Red Clay Reflections

The year is ending, and it seems like a good time to reflect. Some headlines hit harder than others. Lately, I’ve encountered those moments when you get really clear about what matters: death, coma, fear of harm of a child. It would have made voting really clear for me if I hadn’t already done so. Additionally, there was this weird element of a few comments on my Town Hall post about Buckhead that gave me great clarity on the separation between Buckhead and the rest of Atlanta that is just as defined as the difference most Georgia politicos recognize that exists in the ITP vs OTP policy space under the Gold Dome. Instead of us being One Atlanta or One Georgia with ven diagrams highlighting where our experiences overlap, they are actually more silos- which seems somehow appropriate for Georgia’s agriculturally based economy. For my city brethren, silos are tall structures in the midst of flat fields that hold grain with a skinny metal ladder on the side that when climbed, gives onlookers an incredible perspective (unlike any other, save a water tower, which didn’t exist in my area) to see the land around. Fields mostly, but from a certain height, you realize how small certain life challenges are in the spectrum of colors across red clay, or maybe that’s just me. All of this got me thinking of how little has changed over the course of my life here in Georgia and how in Atlanta, our children seem to be suffering from an almost PTSD-like response where they anger easily over seemingly insignificant things, value human life so little, and the element of hope is molded into a gritty skepticism after any other form of hope has been beaten out of them. While some celebrate various wins, I can see the deaths of friends around me and I know if we had a better healthcare system that provides a mental health component I might have fewer friends who either pass at earlier ages or face serious life-changing health events. I recognize most Peach Pundit readers think I’m pie in the sky, but I have never enjoyed the Ivory Towers. Give me the fields and the streets. I’ll try to explain here why they aren’t so different. I spent a lot of time dawdling in the former in my childhood and spend a fair amount in the latter as an adult. This is a longer read, so I invite you to curl up with your beverage of choice and walk with me for a piece. 

Now that the US Senate election has passed, and some of the dust in my life has settled, I’d like to share what experience has brought me to the conclusions I’ve made. More importantly, I think Georgia still has so many more miles to go, and I fear what direction that will take as my current governor tries to raise his national profile in advance of a potential Presidential run. While I use my own life as an example as often as I can, I typically try really hard to write about things without using names or identifying enough characteristics that call attention to my friends, family, and those around me folks would know. 

I’ve always said Atlanta is one big small town. In fact, I would kindly say that the entire South is- maybe the nation, I don’t know. As I get older, things get closer, and the distance between people and patterns seems to be tied. In terms of faith, Blest Be The TieThat Binds is a hymn and metaphor that plays in my head almost as much as songs from the Brothers Band, Marshall Tucker, CCR, and Stevie Ray Vaughn-Daddy brought me up listening to the Grease Man. Currently, though, I think these are more of a throughline as many genres the South embraces are: themes of sorrow, making it day by day only with the support of God and community, and above all- overcoming obstacles. These stories of resilience are so interwoven into the Southern existence that I often take them for granted and forget the beauty that is here because it’s so prevalent around me. Southerners are also great storytellers, so the fact that these stories and memories hang around me like the moss in the trees or spider webs in a Faulkner novel means that they get jumbled up sometimes in the mix. Black Southerners refer to their ancestors, but everyone in the South knows we walk hand in hand with the ghosts of the past here enough to incorporate them into our decor. Haint Blue isn’t a fad here and red clay stains whatever it touches.

These stories can also lead in another direction too though. One I try to avoid. The Southern Gothic brooding could lead me to anger & resentment, but I try hard not to tarry there. Rather than becoming yet another Bitter Southerner, I try hard to lean into the pain and struggle of the lives around me, and bare it here on the altar of those who make decisions in this state. I never know if my words hit their target. I assume most of the time they don’t. But I’ll never give up hope that we can all make a better Georgia, and so I write to do my little part. Either way, I’m going to walk you through why some of these things matter to me and what merit they have in considering policy discussions on a state basis. So too, I hope I can draw your attention to the more immediate challenge of gun violence as a means of resolving conflict. 

