Friday Firesmith – Blakely

If you don’t think memory is a weird thing all that needs to be done is to visit some place from the distant past, or better yet, watch a beloved movie that hasn’t been seen in a decade or two. When I was a small child, it was nothing for the kids from the neighborhood to get together on a Saturday, bike all the way downtown, and pay a dime to see a movie. All those old Westerns with Clint Eastwood in them were common fare, but I also saw my first R rated movie there; if you had a dime, they would sell you a ticket.
They also had Disney movies, long after their release in big cities, but I remember watching “Herbie” in that little theater, and that’s the last Disney movie I remember. That was 1968, when I was eight years old.
The last movie I saw there was in 1973, “The Exorcist” and it scared me worse than any movie I had ever seen or would ever see.

The theater closed at some point soon after that movie, and I left Blakely Georgia. I returned when I got a job in the area in 1992, and it was very strange to walk those streets again. I went to the closed theater and stood in front of the box office, where I had stood hundreds of times before, and suddenly, it had shrunk. The counter was much lower than it had been, and the office much smaller. The double doors leading into the theater were boarded up, and the place smelled of decay.

There was a five and dime next door to the theater on one side, and Gray’s Jewelry on the other. Redding’s drug store was across the street, and suddenly, I can’t remember what was next door to the drug store, wait, yeah, the dance studio, that taught little girls ballet, that was there.
I can’t remember the name of the five and dime, but it had everything. It was built out of the same wood as Noah’s Ark, and as kids, we would pad around barefoot. The wood floors were cool and smooth after we had walked on hot pavement, and going into town was an adventure.

1992 was an odd year. I didn’t remember what was there in Blakely, only what wasn’t. Storefront after storefront was closed, or infected with a Speedy Loan store, or something transient. I didn’t know the owners, or their kids, or their dogs. I was an alien with memories and nothing more. I crossed the street to where the Courthouse was, and still is, and remembered, bits and pieces, of what had been, and wondered at what point things were forgotten until I saw some fragment of the past.

There, on the corner, was a gas station, that turned into the bus station, and now is empty. Down the road, heading east was the Piggly Wiggly, and across from it was Davenport’s Garage, which exploded one morning, and killed three people. And it broke every window within a mile, including every window downtown. Go past that and there was a meat locker, the VFW, the fairgrounds, and finally, the city limits. I went past that sign one day and was no longer a part of the town. I never wanted to be again.

I haven’t set foot in that town since 2013, and only then for a funeral, and only for a few hours. Going back now, with most of my friends gone, dead, or ghost haunting their own pasts, it’s pointless. But I have to admit, standing there in 1992, with a dime in my hand, and leaving it on the counter, I felt like a kid again, about to go in and see a movie. Barefoot, with shorts and a tee-shirt, a coke in one hand and a box of candy in the other, life was as good as it could have been, and just for a few moments, I could taste it.

Take Care,
Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

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10 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – Blakely”

  1. I revisited my Elementary School when I was about 40 years old. The huge stage at the end of the cafeteria was just barely bigger than my living room is now, and the drinking fountains that I remember tiptoeing up to reach were just a bit higher than my knees.
    A year later, we visited my wife’s Elementary School in another town, and she described the two level playground where she could go to the lower level and be in complete privacy and out-of-sight from the teachers. When we arrived, the two levels were two steps apart with only a gentle slope in between.
    The mind still believes the viewpoint seen as a child until you can see, in person, how your viewpoint has changed.

    • Danny, it’s like there’s some black magic that shrinks the world we thought was so big. But it’s our bodies that change, certainly, but mostly, as you pointed out, the mind.

  2. You remember what you need and file away what you’re aware of, but don’t think you’ll need, in the spam file. That information is automatically deleted after thirty days if not referenced.
    We see changes around us all the time, sometimes small like the shutters got painted on the Smith house, or a paved driveway at the Jones. Sometimes bigger like six new houses on the hay field down the road. But it happens over time while our lives go on.
    When we go away and return all those changes smack us in the kisser all at once. You can’t remember what was here or there because it doesn’t matter now, nor did it matter then or it wouldn’t have gone in the spam file.

    Everything is transient… especially us.

  3. I think our childhood memories are based when we were much shorter than we are now (except for people like one kid who was the same height when we graduated high school as he was in kindergarten). When we revisit, our perspective is off because of this–you were, say, 4’8″ the last time you paid a dime to see a movie; now you are 6’2″ standing in front of the closed theater.

    After many years, I went back to my hometown a couple of years ago. I had time, so I drove past three of the four houses we lived in while I was growing up (my folks left a few years after I graduated college). Two of the three houses looked empty. One was a little ranch house–across the street from it was a nice house, a hanger, and a grass runway. I only knew the widower–it was her husband that was the pilot. Now that nice open area is a strip mall with a car parts store, a discount store (like a Dollar General) and a few others.

    I remember not having to lock our doors unless we left town–but the town only had about 3,300 people in it; now it has about doubled and things have changed. Accepting that change is hard.

  4. Tim, back about two years before we left my childhood home in Blakely, some one built a house between our house and our neighbor’s house. There was a vacant lot there, sure, but there was so much space available elsewhere we could never figure out what someone would build so close to two other houses. We never did know. The couple who built the house were from out of town, and looking for a place to retire, and had never even seen the site before they bought it. In many ways, those people, that house, was the beginning of the end of childhood. We had buried pets in that vacant lot, all of us. We used it to get from one side of the neighborhood to the other, and suddenly there was a fence.

    Now, in their neighborhood, no vacant lots exist at all. Houses are crowded together, and there’s a cup de sac where there was once a field.

  5. I can’t tell you where I would call home exactly, we moved around some.There are a couple of places I wouldn’t mind seeing again. The place we lived in Germany. I hear it’s completely gone. We were living in old WWI Nazi officer quarters complete with bunker entrances in the basement, and maid’s quarters. We lived there in the early 80’s before the wall came down, I’m sure everything about the town has changed, I’d love to see it.
    There are places I’m sure haven’t changed a bit. The little sundown town I lived in probably hasn’t changed much. Hopefully the attitudes have. I googled it a few weeks ago, it looks like the population and the demographics are about the same. I remember a Native American boy being in my class one year, I made friends with him. My teacher told me to be more careful about choosing my friends. That family didn’t stay in town very long, I know as an adult,what I didn’t know as a child, they probably faced the same discrimination as the little girl in my last story about that town.
    Yeah no way I’d ever go there again. I hope those people have moved on from that mindset

    • Chick, sometimes I think having a home town is not so much as an anchor but an anvil, weighing you down. You’ve got so much history in one place you can get bogged down by reliving it. On the other hand, some people seem to thrive in a place they never left, but I cannot see that, really.

      It would be nice if you had photos of the place in Germany!!!!!

      • I’ve got a few, but I’ve googled that place as well. I lived in Mainz. They have a fabulous Dom. Construction was started on it in 975, it was dedicated the first time in 1009. That in itself is mind blowing to me.
        The square off the Dom is where they hold the farmer’s market every Saturday, and I used to go there every week and buy fresh produce. I had my favorite vendors. I honestly didn’t want to return to the US. I think I have more good memories there than of any other place we lived. Most people hate going to new places, I loved it.

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