Marching through Georgia

Temperature/weather in Atlanta today.

It was a rainy kind of day, starting with light drizzles, turning pretty nasty, dumping buckets of rain, lighting and thunder and a few spinouts (by other cars). Not what we’re used to in dry California. It was lovely and a little alarming, but afterward, the skies broke open and beautiful sun rays flashed across the clouds as the sun set. What a pretty thing to see. We started out from Jasper, Alabama, and went to Birmingham to pick up my sister from the airport, and then headed east to Atlanta. Stopped to pick up coffee and snax from a gas station (gas $3.26/gallon).

From the back seat of the rental car, I caught a glimpse of a soggy cotton field — many, in fact, but the rain was almost torrential at that point so I got just a quick photo from the car window. I have a deep curiosity to see a cotton field in bloom, as well as a tobacco field, to give me a chance to wonder at the scope of work they entailed, and what my ancestors so hungered for. I like to see things, not to believe them, but to give life to the memory or the idea.

Rainy cotton field.

Our intention was to go to the cemetery in upper Atlanta and see our 2x great-grandparents’ grave. But we tried to talk out what memories we had of them and their descendants, stories we had heard from our mothers, and it seems the grandpa, William, though respected in the community, was not well liked at home. Neither was the grandma, Hester. I have a portrait of her, a 40-ish smiling woman, hanging on my wall, a pose taken in the 1900s or 1890s. Someone, perhaps a naughty grandchild? has poked holes in her face where her nostrils are, so she looks like a pig. I can’t imagine this was a sanctioned act, as photo portraits were not cheap and there might have been a spanking involved. I don’t know a thing about Hester, but I wonder what she was like, or how she treated people, why her photo was so defaced. Who gets turned into a pig? Not a saint. Not a beloved grandmother.

My own grandfather Rae Bailey was christened William Raeford, named for his grandfather, and Rae so despised William, an itinerant Baptist preacher who Rae called a “hypocrite,” that he changed his name to Raeford Luther, taking his own father’s name instead. Imagine so despising your namesake that you changed your name?

Shrimp over grits cakes.

Between dumping rain and unfamiliar roads, the idea of tromping through a cemetery to visit the graves of two not-so-beloveds helped us decide to skip that visit. Instead, we headed to the hotel for naps, poring over maps and documents for tomorrow’s adventure into the next state, and then a delicious Southern dinner in a Kennesaw tavern. Shrimp and grits? Um, yes ma’am. Also, locally brewed beer in cans, and a grapefruit Ricky (pink gf with vodka and elderflower, so tasty!)

When we arrived at the tavern, awaiting some more cousins to join us, I heard a bird calling, and held up my Merlin app. We heard the beautiful call of a Carolina wren — and a cardinal! I looked and looked…

Female Northern cardinal

…And there she was. A Northern cardinal–Red head, more brownish body, and I caught her in a photo. You’ll have to trust me. Today I added seven birds to my life list: Carolina chickadee, golden-crowned kinglet, blue jay (not our Western scrub jay or Stellar’s), tufted titmouse, Eastern phoebe, Carolina wren and Northern cardinal.

Huzzah! #birdnerd

By the way, I specifically named this post “Marching through Georgia,” because my Southern great-grandmother Willie-Doris detested the song. She refused to hear it played. She was the founding member of the Daughters of the Confederacy chapter in Portland, OR, and she was very proud of her Southern roots, Southern accent, and her alleged relation to General Robert. E. Lee. Although I remember this great-grandmother, who lived to age 99 (she was Doris Bailey’s mother), and she gives me my long-life genes, I find her white supremacy impossible to excuse. She was the epitome of a charming Southern hostess, wherever she lived — and a perpetrator of some of our family’s worst snobbery and affectations. “My sons will never work with their hands” or “My sons will never wear dirty collars*,” she was known to say. (*back when collars were detachable).

I have a lot of thoughts about this lady, whose china sits in my cabinet, whose genes linger in my cells, and the genes of her forebears, generations of folks who disdained their servants and slaves, and anyone who looked like them. I can’t change what was, but I can expose it, I think, and hope sunlight will purify it, somehow. Anyhow, we did not go visit her parents’ graves today.

And I’m #notsorry.


