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…..

The Rick in the River-2015

As the sun goes down tonight and they are predicting snow, I can’t help but think how beautiful the morning was on this day. It was coolish…around 30 degrees, but that’s nothing to a guy who braves 25 degrees or lower to prowl flea markets hunting for junk. So I walked and had a go at some photos of familiar things. I know all of you my Facebook friends have seen these views many times, but for every day that passes there is a subtle difference. There is a tiny erosion of time in both me and the scenery. I feel different. I feel much differently about things than I did as a young boy. Things just don’t appear as bright and new as they did then.

I played and fished around this river all of my childhood. I put a hole in my shinbone on one of the limestone rocks in the river on the day Kennedy was shot, and happened to be home on that day to hear Walter Cronkite announce his death. I was trying to jump from one rock to another and didn’t quite make it with my left leg, and jammed it into one of the sharp limestone “knobs” on the rock.

It had been our lunchtime at school, I think about 11:15 a.m.,when I did it and Mr. Couey, one of my teachers had sent me home for medical attention. My Aunt Shelia Stuart was visiting us that week and I remember she and my Mom gasping at the news when it came on T.V. a little after 12:30 on that Friday afternoon. I don’t know whether my Aunt remembers it or not, but I do. So, I got this dime sized scar in my shin that I call my “Kennedy” scar.

It’s surprising that so much has changed in the years since then. I do however, look with a surprising amount of respect at that damn rock every time I go over the bridge which leads to the mill. I was allowed a glimpse of history and a long term memory because of it.

Red Rover

As first graders one of the first things the teachers taught us to do at recess was to “pick sides” to play games. Red rover, Tug of war, later on other team sports. We chose sides for tasks inside the classrooms. From the very beginning of our education, a hierchy was established. The same children were chosen by the “leaders” for the same sides every time. The same kids were picked last every time. We were taught to be devisive from the very start and it continued through our entire school career. After a while, it was something from which you could not break free.

Practically everything we do requires us to choose a side. Take a moment and think about it. I don’t have to name them all, you know of what I speak. Sides. Choose a side. Right or left. Red or Blue. Pro this, or pro that. “Red rover, red rover send Susie right over”

I was usually one of the last people picked for any team. I know why now. It was because I didn’t want to be on a side. I think maybe I just wanted to be an observer or maybe a referee. I never fit well on either side. I still don’t.

I think it was wrong of them to make us choose sides. Choosing teams would have been better. There is quite a difference you know.

The experience we obtain as we grow through childhood shapes our opinions for life. I have never changed my basic philosophy about things since I was a young man. I have pretended, and acted. I have conformed to rules with which I did not agree. I have assauged the feelings of many. I am none the worse for it because I know the real person who I am and I’m satisfied with my actions. On occasions I have had to choose sides. But I did not like it.

I live for the day when society does not demand we must hate one another for the side on which we have been picked, or with which we choose to affiliate. I’m afraid my frustrations or lack of patience may occasionally spill over into expression of opinions which may not be popular. For this I apologize in advance and beg you remember it’s just the way I was taught.

“Bum, bum, bum here we come blowing our bugles and beating our drums”