I was trolling around my old stomping grounds yesterday. I had to drive up to Haisten-McCullough funeral home in Griffin to take care of a little business. Still a solum affair for me, but better every day, if you know what I mean.
It was a little past noon and I thought I’d ride up to Southern Pit BBQ and grab some lunch. Just south of unincorporated Pamona, which lies between Experiment, GA and Sunny Side. This joint sits back off the road a piece, tucked in under a canopy of trees. Old farm implements sitting around the edge of the parking lot, which is always crowded with plumbers’ trucks, power company trucks, old men trucks, and a few dogs patiently waiting in the bed of trucks.
As I was traveling up US 19/41, I see the old bowling alley to my right. I took many a date to that place. Hung out with friends. Threw a ton of gutter balls. Slipped a quarter in the slot and played endless games of bumper pool. This was in the day before computerized score keeping when you had to know something about how run a score card with a cut-off pencil. I rolled a 185 one time. My highest score ever. In other words, I stunk.
I walked into Southern Pit and a teenager with acne seated me at a table up against the ice machine. My waitress came by. Pencil and pad in hand. “Hey Hon! You eating by yourself today? What can I get you?” She must have filled my tea glass 14 times and called me Hon every time.
When I sit in a place like this, this close to “home”, I always think there’s a chance that I’ll see someone I know. I don’t know why I think I would recognize anyone after being gone for over 40 years, but I’m convinced I would. Older versions of folks I used to know well. Is that So & So over there? The face looks familiar. Naw, probably not.
The one thing that has not changed is the locomotive that runs the track mounted to the wall around the entire dining room. An engine with the light on, four freight cars and a caboose. The clicky-clack is a reminder to me that some things seem never to change.
I check my watch. One of things I’m here to do is to pick up a piece of equipment for the farm from Mason Tractor, over in McDonough. I’m supposed to call them around 1:00 to see if it’s going to be ready. I’m walking Max around the yard out front of the restaurant and talking to the lady on the phone. Everyone’s out to lunch and she wants to know if I can call back in an hour.
Time to kill. I text a buddy of mine to see if he’s around. But he’s tied up for the day.
So, I ride on up to the cemetery behind the old Berea Church in Hampton. It’s misting rain. A perfect setting for walking around the family plots. My great grandfather, born in 1860, is the oldest from our clan. I notice that several of the married folks from among my uncles and cousins have twenty years between their ages, which I never really thought about. My grandfather’s marker is crooked. I need to come back and fix that. Paul Kimbell, my name’s sake.
I suppose there are some people who go to the graves of family to talk to them, which I’ve always thought of as good for a movie script but not really my kind of thing. So, it was odd that I stood in front of my parents’ headstone and told them about Beth. I’m not sure they thought we would ever make it when we first announced that we were going to get married. I took this opportunity to tell them, “I told you so.” They loved her awkwardly, but they did love her.
It was only a 3 mile drive out Locust Grove Road to the homeplace. I was waiting to call the service manager at Mason again. I figured I’d ride out to do a quick drive-by and see what it looked like. There were no vehicles around, so I pulled into the drive and parked. It was strange to feel like I didn’t belong there. Like someone could show up and ask me what business I had on their property.
The pastures looked good. Recently mowed. The yard was clean. Every bush ever planted around that house was gone. Cut to the ground. The woodshed was gone. One of the Walnut trees was gone. A Maple that Dad and I had planted years ago was gone. It was like a part of our existence had just disappeared. Still familiar but different to my memories.
I wasn’t going to get out of my truck. I had no business being here. But, I used Max as an excuse, telling myself he needed “to go”. I walked around to the back of the house. I stole a couple of ripe figs off the fig bush. At least it was still there. The smokehouse was there with a padlock on the door. That door had never been locked in my life. Just a hook and latch.
The old barn used to be visible from the back yard, but over last 10 years of neglect the thickets around it had grown so that it was hidden from view. I wondered if it was still there. This barn is the iconic place holder of my childhood memories. Hay in the loft. A milk cow in the stall. Bottle feeding calves in the crib. Loading cows to take to the sale barn in Jackson.
I walked down the two-tire-marked lane to take a look. I had to blink hard at the clearing in front of me. The barn was gone. Bare dirt covered in leaves beneath the canopy of massive Pecan and Oak trees. The only trace of its existence was a wooden brace caught up in the roots of a large Sweetgum. A piece of a rusted metal plow sticking up out of the ground, hidden by a tangle of honeysuckle vines off to one side.
What used to seem so permanent to me had vanished. Which is kind of what our existence on this earth is like when you think about it. I’ve heard the old folks say all my life that nothing lasts forever. Paul Kimbell built that barn in the early 1900’s. This Paul now stands in the middle of its absence.
The challenge is to move on when things disappear, I guess. The living have a responsibility to carry on. So, I live with the memories, not in them. I cherish every memory of this place. Every memory of my time with Beth. The clock goes off and I still get up to make coffee. I still know how to laugh and play games with my grandkids. I tell them the stories. Like this one.
Because, as long as the memories live on, nothing really ever disappears.