It was a long day that began very early in my cozy bed with cats and husband, and alarm ringing at 3:30 a.m. The aircraft had a mechanical issue that added almost an hour to our wait time on the tarmac, and was followed by a bumpy ride, and steeplechase through Dallas-Fort Worth’s huge airport, and barely a bathroom stop before sliding into my seat on the last leg to Birmingham. The first leg was so bumpy I dry-swallowed a Xanax and it hit me in time to keep me from clawing my seat-mate as we rumbled above brown Texas, green Louisiana and Mississippi, and red Alabama. I don’t enjoy flying, and I had started the adventure with my anxiety at a 9.5 and was above 11 the rest of the day. Or twenty-11. Anyhoo, no, I did not drink a thing. It was still (too early in the) morning for a long, long time. Also, yes, I wore my mask all day. I was a lone masker in a sea of naked faces.

I found myself listening to a couple of playlists for self-soothing, and when the one I call Ebullience (for joy, excitement, energy) ended, it started up the playlist I call Rage, which has a lot of Beyonce/Lemonade in it. I put that list together after Austin died, and I needed something to accompany me as I ran, or tried to run, and get myself to do the 5K. (I only made it to a 3K, but it was still a triumph for couch-potato me.)

Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to Queen Bey, and then the Allman Brothers came on, “Tied to the Whipping Post,” and I took a deep dive into hearing this white man/men singing about how their broken hearts were the same as the unfree being scourged into raw meat or to death. It’s a song with a lot of rage in it, and I had added it to the list for that reason back in 2019 when I was feeling a lot of rage about Austin’s suicide. But it struck me completely differently on this trip, flying right over the former slavery states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. White dude with a broken heart just doesn’t get to compare his sad day with the brutality, the enormity of 400 years of state-sanctioned violence. It is this thoughtless kind of action that I hope to purge from myself–this kind of ignorant, nonchalant racism, where a song that sounds like fun turns out to be a sick anthem. It’s hard to say goodbye to pieces of art or artists who we once admired, but if the message is toxic? It’s time for me to release my enjoyment of Southern rock (headbanger that I used to be) and try a little harder. Pay a little more attention.

Growth doesn’t come when you sit in the same chair and eat the same boogers, my friends.

Hitting the Road

Old letters and photos, sepia-tones and showing age, with an old ink pen.

I am heading out on Tuesday to the East Coast, via the Deep South, to New England, following the course of our family history back through time. I’m starting roughly where we left off with slavery, in Alabama, and working my way backward through Georgia, South and North Carolina, up to Virginia; Maryland and D.C., then up via train to Boston and the Cape. We will end up at the Mayflower II, if all goes well.

Accompanying me are my elder sister and a cousin, both of whom share my family history, and who were willing to come along for the ride. We are also planning to stop to see some bucket list places, including Chincoteague (PONIES!), Mount Vernon, Gettysburg, and a side trek to visit my brother-in-law in Maryland.

This will add several states to my list, and we are hoping to go bird-nerd crazy (my sister is an excellent birder). I already downloaded the Merlin bird packs for Southeast and Northeast USA to my phone. It is my fondest wish to see a red cardinal somewhere, some time. (Our mutual grandmother Ruth loved cardinals best, and knew them well from her Illinois and Montana childhood. I’ve never seen one.)

Red cardinal bird on the ground.
Courtesy of eBird,
I’ve never seen one, but I hope to.

My plan is to stop at graveyards to visit ancestors, find their headstones, say hello, what were you thinking, how have you been? We would stop at houses if we could find them, but most of them are gone. There is the ruin of a mansion supposedly haunted by one of our Upshaw forebears, bitten by a rabid fox and smothered by her own servants (enslaved). We will find the plantation lands if possible, and I’ll take photos and see what it looks like now, maybe visualize what they were seeking when they stopped there. The journey has its dark side–but it’s part of my personal reconciliation and reckoning. I very recently joined Coming to the Table, an organization that helps white people reckon with and bear their ancestors’ past slave-owning. Reckon with it, because it is a story many people want to forget or rewrite. Bear it, because there is no reconciling it. Reckon — like recon, to know again, it means to count again, to account for. It’s what I’m trying to do.

Maybe it will just be a fun roadtrip. Or maybe it will change my life. I used to be terrified to travel, because when you leave your safe space (home), bad things can happen. There’s no control. #issues I have mostly grown past that, but once a Catholic, always a Catholic, even when you’re an atheist-pagan, like me. I slipped this little St. Christopher into my coinpurse because I need all the good luck and blessings I can muster.

