Friday, July 27, 2007

Growing Again [CCR]

Last week while I wandered around Rutherford County, Tennessee looking for a house the people back in Ohio got a bit of bad news. Another big box store chain decided it might be cheaper to find their supply of garden hose overseas and hundreds of people lost their lifetime jobs. These individuals, some with twenty years at the facility, are now forced to face the job market and learn how the world has changed. For me the change seems more endangering here in Ohio now than it would back home.

Fifty years ago many folks back home looked north for the prospects of a good job. The South slowly recovered from the Great Depression, even with the boost provided by TVA. Many of my aunts and uncles, along with my parents, sought either permanent or temporary employment in Ohio or Illinois. Some stayed for years while others settled back home as industry built in Colbert County. Companies such as Ford, Union Carbide, and Reynolds brought the families back together as industry expanded.

While I didn’t see the environment fifty years ago, I did see the result of the expansion in The Shoals. I remember seeing the green buses that carried employees to the expansive Reynolds facilities. Industry slowly absorbed the population with a growing hunger for labor and the economy boomed with crowded downtown streets and the newly built Southgate Mall. Southern Railway built one of the most modern rail classification yards in the world with many new innovations.

My memory has me believe those booming years probably peaked some time just before I left home. Maybe my absence gave changes more distinction on my visits home. I sadly watched as several industries withdrew entirely from the region while others downsized. But we persevered.

In contrast to the bad news for the garden hose plant in Ohio, I read the exciting news for my family and friends back home. It seems more industry is focusing on our area. After receiving several new industrial residents such as SCA, our Canadian neighbors are building a large manufacturing facility in Barton. Change is inevitable, but change in Barton is amazing. The old railroad depot has been gone many years. The gas stations and food establishments on the old highway are long gone. Children on the school playground are only heard in whispering echoes of the past. Yet enthusiasm is in the air with new facilities, new jobs, and new faces.

Today modern manufacturing is expanding and don’t blink, you actually did see an overpass in the little community. Once more people are speaking of economic prosperity and the cycle is pushing upward again. As the opulence of Barton gains new roots within the industrial park we are reminded of the mighty Mountain Mills that once reigned supreme there.

The story doesn’t end in this quaint West Colbert County community. Rather Barton is a summary chapter in the prosperity that faces our hometown. People are discovering that our corner of Alabama, rich in history and heritage, is also full of hospitality. Once again people from all over the world are discovering the charmed life in the gentle foothills and rolling valley along the banks of the mighty Tennessee River. Let’s welcome our new neighbors with open arms and prove they are the early arrivers to discover the good life in Northwest Alabama.

Friday, July 20, 2007

House Hunting [CCR]

This week finds me in Murfreesboro looking for a house. They call it “house hunting.” Not exactly the best kind of hunting, but it is required. Personally I’d rather be back home coon hunting with Dad and Mr. Thompson or Mr. Maxwell. In our case it is a special race to look at the maximum number of houses in the fewest days so we can focus on a couple of houses at the end of the week.

Relocating always presents its challenges. You get seven days to find a house that may be your residence for the next thirty years. So far I haven’t had to worry about being in the house that long, but this time I don’t want to move again any time soon. So with teenagers, the family dog, and a real estate agent in tow we wander around Murfreesboro looking for a major purchase.

Mom and Dad are here to provide Dad’s expertise. Dad learned a lot from Granddaddy Daily who built houses all around Colbert and Franklin Counties. In fact one of Granddaddy Daily’s final jobs was helping Dad build the house Mom and Dad live in today. Dad will examine the house from top to bottom giving me a virtual guarantee of buying the best possible house. I couldn’t do better on my own.

Granddaddy always wanted to teach us what he knew. I only wish I could have spent more time learning from him. He kept a stack of scrap lumber beneath his table saw for us to pick through. He also let us borrow tools from his big green toolbox. We gathered the pieces and built all kinds of contraptions from that wood. Our imagination was the limit. I’m not sure what happened to all those whatnots constructed by the grandchildren.

In his later years the family bought Granddaddy a small band saw and some other tools. Even with his arthritis he continued to use his hands extensively. He became quit good at carving small scale tools and equipment used by his generation. He actually built a small log cabin with all the furniture and apparatus for a small farm house. The chimney was built with small rocks shaped very similar to the homemade chimneys of his childhood. I guessed it would draw smoke if one built a fire in it. He was very detailed. I’m not sure where that cabin is today, but it is something both my sister and I will treasure our entire lives.

Giving everything you have is something my Grandparents not only taught us, but showed us as well. Grandmother did her part too. Even when she was 90 and spent most of her day confined to a single room where she continued to crochet Christmas decorations. I dropped by to visit her at Aunt Bertha’s house and she always had a sack full of her creations. I would buy them to provide money for more supplies. Today I still adorn our Christmas tree with many of these homemade decorations which are much more valuable to me than the other decorations we own.

