THOMASVILLE—I’m about to make a speech at a local bookstore. I am running late. I speed into town like Dale Earnhardt on a beer run.
I have a soft spot for small towns. In fact, you might say that my entire life has been built by small-town people. Like those in this city.
The streets are lined with shops and markets. The store windows are covered by awnings. There are plants hanging from street lamps. A dog wanders Broad Street. Reddish. Scruffy. He has no collar.
A simple drive around town is worth the price of admission. When you’re here, you’re back in time.
In the historic district you’ll see antebellum homes, Queen Anne architecture, and steep-pitched rooflines. Whitewashed columns on old mansions. Big porches. And people riding lawn mowers, drinking Bud Light, and listening to gospel music on headphones.
But it’s the downtown that everyone comes to see. We’re driving through it at sundown. Every few seconds my wife uses the phrase “Oh, how cute.”
There are cobblestone streets. Two-story buildings with the tall windows.
A crowd of young women in evening wear poses for a picture on the street corner.
Boys in baseball uniforms meander the sidewalk, following their designated team-dad, who looks like he’s about to have a nervous breakdown.
Women stroll together, toting shopping bags. I see one shop owner sweeping the sidewalk with a broom.
I didn’t think anyone swept sidewalks anymore.
And the dog still roams Broad Street. He stops now and then to see if any passers by want to feed him. No dice.
It’s all too pretty to believe. I keep expecting to see Barney Fife pull alongside my vehicle and accuse me of jaywalking. Or perhaps Floyd might approach me and ask if I need a haircut. And the answer would be: Yes, I do. Badly.
I dart into the Bookshelf bookstore. It’s a small independent bookstore with a nice-looking storefront. I am jogging across the street and tucking in my shirt at the same time.
When I get through the front doors, I am greeted with people who are looking at their watches.
“Sorry I’m late,” I say.
“Don’t worry about it,” says the owner, Annie. “It happens.”
They don’t say things like “It happens” in big cities.
An employee leads me into a room where I can gather my thoughts before I make my speech. It’s too bad I don’t have any thoughts worth gathering. My head is like an oil can with three marbles rolling around in it.
But I am a little hungry. So I do some digging around the room. I locate a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos and I almost start dancing.
Chili Cheese Fritos are my thing. You might not know this, but Chili Cheese Fritos are why God created me. Verily did the Lord sayeth unto me on the Seventh Day, “Eat from the Tree of Fritos, my son.”
So I am eating. Trying to figure out what I’m going to talk about.
It’s funny. Years ago, this little bookstore in Thomasville was the first store to carry my very first book.
It seems like a lifetime ago. It was almost a fluke. I wasn’t supposed to be a writer. You’ve probably figured that out if you’ve read this far. Sometimes I have a hard time spellingg wrds coreckly.
But somehow I’ve written eleven books. Nobody is more surprised by this than I am. I am a no-name from nowhere with a crummy past, and a crippling taste for Chili Cheese Fritos.
My literary life started one year, just before Christmastime. I self-published a tiny book. I gave it away to a few friends. I mailed copies to family members. And that was it. That was all I wanted to do with the book. My book was supposed to be a glorified sleep aid.
A few months later, my cousin Ed Lee called to tell me that he was in a bookstore and he saw my book.
“Shut up,” were my first words.
“Yep,” he said. “It was your book.”
“My redneck book?”
“My no-name, ill-conceived, puny, uninspired, barely existent book?”
“That’s the one.”
Next came the road trip. That weekend, my wife and I and our friends, Lanier and Melissa, made the drive to Thomasville.
Our first stop was the bookstore. I walked into the tiny shop and I didn’t even have to look around. There it was. On a table. Front and center. They didn’t put my book in the corner. They didn’t keep me on a shelf. I was RIGHT UP FRONT.
And it was such a bright moment in my life. It wasn’t a monumental moment. It was even better. It was one of the millions of small twinkling moments that string together to make a long chain of cocktail lights.
I finish the Fritos. I wad up the bag. I lick my fingers. Someone knocks on my door.
“It’s showtime,” the woman says.
Then another woman tackles me before I leave the room. She hugs me and says, “I want you to know that Thomasville is so proud of you.”
We hug again.
My whole career—if that’s what you call it—has been built upon small towns and the people therein. And I will go to my grave telling the world how wonderful they are.
Which is what you just read.