Round silver medal of St. Christopher held in the palm of a white woman's hand.

I’m still packing. Trying not to be nervous. Mostly excited. Cemeteries and history and cousins, oh my!

What Would Jane Do? A Literary Pilgrimage

50703687 What Would Jane Do? A Literary Pilgrimage
By Julia Park

I’ve been to England twice before, and to the beautiful Georgian city of Bath in particular, because as a Jane Austen aficionado, a Janeite, if you will, that’s what we do. We follow in her footsteps, we look for the Jane connection, and we read each of her six novels (and the juvenilia, the marginalia, and the letters) as if they were travelogues.

Some of them are travelogues of a sort. In Pride and Prejudice, for example, Elizabeth Bennett and her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner plan a tour of the Lakes District, in part to forget about certain young men. “For what are men to rocks and mountains?” Elizabeth proclaims. Indeed. Two of Austen’s novels may be read almost as guidebooks to the city of Bath: Northanger Abbey uses Bath as a major locale for its foolish ingénue, Catherine Moreland, and Austen’s final completed novel, Persuasion, also takes place in part in Bath.

This time around, I was determined to find Jane Austen in the streets of this cobbled city. I knew that she had lived in several locations around town, when visiting her aunt or other relations. Her father, an Anglican minister, upon his retirement chose Bath as the place he wanted to settle, and the city became Jane’s home for some years until his death. They moved house more than once in that time, so finding Jane is more than a mere amble to a set location, much more than just a pit stop and an emptying of pockets in the gift shoppe.

I began my journey to find Jane down at the Pump Room, above the ancient Roman Baths (Stall St., tel +44 [0]1225 477785), built about A.D. 65-75. The adjacent hot spring feeds the baths at a temperature of about 115 ° Fahrenheit. It is worth the time to take the self-guided tour and get a close-up look at the actual green waters of the hot and cool baths. This is where various characters in Austen’s novels have been sent to “take the waters” – Persuasion’s poor Mrs. Smith, who is crippled by rheumatism, for example; Emma’s hypochondriacal father, Mr. Woodhouse, is also recommended to visit by the obnoxious Mrs. Elton.

Above the baths is the elegant 18th-century Pump Room, where you can take refreshment. Enjoy a delicious afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, petit fours, cakes, scones, clotted cream and jam, tea and Champagne. That sounds lovely enough, yes, but to fully appreciate the divinity of this experience, get this: I wanted some more cream (as in, milk) for my tea and asked the waiter, and instead he brought me another bowlful of clotted cream. Clotted cream in a bowl with a spoon in it, and the bowl is a special serving bowl that tilts toward you, so you are actually invited by its very shape to scoop from it.

Well, I had already consumed my scone, thank you, and all the jam, so there was nothing left but to eat the cream with a spoon. It was very, very naughty. But may I just say, in my own defense, that licking clotted cream from a spoon while you watch pigeons fly around the cobbled square and listen to a pianist perform the air from The Sleeping Beauty on a grand piano, in a room where Jane Austen and many of her characters strolled is divine. Simply divine. And what would Jane have done? The same, I am certain.

After eating so much it was a tough call whether to take the waters, to actually drink from the Bath fountain. It’s located over in the corner of the Pump Room, with a liveried waiter who will serve you a glass for about 50 pence. The water is warm, a bit cloudy and smells like sulfur, not exactly the after-tea drink I wanted. I decided to save the experience for another day. But fortified by all that pastry, clotted cream and the like, I was ready to brave the seven hills of Bath, and so off I went, clambering up the cobblestones in search of the domiciles I needed to see, to touch some part of Jane’s life.

I left the Pump Room and the magnificent Abbey Square, which faces Bath Abbey, with its lace-like fan vaulting and clusters of angels, and walked up Bond Street and Milsom Street, which is where Jane would have shopped. Now there is every manner of better clothing store, as well as electronics, housewares and restaurants. Running parallel to these shopping streets is Gay Street, heading up to the Circus, one of the circular “squares” for which Bath is famous. The Circus is John Wood the Elder’s masterpiece of circular building, with a frieze of masks, foliage, magical symbols, musical instruments and wildlife running all the way around. Further up Brock Street is the Royal Crescent, built in the 1760s and 1770s by John Wood the Younger.  Number 1 Royal Crescent (tel +44 [0]1225 428126, closed Dec.-Jan. & Mon. Feb.-Nov.) is done up complete in Austen style, with a sedan chair in the hall, port and pipes in the study, and the cheery kitchen downstairs, to re-create a mid-Georgian atmosphere.
However, I was not so bent on the architecture as the former resident of 25 Gay Street, Miss Jane Austen. The shiny plum-colored door with its polished brass would have pleased her. She lived for a time in the stylish house in 1805, which was up the hill from the River Avon and less prone to damp, but it proved too expensive for a retired clergyman and his wife and two daughters, so after less than a year, the Austens moved to other quarters. I plucked a leaf from a plant in the doorway, a little talisman to press and treasure. I’m sure Jane would have done the same.

