Everyone talks about all the things that are going on in America and for the most part I just want to ignore them here. I do not want to go into politics or other things here on this blog. I want to keep it tame and about me and my family. However, as we were driving for out trip over the winter holidays, I had some quiet moments to reflect.

I sit here and have to write them down because at sometime maybe they will have meaning to my children. Maybe not. It does not really matter. This trip to Atlanta, Georgia was my first trip back across the southern states of the United States in 31 years. It was almost to the day. About a week separated that first trip across the southern states and this trip 31 years later.

I have never been back to my original home town of New Albany, Mississippi. I have never stepped foot back on that Pleasant Hill Farm that I have most of my youngest memories from. There have been times when I have thought that it might be fun to go back and see the place where I was born and I have fond memories of, but in reality, I do not have many memories of many things there. I was too young. Most of my memories are bits and pieces. I was five and a half years old when I left Small Town USA and we headed for the booming metropolis of Houston, Texas. It is there that I honestly grew up. They say that you can take the girl out of the country but you cannot take the country out of the girl. I honestly believe that, but I honestly believe that your heart is where your family is as well. I do have fond memories of Small Town USA. It will always have a place in my heart and I have enjoyed every small town we have resided in since, however, I also like the modern and comfortable conveniences of larger cities. I like the best of both worlds.

This trip was something that thrust me back through some of those Small Town USA memories, however. I am grateful for the trip down amnesia lane, but it was saddening all the same. The memories were broken and in some cases shattered. I do not think that I was protected from those memories all my life, but wow to see those things again. I am grateful to have parents who chose to walk away and rise above those things all those years ago. I am grateful to have parents who chose to move to the big city so many years ago and give us children a taste of a very different life. I will not say that it was a better life or a glorious life, but it was a different life.

Driving across I-10 through Louisiana on the way to Atlanta, Georgia my first and only thought was “this is just sticks and weeds.” To be fair and honest, it was. There is not much to Louisiana along I-10. There is not much to the swamps out Louisiana. There is not much to see. There are a few small towns that there highway cuts through, but the highway does just that it cuts through. At 70MPH you are not seeing much of the towns except the passing glances of surface and street appeal. Unfortunately, curb appeal means a lot more than you would think. It is a reflection of something deeper in our soul. It is a revelation of something deep down in our hearts and how we view the world around us. Something we should all take home and stew upon a little and make sure we are giving people the right impression.

My initial memories going across Louisiana and even Mississippi were not much. I simply thought that the roads had not changed much. They all looked the same. They did. Maybe they had grown up a little. The swamps certainly looked the same. Here I was for the first time in 31 years going back across I-10 and everything was different but family in an unfamiliar kind of way. It was unsettling to some degree. I was doing the drive this time. I was not 5.5 years old this time. I was behind the steering wheel. I was in control. So many things were different. Still those memories were there. The problem was that I was going the wrong direction on the highway.

Now I had never been to the state of Alabama in my life. It was a first for me. In all honesty, it was met with some anticipation and excitement. Unfortunately, I was exhausted beyond belief and slept the first little while into the state. I slept straight through the stretch going into and around Mobile, Alabama. The rest of the state, however, I cannot say that I can remember with much fluidity. It was not that memorable. The phrase Small Town USA again comes to mind and the quaint little gas stations and what not. They were not particularly clean or orderly. Shady at best. That marks the memories of many of my road trips growing up. Something I was used to, but this was somehow different and unsettling. Somehow my expectation of southern pride and hospitality was higher than it should have been? I do not know, but maybe I had this under laying expectation being southern born and bred.

Again, my views are from the highway and at 70MPH plus I really should not make rash judgements but these are my reflections of the visuals I got along the highway. These are not judgements, these are reflections on what I saw. We did not see a lot of large towns or cities along the highways. I cannot say that they did not exist, just that the highway route that we took did not pass through them. They did cut through some of the smaller towns or bypassed on the outskirts, but for the most parts we were in what I like to call the sticks and weeds. Maybe it is better that way. Maybe it is best that my children remain oblivious to what I saw and noticed. Maybe it is better that my children remain protected from the degradation of Small Town USA and the degradation of both the sense of southern pride and American Pride.

I must add that I was impressed along the route to see that while the roads were the same in my 31 year old memories, there were distinct differences. There were obvious new things. There were obvious new stores and shopping centers. There were obvious signs of progress. Many people try to crawl away from these things. To me, however, the signs of progress are beautiful especially in the economy like ours. Some of these signs while imposing on our landscape they mean jobs for our people and our local economies and that is a beautiful thing. The Kia plant was a beautiful sight for me. It was an obvious sign of progress. It was a manufacturing plant. It was big and imposing, but it was local jobs in the backyards of LaGrange, Georgia. There were other manufacturing facilities as well along our path that were obvious and new as they still had that “new shine” to them. They brought a smile to my face. I do not know how to explain why, but they did.

There were also teaching opportunities along the way when our 8 year old son asks about air pollution as we drive by the many refineries driving out of the great state of Texas and through the neighboring state of Louisiana. There were other areas as well. In school they have taught about pollution, but they have failed to mention the regulations that are in place on these refineries and chemical plants. They forget to mention the economies that depend on these plants and refineries. So we had plenty of teaching opportunities. Not only in building on and correcting what they are learning in school, but in learning about the various things we encountered. We pointed out when we crossed each state line. We made a big deal about going over the various bridges and what their historical meaning was if we knew what they were. We made a big deal about going over the Mississippi River. We talked about the swamps and about how they might see swamp dwellers floating up and down the swamps with their huts (we did not).

