Pam Avery, a local native who recently published her first fiction novel, bore witness to some of the most significant changes in modern American history from the early 1960s to the early 1980s, particularly how she shaped communities like the one she grew up in.
She witnessed the rage, the fear but also the triumph as the country accepted or refused these changes and watched how it paved the way for continued action today.
Avery picks up a similar tone in his first fictional novel, “The Tanner Side of Town” in which a small North Georgia mountain town – do not unlike many small rural southern towns in the early 20th century – was uprooted at the mere mention of the change. Avery introduced his new book to the public during a special Q&A session at LaGrange’s Pretty Good Books bookstore last weekend.
In “The Tanner Side of Town”, an iron ore mining project threatens the agrarian livelihoods of all landowners who live in the fictional town, including the titular Tanner family. Combined with the possible destruction of the city’s rich and fertile lands are the political and racial tensions that were prevalent at this time.
“When you’re going through a crisis, you learn a lot about yourself and others,” Avery said. “[The book’s] just about life. People ask me how I imagined this story. I have lived the last 71 years.
Its editor Randy Dameron further described it as a story of redemption and retribution.
“[The books] is a reflection of culture and way of life through time and the characters in this snapshot of Southern culture and history,” said Dameron. “In the South in the 1950s and 1960s there were still groups of people who didn’t buy into hatred and discrimination, but that’s a reflection of the general culture but how people resolved these problems.”
Avery clarifies that her book is not necessarily an autobiography, it reflects some of the experiences she witnessed as a child of the 1950s and 1960s.
“I was very aware of the culture and the people, the cruelty and the discrimination without really meaning to,” Avery recalled. “We were on the cusp of some of the biggest changes [ever]. [My] generation of parents panicked so much because they saw everything they cared about being questioned, and sometimes suppressed.
Avery currently lives in his grandfather’s former home on the border of Troup County and Harris County. The 1968 LaGrange High School graduate still remembers the culture shock she felt when she ventured from what was then a smaller LaGrange to Athens where she attended the University of Georgia.
“I was ready [for change]“, Avery said. “Being at UGA from 1968 to 1972 was just phenomenal. I was ready to soar.”
One of the main characters of “Tanner Side of Town”, Lucy Tanner, shares this excitement and apprehension of change. The inside description of the book read: “She read in the newspaper yesterday that the United States had officially entered the war in Southeast Asia. A Catholic was running for president and a new drug was on the market: the birth control pill. Change was coming and she wanted to be part of it – not a bystander.
UGA was one of the few schools of its day that was progressive for women, Avery said, and she was able to earn her degree in journalism, particularly marketing communications, as well as a minor in business. Despite these accomplishments, Avery was still in a society where women couldn’t do things like open a line of credit or own their own car.
“When I graduated, as a woman, you couldn’t find a job other than secretarial work or teaching,” she said. “I was hired by a bank. They were considered some of the most progressive companies in the United States, but it took them a year to agree to put me and several other women on the board, and that’s because we were knocking on the wear every day.
As a result of this change, the expectations and role of women began to change across the country. Avery remembered that the women around her were quickly able to get into business.
“That period was a turning point for me as an individual,” she said.
These changes were just the stepping stone for Avery. Another change in the shape of the Vietnam War, which she remembers, caused another wave of tension.
This new tension is set to be the backdrop for the impending sequel to “The Tanner Side of Town.” Original and new characters from the book are already at the forefront of Avery’s mind, she said, but are currently on hold as the political season continues. Avery is the mother of Charlie Bailey, Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Avery participates in his campaign.