My next stop was further uphill, to Number 1 The Paragon. Quite a bit above the rest of the town, the Paragon buildings are tres elegant, at least, they would have been. But residents weren’t expecting company, not in the form of a Janeite seeking second-degree relics, and they unkindly left their trash on the stoop. There were no leaves or flowers to press at this shrine, though I searched in vain, so I came away with a small crumble of plaster that had fallen on the ground, unlikely to date from Austen’s day. No matter – she hadn’t lived at the Paragon, only visited her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Leigh Parrot, but the visit in November 1797 inspired Jane to write Northanger Abbey after her return to her home at the rectory in Steventon.

I took a turn around the Royal Crescent and made a stop at the Upper Rooms, which any Janeite can tell you are where Austen went, properly chaperoned, of course, to flirt, dance and meet gentlemen. Here is where Catherine Moreland met Henry Tilney, and where Anne Elliot also spent evenings in Bath society. Is it a coincidence that the street leading up to the Rooms is called Bennett Street? A Janeite thinks not.

The Assembly Rooms (tel +44 [0]1225 477789), built in 1772, feature a long ballroom lit by 18th-century chandeliers, an octagonal card room with a musicians’ gallery, and a well appointed tearoom. In the basement is Bath’s Museum of Costume (tel +44 [0]1225 477785), featuring modes of dress from various centuries, including Austen’s. The exhibits change; there I’ve seen an exhibition of wedding dresses from the past 200 years, as well as an exhibition of dancer Rudolph Nureyev’s costumes and hats, called “Nureyev Style.”

From the Upper Rooms it is downhill, at last, toward Queen Square, where the Austens let a house for six weeks in May 1799. Number 13, on the corner, has a terribly English shiny black door, but the current resident, a tax office, steadfastly refused to shut it for a photograph. I was lucky enough to find a pebble to take as a relic for my memories. Jane was pleased with the house: “I like our situation very much; it is far more cheerful than Paragon, and the prospect from the drawing-room window, at which I now write, is rather picturesque, as it commands a perspective view of the left side of Brock Street, broken by three Lombardy poplars in the garden of the last house in Queen’s Parade.” To think that Jane wrote her letters there, in her own hand, and now nothing but dull accountants and tax attorneys and duller-still clients come to call. It makes one want to weep.

My last stop was a far walking distance away – all the way back toward the Abbey and the River Avon, across the Pultney Bridge and beyond. The Bridge is one of the few in the world that has little shops and office built right into the bridge itself.  It was built in 1769-1774 and if I hadn’t been on such an urgent mission to see one last Austen house before departing, I might have paused in some of the many charming shops. But this is Jane we’re talking about, so souvenirs and tea cups had to wait.

I walked up Argyle Street and through Laura Place, where the Austens aspired to live but couldn’t quite afford, and then down Great Pultney Street to the end, where it meets Sidney Gardens and Sidney Place. The Austens eventually took a house at 4 Sidney Place, which pleased Jane and her sister Cassandra mightily: “It will be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens! – we might go into the Labyrinth every day.” In Austen’s day, there were concerts, strolls and other entertainment to be had in the public gardens, and it is a pleasure to read of her joy and contentment in the house.

Number 4 itself is the only house I saw that commemorates Jane’s dwelling with a plaque. As for my own commemoration, I couldn’t find a plant or a stone worth collecting, so well kept was the doorway, but I did find a weed in the crevice of the front fence. Pathetic, I know, but it’s a weed that was growing in front of Jane’s house. Jane’s house, I say. What would Jane have done? Enough said.

