A road trip recently swung me down the back roads of Georgia and took me through a little town called Homer. I wouldn’t have thought much about it until I saw that wonderful old brick courthouse shaded by trees under which, probably, once rested a Confederate soldier or two.
It’s funny how forgotten memories are, how they’ll come rushing out in such a jumble that it feels like it happened just yesterday. My heart was thunderstruck with such vivid memory of a pleasant summer’s evening that I turned the car around, went back to the courthouse and sat on the sleepy street beside it and just remembered.
It is a two-story red building with four white columns undergirded by brick. In the front center is a little balcony that can be accessed from a staircase on either side as well as a door from the second floor. The windows, lovely and old, are decorated with stone above them and deep green shutters on either side. Sometime in the last couple of decades, the people of Homer built themselves a fine new courthouse that sets on the lot behind the old one.
In my mind’s eye, I watched the activity of that night which I suddenly remembered so well. It was a primary election night and I was a young reporter, so green that I was assigned coverage of a little town so far away that it was barely in the coverage area of the daily newspaper for which I worked. Back in those days, little towns like Homer still counted their ballots by hand. The ballot boxes would be delivered to the courthouse and, with great ceremony, the officials would count them out loud.
That night was a perfect summer’s evening with little humidity but the kind of warmth that makes summer feel cozy and perfect. Fireflies were awakening for their nightly dance and crickets harmonized.
In the yard and throughout the halls stood mostly men with a few women mixed in. Many were dressed in overalls or farm proud jeans and plaid shirts. They had quit early the tending of their gardens or getting up hay so they could file to the courthouse and see what the election wrought.
They crowded in to hear the calling of the names and ballots. For the ones who couldn’t get into the building, someone would run outside and make the announcement so then much murmuring commenced.
I sat on an old church pew outside the clerk’s office and watched it all. Though I was young and inexperienced, I knew that I was seeing America at its small-town best. A college friend, one of my favorite people in those years, sat down on the bench beside me. He spoke in a charming, gentlemanly Southern drawl with quick humor attached. He was always entertaining and fun.
Banks County, Georgia, was his home so he pointed out the farmer who owned the most land, the one whose family had first settled the area, the elected officials and whose wife made the best coconut cake for the church socials.
Tim Harper. I hadn’t thought of him in years. We had fallen out of touch as college friends often do. I looked at the courthouse and thought, “Whatever happened to that sweet Tim Harper?”
When I started to write this column, I did a search to learn more about the Homer courthouse and when I did, I made an astounding discovery: I found Tim Harper. He is the elected clerk of courts for Banks County. His office is in the new courthouse.
Without hesitation, I picked up the phone and called his office. The moment I heard his charming drawl, the years fell away.
The back roads had driven me to an old memory and, in the bargain, helped me find a treasured friend who was only a few steps away.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words – A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]