STORIES OF PEOPLE, PASSIONS, AND PRACTICES FROM SOUTHERN APPALACHIA
“Anyone with an interest in Americana, history, or nature will appreciate these poignant and enjoyable stories of shared knowledge and traditions.”
Photo left: Jessica Phillips Henricks watches Phil at a book signing
Collected and written by Phil Hudgins and former Foxfire student Jessica Phillips Henricks, Travels with Foxfire is a collection of more than thirty essays, through which we discover the secret origins of stock car racing, the story behind the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the vanishing art of gathering wild ginseng, and the recipes of an award-winning cookbook writer. We meet bootleggers and bear hunters, game wardens and medicine women, water dowsers, sculptors, folk singers, novelists, record collectors, and home cooks – even the world’s more foremost “priviologist” – all with tales to tell. A rich compendium of the collected wisdom of artists, craftspeople, musicians, and moonshiners, Travels with Foxfire is a joyful tribute to the history, the geography, and the traditions that define Appalachian living.
as told to Phil Hudgins
Photo on left by Scott Rogers
For years, Lessie Smithgall’s family and friends had encouraged her to write her memoir. She finally agreed. Reluctantly. “I don’t want a picture of me used on the front,” she said. “My name will not be in the title of the book,” she added. She wasn’t done: “If you talk about philanthropy, you’d better downplay it or not mention it at all.” And then: “Do you think anyone will read it?”
“Yes, I do,” Phil Hudgins assured her during their meeting at her home in Gainesville, Georgia, “You have friends all over Georgia—and in other states, too—who would like to read about your life.”
So, with her admonishments and doubts in mind, PhiI began a storytelling of the life of Celestia Bailey “Lessie” Smithgall, a journey that would meander through nearly eight months of interviews, meeting at her home every Thursday afternoon. “It was our rendezvous,” she said, exhibiting a wit that punctuated every meeting.
Telling Lessie’s life story in full certainly would have taken more than eight months of Thursdays, but Phil managed to touch on the highlights. Lessie had been a journalist—she and her husband, Charlie, founded a daily newspaper and radio station in Gainesville—a world traveler, a philanthropist, a patron of the arts, a naturalist, a faithful wife and mother of four, a woman of wisdom and charm. She even had a part, though she downplays it, in establishing the George Foster Peabody Awards program, awards that honor “excellence in storytelling that reflects the social issues and emerging voices of our day.”
Her administrative assistant, Lianne Daniel, suggested the title of this book: “I Took the Fork.” Lessie liked the quote of baseball great Yogi Berra—“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”—so the title is appropriate.
You are invited to read Lessie Smithgall’s story, a story that continued 13 more years after this book was published. She died June 25, 2021, at the age of 110.