Where I was speaking and to which group is insignificant to the story, so I will leave that information out of the telling. Suffice it to say that the vast majority of the people to whom I was speaking were warm and gracious and made me feel right at home.
But there is one in every crowd. You know the kind I am talking about. They walk around with their noses so high in the air that they would drown if it came up a middlin' rain. They are always so busy telling you about themselves that they never hear what you have to say -- nor do they care. They apparently never have to spend money on Glade Air Fresheners for their bathrooms because ... well, you get the picture.
Well, that person happened to be a middle-aged woman at this particular event. She walked up to the table where I was signing my books and picked up a copy of "Grits is Groceries" and held it at arm's length, as if she were afraid of catching something and then preceded to tell me all the reasons she didn't eat grits. And then she picked up a copy of "A Southerner Looks at All Fifty," and launched into a litany of all the places she had been in Europe, being very vocal about how she preferred traveling abroad.
Meanwhile, the line of folks behind her waiting patiently to actually have a book signed continued to grow. Finally she picked up a copy of my CD, "Porterdale City Limits," and said with disdain, "Porterdale," as if mouthing the word would cause her to catch something. Then she added insult to injury by adding, "I would imagine that Porterdale would be a very good place to be 'from,'" with the emphasis on "from," as if I should be glad to have escaped.
I won't tell you what I said to her because this is a family newspaper, but I don't believe we parted as best friends, and she didn't buy a book. I did receive quite an ovation from the people standing close enough to have heard our conversation, however.
But the encounter set me to thinking, as I drove home through the clear, cool North Georgia night, about how good a place Porterdale was, not to be "from," but to have grown up in -- especially in the 1950s and '60s. And as I continue to travel all over this great nation and share my stories -- some of which are even true -- and talk to people from all over and from all walks of life, I learn that there are -- or at least, were -- lots and lots of "Porterdales" out there. Some had cotton mills and some did not, but all had similar qualities -- qualities that people are beginning to miss more and more in American life.
I have said many times that my own three children have been everywhere and done everything, but I had a much better childhood than they did. We could be out the door as soon as it got good light outside and didn't have to be back home until supper time. If someone else invited you to eat with them you didn't have to come in until the street lights came on.
We had the run of the village. We could go anywhere and do anything and never had to worry about anybody bothering us and there were always 2,000 sets of eyes on us, even though we weren't aware of it. If we did anything wrong our mamas would know about it before we got home and send us to cut a switch as soon as we walked in the door.
We went to school with instructions to behave ourselves and mind the teacher and do our work and heaven help us if we failed in any of the three categories. If we didn't do well our parents blamed us, not our teachers, and held us accountable. And if anyone distracted our education by acting out, that person was dealt with swiftly and firmly and we got back to the task at hand.
We didn't have much money, but we didn't need much and we were all in the same financial boat. There were no Joneses to keep up with by buying designer clothes or hundred-dollar sneakers. We could buy an ice cream cone for a nickel and a Co-Cola and a bag of peanuts for a dime and go to the show for a quarter. If we were short of spending money we could pick up bottles and collect the deposit or rake somebody's yard -- or we could do without. One of the great lessons my generation is neglecting to teach the next is how to do without.
And we could make our own fun. We could actually show up at a friend's house to play without having had a "date" arranged by our parents and we could choose up sides and play ball without adult supervision or double knit uniforms.
We had Boy Scout troops and Little League teams and a great school and great friends and a benevolent Bibb Manufacturing Company that believed in investing in the future by providing for its children.
That lady had no idea how accurate she was. Porterdale was a great place to be from, as were all of the Porterdales, all over the country. I just wonder if there are any left.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.