If you’ve read my intro(s) or any of my writing, you know I grew up in Walton Co. I specifically grew up in Social Circle, the small (truly almost circular) enclave next door to Covington, right off of I-20. I grew up at the intersection of Social Circle Fairplay Road and Mt. Paron Church Rd.  I didn’t come from money- quite the opposite. My parents took care of the land on the farm that now occupies both sides of Mt. Paron Church Rd in exchange for rent. Atlanta folks would recognize the company name of Jordan, Jones, and Goulding. The Jones party owned the farm on which I grew up and while some knew that Charlie Jones led a company that did the civil engineering that made the English Chunnel possible, I simply knew him as ‘Papa Charlie’ and his wife was ‘Nana Judy’. My father was a farmer before jumping into timber harvesting and he worked with his father on the family farm in the Harmony Baptist Community (known for the nearby church, where my grandfather served as a deacon and my parents were married). The church still stands, only the smaller building appearing in the wedding polaroids is now just an additional building. The sanctuary at Harmony is much larger now as the community has grown along with it. While the family farm had a Monroe address, the land was actually situated between Monroe and Good Hope, which (while incorporated) is little more than a four-way stop at a flashing light at the Good Hope store- where one can gas up or get a biscuit the size of a dinner plate for breakfast- not exaggerating. 

It’s a little place, for sure, and I went to a small private school where I had a small pack of fierce friends – some of which have always been closer to the Governor than me, others were the wildflowers- the dreamers, the concert-goers, the artsy, the marching to the beat of our own drum types. These were my people. I don’t just dance with the ghosts of the past in metaphor-Music Midtown’s Salt n’ Pepa, Kid Rick, and Big Day Outs allowed this small-town kid an outlet other than drugs and alcohol. The gravel of Lakewood Amphitheater could cover the clay dust for a few hours, at least.

I share all of this to say- I came from a rural place with a fierce heart. Don’t let my Atlanta address fool you- the pair of Pointers I keep in my closet, my love of smoke links & boiled peanuts, and my understanding of and respect for church hierarchy will out me anytime in regard to class. These things don’t play a part in Atlanta (except in Black churches), yet they do in small towns all across Georgia. I’ve never met a dog I can’t love because of the hunting pack my father kept and I rather enjoy horseback riding when I get the chance, albeit I’ve always found Chastain to be a little too bougie for my tastes.

When my husband and I moved into our home in Atlanta, we did so without a moving company. We loaded up our suburban home into a POD, had it delivered to Cerro St., and unloaded it ourselves (with the help of his dad). While I was carrying things, one of our young neighbors made the mistake of offering to help us. I’m sure he regretted it quickly. They (there were a total of 3 young men and 2 younger kids around the age of 10) helped us carry every piece of furniture or box into our homes. I’m sure they were curious about all the liquor boxes we had everything packed into (we’re cheap & liquor boxes are free), but they never said anything. Clearly, the home training they had was superior. The littlest neighbor (who pulled his little wagon of our books to help) years later asked me if I knew who George Floyd was. Because of his question, my husband and I moved to the front of the line between the APD, DNR, and the Black and brown protestors around us in front of the CNN center. “White allies to the front” was the call, and we felt compelled to respond. 

I have never regretted the lesson that child’s question taught me.

Over the years I’ve lost touch with more and more of Walton County. It’s still familiar like a warm blanket, yet I’ve grown closer to the neighbors who helped us move in. Part of it is proximity, and part of it is minding one’s own business. In a small town, people are often in one another’s business. I tired a long time ago of small-town business goings-on in my mother’s circles of weddings and showers to sit instead at the feet of the men in my household. They talked of politics and business- much more of interest to me. But I’m eternally grateful for the lessons Walton Co. folks taught me- community, caring for one another, don’t get too big for your britches, etc. and in turn, I’ve brought that with me to Atlanta. 

Sort of surprisingly, the neighborhood of Mozley Park has reminded me so much of what I remember from home- with neighbors who genuinely care, ask for pots to borrow, sugar, and eggs, or the newly single neighbor to zip her up into her dress before going out. This is the Atlanta I know in Zone 1, the Westside- the part of the city that I was told was “unsafe” and I got many questions from folks- white and Black about why I wanted to move here. The reason was simple- I wanted to be close to MARTA and park space. And at MARTA 4 stops from the Capitol, our home off MLK Jr. Dr. has been a perfect decision for us. Our little piece of clay, not much bigger than a postage stamp, has been a wonderful place to make our home.

What I did find surprising here was that steps away from the Capitol my neighbors live in what I would consider abject poverty- no furniture, no beds—sleeping multiple people to a room. I had a child who came home the first week of school one year and slept on my couch every afternoon because his body hadn’t adjusted to the early mornings yet and his smaller siblings wouldn’t give him any rest to sleep at night. My neighbors have food- but not the nutritious kind- it’s the prepackaged full of sugar and processed stuff I remember of my childhood, pre-diabetes. This is the stuff you eat when (like for me) the closest grocery store was little more than a gas station. I only learned the term ‘food desert’ when I got to college. Most rural folks live in them, aside from the kitchen gardens they may keep. 

