2010-03-25 / Opinions

What draws many Washington visitors may be a simple child’s feeling of peace

By KIP BURKE news editor

It’s springtime again, and just as predictably as the return of warm days and dogwood blossoms, folks from all over are coming to visit Washington and Wilkes County. But what draws them to this small town?

Many folks assume it’s the old homes, the history that beckons visitors from all over, and that’s a part of it. After all, there are more classic and historic old homes here than almost any Southern city, and most of them are restored with great love and at great expense.

But some visitors who come here don’t really care so much about the history of Revolutionary days, or antebellum years – it’s their own past they’re connecting with. What many visitors find in Washington is the America of their childhoods, a feeling that they think has been lost forever.

It’s a feeli ng that’s hard to find in their daily bumper-tobumper commute, in their cookie-cutter suburbs, in the coldly identical malls and commercial strips full of people they don’t know, and don’t want to know.

It’s a feeling they don’t have in their cities, where their children must be watched like a hawk, where their doors must always be locked and barred, where they must gauge the threat from everyone they see. In Washington, they say, they feel like they’ve come home. Visitors suddenly find that they can relax, freed from the gridlock of traffic, surrounded by very individual homes and shops that are full of people who seem to have all the time in the world to talk. They find they can walk comfortably down sidewalks full of friendly people who expect to see folks they know, and who say “Hi” to everybody because it’s just the polite thing to do. No real strangers here, just folks we haven’t met yet.

They admit it’s a little shocking to them, just like a trip to the Atlanta airport is to us.

More than one visiting couple has admitted that they feel like they’ve gone back in time to their childhood, when life was safe and everybody loved them. Washington’s a place where their harried, hurried hearts can heal for a while. Needless to say, soon many folks find themselves falling in love with the place, and want to come back and stay – for a weekend, maybe forever. Many Baby Boomers are at the point in life where they’re looking for a forever home, a place that feels like home, and although Washington’s not a perfect place, some find it to be just right for them.

That feeling of home is important to long-time residents, too. Although agriculture is still king here, industry has changed forever as factory jobs went overseas. The $2.3 million in Friday paychecks that tourists create in Wilkes every year really have helped keep body and soul together for many families that otherwise would have had to leave for jobs in the big city.

That’s why I welcome visitors. I’ve had to live in big cities, and I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.

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