It was an autumnal social. The leaves on the small hardwood in my backyard are emerging from green to rust, so fall is here of old friends where food and drink were just right and stories were being told without restraint. Unbridled. Everybody had one or two, which led to four or six or eight or more.
The principals were Terry Kay, the author and host; Jim Minter, a sagacious editor whose unembellished contributions were the centerpiece of the conversation; and Lee Walburn, editor of Atlanta magazine in its heyday. It was Walburn who noted that a good life can only be attained when you are the beneficiary of good stories, told with affection, reality and feeling. What would life be without stories when old friends gather?
This trio has a common thread in that they once were sports writers, working ably together and with other men with conspicuous talent but not without personality flaws and peculiarities, which defined them as much as their ability to link words with equanimity and poise on paper. Kay, Minter and Walburn are three of the best sportswriters of our time. All moved onward and upward. Minter, the senior in the group, lives on a farm near Fayetteville. He became editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. While he loved old dog scenes, bass on a hook and a Bob White quail fluttering to the ground after an aim on target, he was demanding, but equitably fair, of his charges. His seasoned leadership as executive sports editor gave the Atlanta papers the best sports pages in the South. Kay and Walburn were stalwarts in his lineup. Turning a phrase and creating clever headlines was all well and good, but you had to get to work on time — 5 a.m. — and those unfortunate few who were not willing to roll up their sleeves when they entered the newsroom were the recipients of Minter’s ire, which struck fear in their hearts.
Kay became an author who, at last count, has published 14 books, and his latest — "The Seventh Mirror" — is about to hit the street. This is a man who once wrote about bowling and high school basketball but whose prose now attracts publishers who passionately believe in books. Kay lives in a secluded corner of Oconee County where a couple of does greet you as you turn to move down his driveway. He and his wife, Tommie, are immersed in antiques and books with an affinity for manual typewriters. I spotted three — one an 1896 Smith Premier, which still works — and thought those alone were an abundant collection. Tommie said, however, there are “at least 20 stashed here and there.”
A native of Royston, Kay had fixed mimosas that were as refreshing as the conversation, which had a casual beginning and gained momentum with alacrity as we moved to the dining room. Walburn, Kay’s house guest, made sure everybody was aware that the host is almost as expert in the kitchen as he is in his study, fashioning another moving novel. Tommie conceded that she is second fiddle to her husband when aprons are donned. To confirm it, we sat down for starters — gazpacho, a Terry specialty. Then we queued up at the buffet of mixed fruits, for our health fix, a couple of quiches, pulled pork, cole slaw and potato salad. Seconds were encouraged, but Lee advised us Terry’s expertise with desserts might be his best. The offerings were not just one, but three: green tomato cake, peach cobbler — Tommie’s handiwork — and frozen, chocolate-covered banana. I looked at Terry’s waistline and wondered why there is no bulge. When we left, I had to loosen my belt another notch, which brought about private reflections of fulfillment.
Walburn lives in Armuchee, where a creek by the same name flows by on its way from Chattooga County to the Oostanaula River. Walburn’s got a book, entitled “Just My Type, 50 Years Preserved in Ink,” headed for the book stores “in the not too distant future.” We could have done our Christmas shopping at Terry and Tommie’s retreat in the woods.
When Minter had the floor, we were eager listeners as he recalled the fire and brimstone that emanated from rants by Furman Bisher, the late, great sports editor.
He fondly recalled the days of Lewis Grizzard and other sports-writing icons and personalities. Too much of that remains to go into the space left, but it all generated an idea. Someone should sit down with these guys with a tape recorder for an oral history of sage Atlanta sports writing, in the days when writers worked hard, rode hard, and, more often than not, were put up wet.
Let those recollections segue into a book. I already have the title: “My Cup Runneth Over.”
Loran Smith is an administrative specialist for the University of Georgia sports communication department. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.