Ballard: Taking a trip down memory lane

July 13, 2014 

Our minds are amazing things. Within our brains, we have the capacity to store a lifetime of memories. Like sponges, our minds soak them all up and then time decides which ones we’ll keep.

Bits and pieces float around within our memory banks just waiting to be recalled. Sometimes it takes physically seeing something to release them. Other times they pop into our minds at random.

Recently when I was in my cousin, Damon Allen’s, bike shop on First Street in downtown Macon, he mentioned taking a trip to see our relatives’ old home places and graves in Griffin. Most of the Allens lived in and around Griffin when Damon and I were growing up.

I thought it was a great idea and immediately contacted those who remained in Griffin to set up a day for our pilgrimage. It was then my mind starting pulling up bits and pieces of memories that had been dormant for years.

As the day of our visit approached, I became more excited. We were all to meet at a local restaurant in Griffin to eat and visit and then we were literally going to drive down memory lane. Parts of my recollections were a little fuzzy, but as we began to talk and reminisce, they quickly came into focus.

Looking around the table, I could hear multiple conversations going on at the same time. I tried to hear and participate in all of them but quickly realized I couldn’t. The good thing about memories is that they love company -- especially when that company is kinfolk. One memory triggered another and, before we knew it, the past was coming to life right before our very eyes.

We traded old photos like collectable baseball cards. But instead of physical prints, we passed around our smart phones -- a definite sign of the times.

I couldn’t help but smile as I thought about what most of the people being discussed would think about smart phones, since many of them never got the chance to personally experience them.

At one point, I told my cousin sitting near me that I was slowly trying to get all my old photographs transferred up to “The Cloud.” Her puzzled look told me she didn’t know what I meant.

After our checks were paid, we set out in a caravan heading for places many of us hadn’t visited in a long time. The cemetery was our first stop. Looking at gravestones can awaken memories quicker than almost anything. They are able to establish a timeline from the past to your present.

Although many things have changed, these stones represent people who are frozen in time. As the scorching hot sun shone down upon us, we walked beside those relatives who had gone before us. Old and new became one in that cemetery because we all shared a common bond.

Driving down the dusty roads to the old home places, my memory was jogged with each bump in the road. Like flashbacks, I remembered all the times I had visited these places before.

Decades have passed since I’d seen them, but they appeared to be pretty much the same. A barn was gone here and an outhouse there, but my mind filled in the blanks. I stopped in my tracks at one house for a moment as I got out of the car for a closer view.

The front porch was still full of rocking chairs -- only now they were empty. As I stared, I could almost see the owners rocking backing and forth with their hand-held fans and ice-filled glasses of water.

In my mind, the chickens squawked as they pecked their way across the field and the dogs sought refuge from the oppressive heat under the shade of an old oak tree.

I quickly got my camera to take a photo, but when I looked into the camera, the scene was still and lifeless. Isn’t that the purpose of a memory? To take us back to a time long after that time is over?

Our family members who still live in many of the old houses reminded us of who lived where and what happened when.

Across the street was a new, huge development with an impressive entrance and perfectly manicured grounds that definitely seemed out of place. It certainly was not in my memories.

Our family explained that the developers had approached them to buy their land and homes as well. But, steadfast, they remain, promising to hold on to the past until they can’t anymore.

When you come face-to-face with the future snuffing out the past, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Part of us realizes we must go forward with progress but the little child within us doesn’t want to let go.

I suppose that’s why we have memories to treasure. We can call on them when the physical evidence of our past is gone.

This particular ride down memory lane still offered many sights from our childhood, but who knows what will remain the next time we travel those dusty roads? That’s why it’s so important to take these pilgrimages while we still have the chance.

I read a quote the other day that made me think of this. I’m not sure who said it, but it is very true: “Reflections of the past are all around us; it’s those we choose to remember that will survive.”

More with Mark

• Join Mark at the Ladies’ Lunch and Laughter hosted by the Warner Robins Senior Activity Center at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Wellston Center, 155 Maple St., Warner Robins. $15 includes catered lunch. Call 478-293-1066 for reservations.

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to P.O. Box 4232, Macon, GA 31208; call 478-757-6877; email markballard@cox.net; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.

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