One courageous magnolia had opened to the sky over Augusta Regional Airport, and I snapped a close-up on my cell phone.
Even people who are born in magnolia country must love that first daring flower that both declares and celebrates spring. So I knew that the folks back home in Indiana would share my awe at the giant bloom. Perhaps, I thought, I might return to Georgia with images of lilacs. Not just the occasional bright limb or tree, but fragrant white, red-violet or lavender lilac ribbons lining Midwest highways.
The trip took me full circle. Or, I should say, the trip is taking me full circle. It's Monday evening. An invisible wire will send this column to The McDuffie Mirror in The Camellia City before I venture out for a final evening meal in The Summit City, Fort Wayne.
But my curiosity is beating my luggage to Indianapolis International Airport. The reminders of Georgia and Georgians are everywhere. I paused along Main Street just long enough to soak in the swampy smell of the former site of Camp Allen, which lost its military role when The Brothers War ended in 1865. Just a few years later, the site was home to a baseball diamond and America's first professional baseball game. Cleveland's nine defeated the Fort Wayne team, which later became the ancestor of the Dodgers, depending on whom you ask. I paused to wonder how the Augusta GreenJackets would fare against the Fort Wayne TinCaps. The team is named for apple-propagating pioneer Johnny Appleseed, who died in Fort Wayne in 1845. And then I wondered how the Thomson High School Bulldogs would stack up against the Homestead High School Spartans. And then I saw that biker bar in the middle of the neighborhood, and the blemish dispelled all images of the past and pleasant.
I drove the few blocks to the site of the 1832 groundbreaking of the Wabash and Erie Canal. I thought of how that canal had changed a continent. I thought of my Petersburg boat ride on the Augusta Canal and how that waterway had changed a city and an economy.
The comparisons of separated states became numerous and conspicuous. I thought of songs and fiction that have unfairly stereotyped both Georgia and Indiana. I took pride yet again that a fellow Hoosier, Hoagy Carmichael, wrote Georgia On My Mind. I thought of the hugs that had awaited me in Fort Wayne and of the handshakes that I expected back in Thomson. And I allowed myself a pat on the back for realizing that the biggest difference between Georgia and Indiana is the license plates. And, wow, there were a lot of blue plates with gold stars and torches.
I thought of a few years ago, at about my 50th birthday, when I almost called a former neighbor to inquire about a first-grade classmate on her 50th birthday. I knew only that she had moved to Georgia. I didn't call; it seemed awkward. Months later I learned that Connie had been back in Indiana on that date. She had come home to say goodbye. Breast cancer claimed that woman, whom I still remember only as a child. This weekend, God willing, I will be in Georgia, supporting a Relay for Life for millions of children and adults from every state.
And when I return to Georgia, I will bring more than a few photos of the first daring lilacs that emerged from an obstinate winter to reward a world for its patience.
I believe camellias, magnolias and forests of lilacs would get along just fine.
A lucky man can fly 800 miles to go home. A blessed man can take a round-trip flight, and fly home in each direction.