No matter which way I go, it seems to always take two hours to get to Mama and my Uncle Bobby.
It may only be around 60 something odd miles, but Mapquest never accounts for weekenders coming to the mountains for the weekend or day trips, or just the amount of traffic that seems to fill the roads as everyone tries to get to their various events.
I’ve somehow managed to be around two hours away from what is home ever since I left.
When I moved away after my first marriage, I was around two hours away.
Once, it was over four when a bad accident shut down I-85 for a few hours.
I had planned on moving back in 2005, but somehow ended up here in the mountains. An area that I had visited on occasion but one that was foreign in many ways. No relatives, no roots, just brief memories from day trips.
Mama, to say the least, was devastated.
“I thought you were moving closer to us,” she said, sounding defeated.
“It is in a way,” I argued. “You don’t have to go through to Atlanta to visit.”
She argued it was still too far away and she had interpreted ‘closer’ as being within the same county, not hours away.
“Why don’t you like it here?” she asked.
“I do,” I answered. And it wasn’t a lie.
I love the little town I grew up in, the sleepy bedroom community nestled between Athens and Atlanta, where people used to joke that if you blinked when driving on Highway 78 you’d miss it.
It was a town where I couldn’t go to the Piggly Wiggly without running into one of my favorite uncles, aunts, or cousins, and sometimes, all of them on a busy Saturday afternoon.
I could earn instant street cred by saying who my grandfather and uncle were, because they had roofed just about every house in the county.
Even if we didn’t know everyone by name, we knew them by face, because we had seen them around for so long.
It was just a small little town that when I was growing up, I couldn’t wait to leave. It seemed like it was cramping my style and I wanted to go somewhere with a fresh slate and meet new people, and find some independence.
As I made my way towards town, I looked over at where the house I used to live had been, now gone and in its place what looked like the entry to a new development. I couldn’t tell if it was commercial or industrial, or even residential.
My heart sank.
The house I grew up in had long been gone, along with our little white house beside it. While it had never been anything fancy, it had been home.
It had held so many memories and so many dreams, many that had not yet come to fruition, but the hope of them were still there.
I choked down the lump in my throat as I continued driving, pointing out things along the way.
“I worked at the cemetery across the road for about two weeks,” I said. “And that road there,” I pointed to the opposite side of the road as we approached the exit. “There was a house there that Mama wanted to buy. It would have meant we would move away from Granny and them. I loved the house but didn’t want to move.”
The house had built in bookcases galore, something Mama tried to use as a selling tactic. She wanted freedom; I wanted what I had known my whole life. What was safe and comfortable. Maybe Mama was wanting the same thing I had later, but she was trying to stay within a five-mile radius of home.
As we took the exit, I added, “This is where someone cut Granny off one day. She laid on the horn followed by a vulgar hand gesture. It was really awkward when we both pulled into the Bi-Lo parking lot two minutes later.”
Everything was different.
Yet, it was still the same.
It was like there were ghosts of memories at every turn, seeing places and remembering what was there so long ago.
The funeral home that is now the vet clinic, that truthfully should bear my uncle’s name considering how many cats he’s taken there to be vetted.
The gas station that was once full-service and every young girl wanted the station owner’s son, Al, to come pump the gas was now a modern convenience store with pay-at-the-pump.
The downtown had evolved, with more modern storefronts lining the sidewalks.
I told Cole that Pop had roofed the courthouse so many, many years ago. When a tornado came through and took part of it off, the shingles were still attached.
“Is it sad to come through here and see everything so different?” he asked.
“Not sad exactly,” I said. “Just different.”
My little hometown had somehow grown up, but maintained its charm.
Even though it’s only a two-hour drive, home sure feels further away.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.