Whatever happened to...?
This column originally ran in April, 1996.
Not many of today’s Peachtree City residents remember a time when we did not have a real police department. Our earliest policing came from the Sheriff’s Office -- the county supplied a car and support; local businesses paid for a deputy.
Granted, he didn’t have much to do, but people felt good knowing he was out there.
Ralph Jones was mayor and Chip Conner on city council when the city began developing its own department, and by the time Chip became mayor, in 1970, we were well on our way.
Haskell Barber was chief when we moved here in 1971 -- I suspect he was the entire department. We had just begun building when he stopped by and became one of the first people we met. He just wanted to let us know he’d keep an eye on things. His way of sizing up newcomers, I imagine, but it certainly made a good impression.
He lived near Newnan -- still does -- yet seemed always to be on hand for whatever was going on in Peachtree City.
I have the most vivid memory of him during an antique car show held on the Village Green behind the Presbyterian Church. A tiger swallowtail butterfly sat on his shoulder for many, many minutes, dazzling against his starched white shirt, oblivious to its surroundings, perhaps drunk on Haskell’s aftershave.
I called the former chief recently, just to see how he’s doing.
“Actually, physically, I’m younger than I was when I left over there,” he said. He’s lost 20 pounds, exercises daily, watches what he eats, and has needed no blood pressure medication in two years.
“A little arthritis, but I still cut all my firewood, hunt deer, and I have a big garden,” he said. He hasn’t completely retired, still working as security guard occasionally at GS Roofing Products. He also works at his brother’s sawmill now and then, and check on houses for construction loans for the bank.
He and his wife celebrated their 50th anniversary last summer. “She retired when I did,” he said. They’ve done quite a bit of traveling: to Honolulu, Williamsburg, the Biltmore House in Asheville, and Texas when their son went to seminary there. Haskell even made a fishing trip to Canada he had long dreamed of.
“We’ve enjoyed every bit of our retirement,” he said.
Our car was in the shop when Dave was called in to work one night in 1972. As he drove up Georgia 74 in an old heap the mechanic had lent him, he realized he was being followed. His heart sank when the blue light came on.
It was just Orval Harris, who farmed by day and policed by night, and had noted an out-of-county tag on an unfamiliar car. When he saw that the driver was Dave, he asked him if everything was all right, and sent him on his way.
Nowadays, I suppose that would be considered harassment; in 1972, it was just Orval doing his job. Dave’s loaner was probably the only car moving in Peachtree City at three in the morning, and that was enough to raise suspicion.
He was tall and laconic, and affectionate friends called him Mr. O.E. Our daughter Alice was a member of the Police Cadettes; I always felt she was safe with him. When she became ill, he found out she liked fruit, and on more than a few mornings, we’d find a cantaloupe on the front porch, still wet from the dew in the Harris’ garden.
Mae and O.E. Harris watched Peachtree City grow up in their backyard -- literally.
Theirs was the little ranch house on Robinson Road across from Avalon Park, built on property down the road from the tree farm of Orval’s father, “Bess.” Where the senior Harris once grew boxwoods, upscale Whitfield Farms now sprawls.
In the early 1970s, Robinson Road seemed remote from the planned city growing up around the intersection of Georgia Hwys. 54 and 74. Soon enough, however, bulldozers rumbled through the woodlands behind the house, and Doubletrace Lane was cut in and paved.
New houses went up. The neighbors behind the Harris place put up board fences to screen out tractor and tiller, grape arbors and shed. The sliver of land between suburbia and the Harrises’ open fields near the east city limits was narrowing.
Change followed change. Even the plant where Mae Harris worked for nearly 12 years, Hi-Brand Foods, Peachtree City’s first industry, has fallen to the wrecking ball.
In October 1994, having sold their land to a developer, the Harrises moved out. They live now in a 6-year-old brick rancher northeast of Cartersville, nearer their daughter Pam.
“We have a little over an acre, and we’re out in the country,” Mae told me when I called. “This is beautiful country up here.”
She hasn’t put in grapevines yet, but hopes to. Her husband sold his tractor before they moved, and doesn’t plan to get another.
They’re both doing “pretty well,” Miss Mae said, but admitted it was hard leaving. Both are Fayette natives, she an Avery from Kenwood in the north part of the county. Her husband built the Robinson Road house before they married.
Until now, “That’s the only house we ever lived in,” she said. “We lived there for 42 years.”
[Sallie Satterthwaite of Peachtree City has been writing for The Citizen since our first issue Feb. 10, 1993. Before that she had served as a city councilwoman and as a volunteer emergency medical technician. She is the only columnist we know who has a fire station named for her. Her email is SallieS@Juno.com.]