July 2015
Homeplace & Community

Miss Georgia’s Wind Chime

 
 Harrison stand beneath the massive wind chime. People who stop for pictures have told them that standing beneath a wind chime brings good luck.  

On a camping vacation in Tennessee, Georgia and Horrie Harrison discovered Dolly Parton’s huge wind chime and decided to build one of their own.

Georgia and Horrie Harrison, who live in the Sandflat community south of Thomasville, have always loved to camp, and one of their favorite places to visit is Pigeon Forge, Tenn. A few years ago on a visit to Dollywood, they spotted a huge wind chime that fascinated both of them. "Miss Georgia," as everyone calls her, commented on how much she would love to have one like that. Her husband Horrie, an accomplished fabricator and welder, assured her that he could make one like it. He carefully measured each part of Dolly Parton’s wind chime and set out to build one like it for Miss Georgia.

It took him a few years, but Horrie built a wind chime unlike any other in Southwest Alabama! The gigantic piece of art is constructed entirely from scrap pieces. Even though Horrie has a vast collection of scrap, for this project he called on two friends, Lamar Stockman and nephew Timbo Harrison, to help him find just the right tubes for the chimes so he could get the depth and tone he desired.

An accomplished gospel singer and musician, Horrie wanted his chimes to play a musically pure sound, so he carefully measured and cut each of the five tubes to produce a pentatonic scale. He cut the first tube at 10 feet in length and graduated downward 12 inches for each of the other four. Each hollow tube measured 4 inches in diameter.

 
  Patterned after Dolly Parton’s chime at Dollywood, the Harrison’s wind chime stands 19 feet tall.

The next step was to find the right design for the suspension platform. Horrie wanted to use a metal star design, but, first, he had to find just the right star to hold the suspension cords. He found one like he had envisioned in a store in Monroeville; however, that star had lights on it and it was made from aluminum, making it unusable for the heavy tubes. He explained what he had planned to do and asked the store manager if he could possibly trace the design. The manager got a big sheet of cardboard and traced the star pattern himself for Horrie.

Horrie kept the pattern for months before he was able to find a 4-by-8 sheet of plate that would work. He used his torch to cut the star 3 feet wide. He attached the pipes to the star with eighth-inch cable. Then he cut the clapper 3 feet wide. Since positioning the clapper in different places can affect the depth and tone of the sound, he experimented before deciding on the final placement.

The wind catcher, or sail, was made from a 24-by-30-inch stainless plate. He attached it with eighth-inch cable and dropped it 3 feet below the pipes to catch the breeze and make the clapper strike the pipes.

To support the heavy wind chime, Horrie made a steel L-frame that stands 19 feet above ground. To mount the chime to the frame took the help of his neighbor Marty Friddle. The two hoisted the huge wind chime with a tractor and suspended it from the frame. When they had finished, Horrie called Miss Georgia outside to see her gift.

"I couldn’t believe it," she said. "It was the most amazing wind chime I had ever seen. It’s so big that I don’t know how he ever got it up so high."

The wind chime has now become a big attraction on Highway 9 in Sandflat! People from miles around have come to see and hear it. Many take photographs of their family members standing beneath the huge chime. Others believe that standing beneath the wind chime will bring them good luck. Horrie is repeatedly asked for details about the construction of his chime.

 
This rain tree was one of the first trees the Harrisons planted in their yard. It is covered in blooms for weeks.  

The story of how the Harrisons met and eventually married is also quite interesting. Horrie and Miss Georgia had each lost their mates to cancer. In 2007, friends invited both to attend the Thomasville Senior Center for lunch each day. Although neither one knew the other, it took only a few days for staff members and other patrons at the Center to start playing "matchmaker" and finding ways to seat the two next to each other or partner them in games and other activities. It worked, because Miss Georgia and Horrie married in 2008 and moved to a small farm in the Sandflat community.

Their new home had only one tree in the backyard and one azalea bush. Since both enjoyed yard work and gardening, they started with a vision of transforming their yard into a relaxing, peaceful haven. Their first project was selecting trees that would attract birds and bees. They chose a hawthorn, rain trees, crepe myrtles, purple magnolias, chestnuts and oak trees. They created a fruit orchard filled with various fruits such as pears, peaches, apples, plums and figs. They added blueberry bushes and scuppernong and grape vines near this area. Miss Georgia cans or freezes all the fruit that they need, and then gives the rest to family and friends.

The Harrisons also love flowers, especially the older traditional varieties that grow well in South Alabama. Miss Georgia rooted numerous plants from the azalea bush that had been on the property and planted them throughout the area. From her previous home in Thomasville, she moved gardenia bushes, as well as many varieties of amaryllis, irises, daylilies and cannas. Horrie’s relatives shared some plants that were transplanted from his parents’ old home. One of their favorites is a delicate yellow running rose bush, shared by Bonnie Harrison. Visitors, who have come to admire the beautiful plants, never leave empty-handed. Miss Georgia believes in sharing her plants and practices the Southern art of "take along." In fact, in her backyard she has shelves filled with plants she has rooted. She may sell some of these, but most are given to visitors.

The Harrisons enjoy watching the hundreds of birds that have taken up residence in their yard. Horrie has erected a large pinwheel that holds Martin gourds, and hundreds come to birth their young and chitter and chatter in this happy place. Even more birdhouses can be found in front of the house. Horrie and Georgia found a dead cedar tree with several upswept limbs. They buried the old tree trunk in their front yard and placed some of Georgia’s extensive birdhouse collection throughout the limbs. Birds flock to build nests and claim their homesteads in this decorative "tree." Even more birdhouses can be found hanging on hooks or swaying from the trees.

The Harrisons are avid yard sale seekers! The "treasures" they find are often seen in their yard, reconfigured or repurposed by Horrie, who has an artist’s eye. Discarded pieces of scrap rebar may become colorful bottle trees; scrap iron may be refashioned into bells, rain catchers and graceful plant trees that clasp Miss Georgia’s blooming plants and greenery; and rusty tools and farm implements may be repurposed into unusual pieces of art that stand in the beds to trumpet nature’s beauty.

After just 7 years, the yard shows the hard work and determination of the couple. Vibrant colors abound, and something is usually blooming until frost. Even before they added the magnificent wind chime, many visitors came to delight in the sights and sounds of the Harrison’s beautiful gardens. The wind chime, however, is like icing on the cake!

"I am just tickled to death that we have it," Horrie said. "I still tinker with it to make it sound even better. The speed limit on Sandflat Road is 45 mph, but folks slow down, just to see the wind chime. We sit on the porch and enjoy folks looking at our wind chime."

As a gentle breeze brushes against the sail, the soothing music seems to affirm that this is a happy, tranquil space. The Harrisons have indeed created a peaceful, relaxing haven that refreshes the spirit and soothes the soul!

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.