Once we reached Atlanta, Georgia I figured things would improve. It was a bigger city after all. It was an old city with history, but a city still the same and I would be able to relax. Now maybe it is just the portion of the city we were in and were exposed to. Maybe I do live a posh life after all. Maybe I climbed above the life I had and I am sensitive to it. I can tell you that Houston is a clean city in some regards. There are areas that are not in comparison to other cities, but when you talk about areas where our main commerce and tourist activities occur, the city is relatively clean. It is not perfect and I still would not freely let my children roam the streets in downtown Houston or even the Galleria area, but compared to some of the areas I saw in Atlanta, Georgia I would feel more comfortable in Houston than I would in Atlanta hands down.

For example our zoo is in a much nicer and cleaner area of town in some regards. The streets we had to drive to get to the zoo in Atlanta were startling. Where is the pride in one’s self? Where is the dignity? That is not to say that the Houston Zoo does not have vagrants wandering around the zoo area, but the residential areas around the zoo are more inviting and welcoming. The streets around the zoo do not leave me to wonder if my car is going to have 4 wheels left on it when I come back out. Not to be crass or judgmental but streets lined with run down houses that have porches that are piled with debris otherwise known as general garbage is not warm and inviting. It was a down right filthy neighborhood in many regards. It is not what I want my children seeing. It is not what would encourage me to take my children to the zoo on a regular basis. Then to think that there was a large open area park across the street from this? For what? I certainly would not have felt safe walking there having to watch my back for shady people all the time. I would not have taken my children to play there. Now I can say that I would not readily let my children roam in the park near the Houston zoo either because of the vagrants that roam the area.

Now Atlanta does have many things up on Houston in that you can walk to and from so many of the various tourist attractions. There was plenty to do and see. Now I am sure that there is plenty to do and see in Houston too. Just getting to and from it is a pain in the butt. There is supposedly a working plan to improve this, but since I am not one that cares to go Downtown or in those areas I cannot tell you that it is working.

My reflections did not stop in Atlanta area. We wandered out to LaGrange, Georgia to visit more family. That was fine. The trip along the way was more exposure and reminders of that Small Town USA that I had forgotten. Let me emphasize that I have nothing against Small Town USA. Nothing. I have something against the degradation of it. That is all. I was floored by the amount of degradation of it. Pieces of my past were flowing back to me more and more. It was not haunting me so much as I was feeling more and more blessed for everything I had been given in life while not glamorous it was something to hold onto.

Again, we were greeted with houses with porches filled with debris and lots of it. Porches that were nothing more than a walkway to the front door there was so much garbage. Not useful stuff, discarded stuff and lots of it. There were people sitting out on the porches amidst the stuff. Again I asked myself where is one’s self pride? When my children are asking “why would you want to?” about certain combinations of “local shops” there is some question as to why people really would want to when people 15 and younger raise the question. Then my thoughts wandered and unfortunately it went to politics. These are the very same people who voted the way they did and have helped cause the problems that we have in thinking in government. It is this very same lack of curb appeal and degradation on what used to be a beautiful Small Town USA that has equated in the degradation in the sense of southern pride and hospitality and even the degradation of American Pride. I did not see those things on those houses and porches. I did not see those things in those people’s faces. I saw defeat. I saw battered lives and defeat. I saw submission to the lives they had succumbed to and defeat.

The good news is that while we went into the small iconic shops that marked pieces of my husband’s memories or that were Atlanta, you could still find that sense of pride alive and well. It might have been tarnished and dirty around the edges but it was alive and well. It was surviving in Small Town USA and it was alive and well in Atlanta, Georgia. Our current economic conditions have not killed the American Pride that was something that I remembered from 31 years ago in that small town in New Albany, Mississippi. It is a little dirtier around the edges and it is questionable how it would pass a food inspector’s inspection but it is alive and well. The smiles on these people’s faces, the stories in their wrinkles on their faces, and the victories in their voices tell of the lives they have lived and pride they still have in themselves and the America around them.

As we made our way back across the Southern United States, the memories of my last trip across those states came flooding back. As we sat crawling in rainy weather in the Atchafalaya Basin those memories of 31 years ago came flooding back. It might have been bits and pieces. I remember the long drive that seemed like it would take forever driving away from the only home I had ever known into an uncertain future before Christmas. I remembered our car breaking down and a nice Louisiana State Trooper taking us to a Dairy Queen on the other side of the bridge. I do not remember seeing that Dairy Queen this trip. Maybe it was there, maybe it was not. The point is, I remembered those very same roads that had not changed much in 31 years.

I guess my reflections were meant to help me understand that we should not get stuck so much in our own ruts. Things do change. Things should change. As much as change is hard to embrace, it is good to embrace it.

Here is to another trip across those states sometime in the future and maybe I will go with different eyes to look through. Maybe I will be able to see things that I did not see this time because I saw the things I needed to see. I needed to see my own past to look forward and see the change…or lack of change.

May we all look forward. May we all look forward and embrace the things we can change. We are in charge of our own lives. We must take pride in the things around us. If we do not, who will? What will we leave for our children to remember? What legacy will we leave for them? How can we change the lives of our children by what we do today? It does not need to be big or grand, the little things matter. That rose bush. Those cookies. The beautifully landscaped lawn. The red shutters. The Christmas decorations they received every year and their individualized meaning. Make the memories for them now so they will have them 30 years from now. Make them good ones…

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