I heard Billy Graham tell this story at his last crusade, in New York City, so I know it is OK for a family newspaper.
Back in the days of the Old West, an old prospector, who was kind of long in the tooth, wandered into a mining boom town and decided to go into the local saloon and wet his whistle. As he was tying his old mule to the hitching rack, a drunken cowboy stumbled out of the saloon and accosted him.
"Old man," said the cowboy, "have you ever danced?"
The prospector allowed that he never had and the young cowboy proceeded to empty both his six guns at the prospector's feet. Sure enough, he danced around on the dusty street trying to avoid the flying bullets. When the drunk had emptied both his guns the prospector calmly walked over to his pack animal, took a sawed-off shotgun out of his saddle bags and pointed it right at the cowpoke's head.
"Young man," said the prospector. "Have you ever kissed a mule's behind?"
"No," replied the cowboy, "but I've always wanted to!"
Now I told you that to tell you this. Until last Friday night, I had never been to Union Point in Green County. I had driven by the sign on I-20 hundreds of times. I had never given a thought to getting off the expressway.
The exit 7 miles west of the Union Point turn-off is a horse of a different story. Many times I have gotten off at that exit and turned left to visit my good friend Carey Williams -- the last great country newspaper man -- in the Herald-Journal office or to drop off my books at Genuine Georgia or to eat lunch at Yesterday Cafe. Even more frequently, over the years, I have gotten off that same exit and turned right to visit my fortunate friends who have weekend homes on Lake Oconee.
But until last Friday night I had always sped right past the next exit as I hurried on toward Thomson to visit some of my friends in that town, or Augusta or Columbia or Myrtle Beach. I learned Friday that I had been missing out and, the Lord willing, I will find my way back to Union Point sooner rather than later.
Last week I had the great honor of being invited to speak at Union Point First Baptist Church by Dee Lindsey, who is as fine a fellow as anyone would ever want to meet. As soon as I drove into town, I felt at home because Union Point used to be a mill town.
There are so many places dotting the Southern Piedmont that "used to be" mill towns, but even though most of the mills are closed and a lot of the towns are in decline, anyone who was raised on a mill village will get a certain feeling when they drive through one of those old towns. All of us lintheads are kindred spirits to a degree. If you have never been one, you wouldn't understand, but folks who were raised in Porterdale or Milstead or Covington Mills -- or Union Point -- have a common heritage. It is like we were raised together in different places.
When I went inside the First Baptist Church, I felt eerily at home. At first, I couldn't put my finger on that feeling, but as I looked around the sanctuary at the exposed beams and ceiling and the arched windows and hanging light fixtures I realized that the church building could have been built from the same set of blueprints as the Julia A. Porter United Methodist Church where I was raised.
But the thing that really made me feel at home at Union Point was the warmth and graciousness of the people who came in on a Friday night to hear me tell my story about how God is taking care of me during my ongoing battle with cancer.
June and Jerry Johnston were even there. June and Jerry were mainstays at Heritage High School for a long, long time before retiring to Lake Oconee. June is one of my heroes. She and I share a love of good books and a set of beliefs about academic rigor and expectations concerning classroom behavior.
I got to share the evening with a splendid gospel quartet that call themselves the New Apostles and their music warmed my heart and helped me prepare to tell my story. The reception I received before, during and after my talk was unbelievably welcoming and as is always the case, I left the place having received many more blessings than I delivered.
Union Point is my kind of place. I can't wait to return. I wonder how many other Union Points there are out there that I just don't know about.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.