Saturday, February 05, 2011

Wet Nostalgia

Returning from a two-day workshop in Forsyth through... Atlanta... at... rush... hour... sounded like pure aggravation, so I decided to head cross-country this rainy afternoon. I saved no time - matter-of-fact rural outskirts of the big city are little no longer. In place of braving twelve lanes of bumper-to-bumper coagulated commuters, I pushed in and out of four, or three, or two lanes of equally clotted streets and formerly "country" roads.


Having no one with me to moderate my impractical impulses, I swerved onto the first exit off US41 into the south side of Griffin - following an ambulance that I figured was heading toward the hospital from the mangled vehicles I had just passed. I remembered that the hospital where two of my beloved little siblings had been born was not too far from the parsonage where I lived from 1954 till 1958, I thought I might be able to swing by 333 S. 9th St... formerly Home Sweet Home.

Lo and behold! There were the little airport and adjacent fairgrounds right where they had been 52 years ago. Lots of other stuff has grown like mold around them, but there they were. Midway Methodist used to have some sort of booth at that fair.

Then the hospital off to the left. Another minute and there's College Street. Left two blocks and our dilapidated old parsonage is sitting, tastefully rejuvenated in yellow with white trim, greenish black shutters, architectural shingles, and a bit of gingerbread that I don't remember.

Was the traffic light here in fifties. See the train tracks down College. 

And the little side yard animal cemetery. I remember conducting a solemn funeral for a songbird beneath this tree, a couple of small sisters as mourners.

My business partner of those days was Herbert Leach, Esquire. He was a man of more experience than myself, a sixth-grader maybe. He lived in this little house across the street -- now screened by a high privacy fence. We were first in the Coca-Cola business together. We collected stray empties from all over town in our wagon, then trudged across town to the Coke plant to redeem them. Later we diversified into the lawn maintenance business. 

Didn't mean to upload this one, but the rain has picked up. I'm getting wet. But I'm unwilling to go back to the car till I've had a good look.

The red beetle is parked at the back edge of what would have been, those years ago, a "big" field of kudzu. The gray truck is parked at its front edge, near where Daddy's one-room tiny outbuilding study/portal to Narnia would have . Well, not really Narnia, I didn't know about that land yet. But this is where we heard, gathered at my fathers feet, the tales of a mythical-seeming Milstead.

And the tracks! What an adventure to stare Death in the teeth and walk these tracks.

The red clay banks were a source of fascinating translucent sheets of mica. And here we enlarged a concave collapse of clay into a cave hideout. In retrospect, such an endeavor could have spared y'all these posts. Somehow we escaped childhood alive.

Standing at about the location of Daddy's little office looking up the line of mulberry trees, now only a memory. Tree climbing is still a delight of mine. It is the adventure of dreams to this day. Those little trees were the best I could do in this yard, but they gave an elevated perch from which to pester sisters, at the least.

Next I walked into the lobby of the medical building to pester the receptionist, my sisters being unavailable.  She says the medical building dates from 2007 and she's from Pike County and that's all she knows. I suggested she excavate under her desk. It is near the spot I buried treasure in a fruit jar about 1957. It was under a canopy of kudzu at the time. My buddies and I had formed a maze of tunnels in the kudzu winding from one itchy end of the little field to the other. 
Now a sentimental drive of the long path I took each day to Fourth Ward Elementary School.  Up 9th to Poplar and out Poplar to the school. I should have measured it. The route seems to have shrunk in the 50-odd years intervening. Has there been much work by scientists on the obvious general shrinkage of the Earth? A primary memory along the way is annual trick-or-treat excursions to the houses along the way and the big apartment building just across the tracks.

Oh my! The school building has disappeared. A 1960s wing of it remains but has been captured and occupied by the Griffin Police Department. The large playground, with its trees, out back is largely intact but partly paved and littered with assorted police vehicles and equipment. A public housing development surrounded by gated community-style fencing backs up to it now. Here is the front of the "school" taken through my windshield.

And another taken as I dodge standing puddles and my hat and jacket become further soaked.

One block toward town on Poplar  is “my crossing”. Here ten-year-old Terry Shaw stood duty with my white shoulder strap, belt, and badge, as a duly sworn officer of the School Patrol. The building at my crossing was a mom and pop neighborhood store that did a brisk after school business in penny candy, baseball-carded gum, Cokes, peanuts, and candy cigarettes. Someone has, I think, built hipped additions enlarging both sides of the once much simpler and smaller building. I look for Mrs. Brown's house in the next block, but I don't see it. There are several houses of that era, but hers was bigger and more obviously Victorian, as I recall. As I have written, I loved my cantankerous old fourth-grade teacher. I wonder if she ever imagined that "impudent" Terry Shaw would spend 31 years teaching elementary school.

I drive around several blocks and finally back "home" by College St., down the "big" hill (shrinkage is painfully obvious here, too) where I had my disastrous bike wreck when that blasted little dog distracted me, nipping at my ankles, and I hit a parked car.

My mother often walked us from home to Hawke's Free Children's Library, which was conveniently located directly across the street from a small bakery. It was a joy to munch on warm gingerbread men fresh from the oven while beginning a new adventure with Frank and Joe Hardy or reading the "true" stories of Robert E. Lee's or Thomas Jefferson's childhood. So I ended my side trip there. 

Caught a cup of stale coffee at Micky D's and rejoined the barely oozing circulation of rush-hour traffic.
My sentimental journey had only lasted thirty-minutes. Posting these pictures and comments, considerably longer!