Month: November 2006

Let me tell you about it. For those of you who have not entered the back door of the Wren’s Nest recently lest you fall through the loose assembly of rotting planks we call stairs, fear not! They have been replaced.

Also, some of you may remember our back screen door that doesn’t so much open as it does topple over. You know, the one that once it falls over, knocks you down and crashes through the rotting staircase bringing your unsuspecting self along with it. Right. Well we have a new door, too! Maybe not new, but it has newish, semi-glossed parts that allow it to (a) open; (b) close; and (c) not knock you through the stairs.

Wren’s Nest = going places …including out the screen door, starting today.

We have none other to thank than temporary awesome-guy-in-residence Nathan, who has also recently replaced the rotting part of the front porch. Thanks, champ.

Re-reading what I’ve typed so far, seems like there’s a lot more rotting at the Wren’s Nest than the finances. Yikes. But speaking of finances, you will be very excited to know that I have Quicken and know how to use it. Hooray bookkeeping! Also, the debt shrinks more and more with every passing day. So we’ve got that going for us.

Thus, like the dead rat behind the wall that plagued the halls of the Wren’s Nest and tainted the legacy of Joel Chandler Harris for upwards of one week, all the other rotten stuff is slowly drifting away.

Or maybe that’s just the Christmas tree covering up the smell. Mmm, piney.

*not true, not by a long shot.

In our modest but perpetually improving bookstore, the Wren’s Nest offers the volume Herren’s: An Atlanta Landmark. The book is the story of Ed Negri, restauranteur who willfully and willingly integrated Herren’s in 1963, before any other Atlanta restaurant. He also played a major role in saving the Fox. Of course, those of you who know anything about anything know that the Fox is worth saving for about a million reasons. One reason, incidentally, is that the Fox housed the premier for Song of the South in 1946. And let us not forget the first annual BET Hip Hop Awards in 2006.

Anyway, one of the chapters in Herren’s is called “The Wren’s Nest.” Not long after saving the Fox, Mr. Negri was instrumental in preserving and restoring the Wren’s Nest in the mid-80s. By 1984, finances had spiraled out of control, and the Board, originally a group of “100 white ladies” according to the by-laws, had become inneffective long before. Negri explains:

The income of the building, from tours, was totally inadequate to begin to cover the expenses. A huge gas bill (I believe it was around $700) had just been received and there was no money to pay it. …When asked how much money [the board] needed to raise, they didn’t know. When asked what specifically needed doing, their answer was, “Everything!”

Sounds familiar, huh.

Now, I’m not calling our current board a bunch of old ladies, but certainly the Wren’s Nest is and was in need…of everything! Mr. Negri was able to shake things up, become the first male member of the board, and turn the Wren’s Nest around in what looks like less than a year. I’m impressed. I wonder how long it will take us.

Though this was but a small event for Mr. Negri and spans only one chapter in a book chock-full of cool stuff, it was revolutionary for the Wren’s Nest. And in effect, Negri’s influence at the Wren’s Nest crowned his legacy rather appropriately. That is, in preserving the Wren’s Nest as he had aided in preserving the Fox, he finally forced the board to come to terms with race, just as he had with Herren’s twenty years prior. By opening the Wren’s Nest to the African-American community in 1984 (!), Negri in some ways bookended the reaction to the civil rights movement in Atlanta. That’s a complicated and very debatable claim, sure, and I don’t really stand behind it, but instead more to the side of it, shrugging my shoulders. Perhaps, though, you see what I’m driving at.

Our current board, of course, is completely different and distinct from the previous board. In fact, board chair / live wire Marshall himself was even denied access to the Wren’s Nest not so long ago.

In many ways the history of the Wren’s Nest is just as interesting as the history of Joel Chandler Harris. For those of you my age, and perhaps even moreso for those not my age, it’s worth contemplating that I was alive when the Wren’s Nest was still turning away blacks because of the color of their skin.

Anyone else feel those shivers?

Remember when folks said nobody comes around on Thanksgiving weekend? Well I’ve got news for you, buster. This place is hoppin’. People are parking in the amphitheatre. Can it be sunny and 68 all the time in November?

Remember: Saturday storytelling at 1. Rain or shine every weekend.

Fan Mail

You won’t find this online, but the following letter ran in yesterday’s paper:

Uncle Remus stories reflect the times

Jim Auchmutey’s story about uncle Remus (Arts & Books, Nov. 12) was well-written. However, I disagree with the “herd mentality” that Joel Chandler Harris’ stories are racially problematic. For heaven’s sakes, they are stories – I even call them fables – reflecting a time in history. Chandler deserves his place among the world’s greatest authors.

As a child my favorite was “Tar Baby,” a delightful story with a lesson about being smart. I have the film “Song of the South,” and I treasure it. I found it online and have enjoyed it with my grandchildren. Br’er Rabbit was such a clever fellow. Not to mention, I still sing “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah.”

Too bad people take these stories out of context – another case of political correctness being carried too far. Three cheers for Marshall Thomas (chairman of the nonprofit group that owns the Wren’s Nest, Chandler’s Atlanta home). I vote for the resurrection of Uncle Remus.

Merle Evans

Doraville

Dear Merle,

What, not even one cheer for this guy? Thanks buddy. Your heart is in the right place though, and I appreciate that. If you ever need a copy editor, and I think you just might, I’m your man.

Love,

Lain

Decatur

When you get your picture in the newspaper for a worthy cause, two things will happen. One, you’ll be contacted by all sorts of crazy people who, apparently, troll the paper looking for people to talk to so they can spew forth their crazy ideas. Two, you’ll be asked to speak at different venues.

If you have any interest in becoming a groupie (I’ve already thought of a name for y’all: the Shakeandbakes. Good, no?), you can find me here:

Decatur Rotary – December 1

Northside Kiwanis Club – December 15

Airport Kiwanis Club – TBA, but in January

Wow, what a lineup! And three separate heart attacks in the making. Sheesh.

Edit: I forgot to mention that if you want me to speak at your very own civic organization or if your kid wants to bring me in for show and tell, just ask: lain@wrensnestonline.com.  I am devastatingly funny in person and better yet, I’m free and flexible.

The Phone Is Ringing

And I’ve got people saying things like, “We want to help the Wren’s Nest;” “The Wren’s Nest will never have to worry ever again;” and “How old are you? Are you kidding me?”

So we’ve got that going for us. A little press can go a long way, and I’m hoping to ride the wave for a while longer yet. If you also want to help, by all means let me know. The comments are fine or via email: lain@wrensnestonline.com

If you need me I’ll be at my weekly lunch meeting with Board Chair / culinary expert Marshall.

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