Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - 19

My GEORGIA

By Roy Payne

Building memories, learning
lessons at Papa's cabin

I

spent the summer of 1977 with my grandfather
in the mountains outside Toccoa. I was 14 then
and wanted to be anywhere else.
I got there by bus on a bright morning in early
June. Papa was waiting for me, leaning against a
white Ford Galaxy 500. He was a tall man with a
worn, cracked face and was wearing square-rimmed
glasses and a Stihl baseball hat.
After we loaded my bags, he took a seat on the
passenger side and told me I was driving. He said it
in such a casual, confident way that I couldn't refuse
and still be his grandson.
So I learned to drive in the half-hour it took to
get home and then drove all over northeast Georgia
that summer-no license, no seat belts and no idea
how much trouble we were in if I got pulled over.
We lived in an old one-room cabin, set in a
clearing beneath sprawling pecan trees. It had three
small windows and a stone fireplace.
A solitary power line ran up the mountain, so
we had electricity for a few appliances. Papa slept in
a bed in one corner, and I slept a few feet from him
on a rollaway, next to the box fan and a small blackand-white TV on a metal stand.
Behind the cabin was a well, where I learned to
fill a bucket in my role as water fetch-it boy. Let the
bucket sink, then reel it up fast so all you get is cool,
sweet water, uncluttered by sticks and spiders.
There was an outhouse out back with a wasp
nest in the corner-a place for business, not contemplation.
At the far end of the clearing was a sawmill,
where every Saturday we made logs out of tree
trunks. During the week, except on Sunday (Papa
wouldn't work on Sunday), we cut trees. We mostly
cut tall, straight pines. Sometimes we cut pulpwood,
then loaded a rusting beast of a truck for a trip to the
train yard.
The memories are still fresh: the heat; the
pungent smell of pine straw baking in the sun; the
cool night air and the lonely call of whippoorwills
across the mountains; the sound of the chain saw
and the tractor; and the spaces in between when my
grandfather dragged logs to the mill and I was left
alone for a bit in the silent woods.
Even with lungs that rattled from a lifetime of
smoking, Papa could outwork me. He was rough and

Roy Payne lived with his grandfather in this cabin during the summer
of 1977. His grandfather sent him the picture two years later.

sharp-edged, but there were softer moments.
He loved the look of a lush, green cornfield and the sound
of rain on a tin roof. He wanted to live to 70 because none of his
brothers had. During World War II, he had fought in France and
Italy, and he told me machine guns were good only for cutting
down trees. But I know now that he cut down more than trees,
and it had scarred him.
At the end of that summer, Papa paid me $300 cash. He
spent the next year building a new cabin from the trees we
cut. He lived there five more years, dying a year shy of his
70th birthday.
Today, I'm almost as old as he was then, and I think fondly
of that summer, even though at the time I wanted to be anywhere else. In that way, it was also a lesson-maybe even more
so today.
Roy Payne lives in Orlando, Fla., and is an attorney with
the city.

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be returned. Published essays pay $100. Georgia Magazine reserves the right to edit
submitted pieces.
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19


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Georgia Magazine - August 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - August 2020

Contents
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Georgia Magazine - August 2020 - Contents
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