Penny Cliff Guest Columnist
November 5, 2013
The blast of a car horn is heard behind you. Depending on where you are, depends on your reaction. If in a big city, you’ve probably inadvertently done something wrong. But if in a small town, wave. Even if you don’t know who is in the car, wave, smile and continue on. Because somewhere, somehow, they do know you. I know; this happened to me when I first moved here. That’s what I like about living in a small community, the friendly honking, the “Hey;” the questions about the family.
It’s been 14 years that I have lived in Thomaston, the longest I’ve lived anywhere, and the only small community I’ve ever lived in. Now, I’ve been spoiled. I like the south and I certainly favor small communities. I thoroughly enjoy visiting large cities with all that they have to offer, but at the end of the day, I want to come back home, to Thomaston. Just taking a walk downtown in any small community, gives me a sense of peace and refreshment. Particularly our own.
On nice days, I like to walk to the post office to pick up the mail. Being somewhat familiar with our history, on these walks, I see in my mind where the mules used to be tethered; the stories of long ago and what happened in certain buildings or places. Familiarity with Thomaston’s history, adds to the pleasantness of a downtown stroll. But it is the small town interaction that I enjoy the most. I usually have a walking “route.” Travelling down Hightower Street, I’ll see people sitting outside on their porch; I’ll wave, sometimes stop for a few minutes to chat and then pet the dog; then it’s off down the sidewalk into the history of this street where the mica plants once existed that helped in the war effort during WWII. The historian in me takes in what is there now, knowing that one day, it will be something different. I not only “smell the roses” (I really do); but take in the fragrance of our history along with the architecture as these local stories seep through my mind on this walk. I’ll peer up into windows, to admire the beautiful leaded glass from the late 19th century, knowing that this used to be the City Drug store whose employees took milkshakes to those waiting in the cars. And years before that, on this corner, wagons were sold. So many stories. So much history.
Once on my walk back from getting the mail, I was staring up at the courthouse silhouetted against a gorgeous blue sky (we do have one of the most beautiful courthouses in the south), noting something I hadn’t seen before and making a mental note to find out about it. Of course, when someone is looking up, everyone else follows. “What is it you see?” asked a passerby. I made the mistake of actually telling him. I don’t think he was into history. Next time, I’ll just say “Admiring the courthouse.”
The post office, with the friendly behind-the-counter personnel, makes my day. It is always enjoyable to chat for a few minutes about fun times with family or friends with our hometown postal employees. Of course, I inevitably meet someone that I know. I’ve even run into people that were on their way to the Thomaston Upson Archives , where I work, to bring something; they honk the horn outside the Post office (and after 14 years, I know to stop and look), to give me piece of history to take back on my return. “I was just on my way to see you,” has happened countless times at these Post office interactions.
I head back to work a different way. I wave in the window or open door of the barber shop, and travel toward the fellows who know all that is going on in the world. There is nothing that speaks of the warmth of downtown Thomaston than the retired guys sitting outside on a bench solving the problems of the world. Seeing them reminds me of the stories from the 30s and 40s of men playing checkers around the square. Such continuation of history is comforting. Then, it’s crossing Hightower and Center Street toward the Archives. Invariably, someone will honk their horn.
I turn and wave, even if I can’t see who it is.