From time-to-time, folks ask what makes Barrow County special. Why do natives so fondly remember the people and places of our community? Who was the kid who put soap suds in The Peoples Bank drive-in fountain every Saturday night? What exactly is “Nodoroc”? How did Sweet Gum Alley get its nickname when there’s barely – if any – sweet gum trees on it? Is there really such a creature as a “Wog”? Why is Broad Street in Statham so, well, broad?
The “special” is the intangible quality of our hometowns that endear themselves to you though you just may not be able to put your finger on them. It’s not so much the building where something happened, but the event that took place there. Or maybe it was the people involved in the event. Maybe the site is special only because so many memorable things happened there even if the place is now little more than a dump. Perhaps that event could have happened anywhere, but because of the memory you have of what took place there, that run down shack has taken on Taj Mahal status.
On a recent visit to Oklahoma City, my great nieces and nephews were puzzled about who was whom in the various family stories we have a tendency to recycle whenever we all get together. What was so-and-so like when they were my age? What did so-and-so look like when they were young? Tell me about the old elementary school where you went to school.
The one that breaks my heart from these kids is the inevitable question - “What was my granddaddy like?” My oldest brother died in 1995 when the eldest of my nephew’s children was barely 18 months old. Her three younger siblings had not yet been born. Trying to share with these precious children who their grandfather was and how much he would have loved and shared with them is a monumental task, but one I want to share with them whenever possible.
We have a family video my parents had assembled after Haase’s death. It’s a compilation of all the old Super 8 movies shot from about the time I was two years old -- there was no real reason to bother getting a camera before then – through the toddlerhood of the two eldest grandchildren. The family history those reels contained not only told the story of our childhood, but also offer glimpses into the childhood events of others who marched in the Christmas parades, sang in the Winder First Methodist Church kid choirs, performed in a church play, were in school with any of us, were related to us, lived on our street, attended one of our birthday parties, or was in Scouts with any of us. They are priceless pieces of Americana – records of the latest and greatest trends by Levi Strauss, Pappagallo, and Studebaker, as well as hairstyles mimicked today in off-the-shelf versions in the Halloween section of the party store.
Little girls my age wore starched cotton dresses embroidered with tiny flowers and fluffed by crinolines out to here. Our short white gloves, Mary Janes, and lace-trimmed white socks completed our Sunday best – and, of course, had to be filmed for posterity.
My brothers and their compatriots seemed always to be attired in horizontal-striped shirts, “dungarees”, scrubbed faces and slicked hair (Bryl-creem, a little dab’ll do ya). Little Lord Fauntleroy had nothing on these dapper young men even if they were in denim, not velvets.
And, oh my goodness, have you taken a look at the yearbook pictures from the 1950s and early 60s? Little tacky hair bows stuck all over our heads, deep flip hairstyles plastered with so much spray cement, crisp cotton blouses tucked into straight skirts beneath which white bobby socks accompanied the ever present saddle oxfords or penny loafers. Some of these fashion statements bring about a serious case of the cringe today, but they’re a hoot to recall.
We put off telling the stories of our towns because we figure there’s always time. Then we wonder why someone else didn’t think the old school building was special. That’s because – to them – it was just an old building. To those of us who went to school there, it contained a virtual vault of memories. Now the former hallway into the “new” building is boarded up like an amputated limb – ugly, misshapen, forlorn – and why? Because we didn’t tell enough people why it should be saved. They weren’t from around here; why should they care?
The real question is: How much do YOU care?
Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.