Hoschton, Ga. Funeral Business Plans Move to Former Church

In Focus With Fil

Hoschton, Ga. Funeral Home Prepares for Relocation

 by Fil Jessee

             Following a three-year search for a suitable building in formerly funeral homeless Hoschton and Braselton, Ga., veteran mortician James Lawson opened his Lawson Funeral Home in downtown Hoschton three years ago in June.  Still located in the circa 1928 residence of Arthur DeLaperriere at 35 First Street, Lawson plans to relocate to a vacant former church in early 2013 to accommodate his steadily growing clientele.  But helping families with final arrangements for their deceased loved ones is far from all he has done to endear himself to the local community.

            Lawson loves people and it shows in both his professional and avocational activities.   He’s an active member of the Braselton Rotary and West Jackson Lions clubs as well as the First Baptist Church of Hoschton, and routinely enjoys helping people with a variety of projects which run the gamut from annual Veterans Day events to a spooky Halloween celebration for The Village at Deaton Creek residents.

            “We keep the official flags for each of the armed forces branches to honor deceased veterans, and provide these for parades and other patriotic events,” he said.

            And just to show that even funeral directors can have a good sense of humor, Lawson also provided a genuine casket as requested by Lifestyle Director Mark LaClaire for a community Halloween party at the Village of Deaton Creek clubhouse.

            “It was a dark pink metal sealer with velvet interior and carnations on the interior of the hinged head panel,” Lawson noted.  

            Perhaps that would have been appealing to Elvira or Morticia, but certainly not to Count Dracula or Frankenstein.  But I suppose when one asks for such an uncommon party prop, he must be willing to take what he can get.  On a less frivolous note, the Lawson Funeral home is a befitting reflection of its founder’s plain and simple tastes.

            “My goal in establishing my business here is to bring the citizens of Hoschton, Braselton and surrounding areas a home-like setting with home town values.  Unlike funerary mega-stores which present an almost confusing array of choices to the bereaved at one of the most difficult times in their lives, our simplification and comfortable home-like setting is designed to keep our customers at ease and confident that they have chosen to rely upon a compassionate, experienced and professional staff,”  Lawson explained. 

            When visitors enter this funeral home, it is immediately apparent to them that this is indeed a home and not just a pricey packaging center for the final disposal of mortal remains.   The interior is graced by hardwood floors, fireplace, turn-of-the-century light fixtures, and beautifully embossed crown molding.   

            The open floor plan with minimal doors provides comfortable space for mixing, mingling, and expressing condolences and an attractively draped alcove for with bier for placement of a casket.  Present space is more than sufficient for smaller memorial services as well and, for larger ceremonies, two local church sanctuaries are available to Lawson’s customers.

            “Because we are not a part of a larger corporate operation, the relative costs of what we offer our patrons are on the low side of standard rates.   We are a local family owned and operated business and, consequently, can pass on the benefits of lower overhead to our customers.  But regardless of an individual’s financial limitations, we will work with any reasonable fee to satisfy an individual’s needs,” Lawson said.

            In addition to James Lawson, the funeral home’s present staff includes his wife, Carla, who serves as both general office manager and cosmetologist, and three additional part-time employees who work by assignment as needed.   Cremations, graveside services, interstate preparation and transport of the diseased, memorial headstones and urns are all within the realm of the home’s range of services.

            Lawson’s first became interested in choosing the funeral business as a career while still in high school in his home town of Sylvester, Georgia.  

            “My father knew the owner of a funeral home in Tifton and, through him, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about the business as his helper while still in high school,” he noted.

            After high school graduation, Lawson attended Gupton-JonesMortuaryCollege in Atlanta before receiving his state licenses as embalmer and funeral director, respectively.  He has since worked in this capacity for twelve and a half years with H. M. Patterson & Son, Oglethorpe Hill in Atlanta and, more recently, for a south HallCounty funeral home for eight years.

          Proud of what he called quality “personal attention and caring for the families who place their trust in me,” Lawson noted that the funeral business has undergone a lot of changes in recent years.  

         “Today, there are more cremations than in years past, primarily because of the difference in cost between that and traditional burials.   Cremations average $2,200 in price as compared to $7,220 to $7,400 for a standard visitation, funeral and burial package,” he pointed out.

         And in terms of caution on the part of future customers, Lawson warned against dealing with funeral businesses that are unlicensed or run by less than reputable directors and embalmers.  

