Mark Cohn’s words hit home, ringing out above the hum of four tires on two lane back road pavement. You go where you’re going, ‘till you get where you are. Lucky for me I didn’t go too far. The song is Right on Time, Cohn’s contribution to the excellent collection of tunes put together by stringed instrument specialist Jerry Douglas on a recent album.
Suzy and I were heading south, sort of, just killing time. Having just come through Lincolnton, Georgia, primarily because 378 went that way, we turned left toward Augusta. Lincolnton is the hometown of my friend Tom, a Southern Writer. Tom is well-known to folks on this site, especially when describing places of the Old South; places much like the one where he grew up.
Lincolnton looked similar to many faded glory towns; small places without a future, trying to capitalize on its past, whatever that might have been. Downtown had a couple of stop lights, friendly welcome signs, and a few remaining stores that bustled on Saturday mornings fifty years ago.
Tom and I are friends in part because we are similar, in terms of heritage, background, and past experiences. We remain friends because we have differing attitudes on a vast array of subjects and can discuss them like adults, at least most of the time. Both of us were blessed with a burning desire for more knowledge and believe that the more one learns the better one becomes.
My hometown, Centreville, Alabama, is a lot like Lincolnton. Places like these are frozen in a time warp of values, opinions, and politics. Change comes in tiny increments, imperceptible to all except the most observant.
Small towns offer sanctuary to those who want continuity and sameness in their lives but at a price. Close-knit communities can become close-minded in a flash, pulled together to drive out perceived threats to a way of life that is often more fantasy than fact. Small towns also nurture the spirit of home, giving those of us who must wander a comfortable place to revisit, even if only for short periods.
Tom and I have sipped beverages and pondered whether we are who we are because of our birthplaces or because we moved away. An unanswerable question. All of us contain a mixture of DNA and personal experience. It is hard to calculate the percentages of each.
I don’t go back to Centreville much anymore. There are no more reasons. Tom has a sister, mother, and other friends and relatives still in Lincolnton, so his small town link is much stronger than mine.
I have a few distant cousins, both in lineage and attitude. Every time I return I find something annoying. Tom returns to Lincolnton and finds something to write about — a memory, an idea, a chance meeting.
Maybe he sees things better than me. Maybe his more frequent visits allow him the opportunity to ponder things I lack the patience to consider. Maybe we are both going where we’re going by slightly different paths.
What we ultimately learn remains to be seen.