Originally printed in The Henry County Times, http://www.henrycountytimes.com/Archives/2012/05.23.12/opinion.htm
Eleven years ago, when Zack’s grocery store still stood proudly and the Square didn’t seem quite as crowded, my family moved in and away from our lives in Clayton County.
We packed up our previous small dwelling and unpacked into a split-level house in a neighborhood barely constructed.
At the time, I was 10-years-old and upset that I had to make new friends at a new school, but it was all a blessing in disguise.
I was rescued from the loud noises, and unfriendly characters of the city in which I was born, and brought to a place that was bursting with Southern idealism and hospitality.
At the time, McDonough Elementary School was only grades third through fifth, and I was the new girl in a small school, with an old building and even older history.
To this day I cannot pass that recycled building, which now serves as the Henry County Schools Administrative Services, without lamenting the loss of the cafeteria and fifth grade hall that was torn down. That was the best year of my childhood.
When I finally was adjusted to life in McDonough, I realized just how drawn I was to the sense of a close-knit community McDonough had those years ago.
Walking through the Square, I still feel it.
Despite the glamour of bigger cities, I always find sanctuary in smaller towns. Perhaps I have watched too much of The Andy Griffith Show and Gilmore Girls.
Those who have lived in McDonough long enough can attest to how fast it has grown, but even the rapid growth has had its benefits.
For me, it gave me a chance to go to the same high school as my best friend senior year.
Ola High School, despite some of the students’ protests, was the best way I could have spent that final year before going off to college.
In 2009, when we walked across that stage, as the second class to have the chance to graduate from the school, I looked back at all the years I had spent in this town and could not help but smile.
It is the town where I met my best friend, Melody, shortly after moving. She was the one who really showed me this town.
When we were younger and Melody played recreational softball, I was there cheering her on in the dugout in Alexander Park.
She showed me the wonders of Los Avina’s Mexican Restaurant, and I still cannot resist buying a large batch of wings from Wings and Things whenever I come home from school—a pastime introduced to me during softball season. Even my first trip to Heritage Park was with Melody.
The only thing I have done without her is attend the Geranium Festival, but that is a tradition I made for myself. It is a hot, exhausting and fun event I try to catch every year.
I did a lot of growing and maturing in this town. I found myself here, and have been working on it while away at school.
Going away for college was difficult at first, and the longer I am there, the more I long to be here.
When I pass the “Welcome to Henry County” sign on the interstate, an overwhelming sense of joy hits me; it is that comforting feeling everyone knows but no one can describe.
I have come to find that the sweetest sign I will ever know is the one that reads, “Exit 218.”
When I pass that sign, I know I am back in my town with the quirky ghost-busting crew who runs the used bookstore, Bell Book and Candle, which I used to spend hours in during my years in high school.
I am back in my town where the funnel cakes at each summer event in the Square made me full and miserable in the best, sugary way possible.
When I enter the Square and see the clock on top of the courthouse stretching high above everything, I am at peace.
Every inch of that Square, and the roads that stretch from it, holds dear memories for me.
This is home.