Going Back Home

I just returned from a trip back to my hometown (Green Cove Springs, FL) to see my parents.

They are getting older…moving slower. Life is changing.

While there, I was able to explore my hometown for the first time in many years.

It too has changed. Some parts of it are hard for me to recognize…or to remember.

As a kid, Green Cove was a small rural town. It had a Pete’s Hamburgers and a KFC. Pizza King was the only place to get a pizza. Winn Dixie was the only grocery store. In the middle of the city was the towering Bank of Green Cove Springs. Towering because it was two stories high, a rarity in the town. My mom worked there and so I can still picture its large lobby with the rows of tellers with the little bars over the counter. The loan department sat in the middle with its desks and office workers. In a second floor room above the lobby was the office of the bank’s president, J.P. Hall, who seemingly sat at the darkened window overseeing the whole bevy of financial activity below.

I remember the first time that a McDonalds opened in town. It was like heaven had visited earth in my kid’s sized mind. On Saturdays, I used to ride my bike from our home on County Road 16-A all the way to the bank (where I would grab a few dollars from my mom) and then finish my journey at McDonalds with a cheeseburger (specially ordered with ketchup only which always took a lot longer but usually gifted a much fresher burger), a small order of fries, and a vanilla milkshake.

A feast for a king…or at least for a hungry elementary schooler.

Across the street sat Orange Avenue Baptist Church where I started going to church in the sixth grade. The golden arches on one side of the street and the wooden cross on the other. It seemed like the perfect combination to me at the time. Youth group followed by soft serve ice cream cones. What could be better?

Green Cove sits right on the St. Johns River, a beautiful, expansive river that flows north toward Jacksonville. I don’t remember ever being particularly drawn to the river. I didn’t really like the water too much. Most of my memories of the river are sitting on a pier in the middle of the night and watching my dad throw a shrimping net into the water to catch the shrimp as they were “running.” Picking up shrimp on the pier without getting stabbed by their sharp pointy heads was the only thing I was worried about then.

Johns Manville picnics. Family Frolics in Spring Park. Playing Little League baseball games. Watching Clay High Blue Devil basketball games. Going to the Christmas parades.

All those memories are there, filed away in my mind.

Green Cove was nothing special. Just a small town with a small community feel. Most people talked about leaving Green Cove for bigger cities and greener pastures.

But as I walked through Spring Park and along the River this past weekend, I realized how beautiful the city really is. Apparently a lot of money is moving into the area, restoring some of the waterfront properties and making the city a desirable destination. There are even expensive riverboat cruises that have a stop in Green Cove for a tour of its historical buildings, “healing mineral springs,”  and its charming and quaint “small town feel.”

It almost made me want to book a cruise! To visit my own hometown!

I did think about buying a house in the area and wondering if I ever might retire back home someday.

Back home.

I am a sucker for nostalgia, I guess.

Deep down there is a strange sense of longing, ache, joy, and sorrow as I think of home.

Time passes so quickly.

I miss simpler days.

I am becoming one of those older people who talks about “the good ol’ days.”

It seems to come with the territory of growing older…seeing life change…watching time fly by…feeling the lessening of days.

Sometimes I want to stop a moment…bottle it up…and never let it go.

But time affords no such opportunity.

It only moves in one direction…and its pace keeps marching forward…one minute at a time…one day at a time…one year at a time.

I hate seeing my parents grow older and battling more aches and pains.

I hate visiting the grave of my sister and realizing that she has now been gone for 26 years.

I hate the reality of death and the relentlessness of time.

I want time to stop, for cancer to be no more, for sin to be gone, for death to be defeated, for peace to reign.

I am longing for home.

But it is not behind me but before me.

I don’t need to fear the future but embrace it. Because time is moving forward toward a climax, toward the end of the story, toward the fulfillment of my deepest longings.

C.S. Lewis once said:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.

When I walk along the roads of my hometown and feel the ache of the past and the longing for home, I am actually feeling the ache and longing for something beyond this life. It is the echo of Eden. It is the sense of eternity in my heart. It is the hope of the kingdom.

It is the still small voice of my Savior.

Reminding me of Heaven.

Encouraging me to rest in Him.

Holding my hand.

Comforting my heart.

Calling me home.

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3 Responses to Going Back Home

  1. Sharon L Lowery says:

    I sense that your mind and body actually had time to rest and ponder life in general. I remember an interview with Denzel Washington recently and he was talking about being “in the fourth quarter” of his life and he felt he needed to make it count. When I looked at his age (my own age!), I felt a sense of urgency to get my life in order. I was sad about a lot of wasted years but then a waste of time. It’s not too late. I am still breathing. I still have time to love and serve and tell others about the real hope we have for our future. It’s sound like you may be feeling some of this too. You and your family are a blessing to our church and you are making a difference. It’s exhausting and must take such a toll, mental and physical. Jesus said it wasn’t going to be easy. Time feels like it is flying at warp speed. We just have to grab the moments of peace when we can. One day we will have all the time we could ever hope for.

  2. Cathi smith says:

    Steve… when I saw your post on Heelcatcher about “going home”, I couldn’t wait to give it a read. I too, have written a short story about my childhood hometown. It too, was very small, rural and basically a good place to be a kid.
    Thank you for sharing your memories and present thoughts. Yes, we may not go back in reality, but we sure have a wonderful place called Heaven to go forward to. 😊

  3. Diane says:

    Absolutely beautiful. Thank you for reminding me of this.

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