My real estate agent is supposed to call any minute now. We will pile into our rented gas guzzling SUV and begin our trek around Murfreesboro. I keep thinking to myself, “This is the last time.” Let’s just pray this time its for real.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Summer Fruits [CCR]

We are now in the peak of summer and I am in the peak of panic over preparing for my move. The boys helped me clean out around the blueberries, which happen to be fully ripe now. Maybe those berries helped peak their interest in the job. Unfortunately we don’t have the blackberries here in Ohio like we have back home in Alabama. Dad tells me of his blackberry picking stories and I can only look forward to next year.

The roads back home I know are covered in blackberries right now. But my favorite reminiscence is the wild plums. I can remember riding my bicycle up and down Moody Lane and finding a wide selection of luscious sweet plums. You always looked for the plums almost ready to fall off the bush as they were the sweetest. Mom wanted us to pick them for making jelly. But the temptation to immediately partake of the plums overcame the desire for canning in most cases.

Today you can ride the roads of Colbert County and not find any wild plums, at least according to my observations during my trips back home. A few years ago I actually published my thoughts on this problem in some poetry. While poetic the reflection is more melancholy than exhilarating. I can only assume our modern chemicals have eliminated this bounty from the Alabama roadside.

Another summer delicacy were the grapes growing on the vines in our lower yard. Dad had planted three varieties when I was a small child. In my early years you would often find me standing in an old plastic chair picking the sun ripened green grapes, the best in my view. Mom thought the grapes, like the plums, should be preserved for canning. Yet these glistening morsels of fruit were even less likely to survive the trip to the kitchen for canning than the plums.

As you probably already know there is no way I could eat them all and most of the fruit made it to the canning process. As the year waned with the fruit supply so did the amount left for canning until any useful fruit could not be found. Then the cycle began again and I waited another year.

Just as the plums disappeared so have the grapes. The grapevines grew old and withered. Dad planted more grapes but they never really replaced those original vines that spent the growing years with me. One of the first priorities for my new Tennessee home will be the planting of grape vines in memory of those great years. I would plant the commercial plums but they just don’t taste the same as the wild ones I remember. Maybe my memory has dulled.

When I get back home I’m going to take another stroll down Moody Lane. I keep thinking one day I’ll find a remnant of those wild plums. You’ll know if I do. I’ll be standing there without a bucket, parsing through the bush and stealing those juicy morsels just about to drop on the ground. If you hurry I might even share a few with you.

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Family Doctor [CCR]

Yesterday we finished our final yard sale and the packing has begun. While we are still 60 days away from my first day in Tennessee it is time to get everything out the door that we don’t want the movers to grab. After about ten moves I have learned if you stand still long enough they will pack you. I imagine riding in that big hot trailer down to Tennessee wouldn’t exactly be comfortable. I leave that job to the television (it’s still upset with me).

I looked through the medicine cabinet last night. I guess I need to schedule one last visit with the doctors to get all my prescriptions updated. I really hate trying to find doctors in a new location. Doctors are sort of personal and you really do develop a relationship with them. Today the shortage of doctors isn’t helping. Between insurance, school loans, and equipment costs the doctor must enjoy helping people to afford to stay in practice. It makes the family doctor sort of special.

Dr. Mims was the first to greet me in this wonderful world. He was Mom and Dad’s doctor from my beginning and after my few short years visiting the pediatrician he became my doctor as well. As such he saw me through scrapes, bruises and even a few sneezes. We woke Dr. Mims in the middle of the night to hear his calm assurance and know our prescription was waiting for us in the morning. Now if you count all those people we saw in his office and figure how many called at night it makes me question when Dr. Mims ever got any sleep.

Early in life I got a curiosity in electricity. It seems every child gets a curiosity in something that points them in some direction. Well, I went from drawing power lines to finding an old television. My entry into engineering had its bumps in the road. One Christmas Eve we bounced over a big bump when I found an old television. I gutted all the parts (of which I still have some I think) and then looked at what was left. Dad was working in the shed when he heard me. I punctured a hole in the picture tube. The gas in the tube quickly entered my body and the muscle spasms ensued. None of us really knew what had happened other than I felt terrible. Mom left a message for Dr. Mims and we headed to the hospital. Dr. Mims walked into the emergency room and gave me something to drink. As always his wisdom prevailed and he already knew I would be fine with something to settle me. He told Dad that after a few hours working on his farm I would be fine.

Dr. Mims spent many years watching our family grow. Today he is retired and enjoying life in Tuscumbia. It was a melancholy day to see him hang up his stethoscope. I’m sure such a doctor misses all of us as much as we miss him. But he still drops by to see the family. Mrs. Mims and he are always ready to share a smile and a story. I’m sure they both proudly look around at all the lives they touched in the The Shoals.

Such is the story of many doctors in the area. I could tell about many others who patched me up. Today my family strongly depends on Dr. Taylor who picked up in their lives where Dr. Mims left off. It would be extremely difficult to mention all the specialists who help us too. It is simply amazing that in this increasingly complex world the family doctor still maintains a seemingly unwearied watch over his fold. Take a moment and show your doctor appreciation for all the years spent preparing next time they patch you up, reassure you, and send you on your way. Thank you Dr. Mims for introducing me into this great world. Hopefully we can sit and share a story when I come home.