Today I get to feature my sister on the blog. Not my actual sister, I don't have one of those - although I've got a sister-in-law who is pretty rad. No, this is one of my Middle Sisters, the women behind one of my favorite corners of the internet, Middle Places. Sasha Maples Johns is good-hearted and hilarious, a winning combo if ever there was one. She's southern in all the best ways and specializes in making beautiful jewelry and wine-flavored jelly. You read that right. Oh my yum. Get yourself over to True Vine Gifts and order some, but first, read this sweet story about her out-of-the-ordinary season with the women of Chattahoochie Unit of the Herb Society of America...
The year was 1999. I was 25 years old, still technically a newlywed, living just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. A young professional, I loved my job and my co-workers and worked as many hours as needed. I didn't have kids yet, and outside of work, I really didn't have too many friends.
Somewhere along the way I began gardening, specifically growing herbs. I had several decorative flower pots all over the back patio of my tiny little apartment and they were full of culinary herbs. I did cook a little with them, but I mostly just loved all the different shades of green and the amazing smells they produced when I brushed my hands through them.
It was still the “early days” of the internet. There was no social media to speak of, but I began to research how to take care of my herbs on the world wide web. I was looking for practical uses for these plants, when I ran across some information about a special gardening society that met at the Botanical Gardens once a month. The website said the society existed “for education in use and delight.”
I cleared my schedule for the evening of the next meeting and showed up all by myself, not something I would have normally done.
I loved the Chattahoochie Unit of the Herb Society of America right away, especially their food. Turns out every meeting was a pot luck of herbed delights from all of the member's gardens. I'd been to pot luck dinners all my life, but never one like this. The food was a blend of savory tastes different than I had grown up with back home.
As I went back to meeting after meeting, I fell in love with more than their food. I loved those “herbie ladies.” Most of the women in the group were my seniors by at least 15 years or more. They worked as doctors, lawyers and other kinds of professionals. Most of them were fairly liberal in their ideas and their politics and many of them were also women of faith. I had no idea that was even possible. To be liberal and a believer was an oxymoron in the world of my fundamentalist upbringing. All of the women I knew back home in this age bracket were homemakers or teachers at the small Christian school. I loved the women that raised me and thought highly of them, although I hadn't darkened the door of our church in about 5 years. I left feeling stifled and held back by the Christian culture I was brought up in, bitter but still believing, longing to know what else was out there. The "herbie ladies" were a whole new tribe. They shattered my tiny little view of what a woman had to be.
For more than 5 years, this group took me under their wing. They gave me an amazing storehouse of knowledge about gardening and cooking. I learned about wines and how to pair them with food, which herbs complimented which foods, and enough about gardening that I began teaching my own herb classes.
These women did more than just expand my domestic and speaking abilities. They challenged my world view. I was given a safe place to discuss and consider views other than those I'd grown up around. Being exposed to new ideas stretched me in ways I'd never imagined. This well rounded group of ladies showed me I could consider other philosophies and beliefs without having to accept or reject them. It was okay to just think on things. For the first time in my life, I could really enjoy the company and friendship of those that believed a different way than I did.
Eventually, I became a mom. My season with the herbie ladies came to an end as my life began to go in a different direction. Thought I do stay in touch with several of them, sometimes I long for those get togethers with that unique group of women. My time in their tribe was a critical point in my life, and it was no coincidence that I was led their direction.
The website had been right - I'll always remember my time with the Chattahoochie Herb Society as both useful and delightful.
Sasha Johns is a wife, mom, artist, jelly maker, lover of the Magic City - Birmingham, Alabama - and isn't afraid to meet other Baptists in the liquor store. She is the Tuesday blogger for Middle Places and has her own blog where she fancies herself a food critic - but mostly of her own food. Find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TrueVineGifts.
Don't you love Sasha's story? What I wouldn't give for a savory buffet and a night out with wise women! Have you ever stumbled into a group hoping for one thing and discovered there was more there than you'd even imagined? Tell me (and Sasha!) more in the comments below.