the panther with a home-made hickory chair.

     I read each chapter as Carrie finished it, and when I read that I told her no one would believe it—even though it had really happened. So she changed it to read that the mother shot the panther.

      The Baxley News Banner on May 9, 1933 featured headlines which heralded, "Caroline Miller Wins Pulitzer Prize," and introduces readers to their hometown author: "Caroline Miller’s story (her own story, not her book,) is a fairy tale beside which Cinderella seems prosaic."

      After a week in New York as the guest of her publishers, she returned to a grand reception given on her arrival in Baxley which, she said, was even more thrilling than anything that happened in New York.

      In full force Baxley turned out to greet Caroline Miller at the train; more than a thousand fellow citizens were crowded about the station and as she descended from the rear platform, automobiles horns were blown, everybody screamed at the top of his voice, and a truck full of school children shrieked "welcome home". The mayor stepped up and took Mrs. Miller’s hand, and told her how proud the town was of her. And all Baxley was saying, "It’s the biggest celebration since the Armistice was signed." (Blythe McKay, Society Editor, Macon Evening News, May 14, 1934.)

      Baxley gave her a royal reception on this occasion, but the public had already discovered her personal charm and ability as a public speaker. She had become a popular choice of college, literary and academic groups, not only in Georgia but on tours through other states. Before meeting Caroline Miller where she was to be the speaker for a luncheon given in Macon in November of 1933, Joseph Robinson, of The Macon Telegraph and News had wondered if Mrs. Miller could measure up to the ideal portrait that his imagination had painted as "a household beatitude, with harassing creative gifts that had finally got themselves triumphantly expressed in story form." After the luncheon he wrote the following account:

     The first sight of Caroline Miller proved that nature had outdone herself, and had not let the end of her work forget the beginning. For here were both youth and charm stepping lightly into the Dempsey (Hotel). Now charm is so frightfully overworked a word that I hesitate to use it. I use it in the sense in which Barrie used it when he makes one of his characters say: ‘Charm? Oh it’s a sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it, you don’t need to have anything else; and if you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter much what else you have. Some women, the few, have charm for all.’ The author of Lamb in His Bosom is one of the few!

      After her book received the Pulitzer Prize, she became one of the "rich and famous," and was recognized and appreciated by those who traveled in this circle, although she remained a very private person all of her life.

      But a dream never lasts forever and soon enough she landed in the real world. That spring after winning the Pulitzer award, her husband, who had always dreamed of being in newspaper work, resigned his job and on November 12, 1934, leased The Baxley News-Banner. He was able to edit only two issues before he was forced to give up this project by a chronic illness for which he later had surgery.

      The family spent two summers in the mountains of North Carolina, Chimney Rock in 1934, and Waynesville in 1935, trying to assimilate all that had happened and adjust their lives to the changes. During this time they gave up the house in Baxley and moved to Waycross where they both had relatives. Their love of beautiful literature, which had drawn them together, and the Pulitzer Prize, which they had thought an unattainable goal, now seemed to separate them by having changed their lives so drastically. Mr. Miller had not escorted Mrs. Miller to New York, and now the opportunities and activities that came to her seemed to threaten their relationship. After fifteen years of marriage they began to speak of divorce.

      While waiting for the final decree, Caroline spent a year in Biloxi, Mississippi. Her nephew, Erin Pafford, drove the entourage—Mrs. Miller, the three boys, the cook Rosanna, and the dog Chi Chi—west without a specific destination. En route, they stopped in Biloxi, Mississippi, liked it, and found a lovely home for rent on the Gulf. Erin remained until the boys were enrolled in school, and the family was settled. This became home for almost a year. She wrote her sister Maggie:

     This house has everything—and much more. It has antique furniture beyond anything I have ever seen. Joe would go wild over an old mahogany chest, a table carved from mahogany, chairs that are a study in artistry, china vases, and in the cupboards, old pots and wooden bowls!

     It faces the Gulf. In appearance it is white with oak branches drooping to the lawn. There is a large well-kept lawn. Narcissi are in bloom, a kumquat tree is bearing... You walk from the screened porch across the long lawn across the highway and about a step down to the sea wall that goes down into the Gulf like stone stairs for miles and miles along the coast.

     On the bottom step of that stairway with the fog like cold fur against your face... there are no words to tell how far from this present world one can be removed. We had to look a long while—but we found the house. A fine school is not so far and all kinds of churches—a lovely place to stay till June—if God wills.

