In the last fortnight, I had the pleasure of meeting a devoted reader, Faye West of Bowman. I have never met a person for whom I had greater regard for her insightful feelings and generous spirit. It was one of my most memorable experiences in over 40 years of writing a weekly column. Before I could get the column submitted for print, I got the saddest news that my new friend had passed away. The following is a farewell tribute to a person whom I consider a Great American. I am deeply saddened by her passing.
BOWMAN – This laid-back community of 812 once was bigger than Elberton, 12 miles southeast of here. There were two banks and a college, according to Chris White, who runs Jim’s Restaurant a fine place to dine in downtown Bowman. (Chris and his mother, Maudi, know how to feed a hungry man. A hungry woman, too, if one drops by.)
We were sitting on Faye West’s front porch when Chris disclosed the aforementioned bit of history, delighting in referring to that day in the past when Bowman was more important than the county seat—Elberton.
Faye turned to a visitor and explained how that came about. “Bowman was bigger than Elberton until granite was struck,” she said as her daughter, Rayne, served coffee and Bowman well water which comes from a well across the road.
Rayne had advised her guests that Bowman had the best well water this side of the Savannah River. She placed a cup of coffee on a banister that framed an aging front porch that remains the centerpiece of the West’s daily life. The coffee was accompanied by a glass of Bowman well water.
I drank the coffee first then the well water. Hard to say which was better. All I can tell you was that I asked for seconds of each. I’m not in the habit of drinking water with my coffee, but I’ll never turn down Bowman well water under any circumstance should it be offered again.
When her husband’s job transferred him to Illinois, Rayne would often journey back home to visit family and would return to the “Land of Lincoln,” with several jugs of Bowman well water.
Faye left these parts in the early fifties for Marietta as a teenager to find work. “My daddy passed away when I was in high school, and I had to support my mother and a younger brother,” she said. Years later, she was all too happy to return to her roots after her husband, Gene, retired. “It is just so peaceful to sit out here in the cool of the afternoon and watch the sun set,” she smiled. “We see all types of birds during the day.”
She had read something in the Athens Banner-Herald about a certain columnist who is not accustomed to seeing brown thrashers. The invitation to visit the Wests was to eliminate that shortcoming. Other birds she sees each day, not counting prolific redbirds, bluebirds, jaybirds and crows, includes the Eastern Towhee, the Eastern Kingbird and hummingbirds.
The signature tree in the flower-dominated front yard is a stately oak that accompanies the view across the fields to the woods in the distance. I was smack dab in the middle of Americana and loving it.
Faye, who is a relative of “Old Dan Tucker,” is a charming octogenarian. She has a sly smile and a selfless demeanor. She is well-read and a keen observer of what is going on and has gone on around here for lo these many years. She has a bent for the light side of life and respect for principle and common sense. Her 95-year-old sister-in-law Lavenia Weir Hall of Jefferson clips columns from the newspaper and sends them to Faye each week.
She was in the middle of a conversation about her family leaving the farm to find work in the post-World War II era when Rayne beckoned us inside for key lime pie and more Bowman well water.
As our conversation continued, I took a sip of Bowman well water and wondered aloud that the fine Bowman well water likely would be great for making moonshine.
Immediately Rayne repaired to the refrigerator and reached for a mason jar and before you could say Broad River, Chris White and I were toasting everybody with a glass of quality moonshine. Here I am with new friends, down on the farm, eating key lime pie and drinking moonshine. I may call Paula Dean and suggest this combo for her next cookbook.
If I ever get invited back to Faye West’s front porch, I will stay longer, and I will bring along an empty jug to return home with some Bowman well water. And, maybe a little taste of something else.