Linda and Jerry Green have filled their home—and their time in retirement—with their works.
Georgia natives Jerry and Linda Green aren’t where they thought they would be in retirement. They weren’t planning on moving to Alabama until their daughter decided to stay after studying at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But to look around the Calera couple’s home and surrounding property, you would think they had lived here for many years.
Paintings of their daughter, family and nature line as much of the walls of Linda’s upstairs studio as possible, and on an easel by the largest window sits Linda’s current project, a portrait of her daughter. A large bulletin board is crammed with pictures, comics and bits of inspiration, things that “you know that you would never see again if you put it in a box,” Linda says. She works with all kinds of paint mediums, from oils and acrylics to watercolors and pastels, as well as making brooms on the side.
While Linda works in delicate paint strokes, Jerry works with fire and pounding hammers as a blacksmith. “Everybody’s first question is, ‘Oh, do you shoe horses?’” Linda says. “And I say, ‘Only if they get in my yard. Shoo, shoo!’”
Jerry became interested in blacksmithing after taking a college course on non-ferrous metals and after one of Linda’s co-workers became a blacksmith. He went to John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, where he took an intensive course for two weeks that got him started. Their daughter was learning about blacksmiths in sixth grade when the teacher said all blacksmiths were “dead.” “Susan asked if she could please go home, and the teacher asked what was wrong. Susan said her daddy has died since breakfast,” Linda says. After that, both Linda and Jerry would talk and demonstrate his blacksmith work at her school.
Jerry built his workshop in the backyard in 2007, a place full of his projects, machines, tools and fire. While he has a regular anvil to use, he also has a machine that he says is like hitting the iron with a 50-pound hammer. The walls are extra thick to mask the loud hammers and avoid bothering the neighbors, but he says, “If they do hear it, they think it’s the rifle range.”
As a permanent volunteer with Shelby Iron Works, he meets with the blacksmith group on the first Saturday of each month. Non-members are welcome to stop by and learn, and many do. “We invite anyone who wants to come down and we’ve gotten some new people. It’s the same day they have the pancake breakfast, so people come over after that,” Jerry says.
Like his blacksmithing and her painting, Jerry’s and Linda’s relationship started with interest and grew into a lifelong commitment. He grew up in southern Georgia in the same community as Linda’s mother and grandmother. She visited one weekend and met Jerry at the local skating rink. They began dating, and soon they were engaged when Linda was 15 and Jerry was 18. With World War II happening, Jerry knew he would be drafted and most likely sent overseas, so he asked Linda to marry him before he left.
While she had mixed opinions from her parents, Linda agreed and dropped out of high school to marry him. He was sent to France, and soon Linda joined him there for a year. “My mama was like ‘You are 16 years old, you are not about to be going to France,’ and my daddy said, ‘Honey, she is married, she can do anything she wants to do,’” Linda recalls.
After Jerry’s time in the war, the couple settled in Milledgeville, Georgia. Linda decided she wanted to go back to school, and she went to college as an art major and then as an elementary education major. During her senior year, Jerry went to college and later received a Master of Business Administration. They moved to Atlanta for jobs, and 19 years later their daughter, Susan, was born.
When Linda turned 15, she was gifted an oil paint set from her daddy. “He had a crack in the sheet rock one day and he was all worried about it. She got up there and matched the paint and painted over it; that paid for the paint set right there!” Jerry says. The first portrait Linda did was when she was in her 20s; it is displayed in a hallway among other portraits. “I had no idea how to do a portrait. I put her pupil right in the middle of the canvas, which is totally not where it goes, but it was an amazing likeness of my niece,” Linda says. Her favorite painting hangs nearby, a painting of her daughter she completed in an hour.
Linda is humble about her work and says it never occurred to her that anyone would want to see her work, but Jerry is quick to tell her she’s better than she thinks. Jerry only displays his work at the monthly Shelby Iron Works meetings and various shows and exhibits through the year. They’ve had a life full of creating beautiful things, and they aren’t ready to stop anytime soon. “We’ve had a good run, and hopefully we’re going to have a lot more,” Jerry says.