Tag Archives: Habersham County

A Lady Named Vertilee

I was reminded of Vertilee Brewer recently when one of her most faithful employees attended my sister’s 50th wedding anniversary party. I hadn’t seen Phyllis in almost sixty years but the reconnection was pure fun. She was one of my heroines back then, being just a little older than I and so knowledgeable and efficient. In my mind, she reigned as Queen over all the soda jerks at Brewer’s of whom I was one. She put up with my immaturity, yet treated me as an equal. I realized Mrs. Brewer trusted her implicitly and that was impressive. But, more than that, she was a good friend and one who had an infectious sense of humor.

But this article is about Mrs. Vertilee Brewer.

I knew her first as one of my mother’s dearest friends. On rare occasions she came to our house for a visit and Mamma was always so glad to see her. Dad had enjoyed her husband, too, until Mr. Brewer died, leaving a lively drugstore business to “Miss Vertilee.” After my Dad died they had even more in common. Mamma admired her friend for being such a successful business woman. I think Miss Vertilee admired my mother just as much for being the mother of ten.

She was a very short little lady with a piquant face and a gentle smile. She reminded me of a mother wren even though she had no children. I didn’t know until years later that she had tried to adopt one of my older sisters. I think she really wanted a child and thought my parents might have more children than they needed. Apparently, there were no hard feelings on either side over her failed attempt. Mrs. Brewer simply continued to be involved with several of us and I am one of the ones who benefitted.

When my brother Orman was preparing to go to the Philippines as a missionary he and his family lived for an interim period in the big Brewer house near the Clarkesville cemetery. Mrs. Brewer had moved over on Main Street to a smaller house. Being sixteen at the time, I was chosen as babysitter for Orman’s four kids. The oldest was ten and the youngest eighteen months, truly a challenge when Orman and Margaret were out of town for two weeks. Mamma sent my brother Stan to help me when he got off work at night. And Mrs. Brewer came at least once every day, just to see about us.

I didn’t think at the time about why she came. I was just glad she did. Her little face decorated with freckles was a welcome sight at the back door. She helped me sort the small problems (like little Joe pulling the sugar bowl over into his hair) from the big ones (like the washing machine flooding the laundry room). Much later I realized she was aware that Mamma couldn’t come into town to see about me and my flock so she would do it herself.

But I was to get to know Mrs. Brewer on a much deeper level after she gave me a job working at the soda fountain at Brewer Drug Company.

Mrs. Brewer was small in stature but she was a quiet force all the same, and when she spoke everyone paid close attention. Dr. Hardin ran the pharmacy but Mrs. Brewer ran everything else. Her office was an open one on a second half-story. She could look down from her loft and see everything that was happening in the store, from the bustling soda fountain to the magazine rack where often a Trailways bus client waited, to the long counters and handsome high cases full of merchandise, to the café tables and the television area.

It was 9:00 of a morning when Mrs. Brewer arrived at work. She came in the front door walking briskly, her valise in hand. With a smile for each she moved through the pharmacy and up to her office where she went right to work on her books. She seldom spoke from upstairs. But she would come down if she saw the need.

When she came downstairs, most often she had a particular mission in mind. A few times when I was late arriving, I became her mission. I don’t know who told her I’d been past 7:30 getting to work, but she found out. My ride to work was with my brother Charlie in his big loud logging truck and usually I was early, sometimes so early I had to wait outside for the store to open. But there were those tense times when I was late. Once, when I tried to explain to my boss that I had no control over my time of arrival, she stopped me in mid-sentence. “There is no excuse for being late,” she said and headed back upstairs.

Another lesson I learned one day during court week. The drugstore was directly across the street from the stately old red brick Habersham County courthouse. When court was in session we were flooded with coffee drinkers at break time and with luncheon clients at midday. It was quite hectic keeping up with the court crowd of attorneys in their somber suits and the many folks “come to town” over some legal matter or just to see what was going on. Particularly daunting to me were the gentlemen who would ask for “the usual.” How was I supposed to remember all the “usuals”?

So–down came Mrs. Brewer from her loft to tell me in no uncertain terms that I needed to speed up and I would have to do better remembering every person’s preference. That’s what I was there for, she said.

I worked harder.

I tried to be friendlier to the clients, get to know them better. That brought on another reprimand. Mrs. Brewer came down one day after a certain Mr. Trotter left the store. “Brenda,” she said, “don’t be fooled by gray hair and wrinkles. You don’t need to be flirting with old gentlemen. They’re more dangerous than the young ones.” I was appalled. My friendliness had been perceived as flirtation? My goodness! This thing called Life was more complicated than I’d realized.

