There is an undeniable squeaking sound an old screen door makes as it slowly closes and reaches the frame of the door with a thud. If you have ever heard that sound, you will never forget it.
Hearing it immediately takes me back to childhood at my grandparents house, where each entrance to their home was graced by a screen door. Having a screen door is just about as Southern as drinking sweet tea.
Thinking back, I can still hear my grandmother saying, Mark, quit running in and out of the house! Youre going to take the screen door off its hinges!
Its simply amazing to me how a certain sound, a particular item or even the slightest of smells can wake up our memories as quickly as a very loud alarm clock does from a very deep sleep. Our memories are always resting in the back of our minds, but sometimes we have to awaken them to force them to the surface.
This past weekend, Debra and I had the pleasure of visiting a place that caused me to revisit my past at every turn. I felt comforted being there because it reminded me of a much simpler time in my life -- a time and place I often yearn for when my schedule gets out of control.
Sometimes the places we need to go for rest are actually within us all the time. We just have to be reminded to stop and remember.
Entering the small, beautiful town of Waxhaw, just barely across the line from South Carolina into North Carolina, stirred up a plethora of memories for me. I was invited there to speak at a museum fundraiser called Southern Style.
From the moment I got there, I felt at home. As I looked out of the car windows trying to take it all in, it was almost like being in one of those small, intricate, made-to-scale, miniature towns that artisans create for toy trains. If a giant looked down, Im positive thats exactly what he would see.
Perfectly manicured yards and shrubbery, humongous oak trees standing tall and proud, stately old homes colorfully painted and lining the streets, and a quaint row of shops and eateries filled the downtown area. Everything was there -- including a train track that ran directly through the town literally dividing it in half.
It made it much easier when it came to describing how to go to someone elses house. She lives in a beautiful older home across the railroad tracks, Debra and I heard more than once from our hosts during our visit.
Front porches were abundant on the towns houses. Some of them were screened while others were open. In more cases than not, on the front porches were comfortable old wicker chairs and rockers with plush cushions and hanging wicker or wooden swings.
Every porch I visited and every swing or rocker I sat in gave me a chill because it brought back such wonderful memories of my grandparents front porch and all the good times we had just sitting for a spell, visiting and swinging or rocking our troubles away. With each back and forth movement, we dropped off a few more problems until, magically, they were all gone.
From the front porch of our hosts house, we had a birds-eye view of just about everything that happened in this small town. What we couldnt actually see, our gracious host gladly filled us in about by recounting the towns history including much of the interaction -- both good and bad -- between the residents living there. I sat mesmerized as day slowly turned into night, listening to each and every word he uttered as the frogs croaked and the crickets sang.
It was only when a train sounded its loud horn and rattled down the tracks within a few feet of us that our conversation was interrupted. But even the train passing took me back. The town wouldnt be as charming without it and our experience not as grand.
Tucked behind the main house was a small house where we stayed that reminded me of a David Winter cottage. The cracks between the brick path leading to it were filled with thick, rich, green moss and large strands of ivy hung from every tree creating a natural arbor. Because it had just rained, all the shrubs, flowers and plants were proudly standing at their best.
Planted pots lined the path and I could almost see my grandmother standing there tending to them. My memories stirred and I flew back in time to have a little visit with her, only coming back to reality when a piece of ivy brushed gently across my face. I couldnt help but smile.
There, in a completely different state than the one in which I was raised, were signs everywhere of the same childhood I remembered. Many of the people our host described were the same exact people I knew growing up, only with different names and living in a different place. We quickly became great friends with all the people with whom we worked and enjoyed lunches, suppers and porch visits all weekend long.
It was almost like a fantasy for me -- one that I didnt want to end. I mentioned to one of my new friends that if a picture was included in a dictionary next to the definition of a small town, it could easily be Waxhaw.
I must admit I was sad as we drove away leaving the city limits sign behind us. I looked around for one final view. Not only had I performed on stage for a great cause, made more new friends than I can even count and had so much fun in the process, I also got to do another one of my favorite things.
The sounds, sights and smells of the town took me on a journey back to my childhood. Just hearing the distinct sound of the squeaking screen door reminded me of a place I like to go to often.
More with Mark
Just two spots remain for Mark and Debra Ballards annual New York City holiday trip Dec. 5-9. Join the Ballards in the Big Apple at the most amazing time of year for Broadway shows, tours, shopping and more. For details, go to www.markballard.com or call 478-757-6877 and leave your mailing address to receive the information by postal service.
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