This week’s column was going to be all about the comically nefarious Bobby Sigman and “Signgate,” but then I heard about something even more terrible than a 70-year-old man stealing his opponent’s campaign signs.
Mayfield’s on the square is closing.
Now, before I go into why this is truly a tragedy for all of us in Newton County, let me remind you that I’m not from here. That seems to matter to some of y’all more than others. There’s a gaggle of Good Old Boys in our community who don’t take too kindly to the opinions and ideas of people who aren’t from here. Never mind that we choose to live here. Never mind that we mindfully brought our families and our money to this town. Never mind that we actively try to make positive change because that’s just how we roll.
Here’s a message to the Good Old Boys of Newton County: Times, they’s a changin’ and I sure hope y’all are comin’ along for the ride. We’d be a stronger community if you did.
Having Mayfield’s close, after serving as an anchor store for 38 years on the square, is a symptom of what ails us here in Newton County. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. We’re like a prepubescent teenager — all gangly limbs and hormonal angst. We’re a county of have and have-nots, a rural/suburban community with pipe dreams of more strip malls and behemoth mega marts who can’t seem to rally around the best thing going for it.
Do y’all know what finally won me over when my husband wanted to relocate our family to Covington nearly four years ago? We came through town and all I saw of Covington was the interstate and then, Highway 278. I said, “Absolutely not. There is no way I am living here.”
I’ve been spoiled by the beauty of historic downtown areas since coming to Georgia over a decade ago. First in little old Danielsville and then in little old Elberton, I fell in love with the concept of beautiful downtown squares with their majestic courthouses that give each town its own personality. Maybe they remind me of a much smaller version of downtown Mobile, Ala., or maybe I’ve always been a small town girl at heart. I just know when I drove down Floyd Street and hit the square, I felt like I was home. I sat under those giant magnolia trees, an ice cream cone from Scoops in one hand and a bag of fabulous gifts from Mayfield’s in the other, just staring in wide eyed wonder at the great and glorious courthouse. I could see my children laughing and playing while listening to the community band’s concert. You can’t get much better than that, friends.
Meanwhile, Highway 278 is the out of control acne on the face of our teenage county. You can’t see the strong, beautiful history and assets for all of that infection caused by growing so fast. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like having business here in our community and I understand how important it is to our local economy, but you can find the likes of Highway 278 anywhere in America. Fast food joints, chain restaurants, and grocery stores are a dime a dozen.
What we have here in Newton County is special. That square downtown and our historic neighborhoods help define who we are. Until we start focusing on showcasing our unique history and our downtown square, until we start focusing on working together to be who we are while becoming even stronger, local institutions like Mayfield’s will continue to fade away.
That’s not all that ails Newton County though. I could write a modern day Pride & Prejudice about the two years I lived on Floyd Street. See, it was difficult for me not to make like Elizabeth Bennet and misjudge my more affluent neighbors who for the most part seemed transcendently above the high illiteracy rates and deplorable living conditions of some of their unfortunate neighbors. Everyday, as we rode our bikes to the library, square and park, I saw the juxtaposition of the have and have-nots in the neighborhoods that make up historic downtown. The mansions and upper middle class houses sit so close to the squalor of low income housing that there’s no need for those proverbial train tracks, but goodness knows, we have an ample supply of them, don’t we?
We’re going to have to start identifying ourselves first as citizens of Newton County, as one community and one family populated by folks who may not be from here, but have just as much invested in where we’re going. We’re going to have to look to one another, reach out and say, “I am committed to affecting positive change where I live. I am committed to knowing my neighbors and fostering a sense of community. I am committed to Newton County.”
I sure hate to see Mayfield’s leave the square, but let’s use this as an opportunity to come together and consider what we can do to keep that area alive and properly showcased. Let’s consider how the impact of things like the film industry and tourism, if properly cultivated, can help us change our deplorable illiteracy rate, attract industry and annihilate the concept of the have and have-nots. Let’s stop thinking in terms of us and them and think in terms of family. Let’s remember that it’s time to move past our awkward teenage years and embrace who we are. We’re not a people whose commonality is a superannuated, sign-stealing bandit. While we suffer the loss of an iconic store like Mayfield’s, let’s embrace who we are. We’re Newton County. Let’s act like it.
Beth McAfee-Hallman lives in Covington and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.