Elberton, Georgia: Granite Capital of the World is 100% pure, unadulterated motion in an American South. Donna lived here once, still does sometimes—though it’s not her home and likely never will be in any conventional sense of the word. It’s homey without being a home, this country town of 100% pure, unadulterated motion. Trains in motion dwarfing cars, houses, and people in motion, some of whom are more committed to forward motion than others, whether in gait or deed.
Elberton, the stop Ned chose on a cold January morning in a year he had long since forgotten, has not forgotten him. A headstone engraved with a country boy, suitcase in hand and dog not far behind, begs the question, “Who is he, where is he going, and why?” Enough that he was, is no more, but may become—though not necessarily in that order or even in human form. In fact, just this morning, I ran into Ned on my way out of Dunkin’ Donuts at the corner of Milledge and Prince in Athens, Georgia. He held the door for me, a kind act that I returned by giving his dog a good chunk of my donut while taking a second whiff of Ned’s bacon-scented coat—a pleasant scent no matter what time of day. I wondered, could it be the same coat he had worn the morning he left Aunt Em’s and Uncle Phil’s farmhouse to hop a train to some unknown exit?
I think so. Kind-hearted Aunt Em took in overnight boarders—what some of her less generous neighbor folk called tramps—gave them a clean mat to sleep on in the milk-house and greeted them the next morning with a bowl of oatmeal covered in cream and topped with maple syrup from the farmer down the road. On special occasions, like the day of Ned’s and Donna’s first encounter, Aunt Em slid a small strip of bacon from a recent hog slaughtering to a spot just below the oatmeal’s lumpy crust. Savoring the salty add-on, the two of us looked up approvingly from our bowls to catch Aunt Em’s waiting eyes. Then, with a quick wave of her arm, she shooed us through the ill-fitting farmhouse door, hung a school lunch pail over my arm, and gave Ned quick directions for the next safe house 30 miles away.