I knew there was a reason i’d been looking at Moreland, Georgia, on the map a while back, planning a trip. It came to me when i passed his birthplace museum by the railroad tracks, I was in Erskine Caldwell country. This became more apparent as i followed google maps’ directions down a closed road and gravel road to the next house in Coweta county that was on my route. I could feel the hot dusty backcountry of his novel Tobacco Road, which i admittedly have not read since i was 15 or so but which i identify with Welty’s Losing Battles, and Faulkner short stories, and Flannery O’Conner tales—this was the air I breathed for a bit before i came upon my next quarry with which i fell in love.
After inspecting my 3 houses for the day, i thought i’d go on into the town of Senoia and see what it was all about. Surely I could find some ice cream or a popsicle at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. Senoia was your standard medium-sized RR town. More than a strip along the tracks it’s downtown ran up the hill from the tracks along a main thoroughfare and had a central intersection at which, surprisingly, new buildings had sprung up. I would soon learn that Senoia was in on the movie-money and “they” were building all these new things, reviving the downtown for sets and such and if i cared to, i could see the markers in the sidewalk. I had to ask someone on the street but eventually found a scoop of chocolate yogurt (the kind that tastes just like a Mayfield ice cream fudge-sicle) on a cake cone and i went back to my walking.
Even though it was about to rain, i had a few more bites of ice cream and that church was intriguing so i went ahead and walked around one more block and that was when i met Mr M and Sparky. It was one of those moments you see someone walking ahead and most often we decide to steer around them so we don’t have to offer more than a passing hello, and i had no intention of getting caught up in a conversation but i thought i’d stick to my route around the church building and say hey to the dog. “One time,” began the man, “when ice cream was only 5 cents, I had 3 scoops for 5 cents, strawberry, chocolate and vanilla.” Really? i thought, one of these old-timer stories?? “Well, i’d just turned to walk out the door and my ice cream just fell right off the cone and that dog had it up before i could even look down! well the lady saw it and she gave me 3 more scoops you know. it wasn’t the good ice cream place, there it was 10 cents for a scoop and they had banana and praline and all sorts of good flavors but here you could get THREE scoops of the cheap stuff, the watered down ice cream for 5 cents. back then there was no contest of which to put my money down on, i always went to that place….”
One thing led to another and Mr M and I strolled on around the church stopping here and there and him telling me stories all the while. I learned all about how he met his wife, and where he grew up in Atlanta (Grant Park, then to Kirkwood, then “that no-man’s land below Little Five Points”), and he had a paper route on Ponce (back then it was lots of apartments and they’d leave his stack—came in stacks of 50 papers—at the corner and he’d get the stack, roll up the papers—fold in thirds—and deliver them). He lived in Mississippi for 30 years, and then he’d been back in Senoia for 20, retired (as a Lutheran minister—ah!) 3 times and still getting to live in the old house right downtown that the church provided him with. He also remembered signing a petition in the early 50s when he was based on Treasure Island in the bay and San Fran was attempting to get rid of the streetcars, “and you know they’re still using them!” he sounded delighted. All these stories and many more just flowed from him without my asking a thing. Every now and then he’d ask about me, but that never lasted long, just led to another tale, another memory, and a piece of that led to another. I was drawn in to talking with him, didn’t want him to stop, and we didn’t until it really did finally started to rain, we reached my car and he and Sparky turned back across the churchyard toward home.