Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day Weekend in Union City

September 4-6


It's Labor Day Weekend, and the world is beating a path to Atlanta. There is a Black Gay Pride Festival, the Alabama and Virginia Tech football teams are battling it out in the Georgia Dome, Dragon*Con—the biggest sci fi/fantasy/popular culture convention in the country—has lured thousands of trekkies to hear Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner reminiscing about the good old Star Trek Days, there's a 500 mile NASCAR race, the Atlanta Braves are playing a home game, Britney Spears is in town for a concert, and–most important of all, for us, anyway—600 youth soccer teams are using every soccer field in town playing in the Atlanta Cup Tournament. Our Cincinnati granddaughter Meredith is on one of those teams, and we are here to cheer her on.

More on soccer action later. Let's pause for a message from Union City, our Metro Atlanta Labor Day Weekend headquarters. And, really, is there anywhere more appropriate to be celebrating Labor Day than a place called Union City?

Union City was chartered in 1908, not long after the Farmer's Union selected the area for its National Headquarters, and the resulting business gave a big boost to the local economy. The town's name honored the Farmer's Union—the foundation of its prosperity.

Unfortunately, that prosperity was short-lived. By 1915, the boll weevil had devastated cotton fields all across the South, and when cotton collapsed, it took the
Union, and many of Union City's citizens, down with it.

We had dinner at the Historic Green Manor Restaurant, housed in a gracious and generously proportioned home built in 1910 by one of Union City's most prominent citizens. Drewry Carmichael designed and patented farm equipment, and founded a factory to build it. He was instrumental in convincing the Farmer's Union to build its headquarters here—near his home, his 30-acre plantation, and his factory. He rode the tide of Union City's prosperity, investing most of his money in the local bank and serving as Chairman of the bank's Board. The boll weevil was particularly hard on him—when cotton failed, his farm equipment sales foundered. Then, a bank official disappeared with most of the bank's assets, leaving Carmichael to cover the losses to the bank's shareholders by selling his personal assets, including his home. The home he built is now known as Green Manor, referring to Dr. Green, who bought it from Carmichael in 1917, and lived and had his medical office there until the day he died.

The Green Manor Restaurant opened in 1990. We violated my rule against eating at buffet restaurants, because we didn't realize there was no menu until we were being shown to our table. We considered apologizing for our misunderstanding and walking out, but when we saw the good Southern home cooking arrayed on the buffet, we couldn't resist. Of course they offered the usual tender ribs, crispy fried chicken and corn meal-dredged pan-fried catfish, but what really grabbed our attention was the vegetable selection. The best Southern cooks can be counted on to come up with creative ways to prepare vegetables so that all healthful benefits they may have in their raw state are effectively eliminated in the tasty final product. The Green Manor buffet featured one of the finest examples of this style of Southern cooking that we have ever tasted anywhere--a big pan of bite size chunks of sweet potato, soft apple slices and plump raisins suspended in a thick buttery brown sugar cinnamon syrup. We agreed this "vegetable dish" would make a fine pie filling or cobbler. It is always a pleasure to spread one's dessert experiences throughout the meal, especially in the case of buffet dining, when one is so often too full to adequately enjoy a generous helping of desserts at the end of the all-you-can-eat dinner.

Anyway, the food was down-home delicious, the service was friendly, we learned a lot about local history over dinner, and we enjoyed wandering around the house after we were done. They still have Dr. Green's medical diplomas and certificates on the wall in the upstairs hall, along with a recent certificate the Manor was awarded from the Georgia Ghost Society, who checked the place out for spirits and specters back in 2007.

But, on to the real reason we were here—Meredith's soccer tournament.
We watched her team win two games Saturday and one Sunday morning. Meredith called to tell us they won their Sunday afternoon game, so they will play for their division championship tomorrow. The games were exciting, and we enjoyed them immensely, but even more, we treasured spending time with Meredith and her dad, Dick's son, catching up on all the happenings in their busy interesting lives. (We have to drop one more grandparent brag here: Meredith is not only a great soccer player, but also a talented ballerina who recently tried out for a part in the Cincinnati Ballet's "Nutcracker," and has just learned she will be dancing in it for her fourth year in a row!)

Before we headed home, we took a big detour northeast of the soccer field to see Atlanta's White House. At just 16,500 square feet, it is about a third the size of the real thing in Washington, D.C., but there is no mistaking the resemblance.
It is the private residence of local housing developer Fred Milani and his wife Yvonne, so we couldn't go inside, but our Weird Georgia book and Internet research reveal that it has unique versions of the Oval Office and the Lincoln Bedroom, in addition to boasting a dining room that seats eighty.

The interior feature I would really like to see is a bas-relief sculpture of the Last Supper featuring Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and Harriet Tubman playing the parts of Apostles. (If you were to have a Last Supper with any twelve people throughout history, who would you choose?) In a similar religious vein, an entryway ceiling mural pictures Jesus ministering to an ethnically mixed crowd, including a Hispanic man in a sombrero, a Native American man in a full headdress, and Iranian-American Milani kneeling prayerfully at Christ's feet.

Mr. Milani converted from the Muslim faith to Christianity in 1995, and apparently is very enthusiastic about his adopted religion, as indicated by his interior d├ęcor choices, as well as the cross on his front lawn. He claims the design for his house came to him from God, but at least one disgruntled neighbor has complained to the press that God would tell him to do something better with his money than spend it on a gaudy house that is way too big for him and his wife.

I couldn't agree more.

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