What happens when an outgoing Thelma and introverted Louise accept an invitation to one of the wildest book bashes in the country, some 650 miles away? A road trip, of course!
In the past 13 years, The Pulpwood Queen Book Clubs have grown to more than 500 chapters, making them the largest “meeting and discussing” book clubs in the world. Each year, members congregate in Jefferson, Texas for Girlfriends Weekend. Georgia authors Renea Winchester and Ann Hite agreed to share the following road trip diary with Southern Spines.
Ann Hite: Anyone in the state of Georgia will tell you that Ann Hite is a homebody with a capital H. Given the choice to go on a trip or stay home in my writing room, I’ll choose the latter. That is until the Pulpwood Queen, Kathy Patrick, invited me to her famous Girlfriends Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. Not only did her invitation appeal to the author in me who needs to sell books, but it tempted my addiction. I’m a book junkie of the worst kind, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a weekend than to listen to authors talk about craft, books, and life with a roomful of women who love to read.
Renea Winchester: For the record, I’m an extrovert. I talk to strangers, purposely trying to greet everyone I meet with a smile. Ann is a self-proclaimed introvert. Still, we were comfortable with each other during the trip, filling the miles with nervous chatter on the first leg of our trip between Atlanta and Meridian, Mississippi.
Ann Hite: Meridian is a lovely town with some of the best customer service in the South. At dinner, I heard the only word that could make me eavesdrop: SNOW. Renea and I retired to our room for the night with the thought roaming around in the back of our minds that we might get stuck and not reach our destination. Why, oh why, didn’t we fly? Because we’re strong, adventurous women, that’s why!
Renea Winchester: Thursday we awoke from a deep sleep, peeked through the curtain and breathed a sigh of relief. The 2 a.m. snow was late. As Ann searched the Mississippi Department of Transportation website for travel conditions, I clicked through the local television channels. Reporters scared us with predictions of “up to four inches of snow.”
We ventured out, determined to outrun the snow, and hours later said, “Hello, Texas!” We felt the homestretch calling as we reached US-59 N. By then the weather was a balmy 60 degrees and we were smiling. Back home, ice was forecast.
Across the miles I spoke to Ann, the car, the GPS, birds, the staff at every visitor center, and the Big Guy. The moment we passed a stretch of narcissisms beginning to bloom I said, “I knew it, Ann. God told me to pack my shovel. He told me that I’d find some flowers I could bring home, a reminder of my time in Texas.” I am a rescuer of flowers and these were in danger. Orange flags signaled a road-widening project.
Had there been one inch of trunk space I would have pulled over, knocked on a stranger’s door, procured a shovel and permission to dig up some Texas flowers. Ann didn’t say so, but she was secretly glad I was without implement. As an aside, if you are reading this and live in the flower zone, send me a clump of those beauties. I will pay for shipping.
Jefferson is a charming town. One where folk tip their hat and call you ma’am. There was little time for sightseeing, because we were starving and Queen Kathy had BBQ on the menu for authors and readers alike.
That Thursday night, the authors donned the first costumes of the weekend and served dinner to a room full of readers. The theme of this year’s Girlfriend Weekend was “The Gilded Age,” so my costume was a flour-sack dress my grandmother made in the 30s. I felt out of place standing beside others who were wearing glamorous gowns. But as the evening progressed, I received many compliments. I think my grandmother would be proud.
Afterward we were tired, yet excited to see what Friday offered.
Friday and Flat Susan
Friday morning began with a keynote speech by Michael Morris, author of Man in the Blue Moon. During a break I saw a life-size cutout of a beautiful woman named Susan. Approaching the table I asked for and received Susan’s story, one of Leukemia and hope, prayers and friends who love her so much they brought her with them for the weekend. Those familiar with the children’s book Flat Stanley understand the idea behind Flat Susan. Later, when the microphone was placed in my hand on stage, I didn’t immediately tell people about my book; instead I asked attendees to pray for Susan. As a cancer survivor, and the daughter of a cancer patient, I am hyper-aware that some folk must scratch and claw just to live. Later that afternoon, I slipped the headband with a large feather around Flat Susan’s head. She wore it better than I.
Friday’s events concluded with the Fascinator Hat Show. Ann Hite modeled a beautiful fascinator designed by Jane Ryder. I took a seat at a table filled with Pulpwood Queens who agreed that we must begin a trend to return hats to their glory days. After the fashion show I took a moment to people watch. Particularly Kathy. A team of magicians couldn’t pull off what Queen Kathy and her entourage do. Kathy worked the room, posing for pictures, adjusting tiaras, and always smiling. For 13 years, she has juggled, coordinated, planned and poured her soul into Girlfriend Weekend. This event takes a legion of volunteers, and to them, we are eternally grateful. This is why we left our family and headed west–all for the love of books.
Ann Hite: The last day I began to miss my home terribly even though I was quite attached to many of the new folks I’d met. Renea and I stopped at The Bakery for our last breakfast. Readers, you must know this is the best place to eat your morning meal west of the Mississippi. I broke all my diet rules with sausage, eggs and hash browns every morning. And I haven’t mentioned the rows of beautiful homemade bread in the display case; bacon pepper was my favorite.
Renea determined that she had to know the bread maker–that girl just loves knowing people’s stories. Mary came out of her kitchen and posed for a photo with Renea. Those loaves of bread represented Mary’s art.
The best thing about breakfast is that lunch follows. Yes, I gained weight on this road trip. A woman at the Texas visitors center recommended Kitt’s Kornbread. Now, all a soul has to do is say cornbread to me and I’m all over it. The sandwiches at Kitt’s were made between warm, perfect slices of cornbread. I had died and gone to Heaven. My partner in crime, Renea, ordered a fried bologna and cheese. Yum! The sweet tea was the best I’d had in a long time.
Back at Girlfriend Weekend, Charles Martin and Reavis Wortham were on a panel together. You can just imagine what a hard time Robert Leleux had keeping these boys in line. Charles and Reavis are what my granny would call “a mess.” Enough said about that.
Next up was Melissa Conroy, Janis Owens, Kimberly Brock, Julie Hedgepeth Williams and yours truly. Our moderators were Robert Leleux and Michael Morris. Talk about a panel. We talked about grannies, ghosts and Sacred Harp singing.
At the end of the conference, Kathy Patrick honored those Pulpwood Queens who had accomplished outstanding things in 2012. The award that made me cry like a baby went to Alyse Urice. This social worker from Colorado builds libraries for children on the Mesa and starts book clubs for women transitioning from homelessness to independence. Earlier in the year, Alyse showed me why I write when she asked for copies of Ghost On Black Mountain for these transitioning women. I will be forever indebted to the women of the Homecoming Queens book club.
My trip to Kathy Patrick’s Girlfriends Weekend was rowdy, serious, amazing, sweet and downright rewarding. I came together with my fellow authors and met the most incredible readers in the country. The conversations will stay with me for years to come.
So it was with mixed emotions that we left the small town just as the sun dipped into the fields and painted the sky orange and pink. No, Renea and I did not drive into the Grand Canyon like the real Thelma & Louise. We became a part of the sunset over Jefferson, Texas.
Thanks to Renea and Ann for sharing their Girlfriend Weekend Road Trip Diary with us! To see more photos, visit the Southern Spines Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SouthernSpines.