(Photo: My 7-year-old grandson Jackson at Pine Mountain’s Dowdell’s Knob last week)
Like most kids who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, I had the chore of mowing the yard. Not the lawn, mind you, but the yard — with its sticks and ant beds and pine cones and bahia grass that grew back 12 seconds later … and I got to do it all in 174-degree heat with 127-percent humidity.
Sometimes my dad would inspect the yard afterward. If he found a blade of grass that had been missed by the mower, I got to do the whole thing again. He doesn’t remember doing those inspections because 174-degree heat with 127-percent humidity will damage your memory.
I’m sure his intention was to get me to strive for excellence and stress that any job worth doing was worth doing right. What I got from it was, “I ain’t never living nowhere with grass for the rest of my life!” (Yes, there’s a double-negative in there, but heat and humidity also can damage your grammar skills.)
That meant I was going to grow up and spend the rest of my life in the big city, surrounded by precious, flat, non-growing concrete. I’d never mow again! Ha! Take that, Briggs & Stratton!
Then I visited a few big cities.
I grew up in a small town — Oglethorpe, Georgia (human population = 1,000; traffic light population = 1). Dad thought it was a little too big and wanted to move “to the country.” I thought there was nothing to do in that town as a child. Today, there’s even more nothing than there was 40 years ago.
During my first few years as a sportswriter in places like Montezuma, Americus, and Valdosta, I got to visit many more Oglethorpe-ish towns around the state. I wasn’t exactly covering the New York Jets. I met a few famous athletes and covered some college sports, but the vast majority of my time was spent following high school sports teams around.
There was nothing quite like the excitement of a football Friday night in Valdosta with 12,000 folks cheering on the Valdosta Wildcats or the Lowndes Vikings, but I covered a lot of small-town schools in various coverage areas — public schools like Macon County, Clinch County, Brooks County, Echols County and private schools that ranged from minuscule to merely tiny. Small schools play a lot of games in small towns. While it was daunting to find some of these places in the pre-GPS/smart phone days, I fell in love with a lot of small towns across the state of Georgia where the people were friendly, the houses were not ostentatious, the traffic was light and the landscape was beautiful, green and not overdeveloped.
Tiny towns like Glennville. Hawkinsville. Dasher. Homerville. Cuthbert. Lincolnton and Butler. Even some multiple-traffic light towns like Bainbridge, Thomasville, Rome and Elberton. Those are just some of the countless cool towns my sports writing took me to. I’ve been to many others in the Peach State, not to mention a few other states and countries.
The older I get, the smaller I want my town. I’m convinced that half of the problems in America would be solved if folks got out of the big cities and found themselves some elbow room. And I need more elbow room than most folks.
Fortunately, I found another gem last week thanks to my baseball-loving grandson. He’s had a heck of a season in 6-and-under coach pitch, and he’s an All-Star. His Perry Junior League team made it to the Dixie Youth Baseball state tournament, held last week in a little town called Manchester. Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
Actually, I’d been to Manchester before. I’m pretty sure I spent a long ago Friday night watching some Bulldogs and Blue Devils go at it on the gridiron. But I’d never spent the night in Manchester. Last week, I spent three.
Granted, while the games were in Manchester, the cabin Jackson’s parents rented was a few miles west of town, overlooking the Pine Mountain Valley with a massive wooden deck. I’m sure it was just several hundred feet above sea level, but the view of the valley was stunning.
When my 7-year-old grandson Jackson saw the view from the cabin for the first time, he asked his dad, “DaDa, is this the whole world?”
Clearly, Jackson ha never been up in the Rockies or even the Smokies. But he was able to truly appreciate the amazing view. Too many of us can’t do that. Too many of us see the Pine Mountain Valley and note that it’s no Grand Canyon. We see Pine Mountain and put it down as no Denali. Manchester is no Atlanta, and Atlanta is no New York City, which is no Tokyo.
For a few days, indeed, that little area was the whole world. Yes, there are things happening in Ukraine, North Korea and Antarctica, but you can often find a little happiness by immersing yourself in the world around you. No matter where you go, there you are. Be there. Most importantly, as we learned from “Zombieland” Rule No. 32 — “enjoy the little things.”
We did. I enjoyed watching little boys play their hearts out on a little baseball diamond. I enjoyed a little beatdown at “Candy Land” handed to me by a 4-year-old. (I think he did a little bit of unintentional rule-bending, though.) And I got to feed the sweetest 9-month-old girl with a little spoon. Little things were everywhere I looked.
For a few days, all the little stuff I could see around me was, indeed, “the whole world.”
And that’s big enough for me.
A few shots from the baseball getaway:
We also visited FDR’s Little White House during this trip. It’s also not big, but it was a big deal. On a related note, here are two of Eleanor Roosevelt’s “My Day” columns that mention my grandfather, Cpl. Fred Dixon, who had his legs machine-gunned off by the Germans in Tunisia in 1943.