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A perfect day in Newton County
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Last Tuesday was the most perfect day God ever created. Oh, there have been other days that have come close to perfect, to be sure. But if you were alive on planet Earth and were close to 33N, 84W you know that last Tuesday was the culmination of all the work, toil, blood, sweat and tears that God Almighty has ever put into crafting a perfect day.

Many of you were, undoubtedly, working. A huge portion of you were stuck in some windowless room, a cubicle perhaps. You never suspected that the sky above was cobalt blue, and cloudless. The wind blew incessantly, but in so doing occasionally turned the new leaves on every tree upside down, exposing that lighter shade of yellow-green on the bottom of the new leaves to mix with the darker shades of Kelly-green-to-British-Racing-Green visible on their topsides for weeks already. And on into that brilliant day, at least until about noon, the new moon beckoned from roughly 10 a.m. in the southwestern sky.

And so it was that the most perfect day called me, as perfect days often do, to take the doors off the Jeep and head northward, into that freshening wind.

Out at City Pond Parks, the lake had little whitecaps frothing across the surface, and the wind-driven waves were washing up on the shore next to the tennis courts almost like a tide coming in, so strong was the breeze out there. I walked the fringes of the H. O. Whelchel Reservoir, named for "Mr. Ott" Whelchel, whose vision brought about that pond which kept our town in water for most of the drought back in 1985. Whelchel's wisdom led our county commissioners to build Lake Varner, which is why nobody in this neck of the woods had to boil water or wonder when they'd be able to bathe again while the politicians in metropolitan Atlanta were clamoring for water last year.

From City Pond Parks the Jeep took me north and east out Flat Shoals Road to the completely full Lake Varner, which now feeds the Whelchel Reservoir at City Pond Parks.

Circling back, I took a shortcut on Gregory Road over to the Jersey Road and came back toward town. Hanging a left on the Bypass Road, I meandered through the Industrial Park. And in so doing, I wondered to myself where in America anyone could find a place where giants of industry with names such as General Mills and Bridgestone could merge so peacefully with nature.

It was decades ago that the Bridgestone golf ball folks located here, a Tiger Woods drive from where General Mills decided to put their cereal operation. Folks a lot smarter than this old boy planned the northeast part of the city as the industrial park, which is why only when we have a low pressure system off the Atlantic Coast, with the wind feeding from the northeast, do town folks ever smell what it must be like inside a box of Cheerios cereal. The Jeep and I took a left off the Bypass onto Hazlebrand Road, crossed the Cornish Creek Bridge and turned right into that very special haven maintained by the Georgia Wildlife Federation. I spent an hour or so idling through those exquisite paths, which allow visitors to view native flora and fauna.

After that rejuvenating experience, I followed Hazlebrand to Alcovy Trestle Road and had to wait for a train to pass. It took 31 years of living here and being in the right spot at the right time, but I finally saw a train on Alcovy Trestle last Tuesday. And as I sat there, watching the piggyback freight cars bearing containers emblazoned with names such as Hyundai and Maersk pass, I thought on days gone by.

Not far from there stands Mack McKibben's house. There may be a better piano man somewhere, but nobody can equal Mack's unique style. When we moved here in 1977, there was a pizza joint in Newton Plaza called Gigi's Pizza, which occasionally featured live music. I took my wife there for dinner one night, just to try something different. The keyboard guy was a youngster named Mack McKibben, and although I'd heard some of the best in the world, this kid blew me away.

He still does. Mack's still rocking and can be found at his music store on the square in Covington.

While waiting for that train to pass, I thought of a day back in 1984 when a friend of mine, Jack Lunsford, and I walked over that very same Alcovy Trestle. Our kids were about the same ages, and that day Jack and I walked the length of the trestle, then sat down squarely in the center of it, and talked about what we hoped America would be for our children as they grew up.

A guy behind me in a white pickup blowing his horn broke my reverie, and I realized that the train had passed and it was time to move on.

Crossing the tracks, I joined Alcovy Trestle Road, turned east, then went under the trestle and eventually found the back entrance to the River Cove subdivision.

Passing by Billy Wade's house, I thought back on the sermons I've heard this man preach from both the pulpit at First Presbyterian and in casual conversations, and some of the times we've shared as his children and mine were growing up.

It may be that many folks today don't know who Peter Marshall was, or that he preached at First Presbyterian. But no orator, mindful of the past, could stand in the pulpit of First Presbyterian without at the very least being aware of the stature of that great man who once preached here in our town.

And so, on that perfect day last Tuesday, as I paused on the street in front of his home, for all who know him, for all who have been privileged to hear him speak, for all who have been touched by this man's life and work, I gave thanks for Billy Wade.

And somewhere, I imagined, Peter Marshall said "amen."

I left River Cove and let the Jeep ramble through the Georgia Perimeter College campus, then turned south and followed Cedar Lane. I came on back to Covington heading westbound from where Highways 278 and 11 intersect, which old timers from these parts still call "the hub." Near Dixie Road the Melody subdivision now occupies what was once a verdant pasture filled with cattle and horses and a huge lake back in the 1960s. I crossed back over the Alcovy River on those twin bridges built in 1964 and wondered how long they will withstand the ever-increasing traffic load brought to bear on them as the throngs continue to find their way to our neck of the woods.

I don't know how last Tuesday ended up for you, but as day transitioned into dusk, I fired up the grill in the back yard. And as the sun settled into a now purple sky, stars began to twinkle as what had been a constant breeze all day long dwindled down into zephyrs, and then died into calm.

And as the steaks sizzled on the grill, I thought about "Mr. Ott" Whelchel, a man I never knew, and gave thanks for the City Pond Reservoir. I remembered former longtime county commission Chairman Roy Varner, who worked to bring about the new reservoir which bears his name. And I smiled at the memory of Mack McKibben rocking a pizza joint as a teenager, and of a day not long ago when he tuned an old piano in my den and knocked out a mini-concert for my benefit, just to be sure it would play right. And I got a catch in my throat when I remembered a few poignant things I've heard Billy Wade say from the pulpit, and reflected on how lucky are those of us who have known him.

As I quit the grill and took the steaks inside, I turned and caught the last glimmer of the sunset glinting off the old Jeep. And I thought to myself that it's a good thing with gas prices being what they are, that perfect days only come along once in a while.

But I can hardly wait for the next one...

Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.