January 27, 2009 - Nell Brown of Blairsville, Georgia is a world traveler
Mara O'Nell Todd Brown (Nell) was born in Clark County ( Winterville, Georgia ) on August 17, 1928. She was the second child of six. Her father, Alvin Todd was from Athens, Georgia. Her mother, Zura Gooch Todd, was from Suches, Georgia in Union County.
Nell's parents moved the family to Suches, Georgia in 1929 when Nell was seven months old. Their home was made completely of logs from floor to ceiling. There was no electricity or running water. Nell's dad piped gravity water to the house by rounding up used fire hose and installing it underground. The sink was hewn out of yellow poplar. Nell says, "The cool, clear water was especially satisfying on a hot summer day."
She continues, "We had fun growing up. We would make our own toys out of whatever we could find. We sawed down trees with a cross cut saw and built wagons with wooden wheels. We made trails in the woods and would coast down the hills. We would go swimming or fishing in the creek that ran through the farm. We got lots of exercise. Sometimes we would act out a play. My youngest sister would write them. I remember my father always encouraged us. He loved our plays. As we got older and had friends over, we would kill a chicken and fry it up for supper. We girls did all the cooking after we were old enough. I think my oldest sister started about age ten and I helped her. When she went to college I was in charge of the kitchen - I did all of the cooking and preparing the food."
"Sundays were for going to church. Sometimes we rode on the back of Dad's two ton truck and sometimes we walked. We walked a lot. Sometimes, as teenagers, we walked for miles just to see our friends."
Nell first attended a one room school in Union County called Pleasant Valley that had seven grades and one teacher. In the 7th grade, Nell moved to Peggy Hale School . Leaving out from home before daylight, she carried an oil lantern to light her way. After being at Peggy Hale for half a year, it was consolidated with Woody Gap School.
Woody Gap School had 1st through 11th grades. When Woody Gap School was built, all the other schools in Suches were consolidated (except for Pleasant Valley). Nell graduated from Woody Gap School in 1945. There were six in her graduating class - five girls and one guy from the service that had lost a leg in the war.
Nell next attended West Georgia College on a 4-H Work Scholarship. She worked in the dining hall for room and board. During her second quarter at West Georgia something happened that she will never forget.
Nell says, "A home economics teacher asked me to tell the class about growing cotton. The teacher knew my dad was a farmer and just assumed we grew cotton. When I said I didn't know anything about cotton, she didn't believe me. She kept insisting that I tell the class about growing cotton. I tried to explain that not much cotton was grown in Union County but she wouldn't listen. She ended up calling me a liar and ordered me from her class. I was sent back home to Suches."
Nell helped her parents with their dahlia business (they grew dahlias, not cotton) all summer until fall quarter. Then she enrolled at North Georgia College in Dahlonega, Georgia.
She continues, "My dad started growing dahlias and selling the tubers when I was a year old. Grandma had dahlias and when she separated the tubers there were lots left over. There were too many tubers for her to plant. My dad advertised them in the Market Bulletin and sold enough to pay the taxes on the farm. That's how his dahlia business got going."
"My parents were also truck farmers. I remember picking green beans. My dad paid us five cents to pick a bushel of beans. When we saved enough money, we got to order a new dress or a pair of shoes from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. We also grew turnip greens, collards, corn, rhubarb, and other vegetable crops. Dad took the produce and dahlia blooms to the Atlanta Farmer's Market. Sometimes I got to go with him. It was hard work but we had fun."
"My parents would let us pick the different colored dahlia blooms and we would make a patchwork quilt in the middle of the sandy road out of them. We would wonder if the people in the airplanes could see the flowers from way up in the sky. We also threw the blooms in the creek and guessed at where they would go. We watched them float away and made up stories about who would find them. That's the kind of things kids did back then for entertainment. We had good imaginations but as a young person, I never dreamed I would get the chance to ride in a plane or travel further than the creek water flowed."
"Every summer I helped Dad cut the dahlia blossoms. We displayed them at Rich's Department Store in Atlanta and at the North Georgia Fair in Hiawassee. Dad would take orders for tubers to be shipped in the spring."
"The rest of the year, when I was attending North Georgia College , I had a room in town with kitchen privileges. The lady of the house was old and wanted someone to live with her. I was the live-in help and she provided room and board. This was the only way I could afford to continue my education. Later I lived with a family where I took care of two children, ironed all the clothes, and helped with the other chores. I also worked in a restaurant and at the college library."
After three years of college, Nell took a job teaching in Dahlonega. She taught fourth grade for one year then moved to Atlanta . In Atlanta , Nell took a position at C&S Bank as a bookkeeper where she met her future husband.
