I had to make a trip down to Quitman in south Georgia for work today and I took a major trip down memory lane along the way.
To set the stage, my granddad’s sister and her family lived in Pinetta, Florida, a few miles southwest of Valdosta, Georgia. When I was little I made the trip from Tucker, Georgia, where we lived, to Pinetta with my grandparents to visit many, many times. Typically we’d leave Tucker between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning to get to Pinetta before lunch. Our route took us down I-75 from Atlanta to Valdosta, then down Highway 31 into Pinetta. Along the way we might make a stop at one of the rest areas to ‘rest’ but more often than not we’d pass on the rest areas to stop at the Honey Bear Restaurant on the Ashburn/Fitzgerald for breakfast.
When I was really little I usually rode in my grandma’s lap and as I got older my granddad had a wooden box made with a swivel seat on top to put between the front seats of his van for me to sit in. Hey, this was before most folks would wear seatbelts and before car seats or booster seats for toddlers or young kids were even thought of.
I always enjoyed those trips. At the time Pinetta was a one-horse town that you’d miss if you blinked at the wrong time as you passed through. Aside from the houses in the area, the town consisted of a filling station and store (think Mom & Pop country store…not Quick Trip) and a post office in the same building. My great aunt’s place had a great yard to play in and lots of woods and swampland to explore. Some trips were made to go fishing and some were made just to visit.
During the ‘just visiting’ trips my grandma and great aunt would ‘go to town’, meaning go to Valdosta to shop for shoes or whatever else womenfolk shop for and they’d take me with them. They’d promise me a trip to the dime store to see what kinds of toys might be in stock in return for me being patient and behaving myself while they looked at and/or tried on three or four thousand pairs of shoes while searching for the perfect pair. I don’t know that they ever found the perfect pair of shoes but I dang sure found a strong aversion to shoe shopping with womenfolk that I carry to this day. The fishing trips were more my speed. My granddad and I would go to Cherry Lake nearby or drive over to Stephen Foster State Park on the edge of the Okeefenokee Swamp to fish and explore the swamp.
We lived next door to my grandparents when I was little but between 6th and 7th grades we moved to Snellville and a few years later my grandparents moved to Buford on Lake Lanier, about an hour to an hour and a half further from Pinetta…on a good day. After the moves and as time went on, the trips became less and less frequent and finally stopped.
I’ve driven down I-75 several times since those days but rarely have experienced the time trip like I did this time around. Maybe it was because I had the radio off, leaving more brain cells to focus on what I could see around me…or maybe not, who knows. What I do know is that it was a lot of fun picking out the things that I remember that are still in place and yet, it was a bit sad realizing that some of the things that stick out in my memory are now gone.
A few notable landmarks along I-75 that have stood the test of time include the Titan I missile at the Cordele exit…
The Big Peanut at the Ashburn exit…
The Plantation House near Arabi…
And the Magnolia Plantation near Tifton.
Landmarks gone but not forgotten include:
The Big Peach near Byron. The peach was simply the top of a water tower painted up to look like a peach. Kinda makes sense since Byron is in peach country and especially since Georgia is ‘The Peach State’. Those that remember The Big Peach might also remember that if you looked at the peach right angle it looked like it was mooning the travelers on the interstate.
Stuckey’s Restaurants and Gift Shops. If one believed the billboard signs that lined I-75 back in the day, there was a Stuckey’s at every other exit. In reality there were probably only two or three between Macon and Valdosta. All but one are gone now and the remaining location is just a shell of its former self. If one believes the billboard signs that line I-75 now, the former Stuckey’s locations (real or imagined) have been replaced with ‘spas’ (modern term for massage parlors), adult toy stores and strip joints. Personally, I liked Stuckey’s better.
Last but not least…The Honey Bear Restaurant is gone. That one saddened me the most since it was our usual breakfast stop and they had a fine breakfast back in the day. But…time has marched on and the Honey Bear and its neighbors have been replaced by fast food chain restaurants and gas stations.
As I wrapped up my trip I couldn’t help but hope that in 25 or 30 years my own kids have such fond memories of trips taken with their parents and grandparents.