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Bessie Garlington/Catherine Rodgers
Posted by: Ray Date: July 07, 2001 at 19:36:15
In Reply to: Re: Garlingtons, Late 1800s, Alabama by deborah trimble of 235

Yes, that sounds right. George Robert Rodgers was a carpenter and builder from a lumber family who owned a lumbermill near Camp Hill at some earlier time. He had two daughters, one by each wife. Bessie Garlington was the mother of his daughter Catherine, born March 27, 1916, so Bessie probably was the one born in 1882.
Her grandfather had been an inventor, owned a plantation and slaves near there, and the Conway name sounds familiar. Was Green Garlington a brother or cousin, or a nickname of a relative?
We had some distant connections back to Col. Edwin Conway and his mother Eltonhead Conway, too, so I guess if this is your line we would be very distant connections. I was a friend of Catherine Rodgers, not a "relative." She was a great lady and one who has been overlooked by Alabamians.

Catherine Rodgers' mother was named Bessie Garlington Rodgers. That much I know is correct. Catherine wrote a short story published in the Birmingham News-Age Herald in 1937. She earned her master's degree in 1941 and taught school in Talladega and later Camp Hill. She went to Tuscaloosa to study creative writing at the U. of Ala. under Hudson Strode, along with quite a few others who became successful writers, like Lonnie Coleman ("Beulah Land" & "Hotspell"), Elyse Ayers Sanguinetti ("The Last of the Whitfields"), Borden Deal ("I Walk the Line"), his wife Babs Deal ("And the Walls Came Tumbling Down"), and the list goes on and on. Most of the students in Dr. Strode's somewhat magical class only published one novel, oddly enough. (Maybe they should have stayed in his class indefinitely and never graduated!) Harper Lee ("To Kill a Mockingbird") only audited the class as she was not officially enrolled.

Catherine Rodgers did write another novel, one about WWII called "The Swinging Gate," which was never published, and she was working on other projects that she never considered finished either. She edited a few things for some other hack or two. "The Swinging Gate" was half finished upon admission to the Univ. of Ala. and completed in Dr. Strode's class. Nelson Doubleday bought it but never published it. Her novel, "The Towers Inheritance" was published by Doubleday in 1958, and was a Book of the Month Club Alternate Selection. It was about a lumber family in east Alabama around the turn of the century and a romance. Sometimes it can be found through used booksellers, but it's rare. For a book as widely distributed as it was, you would expect to find more copies, but many were recycled or sent overseas or something. I once saw the very rare Spanish edition, but I think they're practically nonexistent.
Most people who have a copy nowadays don't seem to give them away. It is excellent writing, very fast paced and never dull, and it did okay financially but no doubt would have been a really great bestseller had it been published a couple of years earlier. Coming out at the start of the Civil Rights movement, when weightier issues attached to all things Southern, of course made the novel seem a bit insignificant.
It had all the right ingredients for a popular movie of the 1940s-50s -- and I mean a very, very popular one, as in blockbuster. The title had something to do with it, I think. She said she originally called it The Inheritance. It should really be reprinted.
Now that I'm thinking about it, I think I'm going go back find my copy and read it again. I've read it at least twice, maybe three times over the years. Not that it's the greatest book ever written, but is a fun one to read. I guess knowing the author influenced my opinion, too.

Catherine Rodgers married Thomas Jackson McLain in 1960. They had no children and lived in her father's house which she inherited. It was pretty much a museum of turn-of-the-century life, the same furniture her father gave her mother around 1900, and the town there really should try to preserve it as such. (Though you know if it's like every other Southern town, it won't. They probably want to tear it down to put a drugstore there.)
Tom McLain's first wife was buried in or near Lafayette, I think. I saw her grave a little over 20 years ago. They divorced after Catherine's book was published and he married her. Caused something of a scandal. Catherine and Tom had been childhood sweethearts before he went off and joined vaudeville, later returning from WWII and settling down in the Camp Hill/Lafayette area. She was very pretty when she was young, but considered haughty by most people. She was actually very shy. She had long auburn hair, like the heroine in her story, and the couple pictured on the dust jacket, the lovers astride their horses, looked very much like early photos of her and Tom McLain. She would always fly into a fury when anyone suggested it was not entirely fiction -- and people were always making the suggestion. It really WAS fiction, but naturally there were a lot of things in her life and family background which influenced the story. If you are descended from a brother or sister of Bessie Garlington Rodgers, then Catherine was a first cousin, removed a time or two, and you would want to locate a copy of her book and read it. At one time the Dadeville library had around 20 copies of it. I was told that a lot of the same ladies around there used to go to all the book parties carrying the same copy of the book and get her to autograph it at each party, until some books had been inscribed more than a dozen times. Some of those no doubt are the same ones that found their way into the libraries.


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