I was sixteen years old in 1973. My first car was a fire-engine red Ford Falcon, and, just like the bird, it would fly.
I was, in the words of that great theologian Travis Tritt, "Ten Feet Tall and Bulletproof".
Or so I thought.
The pastor of our church, "Preacher Bill" Coleman, must have easily preached twenty revivals a year in our area of Georgia. Two are really memorable. One of those can wait until later.
In the fall of 1972 he preached at The Cove Baptist Church, between Woodbury and Chalybeate Springs. To get there you had to turn off the Manchester Highway and meander back into thick woods that got thicker and darker as you went. Several of us guys went more than one night to the services to "support" our pastor. Actually
She was a cheerleader at Woodbury High, whom Lamar County played in football and basketball. To provide perspective on the Woodbury cheerleading squad, I believe their head cheerleader's name was Olga. This was one of their cheers:
My name is Susie, yeah,
I'm a sexy Sagittarius, yeah,
From Woodbury High,
Check it out, Check it out, Check it out.
Apparently with Susie, as with most cheerleader girls, cheering had nothing to do with the game and everything to do with herself. But I digress.
I don't even remember The Cove girl's name, which is ironic since seeing her--for only one night--almost got me killed.
I picked her up at her house and we drove around Manchester and Woodbury, up past Meadows Motors toward Newnan, and back. Just doing nothing and trying not to get caught.
I left her house when I dropped her off at 11:00pm (her dad's orders) and looked forward to the time when I'd see her again.
I never went back.
Driving out that same dark road I entered on, darker now since it was almost midnight, a truck suddenly pulled out in front of me. Seconds later, another pulled out behind me, his headlights bright in my rearview mirror. The truck in front slowed down to a dead stop, and the one behind me pulled as close as he could get to my bumper without touching it.
I was trapped.
Some big, burly man came up to my window, but not where I could see his face. And uttered the words any sixteen-year-old dreaded to hear.
"Whatchoo doin' heah, boy?"
As I wet my pants, I tried to explain my what I was doing there. I told him I was headed home, where my family was expecting me. Probably waiting up and praying for my safe return even as we spoke. He only said one more thing.
"Welllll, you jest drahve own outta heah, and don't stop."
To say I busted my ass to get back to where I knew someone is an understatement. I flew low and my Falcon's wings were worn out by the time I pulled into my driveway.
Only later, reading the book, would I realize I had spent an evening in John Wallace's kingdom, known for moonshine and murder. And even though he had been executed in 1950 for the killing of Wilson Turner, his family still ran that little crescent-shaped area of the county. I imagine I was talking to a Wallace or a Strickland that night on the side of the road.
I'll never know what was going on back in those woods that night. Nor do I want to, even today. I'd rather remain thankful that I'm alive and able to write these words. I only hope no one kin to John Wallace reads them.
I did end up marrying a Meriwether County girl--after she moved to Savannah, then L.A. (Lower Alabama), and finally Vero Beach, Florida. I met her at Mercer and we've been together, for better AND worse, for thirty-one years.
I would die for her. And almost did. Her family has tried to kill me at least three different times (that I know of). But she's worth it.
But those stories are for another day.