Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see.-Muhammad Ali
In 1968, staff members of the Athens (Georgia) High School Thumb Tack Tribune flew to Chicago over the Thanksgiving holiday for the National Scholastic Press Association convention in the Palmer House hotel. When we weren’t attending journalism classes, checking out Chicago’s Hippie headquarters in Old Towne, or shopping downtown, we explored floor after floor of the grand, old hotel, riding up and down in the elevators, running through hall after hall, and causing way more noise than was allowed.
Finally, there was just one more place to conquer: the top floor which housed the Penthouse Suite. Up, up, up we rode. The elevator stopped. The door opened and there, in the hallway stood Muhammad Ali, surrounded by bodyguards. He would have been 26 years old at the time and was stuck in that time of no fights due to refusing to be inducted into the armed forces in 1966.
We were all in awe of Ali that day. In 1964, after beating Sonny Liston in a major upset and winning the heavyweight title, Cassius Clay (his original name) declared, “I am the greatest! I shook up the world. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.”
At that moment in time, on the top floor of the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, I thought Muhammed Ali was the prettiest thing that had ever lived. Young, massive, strong, gorgeous, he looked perfect that day and totally unapproachable.
Of course that didn’t stop me from walking up to him and asking for his autograph, even though, as I stared up at Ali, he looked eight feet tall. I thought he’d refuse my request, but he didn’t. He took the scrap of paper from my outstretched hand and scribbled his name.
I still have the scrap of paper and the memory of being in Ali’s presence during my visit to Chicago’s Palmer House hotel. Was he the greatest? Maybe. No doubt, he had gifts that most humans can only dream about. Athletic ability. Good Looks. And he knew the power of words.
I wrestled with an alligator, I tussled with a whale, I handcuffed lightning . . . last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.
But this strong, heavyweight champion of the world, couldn’t beat death. Like many around the world, I mourn his passing and now I cherish even more those few moments in time when I stood in his presence and he signed his name.
Way back in June 1995, when I used to write freelance articles for Athens Magazine, I wrote an article about Winterville, Georgia and included a sidebar called “Marigold Magic” about the popular Marigold Festival. Today, in celebration of the upcoming May 21, 2016 Winterville Marigold Festival, I am posting this article here.
by Donny Seagraves
The morning before Winterville’s Marigold Festival Saturday dawns humid and cloudy. At city hall, Wesley Whitehead attends to last-minute details before the arrival of hundreds of visitors the next day.
“It never rains on Marigold Saturday,” the former Winterville mayor assures a concerned citizen who asks what will happen if the weatherman’s prediction of thunderstorms comes true.
City clerk Frances Brooks, a former five-term member of the Winterville City Council, doesn’t have time to worry about possible rain as she frantically answers telephone calls from craft and food vendors and other festival participants, asking for directions to the “Marigold Capital of the World.”
Outside in the park, arts-and-crafts chairperson Mary Quinn, welcomes vendors and serves as a community liaison and one-woman information service for out-of-town guests. Other Marigold Festival Committee members, including general manager Ray Shockley, join Mary to offer assistance and make sure things run smoothly.
Marigold Festival Saturday morning finds clouds still hovering over Winterville. But overnight, the magic of the festival has appeared: kiddie rides at Three Flags over Winterville; a bustling village of vendors hawking everything from antiques and collectibles to stained glass and woodcrafts; antique vehicles polished and ready to join the parade.
There also are several portable Coke Wagons (large metal concession trailers) where members of the Winterville United Methodist Church, Winterville First Baptist Church, and Family Worship Center youth groups sell soft drinks and hot dogs to the gathering crowd.
Sausage and ham vapors from the country breakfast cooking in the depot float on the air as runners, sweaty and winded from their efforts in the 10K road race, catch their breath and gulp Gatorade. Teenagers test their pitching speed at a booth that features a radar machine, while dogs sporting ribbons from the Canine Fun Time Dog Show sashay by on their way to the fountain on the square.
Police sirens announce the parade, which winds through town. The tantalizing aroma of roasting Bavarian almonds drifts through the crowd as a caravan of deep green John Deere tractors rolls down Main Street. Little Miss, Junior Miss and Miss Marigold wave. A float holding “Marigold John’s” empty rocking chair injects a touch of sadness into what one journalist calls a “communion of the community.”
At the old Winterville High School auditorium, former classmates gather for a class reunion with retired teachers and Dan Bramblett, the last principal of the school. Class spirit still lies in the hearts and memories of these native sons and daughters who travel to Winterville from all over the country each June to remember their high school days.
Four teenaged girls fill paper cups with ice and top the cool cubes with fizzy Coca-Cola from the United Methodist Church Coke Wagon concession stand near the square. Hot dogs steam in the cooker. When the Youth Fellowship boys take over that night, a loud country band rocks the town during the traditional street dance. As festival participants line-dance to Brooks and Dunn’s ” Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” the boys join in the fun, swaying and carousing with each other until the Coke Wagon threatens to tip over.
Wesley Whitehead walks through the Square with his wife Mary, a gifted pianist and classy former first lady of Winterville. As official host and hostess of the Marigold Festival, they have just finished a whirlwind week that included a banquet, a scholarship pageant and more marigolds than most people can imagine in a lifetime.
As the band plays “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” Whitehead inhales night air and smiles. This year’s town celebration is almost over. Soon the Marigold Festival Committee, under the guidance of the council and Bill Orr, the new mayor, will meet and begin planning next year’s event.
“It really ain’t as easy as it looks,” Whitehead says, melting into the dancing crowd.
This article originally appear in the June 1995, Vol. 7, No. 2, issue of Athens Magazine.