I first discovered back in the late 1980s that Pike County, Georgia had a quaint charm and a certain magic about it that made it different from anywhere I had ever lived. My college roommate, Stacey, grew up in this town, and the stories she told made it even more appealing. When I divorced in 2006, I decided to relocate from Hilton Head Island, SC to Zebulon, GA with my youngest child. We both needed this Little House on the Prairie to heal and pick up the pieces of our shattered lives. What I didn’t realize at the time was that we were, as characters and readers, moving directly into the pages of the most interesting book I’d ever read.
Rolling hills and fences contain plush meadows filled with cows and mules, donkeys and goats and horses. Countryside barns of Pike County take me straight back to my childhood dreams to the farm of Fern and Avery, with Charlotte and Wilbur at the core of this idyllic, pastoral setting that is a hidden gem my husband calls “God’s country.” He says it every time we’ve been off rambling somewhere out of county and pass the sign coming back in: “Ahhh……we’re back in God’s country.” Then he’ll crack the window and take a deep breath. Roosters ask and answer back and forth from neighboring farms at all hours, doodling their warnings on red tailed hawk sightings. And that song my mama always sang when I was little, that I still sing to my grown children today – early in the mornin,’ bout the break of day, you can hear the donkey, and this is what he’ll say….hee haw, hee haw…. You can hear those donkeys, too, here in Pike County.
When folks talk about a place so remote that they can pee off their own front porch, they are talking about right here. There is something forever lingering about this way of life when little boys grow up fishing in ponds and jumping dirt bikes from hill to hill ~ they never, ever lose their joy of peeing in the great outdoors. Take my word for it.
On one visit as I was preparing to make my move here, Stacey was driving down Reidsboro Road when she slammed on brakes. I looked up, bracing myself for a crash, and saw a goat with a red collar standing squarely in the middle of the lane, with no apparent plans to be anywhere. Stacey put on her flashers, exited the car, and took the goat by the collar, leading him well off the road to a grassy patch. That was the moment I knew for sure that I was moving to the right place.
Still today, on our community discussion page, “Someone’s bull is loose over on Pedenville Road, so if you know the owner you might wanna let ‘em know.” “A miniature pony is running around over on Chapman Road, and he won’t let me close to it. No idea where it is this morning, but if you’re missing one you could check the area for it.” “A pig is running down Shady Lane, and I almost hit it. If this pig is yours, come get it before it gets hit.”
Every.Single.Day some critter makes a break for it and winds up on social media.
There was that one day, too, when our neighbor’s bull got loose and wandered into our front yard. I had no idea he was visiting until my youngest child came home.
“Mom? There’s a bull in the front yard? Why??”
As if I had put it out there as a pet (and, to be fair, my children never really knew what to expect out of me – – I did once capture an alligator with my bare hands and a rubber band when it was threatening to get into a neighbor’s pool in South Carolina, and held it until DNR arrived to take it and relocate it). I called the neighbor, who showed up a few minutes later and took his bull by the horns and led it back over to his pasture.
Shortly after I moved here in 2006, a headline in the once-a-week newspaper reported that a cannon had been fired over in Meansville and the cannonball had ripped through a wall of a house a half mile away as the residents were out to dinner.
And everyone’s a character. One deacon in a church talks with such passion about everything, his favorite word “onliest.” The onliest way to Heaven is accepting Jesus, he’ll say, further squeezing more superlative status out of the already-narrow-laned word. The English teacher in me cringes every time he uses that word, but when I step outside my teacher skin and sit back and listen, I feel the pulse of the onliest place I ever really want to be.
And then there are all the typical busybody southern ladies who can’t keep their noses in their own wadded purse Kleenex to save the queen, and who rarely even call ceasefires on gossip for Sunday services. Those prayer lists in the women’s Sunday School class? Are usually veiled gossip sessions.
There are mudboggin’ jacked-up pickup truck types who take their Saturday night shower and slick their hair back on Sunday mornings, wipe the tops of their boots off, and wear their best Wrangler jeans and bolos, reverently removin’ their cowboy hats before passin’ through the church doors to find a pew and sit with their grannies to harmonize in the hymn-singin’ as they praise the Lord.
Every small-town southern character who has ever appeared in any book is here, in the flesh, in Pike County, Georgia. Story lines play out right in front of me, so that’s why I try to listen far more than I talk – – I’m busy watching the next writing ideas take root.
Some characters are scandalous, so scandalous I can’t mention them here, like the local convenience store regulars who show up for the undergarments hidden in the pizza boxes.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Maybe my favorite was the day I was scanning Facebook for a moment right before a serious meeting and came across this post: I’d like to apologize to anyone who was at Pedro’s. I showed my white tr@$h a$$ last night. My bad.
Not only could I not focus on the meeting for having to cover my face as if I were about to sneeze several times to cover the laughter, I kept thinking to myself, …..and this is why I love living here in this sauna of sin, where self-deprecating confessionals plummet like waterfalls all around in the natural beauty of the rural countryside. And…..why wasn’t I at Pedro’s to see this spectacular show??
God’s country. Like nowhere else on earth.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.