Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Roadtrip Journal Day 10...Well, if you DO go home again, you might be a little disappointed...My trip to Turtletown,TN
You know the old saying, "You can't go home again?" I don't really think it's true. I think that lots of people go home again all the time. They leave home to go to college, they take a job, they live, they love, they experience, and sometimes after all that, they go home again. They may go home because they finished college and couldn't find a job or they loved and married and then divorced. Whatever the reason, people DO go home all the time. I guess the big thing about going home again is that things have usually changed by the time people get back.
I don't believe that "home" is necessarily the house you grew up in, to me, it's more the community that grew you or the people and surroundings that shaped you into the person you are. Whatever you think home is, you can go there after you leave, you just might be disappointed when you get back. I often feel as though I never really had a home growing up. We moved around so much, no place ever had that feeling for me, except maybe for Turtletown, TN where we lived for one perfect summer with Mama Hickey in an old, leaky shack with an outhouse.
Today, I drove to Turtletown with my oldest boy Lee. Jack didn't want to go because he was afraid he would be bored. I didn't try all that hard to convince him since I really didn't know what to expect. Afterall, it has been 40 years since I left there. It has been 40 years since I listened to the rain beating down on the tin roof of that shack we lived in. 40 years since I attended (for a short time) second grade at Turtletown School. 40 years since my mom bought me that plastic cowboys and indians set from Nicholson's General Store. Yes, it's been 40 years since I panned for gold in the little creek on Blalock Mountain and 40 years since I had a little Pinto pony named Sonny for a whole summer.
I found the town easily enough with my directions from mapquest and we arrived in the vicinity in the pouring rain and lightening. Funny how the perspective of size and location can change between the time you were a kid and an adult. As I approached Turtletown, I was surprised to find myself driving through Copperhill and actually recognizing locations and streets. I started having flashbacks to a friend of the family who lived in Copperhill and lived right in front of a cemetary on a hill directly above a street. As a kid, when my mom or Mama Hickey visited that friend, my sister and I would be out the back door in a flash and into the cemetary to collect the soft little rocks that were everywhere and shined like sparkly coppery diamonds. I don't know what the little stones were, but I suspect they contained copper. As the name implies, Copperhill is a mining town where they mine copper. I recognized the rugged, dirty hill surrounding the mine...it looked exactly the same.
I was so excited as I could point out locations that I recognized or had been to. It made me feel a little grounded...as if I finally might have a real past to share with my son and not just a story. It made me long for more. As we approached Ducktown, I pointed to several other landmarks that were familiar and again, my excitement grew. This was sort of like going home! Maybe I have a history to show Lee! We soon arrived in Turtletown and I spotted the school I once attended. I couldn't believe it was still there. It had clearly been abandonded for a long time, but it was there nonetheless.
Moving on, I looked for the road to Mama Hickey's old house on Blalock Mountain. I found it. Turning down that road, I knew instantly I was in the right place...the terrain hadn't changed a bit. There was a house with someone who was related to the family on the right exactly where I remembered it had been. I had taken baths at that house from time to time because the shack where we lived that summer Mama Hickey was building her house had only one source of water and that was a hand pump in the kitchen sink. To take baths there, we had to fill up a metal tub in the kitchen and boil water on the stove to add to the tub in order to have a warm bath. Since that was a lot of work, we only did it a couple times a week. The other days we went to this person's house and took a bath to wash our long hair. I wish I remembered who those people were, but since it had been so long ago, I didn't stop to ask questions.
Driving past that house, I saw a couple of new roads had been added and I also noticed that the road we were on was now paved. It used to be just rock and dirt. At the second street, I decided to turn. The street wasn't marked, but it seemed like the right place to turn. As I drove down the road, I saw what I had hoped was there, the sign that said "Blalock Mountain," Mama Hickey's property! I drove past the sign and there was the house, just like I knew it should be...well, almost.
Mama Hickey died maybe 10 years ago. I guess in her absence, no one took care of the house and it looks it. Peeking in the windows, I could see that some of her old furniture was still there, but most everything was gone. I took a couple of quick photos in the rain and then we left. Lee wanted to check a little further to see if anyone who knew me was around, but I guess I didn't want to intrude and really, didn't want more disappointment. I'm not sure what I really expected. I knew Mama Hickey was gone, I was just hoping something or someone I knew was there to prove that I had once existed there. Something to ground me, to say I was home.
When we were driving down the road, I hadn't been able to see the little stream where my sister and I had once panned for gold, so Lee and I really looked on our way out. I eventually spotted it. It had been paved over and now passed under the road through a tube. We got out to investigate. Because of the rain, the stream was running very fast and was very muddy...so much for panning for gold. I could see Lee was disappointed, but he didn't complain. I couldn't tell if he felt sorry for me or if he was just going with the flow but he smiled at me and we got back in the car.
We drove back to the main road and continued on into Turtletown to see if I could find the shack. Just a little further down from Blalock Mountain, I pulled off to the side of the road because I saw a little driveway that looked familiar. There was now a house on the property, but I am certain that I found the location of where the shack used to be. Of course, the outhouse was gone too, but the lay of the property was still the same and I recognized it. I took some photos and we drove on and soon I saw Nicholson's General Store. It looked exactly the same from the outside!
He asked me if I wanted to go into the store and see if anyone knew where any of the Hickeys were. I told him that was a good idea and, so we parked and went inside. When we walked in the door, I saw that it is now more of a hardware/feed store now. There used to be every kind of merchandise inside the store...groceries, hardware, toys. You name it, they had it. I used to love going in there just to look. That summer we lived in the shack, I had coveted a cowboy and indians set that came in a big plastic case that had a fort printed all around it. After many weeks of wishing for it, my mom bought it for me. One of the many things that made that summer so magical!
Anyway, Lee and I spoke to the guys in the store and I told them what we were doing there. Of course, they all knew who Mama Hickey was and, in fact, one of the guys we were speaking to said he was related to the family in some way that I didn't really catch, however, none of them could tell me what had happened to the shack nor where anyone from the family is now. We thanked them and left.
After all of that, we decided to go ahead and drive back to Georgia. We realized that this trip wasn't quite as successful as we had hoped, but it had been interesting. At least I had been able to find the locations. It was unfortunate it was raining so hard and we weren't really able to explore like we would have liked.
I didn't really find what I was looking for. What was that you ask? Well, I guess I was looking for home, really. That little mountain town was one of the very few places in my childhood where I felt like I belonged. I guess since Mama Hickey was there and her family had owned that property for generations, just by association, I felt more grounded. I did not have much of that feeling when I was little. My mom was a drifter. She also had been adopted into the family that raised her. She has never come out and told me who my real father was. She was married and divorced 8 times and we moved around a lot, often leaving in the middle of the night without being able to say goodbye to friends. My sister and I never had a chance to belong within a family or community. We never got to be part of something. I never felt like I had roots. All of those things are terribly important for me to give to my children because of that. I just wanted to show them proof that I was here, wherever that was. I had hoped that "here" was in Turtletown...actually, maybe it still is, but, as I said, it has all changed.
I don't think I am so much disappointed as I am sad. I am sad that there weren't any roots for me to dig up with my son. I'm sad that we didn't strike gold...the potential was there, we just didn't get lucky today.