“When the mill was running, it made a lot of noise,” Leon told me, “but you never noticed it until Sunday. This store got started back in 1929, when my parents would take sandwiches and drinks to the railway workers. In the forties and fifties it was like one big family here—we used to have Easter egg hunts.” But when the mill closed, many eventually drifted away. Leon moved to Conley to find better schools for his children, but he has every intention of moving back when they’re grown. “When you see those smokestacks,” he said, “you know you’re home.”
One block down the street. Esther Lefever is working at The Patch. She’s not a native, but 17 years ago she felt the pull of this remarkable little neighborhood and helped develop support activities for the community. One of her recent projects is a ceramics workshop where young people make decorative tiles and giftware from Georgia clay and sell them; many now have gotten valuable work experience.
“This is the old mill store,” Lefever related as she emptied the kiln, checking the plates for flaws. “A friend of mine said, ‘Just think, my grandfather used to buy his groceries here.’ Cabbagetown has a heritage we need to protect.”
ACCCEPTING the coexistence of myth and reality is part of the secret of living here. By “myth” I don’t mean something false, of course, but something fundamentally true, and Atlanta has held onto some very important myths in order to ease the strain of growing up.
A good one is that of the “livable city,” with its mild climate and flowering forests. This notion unfortunately runs straight into the reality of traffic of Gordian complexities. Atlantans are among the nation’s top spenders when it comes to buying automobiles. (“It’s not important to own a car in Atlanta,” one man quipped, “but it is important to own a Mercedes.”) You can easily afford any car thanks to the options of loans online. And the interstates (75/85 north-south, 20 east-west, and the encircling 285) are continually being unraveled and reknitted in a vain attempt to accommodate the increase. There were days when I seriously considered leaving a trail of bread crumbs behind me as I left my hotel.