As my wife Margueritte and I have met and gotten the know some of the wonderful people in and around Bainbridge, after a while the polite question surfaces. It usually takes more than one meeting or introduction, but I can see the look in their eyes from the outset. They have lived in Bainbridge for at least a long time, if not their whole lives, as generations have before them. They all wonder “Why?” – “Why Bainbridge?”. Sometimes I guess folks can’t see what is right in front of them, because they have been standing too close to it to focus on it and see the big picture. It’s the old “can’t see the forest for the leaves on the trees” adage. So, please permit me to step back from the leaves on the trees and to give you my perspective of the forest:
After having offices in Marietta and Kennesaw since 1992, my wife and I decided to move out of Metro Atlanta. Our children were grown and gone for the most part. We had both had more than enough of Atlanta traffic, where at times you can spend an hour and a half and not go 10 miles. My mom lived in South Georgia (I was born in Coffee County) and we started looking South of Cuthbert and West of Valdosta, to see what was appealing. You see, I am from a small town, where both sides were farmers for almost 100 years. Before that, both sides of my family lived in the mountains of North Georgia, long before the War of Northern Aggression, which both sides of my family had fought in.
In the early part of the last century they had all traded in steep red clay terraced farm land for the flat black sand dirt in Coffee County. As a child, my parents moved to Tucker, in DeKalb County, and my mom taught in a new school that we lived only four houses away from. At first, it was not so bad. We had bird dogs in a backyard pen and the vacant land behind our subdivision let us three boys continue to go afield on “safaris” and hunt rabbits and be mischievous boys (as God intended). Soon enough, another subdivision sprang up behind our house and took away that after school fun and we were then forced to rely on trips to rural areas and family farms to fulfill that basic need. Soon enough though, Tucker was not a small town anymore.
Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small – communities
I spent most of my Summers in South Georgia, fishing and working in tobacco, and eventually went to Georgia Military College in Milledgeville. I loved the rich history of the school and found out that other family members before me had gone there as well. Men who’d grown up together and fought in wars together still gathered at the barber shop and the hardware store to mull over the state of the world. The Pharmacy, Five and Dime, and Army Navy Store were run by the same families. The same families still sent their sons and daughters to Georgia Military College and Georgia College. There was no Home Depot or Lowe’s or Wal-Mart. Milledgeville was a community and still very much a small town where people knew each other. After GMC, I went to Athens to attend the University of Georgia. I quickly found out that Athens was no small town anymore and I longed for Milledgeville again, where I went back to and finished my degree at Georgia College, with many friends that I had then known for years. After that, I attended various Army schools and ended up in the National Guard in Thomaston, Georgia for many years – another small town. I was building houses, swinging a hammer and on rainy days I looked over my possible entrance to law school and took the placement test. That Summer, I went back to Fort Benning to attend Infantry Mortar Platoon Officer School (way too much math in that pre-GPS age) and, two days before we were to graduate, I got notice from the Georgia State University College of Law that I could attend law school there if I could be there by Friday. We graduated Wednesday and I headed back to the big city. That was in 1987, over 30 years ago, and aside from some Army tours, and a few foreign countries, I have been in or near the big city ever since. However, my favorite law case has always been one that was “OTP”, that is “Outside the Perimeter” of Interstate 285 that surrounds and encircles Atlanta. I have been fortunate enough to represent people all over the state, as well as to be involved in cases in other states as well. Throughout, I always had the longing for smaller towns.
As my wife and I discussed escaping from Metro Atlanta, a lawyer friend in Albany, Robert Margeson, who I had done a few cases with, told us that Bainbridge would be a great place for us to live. I do personal injury cases and he said there was no one there who did only that type of law. I had been to Bainbridge many times, to duck hunt on Lake Seminole, and I knew the area and had met many fine people whenever I had been there. On faith, we started the roll the ball. It would be a slow process, as I had to downsize, finish up some courts cases and a trial or two. We would be moving both home and office, so it would be a logistical nightmare that we would be accomplishing day by day for months on end. The first step was getting out of my hunting club and cabin in Talbot County, which my son and I had been in for approximately 14 years. I packed out, sold my equity and the shack, and left there in May. Since August of 2017, we have been moving both house and office. In that process, we had to have a lot of work done on both locations and that process confirmed to us that we had made the best choice possible. One of the first people we met said he wished he had known me before, because he had been in a bad wreck and could not find anyone local who only did the type of case that I do, so he’d hired a big firm from out of state who had an office in Atlanta. He had never met his lawyer face to face. The sellers of the house we bought told us at closing that they were moving to Kennesaw. I actually felt sorry for them and wondered if they had any idea of what they were getting into.
After we had closed on the house purchase, I went by Boyd’s to get some barbeque to take to my wife at the house. While I was waiting for my to-go order, a fellow who was also waiting on his to go order, struck up a conversation with me and said that he had been badly injured at work from a defectively manufactured product six months before, and had been unable to return to work. At that late date, the product had disappeared and there wasn’t much that I could do for him. But, what he told me next stuck with me – he said “We don’t have anyone around her who does what you do, Bainbridge needs someone who does what you do”. I was moved to the point of tears. “Thank You God for confirming my mission. We acted and worked on faith and you gave me confirmation.”
