Walking has always been a ritual in our house. A day without one throws the whole household out of whack. Most days, we walk twice. In the mornings, we go four miles on the Springfield greenway, and it’s all about exercise. But during the afternoons, we stroll. And that stroll is all about the best parts of my small southern community.
Springfield was settled in 1796, and some of the buildings in the historic district date back to the early 1800’s. During the afternoons, we meander past antebellum mansions, like the Cheatham or Beecher House. These 200-year-old homes stand three floors high with fluted pillars and sweeping porches. They look like Scarlett O’Hara could step outside with a glass of sweet tea at any second.
We pass a red brick church built in 1838. It was used as a stable during the Civil War, and it’s rumored that hoof prints indent the wood floor. Around the block, we circle a late nineteenth-century mansion named Maybelle. It still has a cast-iron hitching post topped with a carved horsehead outside the front door. Concrete steps sit next to it, so the ladies and gentleman could easily step into their carriages. In the summer, when the chirping cicadas make the humidity pulse and the scent of wild honeysuckle fills the air, it feels like we traveled back in time.
We stroll past the courthouse with its clock tower, an old blacksmith’s shop, and our bank, where we’ve been known to walk through the drive-thru with our dogs. I don’t even have to give a command and our dogs sit on the blacktop, all four lined in a row. They know if they wait outside the teller’s window long enough, then a treat will pop out. And Miss Jean and Miss Susan always give treats to our dogs.
Another trademark of our afternoon walks is that southern hospitality. Folks wave or call out greetings when we pass the accountant’s office, the printer’s shop, and the guitar store. We often chat with Mary, owner of Our Serenity Shop, about CBD oil, and Michael, a retired factory worker, about the weekly weather report. If we see Junior, who runs a mowing business, he reliably provides an update on any construction. When we run into Scott, an IT technician, we talk about local politics because he’s probably the only other democrat in town.
And the neighborhood dogs are just as friendly as the people. Over the years we’ve become buds with Bo, a heeler mix, Knox, a hound dog, and Thunder, a graying black lab. We know Duchess, a teacup Maltese who can’t weigh as much as my phone and Coco and Puff, two poodles with matching haircuts. They bounce like jumping beans inside their glass door when they see us. Gus and June, collie mixes, live inside an invisible fence and howl until we pet their heads.
And of course, there’s King Frank, our favorite. Frank spends most days hanging out on his porch, which is enclosed with a four-foot wall. Frank, a giant slobbery mutt, could easily leap over it, but he never does. When he sees us, he wags his tail so hard it hits the wall and makes a drumming sound that builds as we get closer.
For a girl who was born and raised in the Northeast, I’ll admit that I had some growing pains when I first moved to the rural South. But there are two things about my southern home I’ve come to love, its history and hospitality. And our afternoon walks we get the best of both.