Look around. If you chose seven belongings whose stories would impart an understanding of who you are and the life you’ve lived, what would those things be?
Story Slim Smith | Photographs Luisa Porter
Still waters run deep. Judith Ewing of Macon is a pretty good example of that.
For the past five years, Ewing and her brother, Kirk Outz, have operated the NAPA auto parts store in downtown Macon. They took over when their father, now 87, fell ill and was no longer able to run the store he had operated for more than 50 years. But to assume that her arrival was a decision born out of necessity or a sense of obligation is to seriously misjudge Ewing, whose independent nature has been a defining characteristic throughout her life. She charts her own course. She follows her heart. She has always been that way, she says.
1. The Lawrence Street building occupied by the NAPA STORE was built in the early 1900s as the city’s gym. After her father was lured back to Macon from Texas to first manage, then own the store, Ewing became part of the scenery in the old store. At age 60, she realizes this is exactly where she belongs.
“I’ve had 18 jobs in my life and never had a job for more than five years,” says Ewing, who holds degrees in psychology (Mississippi State), medical records (University of Chicago) and English (Mississippi University for Women). The last job before this one lasted six months. When I told them I was leaving, they asked why. Well, it wasn’t that the work was hard, or that I didn’t like it. There was just something inside me that was telling me it wasn’t right. Two weeks later, my dad went into the hospital. So here I am.”
Unlike her other jobs, Ewing has no misgivings.
“It’s the one job I’ve had that I would do even if I wasn’t paid to do it,” she says. “Just sitting here on the stools, talking to customers, getting to know them, it’s something I can’t place a value on.”
From her stool in the old building, Ewing finds herself a witness to the unwritten social history of the small town. Every day, it seems a new story emerges as the customers pause to talk. Take, for example, the day a young boy, about 10 years old, burst into the store and proudly proclaimed that he hadn’t had a bath in two weeks and was “going for the record.”
Recently, Ewing has been asked why she doesn’t relocate her store along the Highway 45 bypass, which has far more traffic.
“But it wouldn’t be the same,” she says. “There’s something about this old place, the atmosphere. It’s comfortable. It’s home.”
2. The small white STONE, about the size of an egg, bears an inscription — a familiar line from a poem by Henry David Thoreau. It reads: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
The stone is a Christmas present from her roommate at The W.
“I was a psychology major at the time,” Ewing says, “but my roommate always told me, ‘You read too much to be a psych major.’ That was something that stuck with me.”
3. Ewing’s VIOLA is not simply a hobby, it is a testament to the enduring nature of a passion.
“When I was a child, I loved music and wanted to play an instrument,” she says, “but my parents, for whatever reason, didn’t like music, hard as that is to believe. I remember as a little girl, I found a radio station in Chicago that played symphony music. I would listen to that station in bed at night with the covers pulled up over my head so my parents wouldn’t know.”
It would be 30 years before Ewing fulfilled that passion. She started taking viola lessons at age 42 and now plays with the Suzuiki Strings, a music program in Columbus that teaches the violin (or viola) to “children of all ages.” At 60, Ewing is one of the oldest members of the group, but when she performs, she is that young girl who listened to the radio under her covers late at night.
4. Her son, ETHAN, is 24 and very much like his mom, family friends say. Like his mother, Ethan developed a passion for music at a young age. Unlike his mother, he was encouraged to follow that passion from the start. Today, the Mississippi State student is an accomplished cellist, having played with area orchestras, along with gigs at parties and receptions. Ethan’s love of music rekindled that long-suppressed desire in his mom. “He started lessons when he was 8,” Ewing says. “He would say, ‘Mom, please play with me.’ I started taking viola lessons. It’s something we share.”
5. The copy of The Dilettanti, The W’s annual literary magazine, that includes Ewing’s FIRST PUBLISHED WORK, a short story entitled, “Lesson of the Porch.” It’s about a young girl who asks her old black caretaker to “peel me a banana.” The caretaker asks the girl, “Why should I peel you a banana?”
“It’s about learning to do for yourself, to stand on your own two feet,” Ewing says.
6. The copy of Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN was given to Ewing as a Christmas present from her aunt.
“It was the first adult book I ever read,” she says. “But I think the thing that intrigued me most about the book is that it’s about a group of sisters. I had two brothers, but I didn’t have sisters. It’s funny: It seems like all of my friends have sisters and I always wondered what that would be like.”
There is another aspect of the book that appeals to Ewing as well.
“The character, Jo, is a girl who defies gender models; she does things that women aren’t supposed to do and is interested in things women aren’t supposed to be interested in. I see that in myself. I can relate to her.”
7. The children’s book, HENRY DAVID’S HOUSE, is special to Ewing because it is a book she read over and over to Ethan when he was a child.
“It’s just a children’s book, but I love it,” Ewing says. “I’ve always loved Thoreau and Emerson, and I was always so happy when Ethan would bring me this book to read. I admired Thoreau’s outlook on life. It struck a chord with me.”