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Harris Blackwood: Not much Mayberry to be found in Gainesville these days
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

When I was 8, we moved from Atlanta to Social Circle. I thought it was a little piece of heaven, an idyllic place that was much akin to the fictional Mayberry of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

In the daytime, Louis Shepherd, the police chief, was the only officer on duty. Mrs. Minnie, the city clerk, answered the police phone calls. If she was away from the desk or it was after hours, there were two phones in weatherproof boxes, one on a pole beside the bank and another down by Aub McClain’s barbershop.

On a summer night, with the windows open, you could hear the horn blow if the phone was ringing. If followed by a loud warning siren, this meant the volunteer fire department was being called to duty.

I was able to ride my bike into town to the post office, the hardware store or the dime store. It was a freedom I had never experienced and it was wonderful.

My wife is a native of Gainesville. She talks about riding her bike with friends to various places like the store or to the pool in the summer.

While Gainesville was a much bigger town, it still had some of the simple life that was a staple in the South.

We built a barn in the backyard and we had horses. We took them regularly to horse shows. Sometimes they were big affairs and we were just a mom and pop with a couple of boys pulling a horse trailer with an old pickup.

One of our horse show friends was Bill Martin and his family. Martin was a partner in a large wholesale produce operation at the Atlanta Farmers Market. One evening, we turned on the TV news and learned that his wife and daughter had been murdered in a robbery at their home.

Murder wasn’t supposed to happen like that. It was the kind of thing that happened in bad places on the wrong side of town.

We often treat murder as collateral damage. Television news often takes the tactic of “if it bleeds, it leads.” I usually watch the morning news and it seems that almost every morning brings a story that starts out with a murder, a shooting, or someone getting caught in the crossfire of a shootout.

It hit home for me the other day when I heard of the horrible murder of Jack Hough. It happened just a few blocks from my house at a store where I occasionally shop.

I knew Jack Hough. I interviewed him for a story for The Times about his growing business of food courts at airports, hotels and universities.

He was an astute businessman and had found a niche in the food service industry.

My takeaway from all of this is we are not immune to heinous crime. You hear of murders, major drug deals, gang activity and other criminal elements. Your heart tells you, “Not in my town,” but your brain tells you otherwise.

There is a part of me that hopes that the pendulum will one day swing the other way. It’s hard to be overly optimistic about it.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on