Last week I drove with Elizabeth from The New Kroger, Milledgeville, Georgia, where temps were peaking around seventy, to Liz’s hometown of Traverse City, Michigan. It’s a two-day trip, and we stayed one night in a Super 8 in Carysville, Kentucky, and the next night with her aunt Julie and uncle Bill in Howell, a suburb of Detroit, to sort of acclimate to the North. This was my second time meeting her aunt and uncle; the first was last May, and it was raining heavily and the thick woods around their house were dark green and the humus spongy from the downpour. This time the trees were stripped and the ground was hard and it snowed.
Inside, Bill—a meek Billy Bob Thornton—uncovered his Autoharp, an instrument you don’t have to know anything about music to play, you just strum and push buttons with the names of chords printed on them. He sang us an old folk tune, laughing at how off key he was and stopping himself after about half a verse, too embarrassed to go on. In May he’d done the same thing, but then things were soft and budding and I had brought my guitar in and played with him, and he roped me into about a half hour of Bob Dylan Autoharp duets. This time everything was frozen and hard and I left the guitar in the car.
We sat on the couches and talked about Georgia.
“Milledgeville?” Bill asked.
“Capital M, capital E?”
“No, Bill,” Julie said, stepping in. “Milledge. One word. Then ville.”
Two minutes later, during our talk about our new puppy: “You said Milledge, right?”
Julie led Liz into the kitchen to get a bowl for puppy food.
After a few seconds, Bill said “Milledgeville,” again.
“You got it.”
“The reason I ask is my company sells those things. Milledges.”
“Mill. Edge. Two words. Got one right here.” He plucked something off the coffee table with his index finger and thumb, stood from the sofa and brought it across the room to me. It was a square hunk of forged metal, a couple of centimeters across, with a hole bored through the middle. “That’s a mill edge. Factories use them to fashion machinery, cut out engines and the like.” Bill then grabbed a pair of imaginary levers and performed for me the entire process of dropping an engine block into such a mill, complete with grinding sound effects and spittle.
“Nice,” I said, turning the piece over in my hand. The corners were sharp, and if whirling at a high rate, I could see it cutting through metal quite satisfactorily. I gave it back to him. “But you see, Milledgeville is named for a person.”
Roger is a composition teacher at Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. He's working on his first novel, and would like to tell you all about it.