Being a Barrow County native, it was my privilege – or curse, according to some among the Great Unwashed – to have been born and raised in Winder. It certainly is not a bad thing to be from Winder or Barrow County, for that matter, as there are some marvelous people here. But I distinctly recall having to defend the place of my birth as my horizons expanded during the Sixties and Seventies and people from outside our little county entered my social circle.
For some reason, we were at the low end of the social food chain – even beneath Jacksonians who actually prided themselves in the roadside ripped-off hubcap displays next to signs pointing the way to the Crawford W. Long Museum in Jefferson. I’m sure Dr. Long was not acquainted with some of the finer distillers who called rural Jackson County their headquarters or he might have discovered an even more effective anesthetic even earlier.
Oh, and heaven forbid we be taunted by a Gwinnettian. Why, I can remember that our little group wouldn’t have been caught dead at a dogfight in Lawrenceville - that place was so loaded with rednecks back in the Sixties and Seventies. What a dump!
That hot wirin’, tobacco chewin’, moonshine makin’ blood runs throughout north Georgia just as sure as the granite outcroppings of Stone Mountain, so one would have to move several states away to escape our particular brand of redneck – one that I appreciate today as much as I tried to close the door on it three decades ago.
I spent my college years in Athens, the Classic City, my mother’s stomping ground. During my four-year paid vacation at the University of Georgia, I worked hard to cast off some of my redneck roots. I wanted desperately to be more sophisticated, more cosmopolitan – things I couldn’t pull off with a Mac truck.
Gwinnett County began to advance back in the late Seventies and, by 1985, had catapulted into the realm of faux sophisticate as corporations and their associated executives from exotic locations like California, New York, St. Louis, and Memphis cast their eyes upon the North Atlanta suburbs as likely candidates for their relocation plans. We moved to Suwanee for a better job and stayed there for the next 21 years. My daughter was educated in Gwinnett County schools. I conducted my manufacturer’s representative business from my north Gwinnett County base, and we were active in our church and the extended community as much as a major metropolitan area permits. When we moved to Suwanee in 1985, there was nothing there but the Suwanee Package Store, the Falcon Inn, Porkland Express – the Falcons’ second home - and the Chevron station. By 2006, Suwanee was one of the 10 Best Places to Live in the U.S., had grown from just under 500 residents to sprawled over three counties and Dogfight Lawrenceville had become this up-and-coming little urban shopping and entertainment oasis. We were thirty minutes from downtown Atlanta so we were close enough to take advantage of the sights and sounds of the city, but far enough away to get home in a hurry to relative peace and tranquility.
Despite all that, Barrow County still beckoned from time-to-time. We would come to visit the Parental Units and attend church with them for special family occasions since we were firmly entrenched in our church, first, in Suwanee and, later, in Sugar Hill. We didn’t get the Barrow County poop unless the Parentals were forthcoming, so it was with no small amount of surprise to return in 2006 to discover some things would never change while others were unrecognizable. Iconic buildings of my childhood had fallen victim to fire, neglect, or demolition; they only exist in memory if photos cannot be found, but it’s hard to explain to my husband and daughter the significance these places held for me. Even rural Jackson County’s wooden ramshackle lean-tos with hubcaps wavin’ in the breeze have fallen prey to Acme freeze-dried fast food joints – just add water and – poof – it’s a building with a 10-year lifespan. At least the lean-tos had character and personality.
My roots are here. My great-great-great grandparents settled over in the Sante Fe community on Double Bridges Road back in the 1700s, so I’m the sixth generation to live in the area we now call Barrow County. We came back to be close to my parents so we could benefit from their wisdom, get stuff out of the basement or attic, and change the wall clocks twice a year when the time changes.
What a privilege to be back home. Now if we can just keep some of the brick-and-mortar reminders around to contribute to our future, it’ll feel more like the home I remember.
Helen Person is a Winder resident and columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.