by Dianne Poston Owens

Raeford, North Carolina, still has bells that sound the noon hour. A throwback to mill days. Get your lunch pail and find a place in the shade with a pal. Light a cigarette. Close the pail; back at it. Chimes at the first church sing out, taking over where the noon bells leave off.

It’s a Monday. I’m parked in the shade of an oak tree, listening to Raeford. All is quiet after the bells. It takes the birds three breaths to find their songs and begin twittering again. Whirring, a plane’s engine above the tree interrupts their tunes and all are gone. Back to the quiet of a lazy downtown, busy indoors.

Tires drum on crushed concrete and asphalt leftovers. Again, those squeaky, resisting brakes. A storm is out at sea. To the east. The weather woman said so. I see drifters in the clouds and puffers in the sky. And the Living Oak’s leaves lift and shake and share a story.

That tree’s been here more than a 100 years, for sure, standing its ground, daring the parking lot to come any closer. A tired limb lays next to an exposed root. Flowering clover clutches at the ground, spreading into what grass there is. That’s the clover little girls in bobby socks and pinafores make necklaces from, and where the ground bees romp.

There is no laughter whiffing about. Where are the people who need this parking lot? Do any trains travel the tracks past the depot where commerce is chambered, waiting for people to get on and off boards?

Raeford is the seat of Hoke County. Going exploring, I read this. The letter begins “Dear Neighbor,” “Welcome to our quiet, young town chartered in 1901…” What it doesn’t say is “We’re a young town that’s getting old, stopped in time.” About 1961. There was change until then.

Two killed by a Texas tornado today. I learned that while sitting in my car in the shade of this Raeford oak tree. Here, there’s a rumbling 18-wheeler on Main Street that’s shaking the dirt, the clover, scaring the tree’s limbs.

They died protecting their child, that couple in Texas. The baby is fine—for now.

Raeford. Variant of Rayford. Descendent of Wrayford, a village in England and those who live at the river. There it goes that train through this Raeford, flowing on with a harshness that rattles windows and roots. No whistle.

I’m heading home.

Dianne Poston Owens, a print journalist, is a columnist, reporter and editor in a small town in South Carolina. Working with words is her passion. She tweets @dianneinhannah.