        “Preplanning funeral arrangements before specific needs arise is a very good thing because this practice nails down the price and fosters peace of mind.  But beware of dealing with companies which encourage monthly installments in advance for direct deposit into their business accounts.   We do not require money up front to assist families with preplanning and any monies received in advance are run through our insurance company for our customers’ long-term protection,” Lawson explained.

            For further information on the services of Lawson Funeral Home, Hoschton, readers are invited to call (706) 654-0966 or to contact by email, http://www.lawsonfuneralhome.org.


Winter Gardening Thoughts & Suggestions

 Gardener’s Grapevine

Indoors and Out, Palms Symbolize Warmth and Hospitality

by Fil Jessee


It makes no difference whether you call Braselton, Ga. or Bora Bora home, palms, more than any other trees on earth, are a symbol of warmth and hospitality for all humanity. And this in mind, I tend to become a little zealous in discussing their merits as both landscape and interior subjects.

Nevertheless, as a former Floridian, I can’t imagine life without them. Indoors, palms soften the harsh lines of heavy furniture, frame the pass-throughs of today’s open floor plans, gently sway in air currents generated by ceiling fans and, when strategically lighted, cast enchanting shadows on walls and ceilings. And regardless of interior lighting conditions or the relatively humidity indoors, there are varieties of palms which can thrive in such locations. Yet, in spite of the number of varieties sold locally, it’s a good idea to bone up on your tropical botany to make certain that you select the ones best suited to the spot where you intend to position them.

There are three especially important facts you should consider in this regard. First, commercial growers of houseplants like to grow the varieties which reach eye-catching, marketable proportions in the shortest length of time. Second, palms grown in the ideal conditions of greenhouses can undergo considerable culture shock when relocated to the less than perfect conditions of a home’s interior. When grown in containers of three gallon or less soil capacity, palms can become very pot bound long before you purchase them. And tightly packed root systems greatly interfere with the ability of palms to absorb water and nutrients under typical home cultivation.

This is particularly true of species which tend to spread rapidly by means of horizontal runners.  Among these, Butterfly Palms (Areca), Bamboo and Mermaids Tail Palms (Chameadorea) and Lady Palms (Rhapis) are especially resentful of crowded containers and, therefore, should be repotted and divided periodically. 

Both Slender and regular Lady Palms are said to be among the most tolerant of poor lighting and dry conditions indoors. However, in the well-lighted foyer of my home, the two Lady Palms I purchased from Home Depot consistently developed brown tips on the fan-shaped fronds and three of the individual palms in the clusters died completely.  I later discovered two reasons for this. One, the plants were planted in a heavy sand mix that drained too quickly. And two, the clumps were entirely too large for the ornate plastic pots in which we obtained them. 

However, we successfully rescued both clumps by transplanting each to much larger pots filled with a well-drained but moisture retentive houseplant soil mix. We, then, relocated these to a shady spot outdoors where they slowly recovered throughout the warm and humid summer.  They are now back in the foyer, free of brown tips and trouble free.

Among favored palms for indoor use, Lady Palms are among the most expensive because it takes so long to obtain marketable specimens from seed. And even more costly, is the graceful Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana). Also known as The Paradise Palm, the Kentia is native only on Lord Howe Island in the South Pacific off the east coast of Australia.

From this single location, almost all seeds are obtained for commercial production.  Add to this the fact that Kentia seeds are erratic and difficult to germinate, and often won’t sprout at all if not absolute fresh, and it’s easy to see why the Kentias are considered the Rolls Royce of indoor palms. Nevertheless, the feather shaped coconut palm-like fronds of this beauty have graced the palm courts of major hotels and mansions since the Victorian age.  They remain popular today mainly because, once established, they can grow for generations in the same containers with minimal attention. 

Among houseplants, the Parlor Palm (Chameadorea elegans) is among the fastest and easiest of all indoor palms for the amateur to grow successfully.  Locally, you’ll find this one in the house plant sections of every garden center I can think of, and usually it’s in crowded pots of many small palms grown in tight clumps. These will do best and last longer if separated and grown singly or in groups of three.

Eventually, the Parlor Palm can reach a mature height of  six or seven feet, at which time staking may be required to keep the trunk from breaking under the weight of its own fronds.  In addition to its easy of growth, I like the fact that it’s one of the few palms that produces mature fronds from infancy. Other Chameadoreas and the majority of larger palms all produce undivided seed leaves resembling those of an Aspidistra with added pleats, and it make take a year or longer before these palms replace primary leaves with their typical feather or fan-shaped fronds.

