The Story of Zadie

Who is Zadie? Well, there are a lot of answers to that question. For one thing, Zadie is a bird, our logo.


Zadie is also a wonderful sound. In Yiddish, it’s a colloquialism for grandfather. I like the way you have to smile when you say it.

And, coincidentally, Zadie Smith is one of my writers of all time.

But the actually, real life Zadie who put the idea in my mind — that’s Zadie Ponder. Born in 1866, he raised his family here in Madison County with his wife, Emma, until his death in 1952. What changes he must have seen in his life!

Zadie and Emma ran a general store during the Great Depression. Honestly, Emma is more of an inspiration to me than Zadie, who I have heard was a quiet and gentle sort. Most of what I know about Emma and Zadie was told to me by their great granddaughter, Laura.

Emma was a legendary businesswoman. She made all sorts of trades for groceries because she knew people had to eat. But these trades also landed her family in quite a good position. Many of them were for land, and the land became more valuable over time.

During the Depression, Emma and Zadie had one of the only radios in the county, and people used to come from miles around to lay in the grass and listen to FDR’s Fireside Chats.

Emma was also a gardener, and she dug her beds in the shape of letters, Z-A-D-I-E. When the flowers bloomed, her husband’s name was blazoned across her garden in a magnificent fashion. I’ve always loved that image.

Emma and Zadie had 13 children, and although not all of them survived to adulthood, the ones that did ran this county. 

E.Y. Ponder, the famous sheriff of Madison County, who watched over these mountains for most of the second half of the 20th century, whether he was sheriff or not, is their son. 

E.Y. spent many years working in our building, the Old Marshall Jail. When we open the doors to Zadie’s Market, you’ll shop for groceries in the dining room where he hosted community suppers.

I love the story of Emma and Zadie. It’s not just that I think they were characters, or that they went on to produce such a fascinating and ambitious family. In fact, I don’t know nearly as much as I wish to know about them. And perhaps, I don’t know nearly enough to draw them into all this.

But it’s not the actual, historical Emma and Zadie that gets worked up — not just that. It’s what they represent: the idea of a life well lived, as a married couple, a partnership, amidst friends and neighbors here in these mountains. It’s the idea of building a family that will love this place for generations. Sometimes I wonder whether these ideas live in the land. Maybe they come up off the mountains like the mist, and I breathe them in, just like Emma and Zadie breathed them in many years ago.