New Hope A Place Called Childhood


New Hope Cemetery in Paulding County, Georgia. April 2023. Photo by me.

It could have seemed dramatic, cathartic or life-altering but it was not; however it was significant for me to be able to stop and put my feet on the ground of New Hope, Georgia for the first time in eighteen years.


I joked on Facebook before I went to New Hope that I would be playing Bob Seger as loud as I could tolerate as a warning that I was coming. As much as I enjoy Main Street, Against The Wind, Fire Lake, Turn The Page and his other music, I did not listen to Bob Seger; I turned the music off.


2005 was the last time I was in New Hope and that was at my childhood home that my father was selling. He had offered to sell it to me two years before, but I had declined. I had no desire to ever live in Paulding County again and especially on the same hill that I grew up. In those eighteen years I never returned to New Hope and though I returned last week to the community I came from, I have never returned to what I called Aviary Hill, my childhood home.


Coming through a traffic light in 2023 where there was no traffic light before, or any in New Hope, was disorienting. I had already passed a Publix shopping center and a drug store when none of those types of businesses would have ever had been dreamed of in the community of New Hope when I knew it. There was traffic too and there was none of that before. Who were these people, where had they come from and where were they going?

I pulled into one of the few places I recognized, New Hope Cemetery; at least they had not raised the dead or paved them over and were still in the same spot. With the passage of so much time it was difficult to find the islands of my memory in the sea of change that has flooded New Hope.


April 2023. Photo by me.

This cemetery I wrote about in my novel, Uncivil X. I had walked every inch of this ground in the early 1990s looking for Oliver and hoping not to find him. This was the first time I was back in this cemetery on a warm April late morning. I was the only living person there. A few minutes were needed for me to get my bearings and not feel like ghosts waited to surprise me from behind the headstones. 


April 2023. Photo by me.

April 2023. Photo by me.

April 2023. Photo by me.

April 2023. Photo by me.

April 2023. Photo by me.

Despite my family history in New Hope, I have not a single ancestor buried here. As I have written before, this graveyard is not the prettiest graveyard I have ever seen. Yet, on this visit in the spring, among the sprawl of now suburban Atlanta, it was pretty in its weedy, simple and familiar way. The headstones leaned a little more with time and weather as a nod to lives we have known. If there was a place in New Hope that I could not feel like an outsider or that the place was not secretly sinister, then it was here.

As I walked, a little of the younger me returned and I shed some of the judgement that the eyes of the older me had about New Hope.


The American Civil War battle in New Hope. April 2023. Photo by me.

An American Civil War monument on the road I grew up in New Hope. April 2023. Photo by me.

An American Civil War trench dug in the 1860s on the road where I grew up in New Hope. The bloody history of my community was inescapable like the humidity in July. April 2023. Photo by me.


New Hope is a place of monuments and markers between the Dollar Tree and gas stations because so much terrible history occurred there; history included in my books. It was called The Hell Hole for the bloody and intense American Civil War battle in May 1864. Then in April 1977 it became the site of the deadliest commercial aviation accident in the United States, at the time, when Southern Airways flight 242 crashed into the middle of New Hope. I came from a community where tragedy was baked into the Georgia red clay underneath me and rose to become stone monuments.

April 2023. Photo by me.

April 2023. Photo by me.

April 2023. Photo by me.

This was my first time seeing the new monument dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Southern Airways 242 crash. The plane crash may no longer be the deadliest commercial crash in United States, but it is still the deadliest in Georgia. Surrounding the base of the obelisk are the names of the fatalities and the survivors. I was surprised and gratified to see how well the monument was constructed and tasteful it was. It was certainly the most elegant structure in modern day New Hope.

I had just turned four when the plane crashed a mile from my house, but I have no memory of that day or the events after. I grew up hearing about the crash in New Hope, seeing the visible scars and reading about it. The crash always felt like an open wound when I was young because it was so recent then and little ever changed until the time I left in 1995. My father told me stories of how he went to the crash site and my mother told me a story of how difficult it was to get around in the aftermath with roads closed and media from around the globe coming to our tiny community. Others, old enough to remember April 1977, have told me their memories since my first novel was published.

April 2023. Photo by me.

April 2023. Photo by me.

That was my elementary school in the above photos. Seeing my old school made me happy. I thought about baseball games, the smell of the cleaning supplies that the school smelled like every Monday morning and other fond memories. Seeing that school, which to me was the heart of New Hope, was like being eight years old and invincible again.


I have written in my books about how the school was directly across the road from the cemetery and how that added to the creepiness of the 1980 Halloween festival where I stumbled and fell on the gravel with an untied shoe at Robin's feet. In so many ways New Hope delivered me to him or him to me.


The views above are from the rear of the school. It was W.C. Abney School when I attended first through sixth grades there, but it is some other school now. The building remains, the name is gone, the memories I can still visualize. 


