New Year’s Day. How ironic that I find myself sitting here writing about a day which is usually focused on the future but which is full of the presence of the past for me at this moment.
It didn’t start out that way.
When I woke up, I didn’t have anything in particular in mind about this day -- even the fact that it was New Year’s Day. Mostly what I was aware of was the fact that I’m at the point in my recovery from bypass surgery where the confines of my little apartment seem to get smaller every day, so I wanted to get out and do something for a while.
As I cycled through my choices for doing something that would get me out and about for a little while, it occurred to me that it had been a while since I’d gone on a drivabout. That’s what I call it when I just get in my car without any purpose or destination in mind and drive around for the sake of driving around, going exploring, wondering what will happen. I’ve always loved doing that, and many times, it’s also the opportunity to take pictures of places I might come across that I find interesting, beautiful, or meaningful in some way.
Over the Mountain. I get in my car wondering where I will end up. I had thought about heading up to Chattanooga, and was a little surprised to find myself going south on Georgia highway 193 from Fort Oglethorpe away from Chattanooga. I thought I’d probably find a road with an interesting name to turn on to just to see where it would go (by the way, my GPS is prohibited on these little adventures, of course, because that would remove the intrigue and mystery), but I ended up at the 4-way stop where Highway 193 intersects with Highway 136.
Going straight or to the left will both take me to Lafayette and US 27. Going right will take me over Lookout Mountain toward Trenton, going by the phenomenal Cloudland Canyon State Park on the way.
For no particular reason, I turned to the right toward Cloudland Canyon and Trenton because it’s been several years since I’d been over that way.
Back in time. I thought I might visit the park if it was open, but after a split-second’s hesitation, I drove on past.
Inside the stillness of my car, the silence relieved only by the steady hum of tires on pavement, it’s not long past the entrance to Cloudland Canyon that little tendrils of memory reach out to softly touch my awareness.
And I am a little boy again in another car going down this same road . . .
On one of the roads spidering off this main one was an old dilapidated farm house. The Van Deamon family lived there. They were the family that connected first my mother and then me to our experience of personal faith in 1972, when I was 7 years old. The Van Deamon’s had 3 kids -- 2 boys and a girl -- and were from Texas. From the boys, whose names elude me but whose faces even now float before the clear eye of my memory, I was introduced to the glories of Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, and the Dallas Cowboys -- a spell I am still under almost 50 years later -- because they had one of those electric vibrating football games . . .
On another, different road winding off to one side or the other of this main road, I remember riding with my Daddy to a place where his old 1948 Plymouth, recently rescued from a field at my Aunt and Uncle’s farm, was raised to new life, and I can still feel the magic as the door to the small barn is thrown open, revealing the smell of new paint and a gloriously beautiful car that I knew couldn’t be the same old car except my Daddy told me it was so, and I knew it had to be because he said it . . .
I start the descent down the mountain towards Trenton, and right at the start of the downward slope, there is a 90-degree curve in the road to the right . . . and I am 5 years old, in the back seat of our black Chevy Chevelle -- the same one we had when I got my finger slammed in the door on another day. I am turned around looking out the back window at all the snow that has surprised my Daddy and Mama on top of this mountain we are trying to get over on our way to Rome, where my grandparents live. I am terrified as we try without success to make it up the hill and feeling the car sliding back down toward that sharp turn we just rounded, knowing that if we slide far enough, we will plummet over the side of this mountain in certain death to the valley below . . .
After a while, I am down the mountain, and up ahead, I see the little town of Trenton, where we lived for six years when I was very young. Just before the bridge that goes over the railroad tracks on the edge of town, I look to my left and see the street sign that says “Jeffery Town Road” . . . I am 4 years old, and we are living in a place called Jeffery Town, and our small house sits on a gravel road right next to the railroad tracks. We will live here until our brand new house is completed on the other side of town. There is an old woman who lives next door, and she is at her clothes line hanging laundry to dry when my Mama and me are in our yard. The woman offers me a drink from a bucket of water that she dips out with a tin ladle, and I am amazed because I’ve never seen anything like it before. I remember asking her an endless stream of questions, including about George Washington -- why was he dead, why is he in the ground, why is his picture on the dollar bill -- and my Mama apologizing to her and getting on to me about wearing the woman out with my bottomless curiosity . . .
Driving through the small town of Trenton, complete with its town square, unchanged from many years ago, I look to the left where the jail sits now and remember that when we lived here, the Georgia Power Company office was in that spot, and that was where my Daddy worked.
On through town, past the United Methodist Church where I went to kindergarten, past Calvary Baptist Church where I was baptized when I was 7 years old, make a left turn, and then a right turn and there it is . . . it is made of red brick, it is the most beautiful house I’ve ever seen, and it’s where we are going to be living. I am 6 years old. For some reason, I remember hearing my Mama or Daddy talking to someone and saying that the house cost $16,000, and I wonder if that’s more than a million. Flashes of memory cascade through my awareness . . . falling out of the tree in the back yard and hitting my head (which possibly explains a lot which came after) . . . shooting the new BB gun my Daddy had given me at the telephone pole wondering if the BB would embed itself in the wood, and being surprised when instead it ricochets off the pole and comes right back at me, hitting me right in the middle of the forehead, never being alarmed at how closely it had come to hitting me in the eye . . . kissing Myra in the front yard when we are in the first grade . . .
The thought of Myra (the same Myra I wrote about years ago in my Valentine’s Day History blog entry) as I drive past that old house (the house is still there, but changed somewhat through the remodeling that has been done over the years) makes me wonder if I can find her old house, which I’ve never looked for in all my trips back to Trenton over the years . . . I don’t even know where to begin; I just remember it was close to where we lived because I used to walk there. I continue driving down the same street, barely two blocks further on, look to my left, and there it is exactly as it remains in my memory . . . I mostly remember the screen porch where Myra and I played, her mother bringing out cookies for us, and her older brother teasing us mercilessly . . .and then it’s past, and I turn down the next street and go back out to the main road.
And back again. By now, I can feel the fatigue that sometimes still comes since my surgery begin to hint that it’s coming, so I decide to head back the way I’ve come, back to the present and back home. I go back up the mountain, and turn left on Georgia Highway 189, which rides atop the spine of Lookout Mountain all the way to Chattanooga, and I go home that way, enjoying the beautiful scenery, and marveling at the beautiful gift an unplanned trip with no particular destination in view has brought to me to begin the new year. And I am grateful.
Thanks for coming along with me, and I hope 2020 is the best year ever for you in every way.
Until next time . . . love and peace to all . . . love and peace to you . . .