When I ask people what they feel when they return to their hometowns, they almost always say, “at peace.” Folks from small towns talk about a pace that’s slower; having nowhere to be because there’s nothing to do. It’s as if they’ve been given permission to “sit a spell.” It’s easy to attribute the peace to the small town’s pace, but actually, something else is at play.
As a kid, I spent almost every summer with my grandparents in Tifton Georgia, then population 14,000. It was a scene out of Nikki Giovanni’s poem, Knoxville Tennessee, complete with every cliché you ever heard in a country song. I hated my grandparents’ willow trees for providing an unlimited supply of leg-stinging switches. I also loved the largest willow — a reliable hide and seek home base that gave us shade, sprinkles of water and plenty of skeletons to play with (left behind by molting beetles).
Summer in Tifton was an unconditional fountain of love. We were allowed to ride in the cabs of pickup trucks, to pick unwashed plums from the side of the road, and spent unscheduled hours doing whatever we wanted. Days were spent with cousins (and play cousins), walking to Mr. Sun’s, the neighbor who sold penny candy, pickled pig feet and huge dill pickles. At night we stepped on each other’s shadows in the street where the few people who passed always waved. Listening to grown folks fuss over a game of spades was a Saturday night highlight.
Every now and then we’d go out to “the country” (Ty Ty Georgia then population 620), where my great grandma lived in a single-wide trailer on a long stretch of Georgia clay. Miss Emma raised hogs and grew okra. She warned us about that lived in the blackberry bushes; then let us pick them anyway. No matter how many switches we were made to retrieve, we felt loved
All of us kids have become the “grown folks” and we now have kids of our own. The old folks do more porch-sitting than card slapping. And the children should be thankful that thunderstorms have uprooted all of the willow trees. When we return back home to attend graduations, Thanksgivings and funerals, somehow the good memories crowd out all of the reasons we left in the first place. What follows is peace. That peace comes from being around family again — those who know exactly who you are and they love you anyway.
Scenes from Tifton Georgia, USA