Walking on cobblestones is not fun but worth it to see St. Jane, anything Jane. The day I went to Bath to see all-things-Jane was the one day the Jane Austen Centre was closed. If you go, however, do stop in and have tea with Mr. Darcy – a portrait of Colin Firth in the Pride and Prejudice role gazes down from the wall and you can enjoy tea and scones as Jane would have. The Centre is located back on Gay Street (40 Gay St, tel +44 [0] 1225 443000) and would be well worth the stop.

There wasn’t much to do at the end of Pultney Street, with no concerts or labyrinth to be found, so I returned to the Abbey, and finished my sojourn in search of Jane with a small repast at the oldest house in Bath, the famous Sally Lunn’s. There, your dinner is served on trenchers of bread, known as Bath buns or Sally Lunn buns.

Sally Lunn, as the story goes, was a young refugee from the French Revolution who began to bake a rich round bread now known as the Sally Lunn Bun. The “Bath bun” became a popular delicacy in Georgian England and was enjoyed with either sweet or savory accompaniments. To our modern taste, a Bath bun is like a large hamburger bun, not quite the culinary thrill it once must have been. It’ll fill you up, or possibly give you a bellyache, as it did Jane, who wrote to her sister that she planned to “disorder my stomach with Bath buns” upon her arrival. A bellyful of Bath buns with a cup of tea seemed an appropriately English was to say farewell to Jane and the beautiful city of Bath, with my treasures in my pocket. I think it’s what Jane would have done, too.

Julia Park is a California writer and editor, and, of course, Jane Austen admirer.

Bright lights, big cities

Busy days. (Note to self: why is “busy” spelled this way but sounds like “bizzy”?) I know, I’m addicted to busy, but life is full and there’s always a lot to do. Indulge me, will you?

April and May were full of Tongues of Angels adventures, because Indie-Visible released the novel as a 10-year anniversary edition, and I was all over the place online, in several blog-carnations. It was good. It was busy, but it was good. That firmly under way, I turned to finishing off the second of the volumes of collected diaries, and all the proofing, indexing and final approvals needed.
RFTM Cover for internetAll to good ends, friends, because the second installment of the Doris Diaries is here: Reaching for the Moon. Yes. It is finished, and ready for your approval and delight (click that little link and it will take you to Amazon, or print the page and take it to your indie bookstore and ask for them to order it special via Ingram.) And if you read it and like it, why PLEASE do go to that Amazon page, or Goodreads, and post a review? Because it is fresh and new, there are zero reviews yet.

And lord knows, I love a review.

I’m in the midst of planning what’s next, that is — book tour! I have a handful of dates in the Bay Area this fall, and a week in Portland set for September. Southern California and Arizona visits are also in the works. Very exciting events coming this way:

  • Sept. 3-9, a giveaway on GoodReads (5 copies of Reaching for the Moon)
  • Sept. 7: Neptune Beach Festival, Alameda — I’m reading (in costume) 1-1:30 onstage, between bands!
  • Sept. 8: Art Deco Society’s Gatsby Summer Afternoon (costumes required! hosting a table, signing books)
  • Sept. 21: Sonoma County Book Fest (at Santa Rosa Jr. College), all day; Indie-Visible book table (signing books)
  • Sept. 22-28: Portland via Coast Starlight train
    • Sept. 24: Architectural Heritage Center: speaking on “The Works of Luther R. Bailey,” Doris’s father (my great-grandfather) – 7 pm
    • Sept. 25: Hollywood Theatre, Sandy Boulevard. “Wings” silent movie featuring the accompaniment of the Columbia River Theatre Organ Society. Complimentary Champagne and book launch, brief reading before film. Book signing, 6:30. Film at 7. $10/general; $8 seniors/students, $7 members of the Hollywood Theatre.
    • Sept. 26 (tentative): Cocktail reception at Heathman Hotel, featuring no-host bar, costumed reading.
    • Sept. 27: Eugene, OR: Tsunami bookstore reading, with other women writers. 7 p.m. Book signing after.
  • Oct. 6: Sonoma County book launch, Occidental Center for the Arts, 4 p.m. Slide show, author interview and Q&A.
  • Oct. 25: Doris in San Francisco; The Rabbit Hole, 7 p.m. Featuring costumed bartenders, reading, music of the Jazz Age.
  • TBA:  Books Inc. Alameda reading.
So there you have it. A busy schedule, with travel, meeting far-flung friends and more. Watch for updates….those TBAs and Tentatives will turn to solid gold soon.