For so many of us, we wonder about our lives, constantly looking to our pasts and the past of our family. Anything to glean some knowledge about our potential future. Today, I’m excited to take a look back with my mother as she gazes back.
I grew up in the Deep South in a railroad town forty miles north of the Georgia/Florida line- Waycross, a small town with a population less than twenty thousand. Peculiar name, but, originally, it was called “Old Nine” and then “Tebeauville” until 1935 when the leaders of the community decided to change the name to reflect more of the town’s true identity. This sleepy town was the “cross-way” of the railroad lines traveling through the state of Georgia, and, at the time of the name change, these group of business men thought a new name was needed to identify the junction of the existing Savannah railroad line and the new rail line which connected Brunswick and Albany. Legend has it that they toyed with the idea of Eastcross and Northcross, but finally settled on Waycross, probably over breakfast at the local diner. Waycross is also the point of intersection of five major highways in southeast Georgia, and it is the only town with direct access to the beginning of the Okefenokee Swamp, its claim to fame.
I lived the quintessential Southern life. To me, growing up Southern meant drinking sweet tea the color of the Satilla River, sitting on the front porch watching it rain during a thunderstorm, and then smashing the air pockets in the dirt road with my bare feet after the downpour was over. Summer started June 1st after school ended the last day of May, and shoes were forgotten until school resumed the last week in August. Even now I can outlast any of the tenderfoots in my family on hot beach sand. Nights meant mosquitoes, fireflies, air so thick you could cut it with a knife, trying to sleep with a window fan and praying for any breeze-however faint- and the sound of the trains over at the Rice Yard. I spent many days in July shelling peas and butter beans out of our garden in big tin dishpans on my lap. Once that last bean spilled out of its shell into the pan, it was hallelujah until the next round was picked.
Although I was the only child of a critical mother and an angry father, for the most part, my childhood was sweet and kind. I raced grasshoppers with the neighbors, caught dragonflies off the clothesline, and caught tadpoles out of the ditches with my cousin Robert. My Aunt Lucille would actually let him keep his tadpoles in a pan on their back porch, and we would watch them grow into frogs and hop away. I had the same best friend throughout childhood and teenage years, including crushes on boys and many nights with her at her aunt’s skating rink. I learned how to fish in the swamp ditches with a cane pole at about three and could throw a child’s rod and reel at about four. Our vacations every year consisted of a week fishing at Harriet’s Bluff in Kingsland, Georgia, a fish camp on Crooked River, and Saturday day trips to fish off the salt water pier at Fernandina Beach. ( I can still out fish anyone in our family.) On Labor Day weekend, we drove to the Smoky Mountains to visit my father’s oldest brother at his cabin. I had an Aunt Dot, that aunt who loved to laugh and have a good time- also the aunt who introduced me to flying, the symphony, and the finer things in life. We weren’t rich, but we always had good food and nice clothes. My parents expected me to always do my best, and the measure of character according to my Daddy was whether that man was willing to work.
Although I have lived in the Commonwealth of Virginia for more than twenty years now, I still think of Georgia as my true home. Just the mention of “Southernness” and living in Waycross evokes deep feelings of nostalgia. When someone teases me about my Southern accent, I just smile- they never knew what they missed. I will always be a swamp girl.
When I think about it, where the “Ways Cross” is a metaphor for my life, as it is for humans trying to navigate this shaky path of life. We all face forks in the road, a new path which has to be embraced, a change in our circumstances. In my own life, each decade had its share of upheavals and stability:
My tumultuous twenties as I figured out relationships, marriage, and motherhood.
Thirties a blur as a raised three children.
Forties when I completely flipped and went back to school for another degree and changed careers.
And now fifties where there has been much reflection and floundering as I figured out my identity apart from being a wife and mother.
This upcoming January I will experience my 60th year on this earth-sobering to say the least. Funny thing is, if you talk to ANY sixty year old person, they do not see themselves as an old person. We still feel the same on the inside; it is only when we look in the mirror we realize Old Man Time continued to march on.
So as the big 6-0 fast approaches, here I am again at another junction where the “Ways Cross.” What do I do with the rest of my life? I know I am much wiser than that seventeen year old who left for the big city of Atlanta to attend nursing school in 1974- the first fork in the road. It is my hope with this blog I will entertain some of you youngsters with stories about my life and the people in it- some funny, some sad, and some completely absurd- as I came to each crossing and navigated through. Other blogs will be reflections concerning life and my ponderings as I face the future me.
Mickey McGuire is the mother of published author John McGuire, a registered NICU nurse, retired high school teacher, an artist, and passionate student in this game of life.