Stupid me, I thought my husband and I had enough connections at the state level that we might make a positive impact here. I shared openly on Facebook and have in my writing here about the severe learning gaps I’ve found in the children in our neighborhood, albeit steps away from the local elementary school and with APD cars zooming down my street multiple times a day. But like most white folks who care, I’ve been called a white savior and by some, racist. I’m not really interested in debating that one way or another- I just don’t know any other means to bridge gaps and at this point in my life I’m less interested in my pride and more interested in getting ish done. 

As in anyone’s life, when those personalities that sculpt you are removed, it leaves a mark. And such was the case of the loss of my brother from another mother. He was my neighbor, but eventually, we became chosen family members. His kids- not by birth, but by love- were the ones who helped us move in. He would walk over and check on me. He watched for Amazon packages and kept an eye out on our house when my husband and I were out of town. He counseled me on the backgrounds of the children and families around us in the neighborhood and always welcomed a warm cup of hot chocolate-almost as heartily as he cheered for his Falcons. He was such a common presence in my life that our cat Squeaks still looks for him in one of our windows, as he always rose early to drive his wife to work and made faces at the cat, whose RBF is rather constant. My brother experienced an accident first as a child, and then later while he was working on the Dome as an adult, both of which left him with a speech impediment and required walking with a cane when I met him. Didn’t matter. My brother walked over to check on me and my husband often. Even after all the kids moved out and he and his wife moved down off of Cleveland Ave., he sent me texts almost daily to wish me well. 

We were all saddened by their move. 

My husband and I were sorry to lose such great neighbors. My brother’s wife told me at the time that she had always said she’d never move back to the area in which they were to reside. Albeit only 15 minutes down the road, we both know that means a world of difference in Atlanta real estate. She had lived there before when bringing her small children up and helped me to identify where her new home was as I drove her over in the process of moving. We passed by the entrance to the Met before she pointed out the new gas station that replaced the burned-out Wendy’s that had been occupied in 2020 following the APD murder of Rayshard Brooks and the subsequent occupier murder of Secoria Turner. Her son’s partner is a relative of Secoria Turner. Within our small corner of the neighborhood (a total of 4 streets). A child who regularly plays in my backyard was a classmate of Secoria’s and one of her uncles lives two streets back from me. One of his child’s coats is sitting at my dinner table after I washed and dried it from being left outside after a basketball game. She said the schools weren’t good at the time when her kids were coming up and the apartments the family resided in were not well maintained. This conversation occurred before the Mayor moved folks out of Forest Cove, but from what I understand, the stories were similar, albeit to a lesser degree. 

The new to them home was a fix-and-flip, like many in Atlanta. Newly stained and polyed floors with the white paint on the walls barely dry before the new residents entered. The neighborhood was quiet, with no sidewalks, nor many street lights. It was similar to the neighborhood from which I’d moved (in Gwinnett) before I met my brother and his wife. I would later learn that their neighbors across the street were Latinx, threw great parties, and had been welcoming to my brother and his wife when they moved on to the street. Things seemed really positive. 

You can imagine my shock when I received the call telling me of my brother’s death. 

Unbeknownst to me, he suffered what the family believes must have been a stroke in July and had perhaps experienced others before he passed. Always putting their care for others in front of their own, it wasn’t surprising to learn that My brother hadn’t taken care of himself as he should have. He passed in the care of Grady and his homegoing ceremony was held in Mechanicville, with a cheer for Julio before dispersing the crowd. My brother was a son of Atlanta, from cradle to grave. The eulogy was delivered by their pastor, who remembered My brother when the two would go and pick up kids for activities. Rural or urban, kids need something to keep them busy, an escape sometimes from the families and environments in which they grow, and we all need good role models. My brother knew how to tease the children, relate to their families, and helped the pastor to build bridges with all. 

As I left the service, I made sure the pastor knew that my brother never lost that ability. I’d been a beneficiary of it myself.

