For the first 18 years of my life, I lived in a jewel of a small town of 700 contented souls 90 miles or so beneath the gnat line in rural Georgia.
Home was 20 miles south of Ellaville, 40 miles north of Albany, 50 miles east of Columbus, and 10 miles west of Americus. Connecting those towns are six-o-clock-straight stretches of two-lane blacktop laid down by the county through endless forests of planted pine, tilled fields, vast patches of kudzu and impenetrable swamps the cottonmouths dominate.
It’s hot and humid down there in the summer — the kind of hot and humid that makes you sit still and quiet and think about things through the afternoon hours. But the springs and falls are glorious, and the winters don’t get too cold at all.
At night, you can still look up and see the stars and be reminded that you’re small.
Jesus lives there; the Bible tells us so.
Where highways 280 and 45 cross, there’s a traffic light that’s been ignored — blinking yellow — since a week after it was installed more than 40 years ago because it was regarded more as an object of civic pride — an adornment — than a device to regulate people’s already mannerly stopping and going.
When the first microwave ovens appeared sometime in the early ’70s, neighbors gathered to press their noses against the glass windows to watch bacon spit and sizzle and then ooh and aah for awhile before worrying about brain tumors a day or two later. When I was a kid, the bookmobile came to the tiny park in the middle of town twice a month when school was out. My sisters and I would sit on the concrete picnic table beneath the big oak tree and wait for it all day if we had to.
Just down the road from the cemetery, there’s an old house they say was a stop on the Underground Railroad. They also say it is haunted by the ghost of the man who signaled “all clear” with a lantern and that sometimes you can see the light from that lantern moving slowly up and down the road in front of the house on nights when the moon is dark, the wind is blowing and you’re out looking for things you shouldn’t be looking for.
My very first memory is of watching my granny shelling just-picked butterbeans out in the yard beside her and Granddaddy’s big garden. She’s sitting in a metal lawn chair and wearing a cotton-print dress and an apron. There’s a white enamel bowl between her knees with a thin, red stripe around its rim, and she turns to look at me, makes a face and then uses her tongue to stick the bottom plate of her dentures out and waggle it up and down. Then she laughs and laughs and I become mesmerized — and have been ever since.
Mama told me that only a day or two after I was born, Daddy snatched me up and put me on the seat beside him in his pickup and drove the rutted, dirt roads outside of town all day, stopping only to show me to his friends.
We lived in a big, old farmhouse at the city limits. The house had wooden floors that tilted and high ceilings and big, drafty windows. When it was cold in the mornings, Mama kept the oven door open while she made cheese toast for breakfast so we could warm up. In the summertime, five or six box fans kept a cool breeze blowing through the rooms. We had a dog named Sheba and another one named Mr. Bud, and one time Daddy snuck a billygoat named Mac into the barn and made us promise not to tell Mama, even though she already knew.
Christmas was simpler then and meant dried cedar needles in the shag carpet well into March. And summer lasted for three full months and the new blue jeans you got for the new school year were as stiff as cardboard.
I remember always wanting to grow up and be one of the men standing outside the Baptist church smoking cigarettes before the service started, or one of the men who knew the right combination of quarters to get a beer out of the old, broken Coke machine at Mr. Mill’s filling station on Sunday afternoons, or one of the men who got to brag about having the first ripe tomato for the year, or one of the men who wore a white paper hat and ladled out Brunswick stew and barbecue at the Lion’s Club Halloween Barbecue, or …
An old guy can reminisce … can’t he?
William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at email@example.com.