Leslie Anne Tarabella didn’t set out to be a newspaper columnist, much less an author. Her calling found her, instead of the other way around.
The former kindergarten teacher and busy mom of two sons started a blog a few years ago, where she wrote about life in Alabama in a uniquely Southern way.
“I love gas station food” is the title of one entry. Another details the time someone from her high school marching band let a pig loose on the field to protest the home team band’s decision not to let the visitors perform at halftime. She once wrote about how she prays the Lord will send upstanding young women to be her daughters-in-law one day. But please heavenly Father, let them not be University of Florida grads, “because we just can’t have that kind of ruckus in the family.”
Her spirited blog led to an invitation to write a weekly newspaper column, and she’s now syndicated in papers throughout the state.
“I never, ever wanted to write,” she said during a recent book signing event in Marietta. “If someone had said, ‘Do you want to write a newspaper column every week?’ I would have said, ‘Are you crazy?’ That’s hard work! It’s like having a term paper due all the time!”
A collection of her favorite columns make up her new book, “The Majorettes are Back in Town and Other Things to Love About the South.” Just out via River Road Press, it’s available locally at the FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock or The Book Exchange in east Cobb County, or via Amazon. If you’d like it personalized, consider ordering online from Page and Palette in Fairhope.
“It seems like I fell into it but I did not,” Tarabella said. “I really feel like it was God’s plan for me. God gives us gifts that we don’t even know that we want. (Scripture) says that he will give you the delights of your heart. Sometimes he knows what will delight our hearts better than we know. He knew that writing would give me the biggest thrill ever.”
Her quick and breezy pieces are a hoot to read and a welcome respite from much of what appears in newspapers these days. There is no dissection of political scandals, although Alabama has offered plenty of fodder in that arena lately. The closest she comes to talking politics is the anecdote about her mother submitting a recipe for Watergate Cake, a featured delicacy created in the famous Washington hotel’s restaurant, for the church cookbook. The dessert committee changed the name to Pistachio Pudding Cake so as not to raise the specter of Nixon-era unpleasantness.
Tarabella does reveal some shocking secrets in between chronicling her chatty trips to the Piggly Wiggly. She does not like sweet tea – “it’s just too dang sweet!” – and although she planned her wedding around the college football season, she took up with someone from Up North. Her “darling Yankee husband” is what she calls her husband Robert Tarabella.
A Florala, Ala. native, she and Robert lived in Marietta for a time years ago and befriended Rachel and Douglas Frey, who hosted the recent book signing. The Freys stayed in touch after the Tarabellas moved back to Alabama and ended up nudging her into a writing career.
“They were like, ‘Oh you’ve got to write this down and you’ve got to start a blog.’ So I started a blog,” she said. “Of course Douglas has the biggest book I’ve ever seen. It’s 6 pounds. He was the expert. When he told me I should write, I listened to him.”
Douglas Frey, with Michael Leidel, is author of “Marietta, the Gem City of Georgia: A Celebration of Its Homes, a Portrait of Its People.” It’s a sumptuous doorstop of a book that definitely belongs on your coffee table if you live in Marietta but will delight anyone with an interest in historic homes.
“We have missed Marietta so much,” Tarabella said. “Both of our boys were born here. We loved it here, it was just a little crowded. I just wanted to get back closer to my parents.”
Tarabella’s parents raised a true belle. She writes with unwavering approval about the time a friend broke up with a boy who wore seersucker to Homecoming. In October. Barbecue is a noun, not a verb. She begs brides to please rethink strapless dresses and wield her sharpest epithets, “Mercy daisy and bless their hearts” at audience members who chew gum or otherwise act up.
She credits author Jan Karon, who appeared at a fundraiser that Tarabella emceed, with helping her find the confidence to pursue the dream she hadn’t known she had.
“What do you want to do with your life?” Karon asked her.
“Well, I write for a little newspaper now and it’s so much fun,” she began.
Karon, who segued from a corporate career into her bestselling Mitford series by way of a newspaper column, implored Tarabella to think bigger.
“I wasn’t sure of myself,” Tarabella said. “She looked at me and in her little, tiny Southern voice said, ‘You go before the throne and you ask for it. You go for it!’ I know she was talking about asking God for it but I also took that to mean that you need to be bold. If you want something in life, you need to go for it.”