My wife and I were happy to host a couple of old friends this past weekend in Donalsonville. Mike and Alice McDonald lived in Donalsonville for seven years before moving on in 1986. They were part of a tight circle of friends that had young children and common interests.
We were especially pleased they would be visiting their old hometown on the weekend of the “Big Fish Festival”, in particular because Alice was with the Chamber the very first year of the Harvest Festival.
Alice and Mary Lou walked in the 11th Annual Joyce’s Jog. After that, we were off to Hardee’s with our grandchildren. I have learned from experience to try to feed Will and Laura before they start throwing candy out of my golf cart during the parade. Otherwise, they will eat all the goodies before we hit the finish line.
Mike and Alice watched the long parade before each getting a plate of catfish. “It’s just not as greasy as I remember,” Alice remarked. They ate it all.
We strolled down Second Street, looking at all the wares of the various vendors. They took in the works of many talented people at the art show.
The early afternoon was spent on a two hour tour of Donalsonville and the surrounding area. We went everywhere they remembered and then some. They were especially pleased to see the obvious loving care that has been given to the home they built in Little Hope.
I am used to trying to sell our city, but never to someone that lived here thirty years ago. Alice and Mike already had their image of this community, at least the way they remembered it from three decades early.
I was pleased over and over as they commented on the positive things they saw. People may not remember, but our city’s annual festival has grown in many ways. Despite having several conflicts this year, the McDonalds were very complimentary of the day.
They remarked at how full the downtown shops were. They especially liked the idea of the Front Porch. The trip to the Industrial Park and the imposing presence of APGG and the associated businesses there was a real surprise to them. The high school was new to them as was the Rec Park.
They did not even remember cotton being grown here when they lived in Donalsonville, and in fact, it was only beginning to become the powerful economic crop that it is today.
The new fire station, new fire truck, refurbished water tanks, and all the many other things we take for granted were quick to catch their eye since they had spent most of their lives in other small towns.
The thing that made me most proud was their unsolicited comment about how many of the children of their former friends had moved back to Donalsonville. As we ticked off the names, I realized they were right.
I have lived in Donalsonville for 41 years. When you look at our community through the lens of today, it often seems that things are moving slowly. Nothing gets done.The town is dying. You have heard all those comments before.
However, when someone looks at the community through the lens of yesterday, filtered by their experiences in similar towns, they see progress. They see clean streets, and friendly people, with an attitude of getting things done.
It was a great visit with our old friends, but the best part may have been the realization that as local folks we look at our small town on a daily basis and in doing so may sell ourselves short. Thanks to Alice and Mike for reminding me that we are not heading back to the past. Our community is headed in the other direction . . . towards the future.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org