For tolerance of neglect and hot dry conditions, try the Pigmy Date Palm (Phoenix roebelenii), another inexpensive species commonly available locally. This native of Laos and Southeast Asia becomes a graceful leaning specimen with age. Consequently, looks best when planted in groups of three.  Of all the palms I’ve mentioned thus far, the Pigmy Date is probably the most ideally suited to sunny patios and decks in the summer; indoors near a bright window in winter. This palm can also tolerate brief periods of frost, but not a hard freeze. Therefore, it can remain outdoors longer than moar other feather-leaved varieties suitable as houseplants.

Frost tolerant fan-leaved varieties suitable for indoor/outdoor culture include the European Fan (Chamaerops humilis), the Chinese Fan (Livistona chinensis), and the earlier mentioned Lady Palm.







Gardener’s Grapevine

Fragrance Enhances Garden Enjoyment

by Fil Jessee

             A late afternoon stroll through a garden with no perfume is something like a trip to a beach with no waves, disappointing to say the least.   Yet, like many other elements in a well-designed landscape, the addition of fragrance can be over-done.

Strategic placement of scent-producing plants, trees and shrubs is just as important as selecting the varieties you find most appealing.   A comfortable distance up wind from a deck or patio, for example, might be a perfect spot for a grouping of gardenias.   Too many too close to these gathering spots, on the other hand, could prove as objectionable as being in an elevator with some lady who just took a bath in Channel.

Plantings which emit more subtle scents are better suited for close-up enjoyment, while those producing stronger perfume will generally be more congenial from a distance.

Another important factor to consider is your own day-to-day schedule.   If you work from nine to five and seldom have time to enjoy your backyard before dusk, planting something that scents the air at midday only doesn’t make much sense.

You’ll get far more enjoyment from your labors if you select specimens which put on their best performance after dark.  The opposite is true if you work the night shift.

One of my favorite shrubs for fragrance also makes an attractive foundation specimen close to the deck or patio, but far enough back where it does not require much trimming.  It is commonly called sweet tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans), and its day and night perfume is anything but demure.   In fall, this shrub produces thousands of tiny greenish yellow blooms in clusters, but often blossoms less profusely in the spring as well.  I generally describe its unique perfume as a combination of Lemon Pledge furniture polish and Old Spice cologne.   It makes a fine evergreen screen when fairly young, and can be pruned to attractive tree form when older.  Tea olive makes a perfect companion for camellias, adding a third dimension to their colorful but scentless flowers. Other species of Osmanthus produce an equally pleasant but less far-reaching fragrance in the heat of the summer, but don’t really get going with this until they are quite large and mature.  The most common of these is aptly named false holly (O. heterophyllus).

Many homeowners with decks high above the ground may wish to consider several vines for fragrance.   These can either be trellised between the ground and the bottom of the deck or trained on wires attached to the upper rails.    Among the best candidates for this usage, confederate jasmine is a popular favorite with peak flowering between May & June, and sporadic repeats thereafter.   Five-petaled white blooms are born in loose clusters, and emit a sweet citrus-like scent.  This vine performs best in partial shade, and prefers a location protected from severely cold winds.  With the exception of the slightly more cold tolerant variety, “Madison,” this jasmine can be killed to the ground by single digit temperatures.   Once well-established, however, it will normally make a fast come-back if you cut it back and maintain a good water & fertilizer regimen to hasten recovery.

For a much bolder effect in a fragrant vine, I can’t think of a better choice than Armand Clematis (Clematis armandii).   Its individual 2.5-inch white flowers are produced in great abundance between mid-March and mid-April, and perfume the air with a scent so much like orange blossoms, a Floridacitrus grower probably couldn’t tell the difference.  But the fragrance of this clematis isn’t its only claim to fame as a botanical imposter.  The large shiny green leaves which trail downward in lush clusters give this vine the appearance of a jungle liana, more at home in Brasil than Braselton.  Yet, it’s as tough as nails in our area, and only rarely suffers wind burn from cold artic blasts.  Just give it plenty of elbow room, and don’t plant it too close to your bistro table and umbrella set.   The vine may swallow it whole while you’re away on vacation.

Another good choice for fragrance is Hawaii’s white or butterfly ginger, used often for lei making.   You’ll find it wild and plentiful along many Big Island roads from Hilo to Kona and, yet, it is remarkably hardy as a perennial here in northeast Georgia.   In Climate Zone 7b gardens,  it’s as tough as cannas.  Butterfly ginger (Hedychium coronarium) is guaranteed to bring more aloha spirit into your back yard than a troupe of hula-girls from the Polynesian Cultural Center.   From August until frost, every mature five to six-foot tall stalk will be crowned with a terminal cluster of waxy-white flowers, each shaped just like a butterfly.    With the onset of every warm summer night, these blossoms emit a powerful scent something like a combination of gardenia and honeysuckle but a lot stronger.  Moved by a little breeze, the fragrance can be enjoyed a block away.

