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Zell Miller mourns loss of ‘old mountain ways’ in new book

POSTED: March 15, 2009 12:03 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Zell Miller, former governor of Georgia and U.S. senator, shakes hands with Guy Cabe during the 2009 Woman of Distinction luncheon Thursday in Gainesville.

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Last semester, Zell Miller stepped back into the role of professor at Young Harris College.

Next month, he introduces his next course of study in the form of a book that he says is "Appalachia 101."

Miller, Georgia’s former governor and senator born in the mountains 77 years ago, is lamenting the loss of the tradition and lore of his native hills.

"It’s got chapters on the beginning, the Cherokees, the gold rush, the way life was, a disappearing dialect, mountain humor, mountain music, mountain food and making ’shine," Miller said of his book.

Miller was in Gainesville last week for a Girl Scout program honoring his cousin, Frances Miller Mathis.

He declines to talk about politics these days.

"I’ve retired from that," Miller said. He shuns most speaking invitations and says he doesn’t stray far from his home in Young Harris.

Without giving details, he admits that he still keeps up with happenings in Washington and Atlanta. True to form, he still occasionally gets angry about what he sees, but no longer vents publicly.

Miller’s forthcoming book, "Purt Nigh Gone: The Old Mountain Ways," is part history lesson and part mourning of the loss of a way of life that Miller dearly loves. The title is mountain speak for "pretty near gone," Miller’s assessment of the current state of things.

Just as Miller embraces a bygone way of life, he also still embraces a simpler style of writing. No computer for him; he writes his books in longhand on a yellow legal pad.

"As old Brasstown Bald Mountain looks down upon my valley home, Shirley, my wife of 55 years, Gus, our yellow Lab, and I stand along U.S. Highway 76, waiting to cross," Miller writes in the preface of his new book.

"It takes a while. The traffic is steady — more than 11,000 vehicles a day, I’m told. As a child, I played hopscotch on that road with a rare car interrupting our game only every thirty minutes or so."

The influence of the mountains on his life has always been a theme in Miller’s life. He chronicled that in his first book, "The Mountains Within Me," published in 1975, his first year as Georgia’s lieutenant governor.

Miller has written about the influence of his service in the Marine Corps and later of his disdain for the politics of his own Democratic Party.

His focus in recent years has been on the mountains. His last book, "The Miracle of Brasstown Valley," was the story of the founding of Young Harris College, another place that has been one of the centers of his life.

The new book, due out next month from Stroud and Hall Publishers, ends with Miller’s own 101 reasons he lives in Appalachia.

"A few decades ago, Bob Dylan sang, ‘the times, they are a-changing,’" Miller writes. "Today in our Southern mountains, the changing has ‘advanced’ to vanishing. That’s what this book is about: a way of life that once was but is no more, a way of life that is purt nigh gone."



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