I worked at the drugstore a couple of years between high school and college. I have fond memories of working with Phyllis and others–of trying to write tickets using the great thick Trailways bus schedule book, of learning how not to blush when ladies asked for private female supplies, of digging deep in the five gallon ice cream containers and making scoops stick firmly on the cones, and of taking inventory in January of thousands of little bottles and things.

It was a very big day when Mrs. Brewer gave me a raise so my weekly check was $20 instead of $15. And I enjoyed wearing my smart white uniforms. With my discount I was able to buy a set of luggage for going off to college and it seems to me I can hear the cheers of other employees the day my luggage arrived. Leaving the drugstore was like leaving a second family and for several years I enjoyed dropping in to see how everyone was doing–especially Mrs. Brewer.

She came to my small home wedding. After marrying a South Georgia boy and then having a baby, I had fewer and fewer chances to see Mrs. Brewer. Then Mamma let me know that her friend Vertilee was very, very sick. My husband and I went to see her. She had become even smaller. But her smile even in her pale face was warm and welcoming. We talked a few minutes about old times. Before we left she said something like, “Be good to each other.” It wasn’t long after that when Mamma told me Vertilee had died.

When my husband and I visited the restaurant called Taylor’s Trolley which at one time was located where the drugstore had been, I was glad to see the wonderful old wood cases still there. But when I looked up, there was no little Mrs. Brewer peering down from her perch.



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Reflections on Irma


Please send help to Hurricane Irma victims–through Samaritan’s Purse, Georgia Baptists, or your chosen organization, one that will give ALL of your gift where it is needed and use none for administration costs. We who were blessed have the sweet responsibility of sharing with those who were ravaged.

Was it about three weeks ago we began to hear about Irma–maybe even a month! A hurricane developing off the coast of Africa. Who would have imagined how big an impact she would make on all of us? Well, the skilled hurricane scholars could imagine, actually. They began early on predicting dire possibilities, many of which came true, many of which did not come true for which we are so grateful. The largest hurricane and holding strength the longest of any unless one back in the forties.

News of Irma became a regular on the evening broadcast. It became a common topic of conversation wherever one went. Harvey had just decimated Houston, after all, so we were well aware of what could happen. Everyone was trying to figure out what each one could do to help folks in Houston–and now this thing came looming up through the Caribbean.

Was it going to hit the east coast and go up through east Georgia and Carolinas? Or was it going to hit the west coast and maybe hit us when it went up through the Panhandle elbow? Or–as it began to appear–was it going straight head-on up through the middle of Florida? Or even maybe it was going to weaken from a horrible FIVE to a two or three. Maybe it was going to turn and go out into the Atlantic–and please, Lord, be with the ships at sea!

We listened. We prepared. We prayed.

My niece and her family in Ft. Lauderdale were coming here to get away from Irma. Then they weren’t because they dared not get on the road with all the others inching along. People didn’t know where to evacuate to, some went west and then scrambled when Irma came that way. My sister in Habersham County had relatives come there from St. Mary’s Georgia and that was a good thing because that coastline really suffered.


As of Sunday morning, we thought it was going to be a Cat #2 when it reached Grady County. Schools closed, our church cancelled evening services. We all went home to brace for it. It was almost a wintery day. The skies were dark and the temperature dropped to a very cool 60. Then the storm weakened, but it would still be fierce.

I lay in bed Sunday night (yes, bed, because the real hurricane was predicted to hit us about noon on Monday) listening to the howling gusts and spurts of torrential rain. God has given me a love of storms, not that I want anyone to be hurt or that I want to be out in one. But I do love to listen to the wind and feel the safety of a good snug house. That storm went on all night but the power didn’t go off until dawn.

Gradually the wind died down. It wasn’t raining over much, just a steady patter. Were we in the eye now? When was Irma going to hit us? Looking out, we discovered a large pine splintering at its base and leaning at about a 45 degree angle. And, as far as we knew, the real storm hadn’t hit yet. We read, played piano, talked, and of course ate cold cereal, bananas, and furtively looked at weather reports on cell phones or made quick calls, not wanting to run the charges down.

The power came back on about 11:30 and we hurried to have a hot lunch before it went off.

Next thing we knew we were hearing of Irma causing damage north of us! She’d passed us by.