The buildings were the same except that the unpleasant dark gray paint was white and that was the new addition to the school in my years. It housed the first and second grades and the cafeteria that doubled as a gym on the rainy days during physical education. The original red brick portion of the school was for third through sixth grades. The classrooms had walls of windows then, but unfortunately children are no longer allowed to see sunshine and they have been covered over in beige painted wood that resembles a prison. We enjoyed watching it snow out those windows, watching cars of parents line up at the end of the day and daydreaming or exploring our imaginations out those windows. The closing of the windows seems like a closing of opportunity, freedom and minds. How can a child be inspired when a child cannot even be allowed to watch the rain slide down the panes of glass during math?


Wherefore art thou old Rock Store? April 2023. Photo by me.

The two landmarks that most knew New Hope by when I was growing up were the two churches that sat facing each other at the end of my road. I wrote about the two churches and walking past them on my way home and they still stand today exactly as they did before. Looking at the two churches was the closest I came on my visit to actually feeling the past. 


The Rock Store for which that road in the photo is named after is no more, just like when I wrote about how subdivisions were named after the natural beauty they plowed under. My road, Bobo Road, passes between the two churches and there was no traffic light then as there was no need for one, not enough people lived or passed through for it to be necessary.

April 2023. Photo by me.

This is the vantage point from Bobo Road. The gravel lot where I stood to take the photo is where my father's mistress would wait for him to pass after he visited us at my house in the 1980s. I did not write about this story, but I could not help but think of it as I stood there decades later. One day my mother caught my father's mistress parked at the church and a car chase ensued. My brother was in the car with my mother and he finally persuaded her to stop the pursuit. The mistress got away that time and the close call did not stop her from hanging out at the church parking lot waiting on my father.

I did not write about another story involving this parking lot. I was desperate to find a way to limit my time on the school bus when I was fifteen years old. I had to get away from the kids that did not like me including Rowe, these were kids that threatened me and were dangerous. I knew how to drive, had plenty of experience on our property and the highways and was confident in my abilities. I decided that I would start driving our Cadillac down to the church on my learner's permit on school mornings alone and without permission. I would park the car there then walk to my elementary school and catch the bus to the high school. In the afternoon, I got off the bus from the high school at the churches, got in the Cadillac and drove home. I could do this because I would be home before my brother or parents returned in the afternoon. I got away with it for a month, until I came up the driveway of Aviary Hill to find my brother had come home from work early. He told me that he thought the Cadillac, which would become my first car, had been stolen and that he was about to report it when he saw me arrive. My brother and I rarely agreed to keep things between us in our youth or shared a secret, but I begged him to make a deal with me for his silence. I agreed to stop driving illegally and to wash his car for a month for not telling our parents about what I had done. I went back to walking home from New Hope after school until the day I turned sixteen.


Bobo Road. April 2023.

As I wrote about it in my books, I walked the mile home from the two churches every afternoon during seventh, eighth, ninth and most of tenth grade until I turned sixteen. I wrote about the true stories of my encounter with the ice cream truck driver, The Magazine Game and how I had to walk by Rowe's house.


It might sound like an old man's tale, but it really was a mostly uphill walk to my house and then I had to walk up Aviary Hill. I walked it in the rain, the cold and the heat as anything was better than being on that bus even if it exposed me to Rowe. That walk through the tall grass in the ditch was the longest mile I have ever had to walk.

The location of where Rowe tried to kill me in the 1980s. April 2023. Photo by me.

The entrance to this new housing subdivision that did not exist then and was just beyond the Georgia Forestry Commission branch office was the exact spot Rowe tried to kill me. The ditch was much steeper then and below it, through the woods, was a logging road, that was how I escaped him that day. If I had not known those woods blindfolded I might not be here today.


It was surreal to pass, at this very spot, an oncoming ambulance with its emergency lights flashing and siren sounding as I made my first trip down Bobo Road in eighteen years. New Hope still had warnings for me after all this time.

April 2023. Photo by me.

At first glance this appeared the same as it had, but out of sight to the left are many houses in what was dense woods. The road is beginning to enter the curve that hid my house on the right hand side of the road. That is Elsberry Mountain Road to the right that ran behind my house and Aviary Hill. It was a dirt road then with patches of gravel scattered on the first part of it before it became an abandoned logging road that led to Elsberry Mountain. More than once my school bus became stuck in the mud on that road; Paulding County had more miles of dirt road than any other county in the state of Georgia.

Blackout Log to the right. April 2023. Photo by me.

On the right is part of the reason I had not returned to New Hope for almost two decades - up that bank and in those woods is where the real Blackout Log chapter takes place in my novel Dweller On The Boundary. I felt sick passing it and regretted driving through. That hill was my favorite place to play with my Star Wars action figures as a boy. The creek that ran behind my house and across our property also crosses underneath the road at this point. Before Blackout Log, in the late 1970s and early 1980s we played there often as there was a concrete tunnel under the road where the creek flowed. It was the best place to catch frogs and the tunnel was always cool in the summer though kind of creepy. The creeks banks were thick with ferns and it reminded me of where Yoda had exiled himself on planet Dagobah. I even had one of those brown plastic Star Wars Dagobah sets that resembled a tree stump and was where Yoda lived. This was where I always played with the Dagobah and Yoda until Blackout Log.

