Clothes hang on a line, stirred by cool spring breezes. Multiple bird feeders stretch out forming their own line above emerald grass.While it sounds like a spot out in the country, rather it’s an in town restored historic home.
Greeting me at the door is Calvin LeHew and Rusty, a bouncy happy Jack Russell. Not far behind is Ruby, a bit more reticent, prim and proper, but nonetheless just as welcoming.
The trio usher me to the kitchen where Marilyn LeHew, a ball of energy, stands at the island centered by a haphazard stack of cookbooks and food magazines. This is her domain; her happy place.
Avid preservationists, environmentalists and philanthropists, their home is filled with historic pieces, not only their own history, but that of Williamson.
A table in the kitchen takes the “oldest” prize; its crafted from a long slice of a petrified tree. Calvin says it’s 230 million years old. It weighs 600 pounds and was no easy task to get it here from out West. The kitchen is comfy and well loved. Marilyn spends a lot of time here. She cooks a big lunch most every day, and even cooks for their beloved pooches.
Some dogs have all the luck.
Pennsylvania born and raised, Marilyn was a cook from the get go. One of four girls, when their mom went to work, 11-year-old Marilyn stepped up to the plate to cook the evening meal.
“I loved it,” she said. “We had a vegetable garden, chickens, hogs, you name it. We cooked and we froze and canned the summer bounty.”
She landed her first paid job at the ripe old age of five; she picked strawberries for three cents a quart. The next year she got a raise, to five cents per quart.
“It was a big strawberry farm; we picked what we wanted and were paid for all the extra quarts,” she said.
She met Calvin in New Jersey, where they both were in school. Two years later, they married and headed to the South. He was a Hillsboro (now Leiper’s Fork) native. While she retains her northern accent and rapid speech, she has become as southern as you get, from her heart to her table. She took to southern cooking like a fish to water.
Cookbooks range from decades old to new. They are scattered here and there; always at the ready it would seem. One of her favorites is a worn and torn Betty Crocker binder. Pages are spotted, torn free from their rings but lovingly maintained. The binder itself is in shreds; it has been used and loved for decades.
“It’s one of my favorites,” she said. “I still use it all the time.”
Another favorite, this one much newer, is a cookbook for dogs, a gift from her friend Emily Magid. They share a love of animals. The book is chockfull of healthy meals and treats for Fido.
Rusty and Ruby are the beneficiaries.
Some four decades ago, she took her love of cooking to the restaurant business. Calvin had just developed Carter’s Court on Columbia Pike. He needed a restaurant. Daisy King and Marilyn partnered up.
Three days before Miss Daisy’s was to open, Daisy and Marilyn were shopping at H.G. Hills for food and staples. They ran into the woman who they had hired to be in the kitchen; she informed them she wasn’t coming to work.
“Well, Marilyn, you’re going to have cook,” Daisy told her. And thus their adventure began, creating a beloved Franklin tradition.
Calvin’s office was above the eatery, so he came down at lunch to run the cash register. Customers kept asking for recipes.
“I told Daisy and Marilyn they needed to do a cookbook,” he said. “We printed a few hundred the first round; they sold out immediately. That “little yellow cookbook”, as it is lovingly called has now sold 1 million copies. The pair will celebrate Miss Daisy’s and the book’s 40th anniversary this summer.
King has stayed with her Miss Daisy’s but over the years has changed it from a tea room to grab and go Southern cuisine.
After Miss Daisy’s, Marilyn would also still be involved in other restaurants in conjunction with Calvin’s developments. She had Choices and Bennett’s Corner downtown, then Stoveworks in the Factory at Franklin.
She’s out of the food business now, but it’s still business as usual in her kitchen where she happily cooks for her family of four, Calvin, Rusty and Ruby.