I finished reading a book yesterday, the day I also restarted it. It’s Blood Done Sign My Name, by Tim Tyson, MK’s cousin. I am dialoging through it with MK and Leigh, my reading/writing comrades. It’s my favorite kind of book: historical, I learned something that I did not know on nearly every page; revelational, Tim again and again brought new insight and understanding to the ways and wiles of man; funny – its tender anecdotal quality is without compare. I loved this book. I pray that one day I can be a part of producing this kind of work.
I’m trying presently to summarize my experience. Well, I feel like someone just corrected the glasses I’ve been watching life through all my years. I saw and perceived and felt so many of the same things that Tim did as a child. I too, struggled to make sense of my world, the south in the late sixties, and the early seventies. I was young, but I had eyes and ears. And I paid attention, even then.
Mr. Campbell was my school bus driver all the years I went to Barnett Shoals Elementary School. He was tall and thin, older than my Daddy, and he wore a government green or brown pressed uniform everyday. He was the type of man who wore his belt perfectly aligned and whose shoes or boots were freshly shined. When it was cool he wore a cap that sort of matched his shirt. He didn’t talk much; it helped that he towered over even the fifth graders. Our route was particularly long, especially since most of us lived close enough to walk or ride our bikes to school. But for some reason, I never knew why or cared to ask, our route ran all the way out to the very edge of the county where a couple of stray students lived, then wound back around to my house. It was fine with me; I loved the ride.
We left the school and headed due west toward the near corner of Morgan county. We drove a quiet highway that basically paralleled the Oconee River and the few neighborhoods along it. An occasional 100- 150 year old homestead that somehow lived on brought me smiles and an imagined life under its huge trees. Further out the homes were younger and less inviting, but we didn’t cater to those neighborhoods. At the end of Barnet Shoals Road, just north of its namesake, we let out our first passengers, a brother and a sister who lived in this mobile home, settled down in this little draw right alongside the road. That was the end of our county, Clarke.
We turned around in their driveway. We headed back north through beautiful cropland…no longer seriously planted. About the only farmers left in Clarke County were university professors and their graduate assistants. Then we turned east on Whit Davis Road, the address of my family’s lake and cabin…my other home anytime weather permitted and Nana or Dada, Mama or Daddy would take me. I loved seeing the huge nondescript gate with its wired on “LOCK THE GATE” sign and knowing the secrets beyond that no one else could even fathom. We rolled across some feed cropland and by another glorious old lady with monstrous columns and then turned left at a beautiful highly detailed Georgian Greek Revival that someone was always sinking a small fortune into, trying to restore it to its glory. Then we continued back north and toward civilization on Lexington Road. We traveled down a long hill, over an inviting creek and its breathtaking little valley where rust brown and white cattle collected awaiting their dinner. As we climbed again, houses and neighborhoods, every paint hue and door style forever fixed in my memory, faithfully ticked by. A little farther and we came to my neighborhood, Green Acres. Another hundred yards past my neighborhood, in opposite direction lay Barnett Shoals Road. Down it a half mile was our genesis. The ride took about 50 blissful minutes.
I can only remember one time that we did not keep our appointed rounds. After turning around at the county line, Mr. Campbell turned on his blinker before Whit Davis Road. I was sitting in my seat of choice, right behind Mr. Campbell. He began to turn down this red road, it needed gravel badly, there were big ruts which he tried to navigate carefully…Most of the kids were oblivious. A few looked around confused and then went back to giggling with a friend. My eyes were wide, my ears strained for some clue. We drew closer and I recognized exactly where we were. I knew from what I saw through the windshield and what I saw on Mr. Campbell’s face. We were at his house. He quickly descended the bus, ducked inside his house for a moment and then jogged back to the bus and cranked the engine. Our eyes met for the briefest of moments. My eleven years hadn’t prepared me. In that millisecond of eternity my eyes tried to tell him: I respect you, Mr. Campbell. I think that you are decent and good and everything I would want in a Daddy. I trust you and count on you and think no less of you because your house, as tidy as you, is out here, down this not good road, near these not all good folks…We…you and me…we are still the same.
I couldn’t tell him that I knew the place well. My Mama and I used to carry Aida, our maid who took care of me when I was little, home right down from his house to a little ramshackle dwelling…and its occupants. Aida was never in a rush to go home. She always kept finding ironing or something to do for me. Now I could better understand why she preferred our cool in the summer, warm in the winter small house in Green Acres and just eating a bite of dinner with Mama and me and my baby sister.
We finished the route, on time…pulled up to my stop…435 Brookwood Drive, like always. Mr. Campbell nodded goodbye to the gang of kids who exited before me. I followed them down the steps and out into the sunshine. I turned back and looked up to Mr. Campbell, “Have a good day, Mr. Campbell!” I called. “You too, Honey,” he answered. “Yes, sir,” I smiled in relief. We were the same.