For the past few weeks, as I drove down the beautifully winding Ingleside Avenue in Macon, I slowed down to a crawl to glance up at the big, white-columned house sitting proudly at the top of a hill. I wanted to see how the cherry tree blooms were progressing and try to predict when they would be in full bloom.
This house and all the cherry trees surrounding it have always held a special place in my heart. My story begins more than 30 years ago.
I was raised on the other side of town and wasn’t very familiar with the Ingleside area. In fact, I rarely remember traveling down that road as a child. I grew up and attended college in Atlanta, got married and it was there that my family and I intended to settle. But fate had other plans for me.
My mother was badly injured in a wreck while driving to Atlanta when our son, Blake, was born. She recuperated for months in a hospital in Atlanta until finally getting strong enough to return to Macon. Mother was never the same, and we returned back to Macon almost every weekend to visit her. The constant journey back and forth took a toll on us, so we decided to move back to Macon to be closer to Mother.
I was 22 years old with a bachelor of fine arts degree and suddenly found myself unemployed in Macon. I didn’t know any artists or decorators and wondered how I would break into the art scene. Around that same time, there was a buzz blowing around Macon about a Cherry Blossom Festival that had started. I remember reading an article that gave details of two people in particular — Carolyn Crayton and William Fickling Sr.
I asked Mother who these people were. She hadn’t heard of Carolyn Crayton but she certainly knew the Fickling name.
“Bill Fickling Jr. married Neva Jane Langley who was Miss America in 1953,” Mother told me. “It was big news for Macon when she won. Neva was very involved in the arts and it was her father-in-law who planted all the cherry trees around his big, white-columned house on a hill.”
It was spring so we decided to drive by for a look.
“I want to paint it!” I blurted out to Mother, who wondered why. “I just have a feeling!” I said.
When the painting was complete, I wanted to present it to Fickling at his birthday celebration being held in Third Street Park. It was my hope that by giving him this painting I could introduce myself to the Fickling family — especially Miss America. As luck would have it, Neva was there and I met her and told her I was an artist.
“You’re very good,” she said. “I would like to see more of your work.”
It wasn’t long before I was at her house with my portfolio in hand. She purchased one of my pieces that day and mentioned me to an interior designer, who happened to call while I was at her house. My art career in Macon had officially begun.
I had not planned on the other part of this story at all. Carolyn Crayton was also attending the birthday party in the park and contacted me later about doing the official poster for the next Cherry Blossom Festival. I was so excited and, from that day until this one, I have worked in one capacity or another with the festival.
Pink became a favorite color on my palette and the delicate cherry blossoms are like sugar plums dancing around in my head.
I would paint the large, white-columned house on the hill surrounded by cherry blossom trees for a second time many years later. It was made into fine art prints and many people in Macon purchased the print. Hardly a day goes by at this time of year that someone doesn’t mention that print to me. In fact, just recently one of my art students brought to class one of the prints, which she had purchased from an estate sale. She placed it on an easel and when I walked into the classroom, it caught me by surprise.
As fate would have it, for a time we lived on Ingleside Avenue right down the street from the Fickling house. When we moved, it was only around the corner, so I still pass that house two or three times a day. Who would have ever known that the big, white-columned house on the hill would play such an important part in my career? I certainly didn’t.
Sometimes you just have to put yourself in the right place for wonderful things to happen. I’m so happy I moved back to Macon all those years ago. I guess you could say I’m tickled pink!