I received another call- this time from the home that will always hold my heart. One of those fierce friends from youth was in a coma. And all I could think of was that the hospital back at home didn’t have insulin when I entered it as a child

I’d lost touch with this friend some years back after their mother called me looking for them while they were on a binge. I won’t lie for people, and I sure as hell won’t lie to anyone’s mamma. This isn’t said out of judgment- quite the opposite. I knew how constraining our small-town life was, and I made a beeline out of there. I completely understand how others have sought other means of escape. Like the kids My brother and his pastor picked up- this friend of mine and I sought our own. We attended concerts, danced in clubs, went to frat parties, and built alcohol tolerances most members of the armed forces could have admired. Friends with stronger wills and bigger hearts than mine have stayed in touch when I couldn’t bare watching this person abuse themself through substances over the years. The friend who called explained to me the circumstances around what landed the other friend in the hospital. It seems as if the friend was about to begin a new job (so between the provision of insurance) and sustained a fall significant enough to have lasting health effects. Rather than go to the doctor, this friend was trying to make it through. Like my brother, the friend only sought care in an emergency. Before entering the emergency room, the friend who called me explained to the friend visiting the emergency room that if doctors were not made aware of the substance abuse, the detox in the hospital could have dire consequences. I’m not sure if the coma was medically induced to assist in the recovery from what brought the friend into the hospital or as a result of detox. Either way, I’m happy to report that this story has a happier ending in that this friend is both out of the coma and the hospital. Unfortunately, I cannot report whether or not this friend is in recovery, although I know other friends who are trying to find a center nearby for this reason. 

All of this comes with a significant price tag, aside from the tremendous loss of human potential.

In both the case of my friend from home and my chosen family member, healthcare played a significant role. I think most at the Capitol know how much I care about rural healthcare as an issue, but probably don’t have as clear of perception of how similar it is to urban healthcare when insurance isn’t present and resources of healthcare systems are not managed effectively.  I’m very grateful for The Grumpy Old Man’s recent post about Certificate of Need. CON is a stupid practice that’s probably literally causing Georgians to die. I’ve tried to shed light on how Children’s mishandling of resources for Georgia’s most vulnerable patients is something about which we should all be concerned. As a previous patient of both Scottish Rite’s and Egelston’s, I’ve always cared about what happens there-knowing how their expert hands have held my own life in theirs. Knowing that this hospital receives the lion’s share of the state’s most vulnerable (and costly) patients, also tells me there’s money to watch here. Living in Atlanta, I reside minutes away from one of the most heavily resourced hospitals in the state- Grady. In Walton County, residents depend upon the Piedmont spur that exists in Monroe or Athens Regional. The latter was where my parents took me as a child if my blood sugar bottomed out in the middle of the night, feeling it was a better resource, albeit a long drive through country back roads to get there. There was no ambulance for me in the 80s and 90s. Even if there had been, I doubt my parents could have afforded it. 

In contrast, early on in the pandemic, I remember discussing Covid symptoms with my brother’s wife, who when she called Grady (when experiencing difficulty breathing) was refused a Covid test and was sent back home, presumably as a triage method to reserve Grady’s low EMS numbers for life and death cases. I’ve written about these wait times and the City of Atlanta is now finally trying to address the problem that has existed on the Westside for literally decades. I recently finished an autobiography called Rabbit, written by a woman who grew up in Vine City in the 1980s. She speaks about the wait times in the book. I HIGHLY recommend the book- it’s incredibly funny while also dealing with incredibly difficult issues. It highlighted to me that whether one had an ambulance in the 80s or not, the reliability of it showing up wasn’t always assured. 

In a few months, I’ll be 41. 

I wonder if there are ambulance services to Mt. Paron Church Rd. in Social Circle, now? On the Westside, I hope the new ambulance service reduces wait times and saves lives. We may have the ACA, but it seems for both of the folks I’ve written about in this piece, it hasn’t made the ability to receive care and reduce severe health effects any more prevalent. Doesn’t seem to matter if one’s insurance is Medicaid or employer-provided. Now Atlanta has one less hospital and the provision of care for substance abuse continues to bare this ridiculous stigma- even after almost half a century. 

The weird thing about middle age is that it gives one the ability to look forward and back at the same time. As an adult, I’m now more aware of the consequences of the actions I took as a child and young adult. That dawdling in fields was harmless, and I never understood my mother and grandmother’s fears when I didn’t come when they called me. But as an adult you do. 

So when I received a call from a mother of a child I love dearly the other night, my heart stopped. 

Her child hadn’t come home from basketball practice, and it was well after dark at this point, on a school night. She’d called all his coaches and was reaching out to everyone she knew. I had promised her the phone number of another child (her son’s bestie) previously that I’d forgotten to pass along. I passed it on then, and my husband and I began a multi-point check-in with both the mother and the bestie as I drove to the two parks near us- Mozley Park and Washington Park to look for the boy. Greeted by the kids who knew me, we traded information on who’d last seen him and where he might be. I drove through the neighborhood streets to check and see if he was walking along, just running later than any of us would have liked. It scared the bestie just like it scared us. 

