Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.
We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.
It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.
The next leg of our journey had us headed to Macon, Georgia to visit my sister and her husband. This is a rare treat, since we now live on opposite sides of the country. I was very excited and focused primarily on that visit, so I didn’t really think about being in Macon itself, even though I had been there once before, briefly, decades ago, and I remember thinking it was a pretty city.
We decided to splurge and stay at the 1842 Inn, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But then most of that part of Macon seems to be on the registry. I hopped over to their website and started counting all the Macon, Georgia listings, and lost count at fifty.
The inn consists of an antebellum, Greek revival style mansion that was built in 1842 by John Gresham, a former mayor of Macon who was also a judge and a cotton merchant. A Victorian cottage was added out back by subsequent owners. There are 19 rooms in the main house and cottage, each with a different design and named for a different aspect of the area’s history. For example, our room was the Nancy Hanks, which was a local passenger train that was named after one of the most famous racehorses ever. I could get used to this place, with its four-poster beds and its beautiful artwork and its elegant complimentary breakfast in the parlor.
When you step out of this inn, everywhere you look, for many blocks, you see mansion after mansion after mansion. These stately homes are beautiful to behold, and suggest a genteel and romantic past, the past many Southerners prefer to remember, but these homes also come with the awkward fact that most were probably built by slaves or at least by the money they produced. Macon’s primary source of income, prior to the Civil War, was cotton. And the cotton industry at the time was dependent upon the labor of slaves.
As a matter of fact, we were staying at a home that once housed 8 slaves. And John Gresham had 43 additional slaves on his farm. I couldn’t help but wonder if our ground floor room at the back of the house, with it’s outside entrance, was once occupied by a house slave.
It’s a really odd dichotomy, admiring the beauty of a town’s historic district, and also being well aware of its dark and racist past. In fact, Macon’s historic train station still has a room off to the side which has engraved into the very stone above its door, “Colored Waiting Room.” From 1916 to 1960, African Americans had to enter the terminal by that door. The sign was covered up for a time as the building passed from one owner to the next, but it was exposed again not long ago so as not to deny the history of the place. I am not sure how to feel about that. Is there a way to remember your dark history without being a constant source of pain for those who live in the present?
The building is symmetrical, so there’s another room on the opposite side of the station that is the exact same size and design as the Colored Waiting Room. It, however, says “Baggage.” Wow.
The Station itself is so grand that weddings are still held there.
Another startling visual is this stone that commemorates the now nonexistent Baconsfield Park, which was given to the city by a Senator from Georgia and was “for the sole, perpetual and unending use, benefit and enjoyment of the White women, White girls, White boys and White children of the city of Macon.
Living in this town must be a strange balancing act. Elegance and injustice. Hoop skirts with shit on the hemline. Bless their hearts.
But oddly enough, I have good reason to love Macon and to want to come back. Somehow, magically, it has transformed my sister. She and I have much in common, including the fact that we’re both introverts. She even more so than me. People are not our favorite things. They never have been. We are both childfree, and I credit her with giving me the courage to make that choice despite society’s constant criticism. She paved the way for me. It was the right choice for both of us.
We both lead relatively isolated lives even now, but ever since I moved out West and met Dear Husband, I’ve become a bit more social. Not that that is a superior state. It’s just how it is. And I know I’m much happier now, even when alone, and it’s obvious to anyone who looks at me. It took me 50 years to come into my own, and I was so focused on that, I think I overlooked the obvious hints that my sister was blossoming at the very same time.
It’s a wonderful thing, watching someone bloom, like a gorgeous Queen of the Night flower that shows its beauty but one night a year, and is therefore all the more stunning to behold. My sister, in Macon, is a rare flower, indeed.
We walked around the historic district, ate meals outdoors at places called Parish and The Rookery (try the Solid Gold Soul Rolls!), stopped in at the Hummingbird Bar, and enjoyed the quirky inventory of a shop called Travis Jean Emporium where I wished I could buy one of everything. People knew her. She talked to them. She was happy to see them. Even the homeless smiled and waved. Total strangers talked to her on the street. And I could tell that she was really and truly happy. And it was a pleasure to watch her husband look on in wonder after 32 years of marriage.
As a matter of fact, I have never seen my sister happy like this, ever. It was fun to watch this Yankee girl, taking up all the space she deserves in this Southern world. She has found her place. She has become the person I always knew she could be, and it brings tears of joy to my eyes every time I think about it. It also makes me want to say, with delight, “Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?”
For a while now, I’ve been trying to convince her and her husband to retire near me, because I miss having them close by and I love Washington so much. From now on, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut. It seems that for the first time in our lives, we both have things figured out. And at the exact same time, too! I do believe I’ll just bask in that knowledge for a time.
For the younger readers out there, never give up hope. Serenity can smack you in the forehead at any age. There’s no deadline. You just never know.
Life is good.
But wait! There’s more! While visiting my sister, we also went to the Tubman Museum and the Ocmulgee Mounds and saw some amazing public art… I’ll tell you about all that in the next post.
An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5