What does it feel like to drive past a place you knew well and for many years—only to discover it’s gone?
Place isn’t the right word. Perhaps building, or what used to stand at that place. The place—meaning the site, the GPS coordinates, the location on the face of the earth—is still there. It’s not going anywhere. But what used to be there, where the metaphorical X of the GPS ”marks the spot,” has gone, disappeared, completely vanished.
It’s an otherworldly feeling. The older we get, the more we should probably expect it.
In my family, our Labor Day weekend tradition is to spend a day at the Powers’ Crossroads Festival. In the cool of the morning, I pick up Mom at her house, and then drive 26 miles to the Festival grounds on the Heard County-Coweta County border. To get there, we take Georgia Highway 34 through Franklin. This route intersects Bevis Road, which in turn winds past my old elementary school.
We take the same route every year. Nothing different—until two years ago.
The hand-lettered sign at the intersection caught my eye. “Salvage sale at Heard Elementary this weekend?! What the—”
“Wonder what’s going on?” Mom said.
I whipped the truck onto Bevis Road and stepped on the gas. “Maybe they finally remodeled the old sixth grade wing. I’d loooove to get an old soapstone counter and built-in sink out of Mr. Smith’s lab to go in my kitchen.”
Thank goodness for the long holiday weekend. Had Mom and I pulled up to take pictures any other day, the demo crew might have taken us for trespassers. But there were no “No Trespassing” signs to be seen. The gates at each end of Alford Drive stood wide open. The large truck sat parked in the former bus loading zone, in front of where the main entrance once was. Miss Beverly’s #19 bus, which my sister and I rode to and from school for a decade, always sat about 50 feet beyond and to the right of the construction truck.
We drove up and down Alford several times, trying to soak it all in. Later, we figured out that the auction had actually been held in Carrollton, and the sign was wrong.
My sister and I probably sat in a few of these chairs. They were nearly-new when I began first grade in the fall of 1980.
Seeing them all piled up in front of the remnants of the school was surreal. Sure, the county had built a brand-new elementary school on Pearidge Road; there hadn’t been classes here for several years. In my memory, though, the old Heard Elementary building stood as immovable as the Appalachians. It had always been there. It would always be there.
But as I learned in Mr. Smith’s fifth-grade science class, every physical object—even mountains—will eventually disappear. Occasionally, a mountain blows up all at once and destroys itself, like Krakatoa. Most of the time, though, they gradually erode and crumble, turning into boulders, then rocks, then pebbles, and then the finest sand.
My classmates and I once ran and played on this field. The playground equipment is completely gone—not even a concrete anchor remains. How did grass ever overtake the hard sand of the softball field? Given enough time, sun, and water, plants will return nearly anywhere they once grew.
I thought about running down the steep bank beyond the dirt of the front drive, just to relive a memory. But I didn’t. There’s no going home again, as the old cliché says. It’s a lot more vivid, and bittersweet, where it is in my mind.
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This post originally appeared at Forgotten Plants & Places on March 3, 2012, under the title “When a place is no more.” It appears here with revisions.