For me this was the stop that could have - and should have - been more.
We came to the Madison area because we just had this urge to say we were in a new state. We had been in Georgia longer than expected due to the ice storm while we were in Atlanta and were just ready to be on the road and make some progress south towards warmer temps. MsBoyink plotted our course to Madison based on it being just inside the Florida state line and finding a decent deal at a private park participating in the Passport America program. I had some work to catch up on and the forecast was for temps in the high 50’s and low 60’s so MsBoyink booked four nights.
I was on guard immediately as we have been burned in the past booking multiple nights in advance of seeing a private park first-hand. It’s amazed us how enticing a place can sound when described by crafty copywriting and a list of amenities, then when you arrive you see the run-down trailers from the 1960’s, the school buses being used as dog houses, and the junkyard with the freezer sitting in the middle of a trash pile with its door open.
And while some of that was truck for this park too, I had also allowed my opinion of the area to be formed too soon by a derogatory comment made by someone who used to live here years ago.
Our payment was non-refundable (funny, that) and so we made the best of it. The wifi was decent (at least during the daytime hours) and the kids had fun playing through the mini-golf course and on the basketball court. Around the perimeter of the park were some ponds and we did see some wildlife and get a few photos of the water sparkling in the sunlight.
We were there over a weekend, so I did some quick Google searches and found a local church with a website. And not just a website, but a mobile version to boot! On Sunday Data and I drove into town and attended the First United Methodist Church of Madison. With it’s small size, wooden benches, robed choir, and stained glass windows it was a great contrast to the large Buckhead Church we attended in Atlanta the week before. We were welcomed in and as soon as the service started we felt the very family-like atmosphere here. This is a place where granddaddys get up and brag about their newest bundle of joy and a place that grieves the death of a teenager that had attended a few times the summer before. A place where there are drums, bass guitar, and baritone horn playing, but tucked into the back corner so as to not draw too much attention to themselves. This is a place where lady who sits next to you in the pew removes a “Madison, FL” pin from her lapel and presents it to you as a gift while extolling the virtues of the small town. A place where the pastor, with a deep southern drawl, delivers a simple yet engaging sermon on Matthias, the “emergency substitute 13th Apostle”.
And you know what? I left that church service regretting I had so quickly judged the area and sorry that the following day was busy with phone calls leaving me no time to explore the city further. I think this was a classic “small-town America” experience just waiting to happen and I missed it, too busy looking down my nose to see the bigger picture at work.
We keep looking for the exceptional and—sometimes at least - find that what is sold as exceptional is actually pretty mundane. In this case I think looking closer at what appeared to be mundane would have found something exceptional.