This Thanksgiving, I took my usual once- (and sometime twice) a-year drive down south. After ten years of back and forth over myriad routes, specifically those avoiding the highways, I've seen and tasted a lot of the South.
I've mapped out my favorite Georgia spots, with top priority going to barbecue joints – the Old Clinton BBQ in Gray, GA, is my favorite – along with hidden gems like Toccoa Falls and not-so-hidden tourist dives, like the Cabbage Patch doll factory in Cleveland, GA, the Bavarian replica town of Helen, GA, and the world-famous (although that might be a slight exaggeration) Lookout Mountain. Don't know Lookout Mountain? Have you seen barns with painted roofs suggesting you “See Rock City” as you drive through the south? That's Lookout Mountain. I've been there more than once and suggest you, too, See Rock City.
North Georgia, especially northeast Georgia, is beautiful and scenically rich through all seasons. The hills are approachable, the trails serene, the scents inviting, and the people thoroughly enjoyable.
But I grew up in southwest Georgia. Although not without its charms, it holds an entirely different topographic stance: cotton fields at the height of production mimic a sky that lifts the southwest region, expanding it to the heavens; tractors roll down the highway and when you get close, a tanned arm pokes out the left side, motioning you by when the coast is clear; farm stands litter the countryside with hand-lettered signs: peaches, boiled peanuts, mayhaw jelly, honey; softball fields roar with aluminum clings and hollers to run faster; the night creeps in slowly, pulling each train's whistle along to the next town. The slow pace of southwest Georgia is written in the lines of the faces of everyone who lives there and everyone who has lived there.
This year, I extended my homecoming with a week at a writer's retreat set in northeast Georgia. I've been working on my memoir and thought a retreat would give me the push I need to finish it up. I found a reasonably priced literary retreat in the Bowers House in Canon.
I'd never heard of Canon; it wasn't even listed on my paper map, and rightly so. The single flashing caution light in town is the only thing that would alert you to the fact that you are, indeed, in a town. My week at the plantation-style home was quiet – I was the only writer in the seven-bedroom home and had my choice of rocking chairs on the expansive first- and second-floor porches.
The Dollar General
My second day in town, I took a walk to the local Dollar General by way of a sidewalk that dumped me right at the front door. If you grew up in the Deep South, you know there are no sidewalks. The fact that I took a sidewalk from the Bowers House to Dollar General was such a big deal that I took a photo of it. I had to remind myself not to walk in the street and instead use the perfectly good sidewalk that appears as though it was created specifically for use to and from Dollar General.
Inside, I overheard locals sharing stories about their weekend meals at nearby restaurants and their hunting trips. At the register, I asked the cashier about the Christmas tree lighting ceremony that night.
Canon puppet show
Christmas trees and onion rings
At 6 p.m., I put on my light jacket and took a walk about three blocks to the local community park. I could hear music, and as I got closer, I saw tens of gallon jugs filled with light, outlining the park's walking trail. Each milk jug handle was wrapped with a red ribbon holding a cedar branch in place. In the middle of the park was a brightly lit Christmas tree. I walked toward the sound and the crowd of people already standing in groups to find a blues band setting up on the back of a flatbed truck.
But in front of the truck was a lemonade-sized stand that set the stage for a children’s puppet show. This Canon Christmas tradition was the highlight of the evening, along with the homemade brownies inside the community center.
The next day, a few miles from my retreat, I found the best onion rings at the most popular diner in the area, the Royston Drive-In. The diner doesn’t look like it’s changed one bit in the 50 years it’s been in business in baseball legend Ty Cobb’s hometown. And that is a very good thing.
From the area’s quaint one-block main streets to pecan orchards to cow pastures, there’s nothing fast-paced or in your face about this area of northeast Georgia, and that’s something I’d like to check on again... in another 50 years or so.