      She returned to Waycross in September to marry Clyde Ray, Jr, a florist and antique dealer from Waynesville, N. C. On September 23, 1937, they married before the family and a few friends in the living room of her sister Maggie’s home. Bridal bouquet and flowers were arranged by the groom.

      During the next four years, they added another son, Clyde, Jr., and finally a long-awaited daughter, Patience, to the family. Out her kitchen door a dirt path led past the goldfish pond, through the vegetable and dahlia gardens, to the back of ‘The Shop." Frequently, during the day, she would find reasons to follow the path out to where her husband and sons were arranging flowers, and waiting on customers; when needed, she would pitch in to help run the family business. On occasion, she would tag along with her husband to a flower show where she would be the one to win a prize instead of the professionals!

      From time to time, tourists would come into the shop hoping to catch a glimpse of the "lady writer." "Curiosity seekers" she called them and would slip away down the dirt path back to her kitchen as soon as possible.

      She continued her writing in addition to her numerous domestic responsibilities and in 1944 published another novel, Lebanon. It is a story set in the Georgia swampland in the early years of the nineteenth century and named for its female protagonist. Because of the paper shortage during World War II, it was cut drastically by an editor and she did not see the finished draft until after it was published. The revised book was not as popular as Lamb had been. Through the next half century she completed a number of manuscripts. But the limelight had been too bright, too demanding, on so private a personality and they were never published.

      After her second husband died, she spent eight years in a little mountain home so remote that visitors had to drive through a cow pasture, taking care to close both gates, to get to it. Immediately guests recognized her home, for there was the familiar border of flowers on both sides of the walk that had always welcomed her friends. She lived quietly there, doors unlocked, surrounded by her books and writing materials, Quilting, embroidery, and knitting projects were close at hand. Her last project was a crocheted yellow baby blanket for an expected great-great nephew who was born the week after she died. Some of the children and grandchildren lived close enough to call on her often, and visits from the others always called for feasting and celebrating for the whole clan.

      Taking the yellow blanket with her to work on, she entered the hospital ten days before her death. Her condition deteriorated and a week before the end she sat with her youngest grandchild, seven-year-old Clyde H. Ray, IV, and quoted, from memory, the opening verses of Psalm 91: "For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands lest thou dash thy foot against a stone." Her children surrounded her and held her hand during her last hours. On July 15, friends and family gathered for Mass, and nephews lifted her to a lovely green plot next to a redwood tree overlooking the magnificent Smokey Mountains she loved. Nip, the surviving twin, has placed a reclining concrete lamb at the head of her grave, a bench nearby, and keeps seed in the birdfeeder in the Dawn Redwood. And so she sleeps next to her husband, close to a son and a grandson.

      From the time the twins were three years old until Patience was born when I was nine years old, my aunt bestowed upon me, the daughter of her beloved sister, the special luxuries a mother’s heart yearns to give to a little girl. The baby ring, gold locket and bracelet she gave me when I was born and the mink muff and collar she brought to me from New York are now family heirlooms. And the big boxes that arrived at Christmas were filled with photographs of the children, pickles and preserves from her kitchen, socks and bootees she had knitted and pillow cases trimmed with her own hairpen lace, carefully chosen antiques from the gift shop and personal gifts for my parents and me. Flowers from the local florist were always delivered on Easter morning and other special days. Letters and frequent phone calls brought her back to us constantly. I think what Tuck was trying to say is that without the love of these two sisters, our lives would not have been nearly as rich.

      From early childhood she had been a creative and sensitive, as well as talented artist, strongly motivated to express her creativity in a variety of ways. She possessed the kind of charm the English playwright Sir James M. Barrie wrote about in 1907, "If you have it, you don’t need to have anything else; and if you don’t have it, it doesn’t much matter what else you have." Caroline Miller had it.

      Caroline Miller, who once said, "The novelist’s reward is the knowledge that after he dies he will leave the best part of himself behind," has left a beautiful part of herself in her novel and left the world a better place because of her remarkable life.

      

Postscript (from Mike):

While Mrs. Bishop and I were working out the details of this column, Caroline Miller’s surviving twin son Nip died, and Mrs. Bishop spoke at his funeral, closing her "Psalm for Nip" with these words:

Thank you these boys had each other and a Heavenly Father.

The world is not always kind to little boys; international acclaim is sometimes cruel to the smallest victims.

Yellowed letters to my mother chronicling details of their youth still lie in dusty stacks of an antique trunk; photographs of handsome nephews occupy the safest corner.

God, give us a safe and memorable journey to Aunt Carrie’s home.

And help us to give comfort to all those who loved Nip.

We will miss him. 

 

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