For generations now, mostly during and after World War II, families have left the small towns. They left the farms and the way of life they’d known for what was conceived to be better opportunities, whether that was working for plane or car manufacturers, or carpet mills, or other big global corporate businesses. Most people who live in and around Atlanta now are not even from this State. That community has become millions of people, stuck in traffic, hammering away at their cell phones, always in a hurry and typically running late. Schools are the only real “community” left and that ends when your kids leave. When my mom retired from teaching school, she eventually returned to her family home in Broxton, Georgia, and was there when her mom “Granny Stella” lived out her last years, as well as her two sisters, my Great Aunts. My mom went to a small church and was always the first one to bring food to funerals, visit the sick, and take care of people, just like her mom and grandmother had done. She enjoyed her class reunions over the years, only to see the numbers left in attendance dwindle down each year. Recently, my uncle Fred moved from the big city where he had been for over 50 years, back to Coffee County, and this week married a girl he had known since high school. Love springs eternal …
All my friends are so small town
My parents live in a same small town
My job is so small town
Provides little opportunity, hey!
Educated in a small town
Taught to fear Jesus in a small town
Used to daydream in that small town
Another born romantic that’s me
But I’ve seen it all in a small town
Had myself a ball in a small town
Married an L.A. (Chicago) doll and brought her to this small town
Now she’s small town just like me
My wife and I went to The American on the square in Bainbridge the other day to eat lunch, which opened about the time we were first moving to Bainbridge. (If you have not been there to eat yet, get busy because you deserve it and will be very glad you did). We had heard that the owners, Heather and Chef Tyler, had picked Bainbridge to open their amazing restaurant because there was nothing like it here. That sounded eerily familiar to the advice I had been given earlier. My wife likes their food so much that she decided to get a bunch of gift certificates for Christmas. We had been told that we had been given the first gift certificate they ever issued by our real estate agent, who had helped us to get a house. We closed on a house right before they opened. Rollins chose well.
As my nineteen year old son and I and many others worked to rehab the office space I had chosen, right across from the courthouse, the community apparently took notice. My son was clearing brush and weeds and re-landscaping the street with flowers one Friday afternoon. He came rushing back in the office all excited and said ”Dad people are driving by and honking and yelling out their windows ‘looks good !!!’ and giving me the thumbs up.” I laughed at his state of surprise. You don’t get that in or near Atlanta, where he had done a lot of landscaping. Up North, you get neighbors who report you to City Hall or even call the police because your trash can sat out at the street a few extra hours, or you are not splitting firewood quick enough, or some rain water ran down their driveway. There is no sense of community there. My son had told me years back that he wanted a sense of community. Honestly, I could not provide him with much of one in Cobb County. I smiled and wanted to laugh whenever people in Atlanta asked if I knew lawyer so-and-so. There are over 10,000 lawyers in Metro Atlanta, so unless they do exactly what I do, chances are that I did not know them and would never even meet them. My son’s first impression of Bainbridge was that people care about their community – and about him. My mom came over from her house about two and half hours away, to visit us in Bainbridge, and as I was driving her home that night, she decided right then that she was moving to Bainbridge too. My wife and I were overjoyed that she would be coming to live with us. She has driven all over town checking it out and talking to people and hoeps ot be here full-time soon.
The other day we saw someone we knew on the Square, Rollins. He had another gentleman with him, whom he introduced us to. All four of us had arrived at The American at the same time and we were very happy when they said they’d join us for lunch. We were taking Chef Tyler some citrus, and as we chatted and got to know John, we found out he was from a small town in Alabama, but he and his wife had lived and worked in big cities all over the country. They had recently re-settled in Bainbridge. Inevitably, the subject of conversation got around to us two couples being newcomers to Bainbridge and John asked if people around town had asked us why we moved to Bainbridge. He and my wife and I all thought that was very funny, because there really are too many good reasons to list. Rollins talked about how he had grown up within a stone’s throw of where we sat. I thought about how lucky he was and hoped that he knew that. (I think he did). Looking out over the square from our booth, the simplest most obvious answer to “Why are y’all moving to Bainbridge?” was out there – staring right at all of us:
Bottom Line: Bainbridge is simply a wonderful place filled with wonderful people. There is no place we’d rather be and have the privilege to call “home”.
No I cannot forget where it is that I come from
I cannot forget the people who love me
Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town
And people let me be just what I want to be
Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who’s in the big town
But my bed is in a small town
Oh, that’s good enough for me
Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in a small town
Ah, that’s prob’ly where they’ll bury me
Post Script – As I was writing this, a childhood friend from Tucker texted me and 19 of our other classmates from Brocket Elementary School. We had all gone on to Tucker High School together and some had graduated college together as well. It was a special group of people. This friend had married a man from Thomasville many years back and they had raised a fine family together there. I have seen her a few times since High School, but she had texted us today to let our “community” know that one of us had fallen ill and was in the hospital and unlikely to make it. People in a community care about and have compassion for one another. Enough said.
NEXT UP: WHY I DO WHAT I DO.
Until then, I wish everyone a Happy New Year, a peaceful and prosperous 2018, and may we love one another and treat each other as we would wish to be treated ourselves.
Lyrics in bold = to “Small Town” – courtesy of John Mellencamp, ©