It was still dark and dreary and cold but the wind was gone. Charles and Charles D went to work picking up debris. It took them two hours to pick up all the twigs and limbs. We had a hot supper and, television being restored by that time, watched the horrible devastation up both Florida coasts and later here and there all over Georgia, flooding in Savannah and Charleston. Millions in Florida and Georgia were without power. We wished we could share ours!

My family reports that Habersham County in northeast Georgia has been without power since Monday night and they don’t know when they will have it again. In Birmingham where our son lives there was rain and wind but they, like us, did not lose power.

We were in a pocket of safety and we are grateful. The candles sit strategically around the house, a generator sits ready to run, a nice thick comfy air mattress is ready for use in the hall. We have water stored, a ton of breakfast bars, and porch furniture stashed.

And that large splintered pine angled across our driveway is a strong reminder of what Irma could do.

The sun shines today and all is peaceful. We could have had an oak tree on our house as so many thousands did. We could have had to be rescued by boat or helicopter.

We can only be thankful and send help to those so hard hit. We’ll send a gift through Samaritan’s Purse or GeorgiaBaptists.org and pray it will really make a difference to someone who’s lost their home and everything they owned.


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An Eclipse and a Hurricane

The rain is sluicing down, inches every hour, in Texas. Hurricane Harvey is one that will go down in history. Like Camille and Andrew and Katrina. Stories of devastation fill our television news. A mother in her car caught in the flood and drowned but her baby saved. A woman going into labor and birthing her baby in a rescue shelter. Family after family escaping by boat, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Dismal scenes of houses under water, automobiles floating, boats carrying huddled groups of people down streets they once drove.

But just last week the news was all about the sun, the eclipse of the sun viewable by folks from Oregon to South Carolina.

What a spectacular show of God’s handiwork it was, last Monday, August 21. We don’t live where we could see the total eclipse but we donned our solar glasses and watched what we could see. In a few minutes’ time (which had been precisely predicted) the moon went from a sliver on the face of the sun to a fat sideways dark smiley. The sun, that wonderful, powerful light of our days, was tremendously bright even when only maybe 15 percent of the disc was showing. We’d been told the maximum coverage would be visible at 2:42, I think, and that it would be hazy around us. We watched and shared our glasses with others, the timing exactly as expected. And the sunlight did get slightly less bright taking on a sepia kind of glow like old photographs. But we didn’t experience the darkness as our folks in North Georgia did.

My family in North Georgia gave me their reports. There, in Habersham County, the total eclipse could be seen. Charlie said about forty people came to Stone Gables to have lunch and then view the wonder from the lawn. There were a lot of children there who’d been excused from school for the occasion. He said for a minute and a half it became dark as night. He saw the stars, Mars and the Milky Way. He said the crickets began chirping. In a nearby pasture cows who had been peacefully grazing were observed lying down.

People traveled long distances to see this celestial show. Habersham County was one of the many good places in the corridor of viewing from the northeast USA to the southeast. Days before the event huge numbers descended on the area. My sister Suzanne told me how amazing it was to see the usually fairly quiet roads lined with cars, “like during leaf time in the fall.” She also was amazed at the empty shelves in the grocery stores.

The weather news prepared us days ahead for the big day. There was no rain expected in our area so we should have a good view, they said. As we did. My thanks to all those in news media, newspapers, and individuals who gave us a heads up about this phenomenal event. I would have been so sorry to miss it. And how easy that would have been! No bells rang to say “Look up!” There was no thunderous roar. We don’t go about watching the sun. If I’d been one of those cows I’d have thought it was night too!

It was noted on the national newscasts the night after as something that drew people of all races, ages, and political views, a real equalizer. We saw a picture of hundreds of people wearing the solar glasses and looking up.

Yes, the eclipse was amazing. It made me consider our amazing God, the One Who set the sun and moon and planets in place so precisely their orbits can be perfectly predicted by scientists. He’s also the God Who forms rainbows, plate-size hibiscus blooms, and babies who coo. He’s the same God Who made the funny platypus, Niagara Falls, and melons with those perfect seam-like grooves and peculiar skin patterns.

He is our God Who is a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). And we call on Him now for the thousands in trouble in Texas, devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

Oh God of power and might, thank You for the sun and the wind and the rain. In your unconditional mercy intervene, we pray, for the people in the line of Hurricane Harvey. Show us how we can help. Please, Lord. Amen.

If you would like to contribute to help the people in Hurricane Harvey you can click on samaritanspurse.org-Samaritan’s Purse- Hurricane Harvey Relief.

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