Monday, December 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Brer Joel

The Wren’s Nest celebrated the birthday of Joel Chandler Harris with a Victorian Christmas Open House, traditional Christmas carols, storytelling and other children’s activities. Everyone joined in the singing of “Happy Birthday” to Joel Chandler Harris. The Wren’s Nest, located at 1050 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd., SW, Atlanta, Ga., was the home of Joel Chandler Harris, author of UNCLE REMUS, HIS SONGS AND HIS SAYINGS, the classic Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Bear stories.

Storytelling is scheduled every Saturday at 1 p.m. and at other times by appointment. The day my wife and I took our grandson, age 4, our storyteller was Donald. He told us “Brer Rabbit and the Tarbaby,” the Uncle Remus story that has been my favorite since I was my grandson’s age. “Just PLEASE don’t throw me in that briarptch.” Then he told us the African folk tale of “Umdalla and the Glueman,” likely to have been told by Georgia slaves and heard by Joel Chandler Harris. My grandson was transported and delighted, as were my wife and I. Our storyteller also played a game with us. “My name is Donald, and today I brought with me a Doughnut. And a Donkey. And a puppy Dog.”

Everybody got a turn. “My name is Bill, and today I brought with me a little Boy. And his Bunny rabbit. And a Ball.”

My wife said, “My name is Annette, and today I brought with me an Apple. And an Airplane. And ALL my love.”

My grandson was asked, "What is your name?"

He said, "Chance." "

"And did you bring something that starts with the same letter as your name?"

After a while, he answered, "Cookies and Cake."

Lain Shakespeare is Executive Director of The Wren’s Nest. Great-grandson of Joel Chandler Harris, Lain is also a descendant of that other famous and beloved writer. The Wren's Nest is decorated for the Christmas season. My grandson told Lain that the Christmas tree in the parlor needed to have candy canes on it, because they were his favorite. Our tour guide Nannie found some candy canes before we left and presented them to my grandson.

The Wren’s Nest is lovingly and miraculously maintained by its dedicated staff, so that visitors young and old alike can enjoy this true Atlanta treasure, which includes many of its original furnishings, now antiques, bought by Sears & Roebuck mail order. There are pianos, glass bookcases, and wardrobes containing clothes from that era. Joel Chandler Harris had just published his first Uncle Remus book in 1881 when he moved into the house, which he purchased from his employer, THE ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. This is the best deal I have ever heard of any employee getting from the AJC. The house was originally constructed as a simple farmhouse in 1870 by George Muse, founder of the longtime Atlanta men’s clothing store with his name. Joel Chandler Harris hired architect George P. Humphreys to remodel the house, creating a one and one-half story residence with a steeply pitched gable roof and latticed porches.

(A special note to The Walt Disney Corporation: Take a hint from The Wren's Nest. Shoot some new scenes for SONG OF THE SOUTH, showing the African Folklore basis of some of the Joel Chandler Harris stories you helped imortalize. Cut out the silliest parts of the live action hopelessly mired in the 1940's. Like Alex Haley, depict the "roots" over several generations. Spend a buck, and update this wonderful piece of American culture. I'll bet there's profit and praise at the end of this rainbow.)

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter


Tina said...

Years ago I visited that house & it was charming. Glad to hear that it is still open and being enjoyed.
Having been born and bred in the briar patch, I also love the stories.

Oreo said...

I'd love to be able to see 'Song of the South' again. The last time I saw it was in the theater. I'm 29 now, so someone else can do the math. Just the other day I was doing a story and got a shot of 'Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby,' which reminded me that I should re-read some of those old stories that I haven't touched since my age hit double-digits.


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