My wife likes to cut the stalks, and place them in a large globe of water on the dining room table.   They will continue to produce fresh flowers there every night, perfuming our living quarters for weeks at a time.  I hate it when she does that.  The cats can’t find their litter box, and the whole house smells like Pier One Imports.


Gardener’s Grapevine

Hardy Hibiscus Thrive Where Other Shrubs Fail

by Fil Jessee

                 For a spectacular floral show in summer’s hottest weather, few shrubs can outshine hardy hibiscus.   The tall and woody “Rose of Sharon” or althea (Hibiscus syriacus) thrives in poor soils which dry out for extended periods of time, and several species of mallows flourish in soggy places unfit for most other shrubs.   But all require full sun and heat to flower well.

            The upright growth of althea is especially stunning when planted in odd-numbered groupings of three or more.   And these deciduous shrubs are equally well suited for use as fast-growing low-maintenance screens.    Their only nemesis is the annual assault of Japanese beetles which quickly spoil their attractive foliage and devastate open blooms as well as flower buds.  Fortunately, however, these pests can be controlled by spraying the shrubs with liquid Sevin or applying a good systemic insecticide to the roots from late May to mid-July.    Thereafter, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and aphids can sometimes be troublesome but usually to a lesser degree.

            Like crape myrtles, altheas greatly benefit from an annual late winter pruning to thin out weaker branches and reduce the length of long branches by at least a third.    This will encourage the shrubs to produce more vigorous new growth and, consequently, larger flowers.

            Mallows, on the other hand, are considered die-back woody perennials and require cutting back to the ground before new growth begins to emerge from their bases.   And for these plants, the size and abundance of flowers can be greatly enhanced by frequent applications of liquid fertilizer and water during periods of drought.   If their thirsty root systems are allowed to dry out for more than a day, mallows will show their displeasure by shedding leaves and dropping buds.

            In selecting the best varieties of althea, many gardeners are inclined to make choices based on color rather than growth habit.   Consequently, they later regret the fact that their selections produce a copious number of volunteers which can turn well-groomed beds and hedge rows into weedy looking thickets.   This problem can be eliminated, however, by choosing triploid hybrids or double-flowering cultivars which produce little if any fertile seed.  Among the best of these are “Diana” known for large pure white flowers which remain open at night, Aphrodite”  with dark pink blooms accented by a prominent deep red eye, “Helene” with white flowers punctuated by a reddish purple blush at the base of the petals, and “Minerva” which sports lavender flowers with a pinkish blush and dark red throat.   And the old-fashioned “Blushing Bride” with puffy white flowers and pink accents remains the most popular double.

            In the die-back category, the tallest are the Confederate Rose (H. mutabilis) and the Swamp Mallow (H. coccineus).   The former can stretch to a height of seven feet or more in a single season, and is easily identified by its large maple-like foliage and huge double pink blooms in fall.   This species puts on quite a show just prior to the earliest frost when all other hibiscus begin to slow down or cease blooming altogether.  The latter has an open and airy appearance with unmistakable marijuana-like foliage and deep rose or white flowers which closely resemble the blooms of the tropical hibiscus.

            The largest flowers by far are produced by the common garden mallows.   These can be as big as dinner plates and, thanks to extensive hybridization in recent years, now come in broad array of colors including some beautiful two-tones.   The plants seldom reach heights of morethan five feet and, therefore, mix well with many other perennials.

            Among the finest of the older named varieties, Southern Belle and Disco Belle are commonly available at most local garden centers.   But some pretty exciting new hybrids can be obtained by mail order.   Of these, “Kopper King” has stunning dark purple leaves which form a beautiful backdrop for its foot-wide light pink flowers.   Another beauty is appropriately named “Fireball” and sports abundant brilliant red flowers on compact four-foot plants.  And one of my personal favorites is “Raspberry Rose” which produces numerous raspberry-red  flowers on large plants which reach seven feet tall and ten feet across.

            When in active growth, all hardy hibiscus species are thirsty plants and should be mulched and well-watered throughout the summer.   Most mallows will even thrive in boggy conditions, but altheas prefer dryer locations and well-drained soil.   Both will greatly benefit from regular feeding with a balanced liquid fertilizer while forming new growth and, then, a switch to a flower producing formula when buds begin to form.