My husband and I have had conversations with the kids about anxiety. We talk openly about professional counseling, how big emotions are reasonable, we just have to talk and work through them. Sometimes the words are too big for the kids we’re talking to, so we define as we go along. 

I may love Atlanta with all my heart, but I’m also aware that not everyone makes it home safely. Fewer and fewer of the city’s children have this privilege. I see the survival instinct of the children around me play out in the way the older ones are parentalized early, the younger ones code-switch without missing a beat, and they all are more familiar with death than most of my peers’ children are. Before I left for Thanksgiving, a child who’s moved out of the neighborhood stopped back by to shoot hoops in my backyard. I was grateful to see him-it’d been a few months. 

‘Are you here visiting family for Thanksgiving?’

‘No. X died. You remember her? She’s my auntie. Remember Y? X is her mamma. Yeah, Y got shot and she died a while ago. So X had a seizure in the Kroger parking lot the other day, and the family has gathered at the house today. And, well… they’re all crying, and if I stick around I’m going to start crying, so I came over here to shoot hoops.’

That gut punch you just experienced is a more regular occurrence for me than not. And I know it doesn’t have to be this way. But at this point, I can no longer see the silos of my childhood-metaphorically or otherwise. I’m firmly on the ground, whether it’s on the sidewalks of MLK Jr. Dr. or the marble of City Hall stairs. And to me- these things all intersect. Our lives and the geography I describe is more closely related than not. Class may separate the two, but if walk the fields or the streets, the red clay sticks just the same. 

Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Red clay will cover us all one day. 

The question for me now is how does one move within it? Does the clay keep me stuck like tires after muddin’ like the kids back home or do I brush it off my shoulders as I walk through the brass doors off Mitchell St.?  (The kids around me don’t even know who Jay Z. is as an artist anymore.) I need leaders who are willing to move between the circles in our states because they aren’t separate in my life. I don’t expect them to be separate for the children around me either. If there’s anything I hope that comes from sharing these stories is that there is a recognition all Georgians need care, safe spaces to escape to, and loved ones who’ll watch out for us when the system fails around us. Life will throw us all in the mud sometimes, so we need to have adequately resourced healthcare in the rural and urban spaces to provide for our people. We have to have mental health resources available to help our children (and us) deal with the trauma we encounter so we don’t act out,  self-harm, or abuse substances. Georgians need recovery spaces so our loved ones can heal within a strong support network that isn’t limited by finances. This isn’t a rural Georgia problem any more than it’s an Atlanta problem. These are challenges for Georgians across our state, lest we wish to toss more clay on more coffins, young and old alike. I’ve done enough of that lately. 

One Reply to “Red Clay Reflections”

  1. Gov. Kemp run for president? Nope. Non-starter.

    A carefully crafted modification to CON would make sense – adding protections against predatory monopolistic practices while lowering the threshold and simplifying the process. There’s been talk of expanding CON to hospice – that would be bad. Talk to not-for-profit hospices – many provide the best care but would be shoved out of healthcare by monopolistic for-profit hospices if CON is implemented in that arena. (For profits inevitably provide poorer care – because significant cash is removed from the organization to satisfy money-first investors.)

    Mental health care money has been increased – but no amount of money will successfully address the problem – because it’s symptomatic of a civilization in radical decline.

    The center, from which we’ve traditionally evaluated ‘standard deviation from mean’, has been yanked violently toward the Alt-Left fringe – leaving former ‘middle people’ re-cast as “un-Woke” and ‘extreme’. Nothing in the world of most young people seems predictable or stable, hopelessness abounds, and arrogance and entitlement rule – it’s a hot mess.

    The more that control of daily life has been centralized the worse things have become. When individuals and organizations are enabled to delegate care-giving to government they selfishly stand-down. Absent community-level caring – families, neighborhoods, regions, and cities crumble.

    A friend joked that the new standard is that you’re doing well if kids aren’t assaulting their moms with frying pans and pen knives for insisting that they clean their rooms (recent story from FL), healthcare monopolies aren’t denying organ transplants unless patients accept a dubiously effective or safe ‘vax’ injection, and a city block isn’t burning or being occupied by anarchists declaring it a sovereign nation. A scenario where the future is better is increasingly in doubt.

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