HAMPTON, GA – Georgia Hwy 3 is the main drag through town. If you’re headed north, the railroad is on your left and the storefronts are on your right. Long ago Harrison’s 5 & 10, Copeland’s Hardware and Marvin Daniel’s Grocery were as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror. I can still see them.
A lot of things have changed. Some buildings are almost unrecognizable. Some even gone. The old train depot still stands as a testimony to the days when the Nancy Hank used to carry passengers to exotic places like Atlanta.
A town like this sticks with you over time. The life I spent here seems like a hundred years’ worth of living. The people and even the town itself has left an imprint on me that sixty-something-years later has not gone away.
It’s kind of like the pencil lead in my left thigh. In first grade, Alan Anglin stuck a #2 pencil in my leg. I don’t remember why. Maybe I deserved it. I can still see the little black dot beneath the skin.
Hampton is like that. It’s always just beneath the surface of who I am. Nearly every time I sit in a chair to get my hair cut, I think about Byron Coker and Bazooka Bubble Gum. The little cartoons on the inside of the wrapper. Sometimes, when I go to the Post Office I wonder what it would be like to see Miss Alice Pendley behind the counter.
I recently gave up my two burial plots at the old Berea Cemetery. I always thought I would use them one day, but that’s not to be. I called Steve Nail. He and I used to play Little League ball together. He’s in charge of the cemetery board these days.
“Hey Steve. You probably know I’ve got two plots at the Berea Cemetery. I think it’s time I let them go. How do I do that?”
“I know exactly where they’re at. When I heard that your wife died, I went out there to mark them off. I just knew you’d be calling.”
“I know. Plans change. I won’t be needing them anymore.”
The disposal of those burial plots means that Mom and Dad are the last of my family that will ever be buried there. Selling those plots back to the cemetery is like cutting the last apron string. The homeplace sold years ago. My last physical attachment is gone.
I still feel like I’m a part of Hampton. I haven’t lived there since I got married in 1978 but the bonds a boy builds growing up never go away.
I learned the value of a handshake in that town. From the time I was probably five years old, my dad insisted that I shake a man’s hand and look him in the eye. It didn’t matter if I knew the man or not. If I was going to grow into a man’s shoes, I had to learn to greet a man in the proper way.
“Come on now. Hold your head up and give Mr. Marvin a good handshake.”
I’ve been fortunate to be a part of an agricultural industry most of my working life where a handshake still means something. A customer comes by the farm to pick up a few trees.
“Do you need me to sign a ticket?” he asks me.
“No sir. I know you’re good for it,” I’ll say. And we shake hands.
Having grown up the way I did, I’m convinced that it’s still possible to trust the people you know. It’s likely that honesty and integrity can still be found. I don’t care what the evening news cycle says, there’s more good folks out there than they’d like us to believe.
I think most smalltown folk are that way. We believe in getting to know the people around us. We like screened porches and ice cream churns. We prefer places where a boy can ride his bicycle and swim butt-naked in a farm pond. We like supper together at the table, and evenings sitting outside in the shade. We like fresh tomatoes and cold fried chicken.
I learned to be content with life in a place like Hampton. Simple things are enough for me. We never ate out much. Having supper out at a restaurant was unusual for us. When we went on our one vacation each year, we stayed at a small motel. We packed food in a cooler and found a shady spot by the road where we could eat lunch.
I know times and expectations are different now. I eat out way more than once in a blue moon these days. But there’s a simplicity to contentment with a small life that still runs deep in me. I don’t need opulent surroundings and an affluent lifestyle to be content.
I’m way more comfortable around a campfire than I am in a banquet hall. I drive a work truck and wouldn’t know what to do with a limo. I prefer my blue jeans to a black tie and stiff shirt any day of the week. I am more Andy Griffith than James Bond.
I will always be a son of Hampton. That won’t change. As I think about it, that might be a good phrase to put on my tombstone. “A Son of Hampton.” An obscure reference on a grave marker way down here in Pine Mountain. One small town to another.
If wishes were good for anything other than wishing, I’d wish my grandkids could grow up in a place like Hampton. But they don’t exist much anymore. The Hallmark versions of smalltown USA are hollow. Old storefronts everywhere have been turned into vape shops and antique malls. Filling stations have been replaced with convenience stores.
One of the reasons I have not yet been to a Buc-ee’s is that I don’t need or want to buy my gas, BBQ, and underwear all in one place. The convenience is there, but not the charm.
My strongest connection to Hampton remains the people I know who have hung in there and still call Hampton home. You know who you are. We all have memories of a town long ago that we value more than anything we own.
It’s a place where time stands still in our mind and its character is deeply rooted in our souls. Our schoolteachers. Our scout leaders. Our neighborhood moms. Our preachers. Our shopkeepers. Our coaches. Our streets. Our school. Our ballfields. Our filling stations. Our churches. Our forts in the woods. Our creeks. Our barns. Our backyards. Our friends. Our swimming holes. Our basketball hoops. Our gym. Our campouts. Our parties. Our games of spin the bottle. Our Fall Festivals. Our favorite streets for Trick or Treating. Our graduations. Our town.
I got my start in Hampton and I’ve carried a piece of it with me all these years. I know better than to try and go back. It wouldn’t be the same, which is okay. It shouldn’t be the same. Towns grow up like people do. They change.
But I have great memories of that life.
Those memories are enough.
2 thoughts on “Memories Are Enough”
Good one Paul. A Son of Flippen myself.
Beautiful, Paul. That brought back so many memories for me and, like you, those memories have never left me. I can remember more about my years growing up in Hampton than just about any other events in my life. I’ve had some great ones, for sure, but growing up in Hampton is right there at the top. Thanks for sharing that.