My Many Interests

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

A Good Place to Put Down Roots

We recently celebrated our first year of living in Wood County, specifically Winnsboro. It's funny how when we met new people, their first question was always "why?" 

Why Winnsboro? I didn't really know how to answer them except to tell them the truth. It looked like a cool little place to live.

I'll back up a little. My name is James Pickering, and I'm a widower with an eleven year old daughter. I've been many things over my lifetime. I've served in the Navy during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I was a disc jockey. I've done everything from repair appliances to selling the parts to fix them. I've even owned my own comic book shop and have plans to open a small book store one day.

But the toughest job I've ever had was being a husband to a wife who would one day not be with us. My wife was diagnosed with a stage IV brain tumor six months after giving birth to our daughter. Nothing prepares you for news like that, but after a few moments of crying, cussing, screaming and then eventually laughing, we chin-upped and faced it together as a family.

For a tumor that by statistics' standards should have taken her in six weeks, she lasted two and a half years. My wife said that if there was ever a silver lining to be found with her diagnosis, it was the fact that she got to be home with her little girl and witness all of her firsts. Though my wife put up one heck of a fight, it eventually took her from us shortly after our daughter's third birthday.

I took about a year to figure out what to do with myself, and though everyone thought I was nuts, I started a business. For five years, I owned a comic book shop and built a community meeting place for readers and gamers and people who just needed a place to belong. And it was good.

We eventually closed it in 2019 with a bad 2018 holiday season, neighborhood changes, changes in the comic publishing industry and new landlords with other ideas for my space. I got out pretty much unscathed, plenty of folks singing our praises and was glad for it when Covid hit.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. During those five years, health issues arose. I almost died due to blood clots in my lungs. These were thanks to a bad diet, sleep apnea and a mostly sedentary lifestyle. Seems that all of that work I did running a shop wasn't considered exercise enough to keep me healthy. When I closed the store, I started reassessing life. I decided I needed to get away to a quieter lifestyle.

My Dad lives in Emory, my mom lives in Perryville and our favorite route to see her was down Hwy 11 to Winnsboro and hang a right on 852. But it was as we drove through Winnsboro that I would slow down and look and imagine living here. There seemed to always be something going on in Winnsboro from the month-long Autumn Trails events to parades and shows at the Winnsboro Center for the Arts and more.

I started to play with the numbers and found that I could save so much money by moving here. I found that the local schools were top notch, my rent was almost half of what I was paying in Garland and the other utilities and bills were equally as low. It was kind of a no-brainer to move here and get away from the constant noise of the metroplex. The trains that roll thru are a perfect testament to how I feel. The first time I got hung up as one came through town, I thought to myself that this was a traffic jam that I didn't mind. And that horn at night might occasionally wake me up, but it just as quickly put me back to sleep.

We signed a lease on an apartment just off of downtown and were moved in the first week of February 2020 and haven't looked back. My daughter has made friends at school. She's quick to throw up a hand and wave at strangers which she never did before. On top of all of that, has already expressed an interest in barrel racing. I'll seriously consider it as soon as I can find a spot in the apartment to put a horse. 

A big plus about living out here is that I get to satisfy my urge to ramble the roads. It's a habit that I picked up from my dad. It wasn't anything to load up the truck on a Saturday and head out to the Georgia-Pacific Wildlife Management Area, or the game reserve as we called it, back home around Bastrop, Louisiana, where I grew up. There were several gravel roads that we'd ride that were straight as an arrow. One of my favorites was called Long Lonesome and it ran for over 10 miles with over half of that like someone had laid a ruler down to line it out. 

We don't load up a truck nowadays, but we go get our cold drinks and find a road that we haven't been down before and see where it takes us. It takes me back to when I was a kid and I know that I'm connecting with her and making memories, and I know that she's loving it especially when she says "Daddy, can we take the back roads home."