            When the first flush of flowers begins to fade, cutting the plants back by a foot or two will often encourage the growth of secondary branching and an encore of blooms.   This is especially beneficial for old-fashioned altheas which, otherwise, will spend most of their late summer energy on developing seed pods rather than flowers.

            Propagation of both mallows and altheas is easily accomplished by placing semi-woody cuttings in sand under glass or plastic in shade.    New plants can also be started from seed, but offspring obtained in this manner may not produce the same characteristics of parent plants.


In Focus with Fil

Part One of a Series

Molly…My Metamorphic Marilyn

By Fil Jessee

 If you had worked with as many Marilyn Monroe imposters as I have over a three-decade period, you might think that the real one passed through a series of post-mortem reincarnations. The likeness of some were uncanny.  But what’s really surprising is that one of the very best wasn’t even a girl or, at least, not until recently.

“Her” name is Molly Mackamer, referred to me as a special events producer by a colleague in Nevada. Molly lives in Atlanta but contacted Classique Productions in Las Vegas to find work as a Marilyn impersonator and, sight unseen, Classique suggested that she register with me for assignments closer to home.

She did, and I agreed to meet Molly at a popular outdoor café in Atlanta’s Ansley district when she mentioned that she didn’t drive. That should have been Clue Number One that something just wasn’t quite Kosher.

Clue Number Two came when I met her. She was dressed in casual women’s attire, had long platinum blonde hair, and spoke to me in a voice as deep as Lauren Bacall’s. Add to that comparatively large hands and height that approached six feet, and it was quite apparent that this particular Marilyn look-alike wanna-be would have to work some real magic with make-up and wardrobe to star in any of my shows or meet-and-greet gigs.

I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable with comments and questions.  But at the same time, I saw nothing to be gained from being coy. I had to let Molly know that I was well aware of the fact that she was not only a Marilyn imposter but a pseudo female as well.

She admitted that she was “a female trapped in a man’s body” and, with hormones, feminine attire and impending sex reassignment surgery, was well on the road to changing that.

This left the question of how well could she fake both Marilyn’s gender and feminine voice without ruining my reputation as a talent agent. And I decided to investigate further by requesting video footage of her better engagements.

Not surprisingly, Molly produced footage of recent performances at two popular gay bars in Atlanta’s Midtown district. Like other celebrity impersonators in drag, she relied entirely on costuming, movement in character and lip syncing skills to garner applause from a rollicking audience of mostly intoxicated homosexuals.

Giving credit where credit is due, her appearance was every bit as good as that of Susan Griffiths, a top-drawer Marilyn tribute artist based in Los Angeles. But could Molly please a male-dominated corporate clientele?  I wasn’t so sure.

I did, however, agree to give her a chance to dispel my hesitations by substituting for Heather Chaney, my favorite Florida-based Marilyn who wasn’t available for small private party at the time.  And even if she had been available, my budget was insufficient to cover her lodging and airfare from Orlando.

In addition, it was a one-time gig that I would never reference as a credit to gain other Marilyn bookings. So if Molly totally bombed, any negative affect on my career would be minimal.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen.  On the contrary, my client was delighted by Molly’s appearance and skillful lip sync of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” and “I Wanna Be Loved by You.”

Not long after that, I had a request for four celebrity impersonators to anchor a much larger surprise sixtieth birthday party for a prominent Atlanta physician. I booked Dolly, Elvis and Jack Nicholson tribute artists and, again, Molly as Marilyn.

Then to my horror while getting birthday roast material from the doctor’s wife, I learned that the celebrant was a gynecologist. O.M.G!  I’ve booked a male transvestite well on the road to becoming a transsexual female!  The doctor’s bound to notice extra parts and whisker stubble plastered with make-up!

On the night of the engagement, I spent the first hour helping Molly get dressed in the lady’s restroom, and listening to her bitch about the fact that a row of beads got snagged and spilled all over the floor. And as nervous perspiration dripped from my forehead and armpits, I informed her that all the rules had just changed for this gig.

You’re not to carry on a conversation with anybody who might notice your baritone voice.  You’re to wear white gloves to cover your larger fingers and wrists. And when posing for photos, you’re to stand next to the tallest person in the shot.

What did I learn from this scary incident?  Find out everything you can about your client and his guests before show time. Some people have a good enough sense of humor to be entertained by look-alikes in drag. Others might be more inclined to tar and feather their booking agent.