April 14, 2015

Twenty-five years later, Wayne County still is and will be home

For several years, our corporate office was in downtown Athens, 
across the street and diagonal to City Hall where another 
Jesup native, Alan Reddish, is Athens-Clarke County’s manager. 
The historic Civil War double-barrel cannon, on the corner of 
College Ave. and Hancock Ave. pointed at my desk.  I’d look out my office window 
and think: “If that thing ever fires, again, I’ll be blown 
all the way back to South Georgia.” 
     Sitting in Jerry Mosley’s barber chair, you get more than a haircut.  The squat, concrete-block building, in the alley behind Cherry Street, is the 50-yard line of chatter and miscellaneous information.  But when I told my high school classmate that I was moving from Jesup, he gasped, dropping his hands to his side.  Before he lifted the comb and scissors again, he said, “Man, I thought Manuel Noriega (the infamous Panamanian dictator) would have moved here before you ever left.”
     That was 25 years ago.
     Life-changing decisions are rarely simple, and uprooting my family wasn’t easy.  So, why did we move to Athens?  As much as I loved Wayne County, I hated the idea of missing any of our children’s growing-up years.  Our company had expanded over several states.  Staying in Jesup would have meant leaving on Monday—most weeks—and returning on Friday.  I couldn’t imagine missing Little League games, dance recitals and suppertime banter around the kitchen table.
     You get one chance with your children—before they leave home—and I didn’t want to miss that chance.  That meant our family needed to move to the geographic center of our newspapers, so I could make mostly day trips and be home in the late afternoons.  Around our oval oak kitchen table—on the corner of Ninth and Newcastle—suppertime became the forum for us to talk about where we’d go. 
     My first suggestion was Rabun County.  I painted a picture of living on a mountain lake, something entirely different from our customary piney flat woods.  My excitement was not universal, so I pitched living on Lake Lanier, with the mountains on the horizon.  Again, I was trying to create an adventure, giving them a totally different environment.  Alan’s, Emily’s and Eric’s faces cast their votes of rejection without ever opening their mouths.
     That’s when I asked, “Well, where would you like to live?”
     I’m not sure which one said it first, but it was clear that Athens was their choice.  Since their toddler days, they’d been packed into Oldsmobile station wagons and ferried up and down Highway 15 from Jesup to Athens—430 miles round-trip. They knew all the pit stops, including Holcomb’s Barbecue in White Plains.  It wasn’t a Bulldog football Saturday unless they shuffled their feet in sawdust on Holcomb’s floor while chomping on a bun filled with hickory-smoked pork.
     I think it was 14-year-old Emily who painted the picture for me.  With wide, expressive blue eyes, she said, “Dad, you know we love Jesup.  This is home, the only place we’ve ever known.  But we know we need to move, if we are going to be the kind of family we want to be.  Going to Athens will be like moving across town.  We know so many people there.  It’ll be the best of both worlds.  We’ll have all our old friends here, and we’ll have all our friends there.”
“Besides, Dad,” Alan said, “if we are going to move, now is the time.  Emily’s going into high school next year, and Eric will be in middle school.”  He insisted that he could spend his senior year in North Georgia.  Pam and I questioned him, but the soon-to-be-17-year-old stood firm.  He was ready to do what was best for all five of us.  A few years after the move, my dad said, “We see more of you now than when you lived across the street from us.”

     Looking back to 1990, our children were right.  Athens is the perfect location for our company’s headquarters. Emily was spot-on in her predictions. Our Athens friends—old and new—have made us feel welcome—very welcome.   And Jesup will always be home.  A D-8 Caterpillar couldn’t bulldoze our souls out of South Georgia or pull us away from our hometown friends.  In fact, it’s about time to roll down Highway 15 and turn left in Baxley on Highway 341, so I can climb into Jerry’s chair and hear what’s happening.