“You don’t know what you got till it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” That is the refrain from a song that was popular when I was in college. In my 68 years, I have seen way too much loss of what I consider paradise.
Last summer I drove around Dearing, Georgia where I grew up. Much of it remained the same but it broke my heart to see places where the change was drastic. The worst was my old home place.
The beautiful split-level brick house my parents built in 1962 has a chain link fence in front of it, spoiling its look. Some of the pecan trees, including the one where I built my tree houses, had been cut down.
Worse was the field where I spent many happy hours building forts and roasting birds in a big rock pile. Those rocks had been pushed away to expand the field and are no longer available for a kid to enjoy. And the drain where I killed a snipe had been cleared of trees and ditched, removing the swampy area.
Dearing Branch on either side of our old farm has been dammed, making pretty ponds but covering the valleys where I hunted and played. I was happy to see the huge oak tree on the hillside where I sat and hunted squirrels was still there overlooking one of the ponds, but all around it were open fields.
Some of the old houses where my friends lived had been torn down and replaced with newer ones. Others were remodeled to the point of hardly being recognizable. Worse were the ones that were once the pride of families were so run-down none of folks that I once knew would want to live in them.
Dearing Elementary School, where daddy was principal and I attended first through eighth grades, had been closed and changed to a RESA. The lunch room where I loved the food, especially the vegetable soup, was a work shop with boarded up windows and stuff piled outside.
The front area looked much the same. The big pines, including the one where I kissed my first girlfriend when in the first grade, was there. But the old ball diamond beside it was now just a pretty lawn. The pine thicket where I almost lost an eye during a pinecone fight looked different without the Jungle Jim and seesaws.
The drive from Dearing to Thomson then to Raysville Boat Club, something I did hundreds of times, was also filled with changes. Many of the fields where cows and horses once grazed were filled with houses. Some were very pretty, others reminded me of another song “And they’re all made of ticky tacky and they all look just the same.” The lack of trees around them made them look worse.
In Thomson, the old theater where I watched “Godzilla” on a Saturday afternoon and got nightmares for weeks when in elementary school and spent many Friday nights slyly trying to ease my arm around may date, was still open.
But a few doors down, the pool hall where I slipped to some afternoons, skipping last period band, was a shop of some kind. No kids would learn to play pool and vastly increase their cuss word vocabulary there any longer.
The boat club we joined in 1966 has undergone a lot of changes, too. It hurts to look at the small group of big pines near the water where our camper sat a few feet from the water that are still there. But a ruling by the Corps of Engineers meant removing any structures near the water.
I will ever sit on the small porch beside the camper and shoot a deer across the cove. Or just sit drinking coffee and watching the world. Memories of that camper are great but gone. Like the time the lake was three feet high and we pulled our ski boat within a few feet of the deck one afternoon, only to awake the next morning to find the lake at normal level and the boat sitting high and dry. That will never happen again.
One of my favorite memories is the Christmas Holidays when I spent at the lake the week from Christmas Day until New Years Day when I had to go back to work. For five days in a row I didn’t see another person. It was just me and my dog. I ate when hungry, slept when sleepy and fished the rest of the time. The lake is way too crowded now for that to ever happen again.
All the campers had to be moved further from the lake, and many new ones have been added. The area in front of the club house has campers side by side and the sign there says “Corner of Confusion’” a very appropriate name. And the road into the boat club is no longer wild, with may new campers lining it from the gate to my mobile home.
Much of the lake has changed, too. There are not many houses on the water due to Corps rules, but there are more docks. Many of the old stumps and brush piles where I could count on catching a bass have rotted away. But one cedar top I sank on an old road bed in the 1970s is still there and still produces fish.
I still love going there but the changes are sad. There is a sense of loss, maybe for my long-gone youth, but also for my dog Merlin, my constant companion from 1974 until 1988 when she had to be put down. And staying there by myself is depressing, remembering the times with my parents. There are just too many ghosts.
Change is often good, but some of it is also sad. But making memories like I have are invaluable. Don’t get so busy you miss making them.