Nell says, "While working at the bank I met Harry Holliday. He swept me right off of my feet. At that time he worked at the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta , but later went to Smyrna , Georgia , where he became Bank President."
She continues, "I did not have a public job for years after moving to Smyrna . I had three boys and a husband. They were my full time job. In 1967 I decided to go back to night school and finish my degree. I attended Georgia State University part-time, and finished my master's degree in 1974. I had not planned to go to work but the principal of my son's elementary school called and talked me into teaching there. I taught school in Cobb, Cherokee, Dawson , and Lumpkin Counties for 20 more years until I retired in 1994."
"My parents always told us to get an education and we could do whatever we wanted to do. All of us kids always planned on attending college after high school. Five out of six of us have at least a bachelor's degree. One chose to serve in the armed forces for twenty-four plus years. I guess you could say we all turned out pretty good. My parents did something right raising us children on the dahlia farm."
She says, "While Harry was Bank President and Treasurer of the Georgia Banker's Association, we had the opportunity to travel. We took a few cruises during those years and went to Bermuda , Porto Rico, the Virgin Islands , St. Thomas , and St. Croix . We also traveled to California and Hawaii ."
Nell's eyes light up when she talks about her traveling adventures. "I always liked to daydream about traveling. Ever since I watched those dahlias float down the creek in Suches , Georgia , I wanted to see the world. In 1969 my parents, two of my sons, and I went to Europe . In 1975 my parents and I went to South America where we visited Brazil , Chili , Peru , and Argentina . While in Machu Picchu , Peru we visited the Inca Indian ruins which were amazing. And in 1996 I went to Alaska with my church mission group. Alaska is a beautiful place."
Nell doesn't worry about booking expensive hotel rooms or reserving rental cars. She explains, "On one trip to Brazil we traveled with the Friendship Force and stayed with two different families. In Belem we stayed in a high rise apartment building with a lady and her son. Then we went to Marajo Island on the Amazon River where we rode on water buffalos. I really like to experience how the people live. All night long we listened to the howling monkeys."
She continues, "We also went to Americana, Brazil. There we stayed with a family in their home. They had seven daughters and one son. Some of the daughters gave us their bedroom. They were such caring people and treated us like family members.
Nell has also visited Africa and the Middle East . She says, "In Egypt I rode a camel. That was such an interesting experience that I rode another one when I visited Israel ." Nell has also traveled by elephant (when in China ).
She says, "One of the best trips was with my friend Jo George in 2000. We went to China to visit her son and stayed for six weeks. The trip wasn't just a vacation. We worked while we were there teaching fifth and sixth grade at the International School . We also taught conversational English at the University. We worked with students that could read and write English. They wanted to learn to speak the language. Even though some of the teachers were from England , the students said they liked our southern accents the best."
In 2004 Nell traveled to New Zealand and Australia. In 2006 she took a cruise to the Caribbean where she visited several islands. Nell says, "I have traveled to 49 of the 50 states. North Dakota still beckons!"
In 2007 Nell attended a birthday party and was asked, "What would you do if you won a million dollars?" She quickly answered, "Go to Antarctica ."
Two days later a neighbor extended an invitation, "Come go with us to Antarctica ." Nell accepted and visited Paradise Harbor , Antarctica in November of 2007. While on the Antarctica trip she also went to the Falklands and other smaller islands where she walked with the penguins.
Nell is more than a teacher, mother, wife, and world traveler. In 1989 she became involved in a drama about life in the mountains during the 1930's and 40's. Nell played herself in the Reach of Song based on the life of Byron Herbert Reece, a Georgia writer, poet, and farmer. During her time acting in the Reach of Song, Nell met and married Julian Brown. He was working in the theater as a volunteer and it was love at first sight. They married in 2001. Nell says, "By then I had been single for 20 years."
Nell participated in more than 580 performances of the Reach of Song (more than anyone else). During that time (1989-1994) she was teaching in Dahlonega and drove 48 miles one way to be in the play - crossing Neal's Gap each night. Nell says, "Those lonely mountain drives are another story for another day."
Nell has traveled to 49 states, thirty countries, and all seven continents. She says, "Those places are a long way from Suches, Georgia and the dahlia farm where I grew up. I am grateful for getting to travel the world."
Dahlias are still grown in Union County. The colorful flowers brighten the scenery on highways and back roads. Nell says, "If you are driving through the area in the summertime, you can't miss them. Lots of people grow them now." Union County may have lots of dahlias, but there's only one Nell Brown. Congratulations to Mrs. Brown for having the courage to live her dream.