Before leaving Georgia the other day, I made a stop in Pine Mountain to visit Miss Lillian. She did not know I was coming, so she let out a small squeal of delight when I walked into the kitchen.
“This is my friend who came all the way from Oregon!” Miss Lillian exclaimed. She held my hand the way school girls sometimes do as she introduced me around the room. Miss Lillian was sitting with Miss Peggy and Miss Ruth and enjoying a cup of coffee.
Miss Lillian is in her 90s now. She’s not as sturdy on her feet as she was back when she was helping Hubert with the dairy farm. She has to use a walker now to get around. She doesn’t much care for it but understands the practicality of it. Knows it’s better to use the walker than to fall and break a hip.
But her mind, well, that’s another matter. Miss Lillian has long been regarded as a documentarian of Pine Mountain history. The retired journalist will tell you that the town was once named Chipley. She and Miss Peggy have known each other since that long ago day when Miss Peggy started first-grade.
Lillian recalls with clarity the white dress that Miss Peggy wore in the school play when she “married” the Chambers’ boy. Miss Peggy was in third-grade at the time. Miss Peggy can tell you the name of the gal who sewed the pretend wedding gown. The Chambers boy went on to become the postmaster in the town of Pine Mountain once named Chipley.
I couldn’t tell you the name of one person I attended third-grade with. I am not even sure where I attended third-grade, although I am quite sure I did.
When I was a military kid growing up I used to pray that one day I would get to live in one town for a very long time, the way regular kids did. I guess that’s why Columbus, Georgia will always be home in my mind. I started my education at Edgewood Elementary and finished it at Columbus High. There were huge gaps in-between which took me far, far away from Columbus. But when I think of my school years, I think of Columbus.
I read books from time to time about people who grow up in small towns and long for the day that they can move far, far away. I never was that girl. I never dreamed of a big life in the big city. I even felt a twinge of envy hearing Miss Peggy and Miss Lillian talk about their school days.
Existence is the most remarkable thing ever imagined, says author Marilynne Robinson in Gilead. But what good is existence if we live it in isolation, void of community and loved ones?
I watched a documentary on Joan Rivers once. The funny woman was crying over the loss of a friendship. She said without that friendship there was nobody in her life who shared in her memory bank.
If you have ever lived in that community or city where you never run into anyone who knew you when you were little, a place where nobody knows of your family, that place where none of your ancestors are buried, where none of your family stories are told, then you probably understand.
Remembering is a manner of participating in the remarkable.
Those who remember with us are able to joy with us.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Mother of Rain (Mercer Univ. Press.)