I wrote this in 2003 when I was with the Jacksonville Daily News. Still little has changed in Danbury in terms of appearance. There are some tweaks here and there. And the downtown area, what there is of it, was revamped across from the courthouse into a fantastic Arts Place. Over time it took the place of what was once a bank, country store, barber shop and the Department of Social Services and library. In many ways, time stands still in Danbury almost like magic. I couldn’t see the Christmas lights on the courthouse tree from my mom’s house this year so I’m not sure if this still happens. I could have simply overlooked it.
The snow photos in the gallery at the end are from several years ago (2009) when a large snowfall blanketed the town and my mom’s house. They still had plenty of it when we arrived on Christmas Eve. Sadly, I have no winter photos of Danbury itself. That would be perfect. I did include some images of the old courthouse and town landmarks taken a while back.
I see the town spread before me and all its landmarks – places I’ve known by heart since age 9. I can call up the picture in my mind most anytime I want. Nothing, though, beats being there.
Soon, I will be.
In fact, from where I’ll stand this week on the back deck of my mom and dad’s home, I’ll be able to see much of it in the daytime- the courthouse and the oversized pine tree just beside it, the old Pepper place, the house where Haywood Brown and his family used to live, until they moved and the Willis family took it over, of course, the printin’ office where I got the first job I would ever have that didn’t result in my clothes being soaked by tobacco gum.
It’s all pretty much still there. always pretty much just as I left it.
There’s magic at work here, has to be. No other explanation makes much sense. How do I tell folks that without sounding like some kind of raving lunatic? How do I make them believe that nothing ever really changes in Danbury, the little foothills town where I grew up. How do I say that going back for Christmas is like being 12 again – and I mean all the good stuff about being 12. How do I explain that my car is actually a time machine even H.G. Wells couldn’t have imagined as it winds down that old black snake of two-lane road.
I try to tell people but words are never enough. They have to see it for themselves. And the best time to do so is at Christmas when everything’s so clear and clean and easy to pick up by eye, especially that oversized pine tree just beside the redbrick courthouse.
It just seems to stick out, that’s all. Even at night. Especially at night. Always has this time of year.
Now normally, well, eight months out of the year anyway, nothing much sticks out from this vantage point. In fact, during the summer even Superman couldn’t see for shucks 20 yards past the first stand of heavily leaved poplars, oaks, maples and dogwoods that basically constitute the forest that encircles my parents’ home like a gnarly fortress. The two are separated by a grassy, well Â… moat, I guess it could be called. A driveway’s about the only intrusion from what most call the outside world.
And every now and again, that outside world up and intrudes as it’s bound and determined to do from time to time. It happens when folks occasionally drive up the hill and around the blind curve by mistake only to find a private home and old log cabin there at the end. Don’t know exactly what they’re looking for when they do it. Apparently, the “no trespassing” sign at the foot of the road often gets paid the no never mind.
Normally, folks realize their error and turn around PDQ without stopping for idle chit-chat. It’s a good thing. They probably wouldn’t get much for their trouble – except for the view of course.
Maybe that’s enough.
That’s because on these December days, when the trees are barren of leaves and the air is as clear as untouched glass, my hometown of Danbury is right there for viewing from atop that hill.
It’s a beautiful perch where my father had our family home constructed by the finest jack-leg help available at the time. The log cabin came later, a true historic artifact moved piece by piece from a nearby slice of family property then reassembled and restored. It was done with the idea that one day someone from our family would stay there when they come to visit for holidays.
That’s the role my wife and I fill. It’s a minor change in how things are but that’s how it goes in Danbury. People come. Some get married. Others pass. A few leave, some come back. There are no new buildings. The old ones are simply recycled. It’s a blueprint for Smart Growth is what it is.
The old courthouse? Well it’s like it was in 1960, with its square where we used to play as children and with its pine tree, which was once a cedar before the county replaced it in the 1970s.
And every year, the folks in Danbury do up that now impossibly tall tree with hundreds of lights. It’s the only holiday decoration of any description as far as the town itself is concerned.
When night falls this week, I’ll go out on the back deck of our family home – built by the finest jack-leg available at the time – and look out over the darkened town and the now hidden landmarks I know so well. The only thing I’ll be able to see clearly is that pine tree decorated with lights of nearly every color most could imagine.
It just seems to stick out, that’s all. Always has this time of year.
Probably always will.