How does one “find their park” exactly? Do they spend many months soul searching, travelling to every single National Park Unit until one calls out their name? Or do they just know which park is their favorite and continuously visit, collecting the same passport stamp year after year? For me, I have always known that the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site was my park. I fell in love with the teeny tiny city of Plains, Georgia at nine years old. As a young girl, I often dreamed of moving to this town and working right here in Plains; A town with a population of merely 700. While most people dream of moving to the big city, I’ve always wanted to go back to my roots, the place where my family has lived for many, many generations.
A few days ago, I was searching through some old papers I had written in high school. I came across an essay for a college application, one that perfectly summed up how I felt about this marvelous community. Enjoy:
On a warm summer morning in the middle of July, I walk outside to my favorite location in the world. It’s nothing spectacular, really, just the front porch of a house located in a small southern town. Still clad in my pink pajama bottoms and over-sized t-shirt, I sit down in the white chair that has occupied the same location for years, lay my head back, and close my eyes. When I breathe in, I smell the fresh dew that the morning has brought, and for a good while, I just sit. I listen to the birds chirping their little songs, the old trucks creaking by on the nearby highway, and the neighbors taking their dogs out for an early walk. As I slowly begin to open my eyes, I look across the street at historical downtown Plains. This isn’t my house, nor is it my hometown. It is the home of my aunt, the same home that I’ve become so fond of over the past eight years. Every year since I was nine, I’ve come to stay here for a week each summer. Most people my age would consider it to be a punishment to stay with their aunt for a whole week, surrounded by nothing more than two restaurants and a Dollar General. But the depths of this town cannot be measured by size, population, or peanut yield.
I can proudly say that I know more about the city of Plains than I know about my own hometown: The beautiful old strip of downtown brick buildings located next to the city park, The 1976 Presidential campaign depot placed near the train tracks, and the old Plains High School- now a National Historic Site, a portal to a simpler time- each within walking distance of each other, all filled with smiling faces waiting to greet you. I fell in love with this town for its simplicity through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl. No matter where I go, no matter how quickly the tide of adulthood approaches my coast, I know that the white chair on the front porch hasn’t moved and that there is purity in simplicity.
And on those cricket-sung nights in Plains, the streets lit exclusively by the constellations, I sit on the front porch and play cards with my aunt as every person that walks by gives us a wave and a hello, even strangers. And then on Sunday morning, we wake up and walk to church, and when it’s over we walk with the entire town to the nearby restaurant for a modest communion of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and pecan pie.
While Plains, Georgia is a little town, it has taught me that appreciating the genuine things in life are far more precious than getting caught up in superficial tides. At nine years old, no one could have ever told me that a white chair would help me to understand that happiness truly does come from within. But as I sit motionless on that old front porch that I have grown to love, I wish that I could press pause and stay in this moment forever. I never want to forget this feeling of real bliss. But by just remembering the simplistic characteristics of this town, I can remain in this joyful mindset for as long as I live.