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Christy Petterson, Three Stops Along River Road in Columbus, Georgia



Three Stops Along River Road in Columbus, Georgia

By: Christy Petterson


ONE: Picking Up Lunch at Clearview BBQ


“Oh we’re cash only, hon,” said the woman behind the counter, my debit card extended towards

her.


I went from “wow, this order of six chopped barbecue sandwiches, one hot dog, three medium

sides and one small mac n’ cheese only costs $19.74!” to panic-stricken. Would I find even one

dollar in my wallet? Surprisingly, I had a twenty, plus four ones for the tip jar. I was at Clearview

BBQ in Columbus, Georgia on my way to visit family. Most restaurants in Atlanta, where I live,

had converted to cards-only during the pandemic, and even before that I rarely used cash. Once

I discovered that I was prepared for it though, I actually found this cash-only situation a bit

refreshing. I think about the future sometimes and wonder if all money will be tied to our identity

eventually.


I joined my nine-year-old son, Emmett, at a booth by the window where he was keeping himself

entertained with a video game on my phone. While we waited for our order, I observed our

surroundings. Wood paneling, yellowed drop ceiling, lots of pig-themed tchotchkes. It looked like

the restaurant hadn’t been touched for 40+ years.


I’ve eaten Clearview BBQ’s delicious sandwiches my whole life. When I was a kid and I visited

Columbus with my parents and siblings, my grandmother always picked up barbecue

sandwiches or a bucket of KFC to eat at the house. Emmett and I went to the restaurant for the

first time a few months prior to this visit when we had stopped in to pick up lunch for the family.

During that initial visit Emmett was visibly uncomfortable: shifting his weight from one foot to the

other; standing so close that I put my arm around him; he had a worried look in his eyes.

Partially because the restaurant was busy and there was barely enough space for us to stand

while we waited for our order; partially because we were the only people there still practicing

lingering COVID protocols by wearing masks inside; partially because he hadn’t ever spent

much time in a deeply Southern place like this one.


Like me, he’s an Atlanta native. The difference is that I had Southern great grandparents to visit

as a child and Southern cousins to hang out with. He doesn’t have either and seems to belong

here even less than I do. Before entering a space like this, I gather my “yes, ma’ams” and “yes,

sirs” so I’m prepared for conversation with anyone older. I haven’t taught these pleasantries to

Emmett, but I should so he knows how to show respect when we venture deeper into the South.


TWO: A Turn Onto Roaring Branch

Emmett and I got our food and then it was a six minute drive from Clearview BBQ to my

grandparents’ house. My grandmother died in 2009 and my grandfather way back in 1991 so I

know I shouldn’t still think of it as My Grandparents’ House. Technically, it’s my Uncle Bill’s

house.


Turning out of the parking lot of Clearview BBQ, we drove down River Road about two miles,

and then we went through the traffic circle onto Cascade Road. The traffic circle was built a few

years prior and felt very progressive and also maybe unnecessary. Once we were through the

circle and in the neighborhood, I knew the exact moment to turn my head to the right to see the

house that has a lake in it’s side yard with a fountain and a bridge that must surely lead to a

magical land. I have turned my head at that exact moment every visit since I was a small child

and first noticed the idyllic scene. The most intriguing detail about the nondescript drive from

Atlanta to my grandparents’ house has always been this lake-fountain-bridge combo.


A moment later we turned onto Roaring Branch Road. I think of my Uncle Henry whenever I turn

here because when I was a kid Grandfather told me of the time that Henry, his son and

namesake, fell asleep at the wheel. He’d just played in a football game for his school, St.

Anne-Pacelli Catholic High School, commonly called Pacelli. The story goes that Henry was

exhausted after the game, fell asleep at the wheel, and hit a tree. The car was totalled and he

was totally fine. This is what I remember of the story, which I’m quite sure Grandfather told me

at the formal dining table over breakfast one morning. But also I’m quite sure that I have a lot of

the details wrong, and I’ve never been certain that I correctly identified the exact location of the

incident. Yet, I think of this story every time I turn onto Roaring Branch.


