BLAKELY – The farmland, which has lain fallow for months, is about to be readied for planting in these parts. It is the beginning of another cycle that is most pronounced, in our state, in south Georgia, where producing a good crop is welcome news — even by those who have no direct link to a harvest.
If the farmers have a good year, everybody benefits. There is nothing orderly about farming — too many variables. It all begins with the weather. Rain, forever at the centerpiece of the farmer’s world, is like the mood of a scorned woman — unpredictable. Too much rain can be a problem, too little an even greater problem.
“Farming can be feast or famine,” says Nelson Hattaway, who was born here, was raised here, and farms here with an abiding love of the land. He has an interest in a Ford dealership with his jovial cousin Jim Hattaway but has always had his heart set on farming. Nelson has been blessed with fulfillment.
Nelson and his farming compatriots are off to a good start, but that is like scoring six runs in the first inning. There was good rain in the fall and the creeks are high with swamp water crowding the road sides, but like it is with those runs in the first inning, the end game is a long way off. You need rain in the spring as seeds germinate. You need rain in the summer as crops grow and mature. Sometimes, rain can be fickle. The crops come out of the ground robust and spry, then dry conditions not only wilt and stunt the plants, they bring about depression.
Nelson has survived over the years with hard work, due diligence, and cogent management, but he sighs with resignation. “Farming can be like going to Las Vegas. You hear of folks winning big, but most times, they come home without their shirt.”
Nelson is, by most accounts, an average south Georgia farmer — except for one rather distinguishing difference. Like many Georgia boys with Georgia on his mind, he enrolled in Athens, choosing a major and a mate. He didn’t matriculate with marriage on his mind, but of all things for this rural, conservative Southerner to find was a bride whose domicile was Morristown, N.J. While I’ve never gotten caught up in the “Yankee” rivalry that exists with all too many (in fact, I’ve never understood the antipathy between the Scots and the English, but such rivalries do exist), I nonetheless was amused that this union, which has flourished, took place. It prompted this question: “How was it that you married this beautiful Yankee girl?” Nelson grinned and said, “The beautiful part, of course.”
The landscape, accents, climate, and environment of Morristown, N.J., 31 miles from New York City, could not be more different from the seat of Early County, which was founded in 1818 and named for Peter Early, who was governor of Georgia from 1813 to 1815. Although New Jersey is one of the most productive truck farming regions in the United States, there are no crops to be harvested in Morristown, which is best known as the place where General George Washington made his winter headquarters during the Revolutionary War.
You’d have to say that Libby was in the relationship literally for better or for worse. And, not insignificantly, the long haul. The first three months of marriage, they lived in the house with Nelson’s grandmother. One day, Nelson took Libby to their first home. It was a double wide. That wasn’t an issue. Neither was the oppressive heat of summer. “She,” Nelson laughs, handles the heat better than I do.”
She was on board for Nelson’s joy rides, too. Literally. A pilot, he would take her on some excursion like the wedding of a friend a few hundred miles away—in an open cockpit. Libby had to strap on a parachute and don goggles for the trip.
Not many of the Tri-Delts of her era have had Libby’s experiences. She is flummox-proof. She’s as laid-back as any housewife in Blakely. She is always anxious to return to Athens to see the Bulldogs play between the hedges, but she is just as happy when she returns home to the peanut and cotton fields of Early County. Few of Nelson Hattaway’s fraternity brothers or classmates have found the marital bliss he has with the belle of Morristown. Go Dawgs!
Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.