By Karen Campbell
How do you top a night on Broadway (in Nashville) and a stop at the Eiffel Tower (in Paris) when entertaining a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) on her brief visit during Peace Corps week?
Take her on a #WalkandReadAcrossWeakley at 7 a.m. on a chilly West Tennessee Saturday!
The first leg of my month-long support of good health, local libraries and local news was scheduled to begin on March 2. That date coincided with the arrival of my friend Elizabeth Mitchel, a volunteer I met while both of us were serving in the English-teaching program of Peace Corps Costa Rica. I was pleased to have completed the typical two-year commitment. Elizabeth, assigned to the indigenous region of the lush rain forest western portion of the country, was sufficiently enamored with the lifestyle and the people to continue for two more years.
Before she concludes her final stint as a PCV, she was due a vacation, and she chose to spend some of it with family in Florida and some of it with me for a bit of a tutorial on what it means to live in the South. As she is a native of the Seattle, Washington area, and had lived half of her 20s in Italy and half in the Caribbean, this was to be her introduction to sweet tea, fried foods, country music, small towns, and the quirkiness that is rarely accurately captured in films, books, or podcasts.
I did my best to once again serve the cause well.
After enjoying a variety of stops along Nashville’s Music Row and hearing everything from “Redneck Woman” to a call for peace from a three young women and a funk band channeling Bob Marley, we were gifted with a history lesson and 360 degree tour from my cousin Faye Campbell Hicks via the windows of the 28th floor of the building where the former Martin native works in the state’ s department of tourism. After a lunch and more history at the Woolworth counter on Main Street, we took the back roads to Como where we met my family for a good dose of fried. But first we stopped for a selfie at the tower in Paris because … really, how can you not?
The next day, we bundled up, grabbed our canisters of coffee and took our first steps on my combination of #ReadAcrossAmerica and #WalkAcrossTN, one a national push to encourage reading and the other a statewide focus on good health. These March events had inspired me to create a way to support both. And in a way, so had Costa Rica.
When I returned to the U.S. in 2017, I was committed to see the home state I’d left after college and only visited during holidays for the past 35 years with the same kind of curiosity and open eyes with which I’d explored my Peace Corps assignment. Soon, I was riding the roads in Middle Tennessee with the same awe at each curve and its new view of a hillside expanse of pasture, cattle, and weathered barn as I had had on a bus ride to a coffee farm. I then took other PCVs to East Tennessee for a taste of our waterfalls since we’d explored many a fall together in Costa Rica. And now, with #WalkandReadAcrossWeakley, I would get the chance to introduce another PCV to an up-close view of my little West Tennessee corner of the world.
Like the trooper I’d knew she’d be, Elizabeth joined me. After all, we’d logged many a mile in the mud, the sand, and on the hills of Costa Rica. Surely, we could do the six miles to Sharon!
Officially we started at the Dr. Nathan Porter Library in Greenfield and headed toward Sharon Library. In reality, we decided the extra five minutes from my house to uptown wasn’t going to hurt us, so I began early to regale her with tales of how my grandmother instilled in me my love of reading and words. We retraced the path I walked by Geneva Campbell’s side to the smaller library of my childhood, and I took great pleasure in remembering the reward of both the books in my arms and the small container of ice cream of Light’s Grocery with its attached “spoon.” I can still feel the splintered threads of wood on my tongue!
As we walked passed what was once Kellwood where grandmother worked, what will soon be two new businesses, the cemetery where my father is buried, the greenhouse that was one of my first feature stories, and stopped for a posed shot of Elizabeth at the sign reminding incoming visitors that Greenfield is the town where “you don’t get lost in the shuffle,” I realized how much of my hometown and all the communities in Weakley, are captured in the pages of the Press. Business stories, features, covering the city board meetings and even obituaries are among the reasons why local news is vital to a rural community. Sharing even brief snippets of what has appeared in print and making notes of what I’d like to follow up on, was exactly what I’d hoped it would be – inspiring – if not for Elizabeth (though she said she was), definitely, for me.
The breathlessness that viewers of the Facebook live broadcasts we captured on Saturday is a combination of the pace we were walking – we did the 6 miles in 90 minutes because we still had an MIA funeral to attend that day and a concert that night – and the excitement of realizing a dream coming true.
When I left Greenfield, I wasn’t running away, I was simply rushing to see what else was out there. Twenty-three countries into my journey of discovery, a couple of years in Peace Corps, and several friendships that feel like family, I’m excited to share what Weakley County has to offer. And I’m rather enthusiastic about the message that local news is vital and worthy of subscriptions and advertising support – no matter what channel, station, or print piece you choose.
I’ll be doing the next leg of the journey Saturday, March 9, beginning at 7 a.m. at Sharon Library (weather permitting). Elizabeth will be back in the jungle by then — full of country ham and biscuits, BBQ, milkshake masterpieces and stories of my home both past and present. I’ll be on my way to C.E. Weldon Library in Martin and ready to see what’s around the next curve in the road.
Follow Karen Campbell’s #WalkandReadAcrossWeakley in the pages of the Press and online via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.