A Final Thought: The Devil Went Down to Georgia


By Mitch Allen

The last week of July, my family and I took the trip I have been looking forward to for several years—going home to Georgia. I had returned only once since my parents died back in 2012-13, when I’d gone alone to visit aging aunts and uncles and to check on some family property we still own.

This time, however, we all went—my wife, two daughters, a son-in-law, and three grandsons—ages 6, 5 and 2—none of whom knew what to expect.

We rented a large farmhouse in a horse pasture in Hamilton, Georgia, near the Alabama border. It featured an impressive L-shaped swimming pool which was essential in the oppressive heat and humidity, though it offered no shade. We weren’t the only ones who appreciated the pool’s many gifts.

So did the critters.

Each morning I would use the skimmer to remove dozens of crickets, frogs and jumping spiders from the water. I never mentioned “jumping spiders” to my family. I just told them they were a special type of cricket. I had learned on the first day not to be too honest about the local fauna. When we got out of the car after the 12-hour drive, my grandsons immediately ran across the pasture to check out the chicken pen as I shouted, “Boys, watch out for fire ants!”

It was too much, too soon.

“What are fire ants?” they asked in unison, freezing in their tracks. I explained about fire ants, trying not to sound too much like Mike Brady, and dutifully walked them around the field pointing out the tell-tale raised dirt hills of the genus Solenopsis. The small mounds are easy to spot in this part of Georgia because the red dirt from which they are made pops out brightly from the green pasture. The boys were scared, so I reassured them with my favorite line: “They won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.”

I had forgotten about the bugs in Georgia. In addition to fire ants, crickets and jumping spiders, we had to contend with mosquitoes, chiggers, roaches, horseflies, deerflies, houseflies, etc. Within three minutes of arriving, my youngest daughter was stung by a wasp while exploring the home’s wooden deck, and my son-in-law’s inaugural dive off the diving board was sabotaged mid-leap by a horsefly landing on his forehead. And a week later when I undressed to take a shower before hitting the road again, I discovered a tick latched onto my inner thigh. My wife and I grew up here; we’re used to blood-sucking varmints, but our daughters are not. My wife told them calmly, “Before we leave, please check the boys for ticks.”

Their mouths dropped. “Say, what?”

The previous day, my eldest daughter stepped in a fire ant bed in her sandals and was stung several times. She threw off her shoe and hopped around hootin’ and hollerin’. (This dance, by the way, is the official international symbol for “I’m being stung by fire ants.” It’s similar to the official international symbol for “I’m being stung by yellow jackets,” but without the accompanying 100-yard sprint.)

Although the grandsons were certain my daughter was going to die, after the application of ammonia and cortisone cream, she was hardly worse for wear.

On one day trip, we all drove across the Chattahoochee River to Opelika, Alabama, to visit relatives. When my late father’s sister saw me, she immediately began to cry. Her eyes flowed with tears and her shoulders shook and I hugged her tightly for a long time. When she finally pulled away, she said, “You look so much like your deddy,” and started sobbing again.

Her tears made the entire trip—the ticks, the jumping spiders, 24 hours in the car—all worth it.

Returning from Opelika, we passed within a few hundred yards of the Union Baptist Church and decided to stop because we have ancestors buried in the church cemetery. My middle grandson—the 5-year-old—didn’t understand. “How did the cemetery make all those people die?” he asked.

He refused to get out of the car.

So my two daughters, 6-year-old grandson, and I entered the cemetery as I began the stories: “This is your great-great grandfather,” I told my daughters. “He was murdered in a moonshine-deal-gone-bad not three miles from here; and here is his son, who committed suicide by drinking a bottle of Lysol; and this is your great-great-great grandfather who fought in the Civil War and was wounded in the left hand at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in 1864.”

Finally, I turned to my grandson. I asked profoundly, “How does it feel to be standing here among the graves of your ancestors?” He looked up at me, shielding his eyes with his hand and squinting at my face silhouetted against the bright Georgia sun.

“I’m hot,” he answered.

And with these words my grandson helped me understand something I had only just recently suspected: West Central Georgia is no longer my home.

My home is Northeast Ohio.


Categories: Smart Living