A Seventies Memory- The Death of a Stranger
Paula and I went to Canton, Georgia today to take the two Cocker Spaniels to the lady from the Cocker Spaniel of Georgia Rescue group. Instead of going down I-75 and cutting across on Hwy 20 we went the “old” way on Hwy 140.
This is kind a trip down memory lane for us, as we used to come this way quite often between 1970 and 1974 when we lived in Athens. We didn’t really care for the ride on the Interstate back then so we sought out several more “scenic” routes to travel from Athens back “home” to Trion. This drive takes you through Waleska, Georgia where beautiful little Reinhardt College is located. What a pristine and pretty little campus, plunked down right in the center of rural outback Georgia. Even now, Waleska is much as it was back in the 70’s. Can’t say the same for Canton though.
At one time, the entire ride from Athens to Trion or back using these old “back road” routes was pretty much like an extended ride in the county. Canton use to be a tiny little mill town like Trion, before Atlanta crept up on it from the South like a tortoise who comes on slowly but surely and in the end wins the race. Canton is much more like a bedroom community for Atlanta now, with even the old Canton Cotton mill building turned into apartments. Wow….things really have changed.
We used to sometimes come this way in the evenings after work when we were coming home. It was beautiful back then….so starkly dark you could spot “shooting stars” from inside the car at night. The roads are mountainous and curvy and I always was careful and took my time, even as a “young an’” back then. One night as we were going up the first big hill outside of Canton a little red sports car came flying around us on a double yellow line. “Dang,” I said “If that guy don’t know these roads he’s liable to get killed” Prophetic…and quickly so.
As we drove on, just another couple of miles we saw a huge flash of light up ahead lighting up the night sky. “What the hell…” I muttered. As we rounded a steep curb we saw the reason. The little red sports car hadn’t mad the curb and had overturned and slammed into the harsh mountain rocks sticking out from the curb. The car was fully in flames…so hot that we could barely stand the heat even from the other side of the road. We could see the guy in the upside down car, immobile and burned in the driver’s seat. “Oh my God” my wife said.
It was a lonely and desolate Friday night and there was not much traffic on highway 140 back then. No other cars passing to flag down. No cell phones back then. I didn’t have anything resembling a fire extinguisher…and even if I had I could never have gotten close. We decided to go as quickly as possible to the next house, which was a new trailer on the right hand side of the road about a mile away. We frantically knocked and told them what had happened and they called the sheriff’s department. We decided not to stay. It wasn’t that we didn’t care, but there was nothing that we could have done. We didn’t know the driver, we were not actual witnesses of the accident, and we did not want to go back to that horrific scene. My wife especially, did not. I gave the people at the trailer my name and my folk’s phone number and told them to tell the police if they needed us to call. They never did. I’m guessing my explanation to the owner of the trailer was sufficient to what they found.
We went back that exact same route today, and relived that day. We talked about it again, and how so much time had passed, yet that memory was fresh. The same trailer was still there…had been built onto several times over the years and looks well lived in, now 40 years later. Forty years. Yet I still have that image in my head of that man or boy’s body in that burning car. I can still feel the heat at that curve and feel a little uneasy looking at the rocks there, which bore the blackened marks of fire for many years. My wife remembers jumping up in the bed at my folk’s house several times that night when the gas heater would light up.
I’ve never witnessed that happening again during my entire driving career from that day til now, and I hope I never will. Somebody’s son died that night. Maybe somebody’s brother. I believe it was a young man, so he could have been a student or someone just starting out in a working career in life. Wasted, because he had a red sport’s car that he couldn’t control going around a curve. I never tried to find out who it was. I didn’t want to know. I still don’t. I feel some sense of guilt because of what I said as the driver passed us going up the hill…..