South Georgia was once part of a Confederacy and in many ways it still is. It is as if some committee form and drew up plans for each and every small town, and by decree decided all of them would be very much the same place. The List Of Requirements include a cotton gin or peanut mill which has massive red brick warehouses, a two square where the traffic was once both ways, in a sort of vehicular free for all, but now one way, and a decaying town center, where all the buildings have a red brick façade, and very little hope.
Every once in a while some state route will be improved, or someone will write a grant, or there will be some one cent sales tax plan to revitalize downtown South Georgia. Fresh paint will cover the bricks once more, there will be an explosion of advertising and new shops will open in the same graves as the old ones. The streets will be repainted to improve parking, duct work will be installed to allow for air conditioning of the old buildings, and like a circus come to town everyone will come to see what all the noise is about, but that’s about all.
There will always be a parts store, a post office, a beauty shop of sorts, and maybe some clothing store, or some family owned business that can afford to pay the damaged daughter without a husband or a future less than minimum wage to baby sit the store eight hours a day. South Georgia isn’t a launching pad for the best and brightest by any means, and without an education, without some skill, without the ways and means for escape, there are those who never leave home, never escape the gravitational pull of their childhood bedroom, and never get past the red brick facades. Those who were not able to escape grow up to be in charge, elected by virtue of being well known, and less disliked than those who grew up here as well, try to change things, to create a new world out of the old, but no amount of effort can change South Georgia, short of nuclear weapons.
The courthouse in the town square will have a memorial or two, some statue to the fallen war dead, and perhaps some stone placard denoting this was the place where something interesting occurred once, long ago, or so we’re told. The old oak trees that push the sidewalks up are removed, and the benches under them sit idle, deprived of shade and tired souls. The streets are widened, the grass median in the middle paved over, and it looks all the world like a tiny boy, dressed up in a grown man’s clothing, trying to get a real job, instead of playing in the red dirt.
There will always be a church on every corner, and the people who pay for the upkeep of these places want to live in a better town, and want there to be better things but they have an aversion to change that borders on pathological. Let a restaurant serve alcohol on Sundays? This question causes some to turn red in the face, and their breathing quickens. Nevermind the people who want to drink are going to drink, but the idea of someone buying a drink on Sunday, well, that’s the evil part. Family restaurants open and close like greasy insects with short lives, and those who claim to want something new are actually looking for more or the same presented to them differently.
The brickwork here in South Georgia, when it isn’t the same boxed building with layer upon layer or red brick on layers of red brick, can be spectacular. The artistry and skill of some of the old craftsmen are gone now, and each year their work becomes less valued as the buildings they created become remuddled and reused. Converse apartments in Valdosta had some of the best brickwork known to mankind until they were torn down for a used car lot. The sides of the building were sloped into flumes for the rainwater to pour from like waterfalls, and fell into catch basins also formed for red brick. They were built during a time students would, and could, walk a couple of miles to the college, but as more and more people had their own cars, there was not enough parking spaces. I watched someone dig some of the bricks out of a catch basin, so they could use them to prop up a grill, and suddenly I knew why people took stones from the Great Pyramid to build goat pens. The past isn’t important to those with needs in the present.
My grandmother’s sister had a hardware store in Rochelle Georgia. The ceilings were tall, the floors were dark wood that creaked when someone walked on them, and the air had a scent of oil and work. The two ancient ceiling fans were all the cooling it ever needed, and no one ever complained about the heat, well, except in a general sense. All the stores closed at lunch on Thursdays, just because they all did, and no one ever thought about going out of town to shop. There was always a grocery store, a hardware store, a barber shop, a bank, some sort of clothing store or two, and there was rarely any business that failed. These people, those who owned the shops back then, never lived to see any change in South Georgia, and I seriously doubt anyone else will either.