With the distinction of being the first female child born in Statesboro after the Civil War, Maude Brannen Edge began life as a curiosity of sorts.
When she returned to her hometown in the late 1930s after having spent most of her adult life outside the South, she continued to be a curiosity: She read and spoke nine languages and had completed nearly all of the requirements for a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. She had followed her pastor husband through six different states, borne seven children and survived the heartbreak of her husband’s suicide.
In 1957, at the age of 76, she began writing the newspaper columns that are the subject of “Out of the Past: Selected Writings by Maude Brannen Edge.” The book was edited by Delma E. Presley and Marvin Goss and is published by the Bulloch County Historical Society with underwriting support provided by the Jack N. and Addie D. Averitt Foundation.
It is difficult to categorize the book as history; much of what is offered as fact resonates in the Southern mind as anecdote. But it is equally difficult to set aside the detail-laden tales as simply the reminiscences of an aging intellect. Those who have been members of the Statesboro and Bulloch County communities for extended periods will, upon reading the book, find themselves nodding in recognition of events portrayed in a particular column and then raising their eyebrows as previously unknown specifics of the event are offered. The best example of this is in Edge’s retelling of the stay in Statesboro of members of General Sherman’s army on the infamous March to the Sea.
Edge’s writing style is clearly reflective of the journalistic fashion of her era. Her generous use of rhetorical questions and exclamation points would draw the ire of any current writing teacher, but, together with her intentional colloquial word choice, they create a connection between the writer and her audience of small-town newspaper readers.
Whether intentional or not, the use of stream of consciousness that moves the reader from one subject to another totally unrelated one leaves her feeling as though she were sharing a slice of pound cake at her grandmother’s kitchen table or sitting on the back porch shelling peas while the women of the family repeat oft-heard tales.
Editors Presley and Goss chose to include in the book 71 of the approximately 250 columns Edge wrote over a period of five-and-a-half years. Arranged chronologically, the first 29 focus on local history, the remaining on what the editors call "practical wisdom and spiritual reflections." It is in the latter that the character of Maude Brannen Edge is most clearly revealed.
She is plainspoken in her position that those who call themselves Christians have a responsibility to care for the needs of others, actually listing the names of those in the community who had come to the assistance of a
family in dire straits. She is equally adamant regarding the horrors of war, the need for education of all children and the ignorance of those who, well into the 20th century, continued to vilify Abraham Lincoln.
There is, however, evidence of a woman who, for all her education and forward thinking (she wrote her newspaper columns under her maiden name), is still very much a product of her times. One column includes a joke about domestic violence, and another, recounting a conversation with the elderly black man who helped her work in her garden, is clearly meant to be complimentary but still comes across as vaguely patronizing.
And, in the end, it is this evidence, along with that of the keen intellect and broad education and varying interests, that makes Maude Brannen Edge come alive.
Kathy Bradley writes a column twice a month for the Statesboro Herald and is an assistant district attorney with the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit.