An afternoon in McDonough Square - Johnny Jackson

Eastbound on Georgia Highway 20/81 follows the road to what locals called ”McDonough Square.“

Along the way is Levette Thomas, who owns Unique Hairstyle. She has a forest green velvet couch in her small shop at 5 Hampton Street.

”I try to make it feel at home,“ she said.

Her brother-in-law built a pine wall-length cabinet, which hides Levette's thrifty hair dryers and holds huge stacks of hair magazines.

She said January was her slowest month, but she does good business otherwise with walk-in customers-maybe 45 or 50 clients a week, she said.

Eight doors down the block, Valin's Cafe receives wanderers and regulars too. The Jamaican-owned restaurant serves primarily Jamaican and Caribbean foods.

Denetra Bates said the Cafe also served vegetarian meals. Denetra is the waitress, who moved to McDonough a few months ago.

”It's a nice place to live. The downtown area is very homely,“ she said. ”There's a couple that comes here at least three times a week after their workout at the gym. The people are very classy, sophisticated, and courteous. Every Monday a group of lawyers comes in to eat lunch. “

The trend these days to go back to the old exists here too. Instead of chalkboard, though, orders and daily specials are written on dry-erase boards stapled through a fabric floral wallpaper that lines the Cafe. There is a free-standing board beside a stand of novels and magazines next to the entrance. It reads, ”Valin's Cafe, free, free: $1.00 Slice of Cake.“

There is a church at the corner of Hampton and Keys Ferry streets, a few steps away from the Cafe. It faces what might be perceived as an obscure billboard that shutters two or three advertisements at a time throughout the day. There are three religious congregations on that block.

By noon, Victor Itegbe walks the streets in the square. He is the city's traffic safety officer. He has not directed traffic on the square since the traffic lights were erected. He is glad of that; traffic is much better downtown.

He is a native of Africa, who has lived in McDonough about seven years. His hefty accent is so decent it begs for listeners.

”It's a home; it's pretty much a home,“ he said about the town. ”Downtown, here, is my favorite place to come in McDonough. During the summer time we have lots of activity. It's peaceful.“

Victor pointed to PJs Cafe across the square, talking as passersby honked and waved to him from their cars on Macon Street. The first was Sarah, he said. He knows a lot of people here.

Meanwhile, Leslie Chrysler said she must have given directions to 50 people already at the city's Welcome Center. She works there at that whimsical historical relic of a gasoline station.

”I enjoy the park and shopping,“ she said. ”It's charming; it's quaint; it's comfortably south of Atlanta, we say.“

Across John Frank Ward Boulevard, formerly retired Jim Peavy has worked four years as a security guard for the Henry County Courthouse, which overlooks the infamous park.

He said he likes the historical presence of the buildings, the park across the street, and the shops that surround the square.

There are the pawn shops, Ward Drug Co. drug store, Thompson Market, and the antiques mall on South Macon Street.

The antiques mall, at least, is like a trip back through time, away from modernity. Even the floors of the mall are authentic wooden planks, dating as far back as the late 1800s, according to Cecelia Lawrence, owner of the two-story store.

Where the old mannequin ”Unreal Camille“ stands in the storefront window next-door to Thomson Market, one might spend hours lost in an eerie heaven of antiques and classics.

Such is a brief afternoon in ”McDonough Square.“

Johnny Jackson is the education reporter for News Daily. He can be reached at 770-478-5753 or at jjackson@news-daily.com .