Henry survived this horrendous accident, graduated from Pacelli, graduated from Emory

University in Atlanta, served in the Army and Reserves, moved back to Columbus, married a

sweet gal, had three children with her, owned several small businesses, and went on to die

young. Not young like senior in high school young, but young like his death is still, one of the

biggest shocks of my adult life. He was only 55 when he died of a heart attack, and even eight

years later tears spring to my eyes every time I think of him.


Family gatherings are less jovial without Henry filling the room with his charismatic smile and

funny stories. He was the family member who exhibited an interest in my small business, offered

unsolicited but appreciated tax advice, and showed up unexpectedly to events I produced in

Atlanta. I miss his Bobby Flay mac n’ cheese on Thanksgiving.


THREE: My Grandparents’ House

Emmett and I drove from Clearview BBQ down River Road to Cascade and turned onto Roaring

Branch with our family’s lunch order that we would eat at Uncle Bill’s, which I’ll always think of

as My Grandparents’ House.


It was built in 1973, and my grandparents bought the house a few years later when Grandfather

retired as an Army Colonel at Fort Benning. At the time, they had two sons in high school and

two grown children. The most significant feature of the brick, Colonial-style house is its position

at the very top of a steep hill. It always felt grand to me with the sweeping curved staircase in

the foyer, formal living room where no one ever sat, and a study. Before the days of “work from

home” and “home office,” there was a study with built in book cases, a large wood desk, and

double glass doors that led out to the back patio. It’s the kind of room I fantasize about writing

in, instead of sitting on the couch with my laptop.


Through a series of complicated circumstances, my Uncle Bill and Mom were both living there

the day Emmett and I picked up lunch at Clearview BBQ. So when I’d said to him that morning,

“we’re going to visit Grandma” we drove to the house where my grandma lived. This felt odd to

me. But also nice because, while I wouldn’t venture to call it “mine,” it is the only house that’s

been a constant in my life.


Because my mom was living there, Emmett and I visited the house more that year than I had

any previous year since Grandmother died. At nine, he was about the age I was the first time I

stayed there for a week without my parents. I wondered, if left there long enough, would he

develop the same games I did as a child? Grandfather was away at work during the day, and

Grandmother, though kind and friendly, never planned any activities for me and didn’t invite me

to be a part of her daily routine of reading the paper, cooking, and tidying. I was on my own and

had to keep myself busy. My activities included:


- drawing decor from around the house in my sketchbook

- sneaking up on lizards

- reading

- following ant trails around the exterior of the house and along the brick wall that

enclosed the back patio


When Grandfather returned home, we went to a nearby lake to feed the ducks and he even took

me to the art museum downtown one time. On other visits that included my parents and older

sister, he drove us around to see the growing town. He pointed out Columbus Tech where he

taught and sometimes we would eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant or visit their Episcopal

church. After Grandfather died, we only visited Grandmother at the house. We never went on a

drive or out to eat. As little as I knew of Columbus as a child, I spent less and less time

experiencing it as a teen and young adult.


My son doesn’t know Columbus either. He’s been inside Clearview BBQ twice and through a

couple of drive-thrus. Other than picking up food, we drive from the I-185 interstate exit directly

to my grandparents’ house. We don’t really belong here in this town, and when we get back to

Atlanta I’ll promptly drop my “ma’ams” and “sirs,” and will immediately get reacquainted with my

debit card. The last time Emmett and I visited, I thought about pointing out the exact place to

turn your head to see the yard with the lake-fountain-bridge, but I didn’t yell it out early enough

as I was concentrating on driving. And maybe I want to keep that small tiny detail of this town to

myself anyways since I know so very little of the rest of it.


BIO

Christy Petterson is an artist and writer from Atlanta, GA. Since 2005, she has organized an award-winning craft market called the Indie Craft Experience, and since 2014 she's been a Teaching Artist at the High Museum of Art. She graduated from Agnes Scott College in 1999 with a BA in Literature/Creative Writing. Christy lives in East Atlanta Village with her husband and their son, and spends her time naturally dyeing fabric, printmaking, reading, and writing.




Listen to Christy Petterson's SOREN LIT interview:





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