The title of this blog might sound like science fiction, but I assure you it isn’t. Rather it’s a voyage back in time; my father’s time…and he took me along for the ride and what I saw was a glimpse at what his life was like growing up in La Grange, Georgia during the 1940s. Oh sure, I had heard those stories several times during my childhood. I’d even seen most of the same places before…but not since I was a child. As we so often do when we’re young, I simply nodded and said, “That’s cool, Dad” but all the while I was wishing we’d get the heck out of there and go do something fun.
This time was different—this time I saw La Grange from my father’s eyes, from his era, from his perspective… and this time I understood. Most of us (my generation anyway) were bored of hearing those stories about our parents’ generation walking to school in the rain (and sometimes snow) uphill—both ways. After retracing my father’s childhood steps I realized, believe it or not, it was uphill both ways. As a matter of fact, up several hills…to school and back home again.
Of course, there are several stories of him walking home from the store…carrying bags of groceries in his arms…over a mile, but I won’t bore you with them…although now I view each and everyone of them as precious crystals from my father’s hour glass. One that unfortunately has more sand at the bottom than the top.
Why the tribute to my father at this time…well, he’s about to turn 79 and he isn’t getting any younger and his health isn’t getting any better. Time does that you know, and I am only a generation behind myself. I realize time does slip away and my time on this earth with him resides mostly in the past. Besides, I can’t think of a single person who has had a more significant impact on my life than my father. The bond between fathers and sons is forged with tough love and compassion. Rules that must never be broken or the consequences were swift and sometimes harsh. Words that never have to be said, they’re just understood…even though they are said from time to time. Successes and failures. Good times and bad. Rewards and punishments. Criticism and praise. A love of immeasurable bounds.
My voyage back in time began as my wife and I were planning to go visit my parents for their 57th anniversary at their home in Florida in late June. My father suggested instead we meet for a few days in Pine Mountain, Georgia (home of Callaway Gardens) or Warm Springs, Georgia (home of FDR’s Little White House). He located a log cabin halfway in between which worked out great. Also, we were only about 25 miles from La Grange.
Shortly after we arrived it seemed clear my father wanted to spend a day showing us his old haunts in La Grange. I could read it on his face when he talked about it and, unlike when I was young, this time I actually looked forward to the trip. I gazed into his crystal ball and experienced the 1940s & early 1950s from his eyes.
As he drove us around this small town in which time seemed to have forgotten, he got frustrated with all the new one-way streets in downtown La Grange. I had to smile; the streets had probably been designated one-way years ago but nonetheless, it was a little amusing to listen to him narrate the tour while he repeatedly attempted to turn down the wrong streets (or wrong-way streets). His memory is still sharp, he remembered exactly where everything was—getting there was an adventure at times.
After showing us several of the houses he had lived in with his mother and brother, (most of which had given themselves to the years and had fallen in disrepair…or were just gone) he took us by his old high school. He smiled when he saw it. At least some things hadn’t changed.
Hunger pangs set in, so we went to a place he’d frequented many times when he was young…Charlie Joseph’s Grill…or CJ’s as he called it. I asked him if he remembered it and he said, “Oh yeah. It looks exactly the same…(long pause while he takes a bite of hotdog)…except there’s a lot more stuff on the walls.” Look at these pictures and you’ll understand.
After lunch he drove us around a bit more and we ultimately found ourselves at La Grange College. I’m sure this was preplanned! We were greeted outside “The Quadrangle” (does every college have a Quad?) by a member of the college’s administrative staff named Martha Pirkle who reminisced with my father about his years at the college. She brought out some old yearbooks and my father and Ms Pirkle updated each other on some of the people they both knew. Unfortunately, the number of his old classmates diminishes each year.
He reminisced some more on the drive back to the cabin and, even though he was tired, I could tell he was thinking of days of old, yesteryear, times long since gone by, and friends that had passed before him. No one likes getting older and I could tell it was a bittersweet visit. So many childhood memories flooding back and, growing up poor, not all of them good ones. He learned to do without many things that we, and certainly I, take for granted…and took for granted growing up.
This was more than a transfer of information from one generation to another, it was an insight into a man I have always been proud of. My father took me on a trip back in time—his time. And it’s a trip I will never forget.
Perhaps that was his plan all along.
Sneaky old codger!