Y'know, it's not like I'm a foreigner. But although I've called Covington home now for 33 years, sometimes I still feel like I'm trespassing. I guess it's because I'm a product of a bygone era, something called the mid-20th century. When you grew up in a little town in Georgia back then, you were part of the town and the town was part of you. So when I get to thinking, or just feel the soulful, mournful need to go home, I point the nose of the old Jeep east and head for the tiny town of Greensboro.
So odd, really. There are few people left in that little place who know me. And in fact, it was my hometown for barely a dozen years. But they were my childhood years. So Greensboro is home.
I knew of Covington, of course. A band director by the name of Basil Rigny conducted "The Blue Rambler Band" of Newton County High, and the excellence of that ensemble was known throughout the state. One of the highlights of my high school career was playing in a band clinic here in what is now the Sharp Learning Center - it was the high school in the 1960's - where I played tuba for Mr. Rigny.
And our basketball team, too, knew of Covington. The Greensboro High School Tigers contributed to legendary Newton basketball coach Ron Bradley's unmatched consecutive home victories in the gym which still stands on Newton Drive.
My wife knew of Covington, too, way before I met her. Though she was raised in east Atlanta, her daddy bought a piece of property on Jackson Lake back in the 1950s, built a weekend cottage with his own hands, then retired there following 31 years with Southern Railroad. So when my wife and I got to looking for a place to put down roots and raise a family, Covington - halfway between our respective childhood homes - was the perfect choice.
So why after 33 years, you might ask, do I still occasionally feel as if I'm trespassing? After all, I remember when the Dairy Queen was the one and only building on the divided highway bypass of 278, surrounded by pine trees. That's right! You couldn't even see the Covington town square from the Dairy Queen!
An important part of growing up in a small town is that you come to know the families that have been there since God made dirt. You come to appreciate those folks who had a hand in making your little town special, and you learn to size up the folks who want to run the present show. A vital part of that summing up is taking what you know about the direction the leaders of the past chose and comparing it with what the Johnny-Come-Lately's want to do.
I knew all of that in 1977 when we arrived in Covington, and upon examination found society to be comprised of four groups: old insiders, new insiders, old outsiders, and new outsiders. The old insiders descended from families which had been here from the start, going back at least two centuries. The new insiders were relatives of those families who'd come home to their roots. The old outsiders had no relatives here, but had transplanted in from elsewhere a long time ago. The new outsiders were those just arriving on the scene, who in that day served mainly as curiosities to the other three groups.
But over the last two decades, as population in this neck of the woods exploded, the lines of demarcation amongst those four groups blurred. Older insiders passed the torch to new insiders. Old outsiders sought to gain toeholds in the halls of power every time an old insider faltered. And finally the onslaught of new outsiders overwhelmed the delicate balance; today various individuals or groups bicker and posture to control the direction in which this place will go.
And whenever I see that politicking going on, especially when the people doing the posturing are recent arrivals with blatant disregard for the traditions and character of this place which existed long before they appeared on the scene, I get the feeling that I, too, am trespassing - even though I've been here a while now.
I guess it's because I respect the history of my adopted home and have tried to absorb its nuances into my being. And I'm dismayed by newcomers who don't understand the place tradition has in the hearts of those who have been here longest. And every time one of them takes a swipe at the customs that have made this place special, it makes me, a new outsider, feel that I'm trespassing on hallowed ground.
Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.