My driveway up Aviary Hill is just in view on the right of the road. Cross Creek subdivision, or what I called Cannon Creek in my books, is approaching on the left.


Aviary Hill. Photo by me, April 2023.


That was my driveway up Aviary Hill to where my childhood house still sits. The house remains hidden much as it did through my twenty-two years of living there. You have to look quick to see it or you will pass by not knowing it was there. The roadside is just as wooded as it was and the only changes are that the gate has been removed, the mailbox has been switched to the opposite side and the grounds seems to be less cared for than when I did it. Also, I never let the pine straw collect on the gravel drive, I raked it off.  In the late 1980s I had planted a row of Piedmont Azaleas on the left bank as you entered the driveway, those are gone now too.



My feelings on seeing Aviary Hill were mixed. I was partially happy to see it still up there in the trees. I was sad to see it not as loved and lived in by strangers. I have mentioned to people that if the house were torn down, I would not mind. The house has little sentimental value for me. I would hate and be upset for the land to be turned into another subdivision. Part of me knows that one day it is inevitable that there will be no trace of Aviary Hill - I hope that day, if it does come, is after I am gone.  

I saw Robin's house in Cross Creek subdivision and maybe that hurt the most and not for the state of dishevelment that it now exists, but for other reasons - reasons deep inside me like my bones. I could still write a thousand or more stories about him and that house and what went on there. They would be happy stories, loving stories and ones that would be sad. My eyes saw the house and its current state and my mind saw flashes of the past flickering on its hidden screen. If I could only write what I saw, the first image in my mind and it was not his blue eyes, pink lips, a Police poster on the wall - it was something else and I could smell it. I cannot write that, just as I cannot write or say his real name.


I kept going, never to stop again.

My grandparent's house. April 2023. Photo by me.

Two houses from mine on the same side of the road was my grandparent's house in Georgia. I wrote about my times there, the holiday parties, spending the nights and sneaking in the back door in costumes to entertain them as a boy nicknamed Sneaky Snake. My grandparents kept the house even though by the mid 1980s they were spending more and more time at their two houses in Decatur County, Tennessee.

My grandfather died in the summer of 1989 when I was sixteen and I have never set foot on that porch again. I ran across those porch boards daily as a boy without a second thought in my head. I was there for Pawpaw to steal my nose, wink at me and watch M*A*S*H. reruns in the afternoon on channel 2 before the news came on. I still hear the television show theme song and I am in that black rocking chair with my feet not reaching the ground and he is sipping his coffee from a cup on a saucer and maybe soaking his feet. As a boy, he was the one adult that I never had an ounce of fear of and he never said a cross word to me - not one - I cannot even say that about my mother. I was a very shy child and it did not seem to matter to him, we could sit together and speak only a few words and it was perfectly natural. He loved his grandchildren, even the odd ones like me.

Today, the house is largely the same from the outside. It was mustard yellow when I knew it in the 1970s and 80s and there was no second floor window, that was an unused attic then. The pea gravel driveway that killed my bare feet in the summers is now concrete. The well shed has been replaced, the gazebo is gone as was the barn and greenhouse in the rear. The gigantic magnolia is gone from the front yard too and some oaks.


As a kid, the Cannon Creek Boys and I would throw the magnolia seed pods like grenades at each other. They hurt when they hit you, especially in the face. Robin once dared me, as he often did, to chew and eat the red seeds in the pod. I lived on every word of his and did it. They were bitter and nasty, but I chewed and swallowed to please him - no dare was ever too much. It was gross, but nothing would ever be more gross than swallowing his Skoal Bandit flavored saliva.


In the early 1980s the children of the family that once owned my grandparent's house before they purchased it came for a visit. I remember that day though I was not present when they came, I was off in the woods being that boy and heard about it over dinner. The two children were twin girls, but were elderly adults by that time. They wanted to see where they had grown up and not seen for twenty-something years. My grandparents invited them in and they looked around, shared stories and marveled at the changes. The house built in the late 1800s had changed for them. Underneath those changes it was still their home, their past and memories. I wonder how much or if they felt lost sitting in my grandparent's living room with the floor to ceiling windows and columns?

But they stopped. The twins stopped to have their childhood again for an hour or so. I kept going, running the down the red dirt road of my mind - never to stop again.


There was a finality about my visit to New Hope, as if I never need to return or see it again. Rabbit Tobacco Field is forever a place in my head and what I call the office where I write these words now. Most of what I saw in New Hope was not the place I was raised or loved; it was some other place, a new place, a different place and not home. This perspective is not limited to New Hope, but to all of Paulding County. The home I loved is forever buried in my books.



April 2023. Photo by me.


One final photo from a little down the road from my grandparent's house. I had played in those woods. This is the Paulding County of today and "the progress." The beauty of the hills is carved up and trucked away, the woods obliterated, the creeks filled with silt and new houses packed closely together in the most inhumane way sprout. This is not the Paulding County I knew or loved, but it is the Paulding County that future residents will come to know. I hope they love living in a place named after what once was. If I could choose the name of this subdivision, I would call it Childhood.