Listen to Jim: http://jimreedbooks.com/mp3/bornbeneaththepapermillmist.mp3
or read on…
Early memories of my father always include the sounds of his four-second morning sneeze fit.
“Wah-CHOO!” again, and then it was all over.
Who knows where my father’s sneezes came from—there are suspects all around, but like all environmental irritants, it takes generations for subversive researchers to dig out the truth.
Could it be lung remnants of unregulated coal dust he breathed, working in the 1920′s coal mines of West Alabama? Could it be the rotten-egg-smelling mist that lay heavy on the morning air of Tuscaloosa back then, generated by the Paper Mill that dominated the town? Could it be some sort of undiagnosed allergy that today might be muted or mutated through mysterious prescriptions?
Maybe it was just hereditary, since I now have his same sneezes.
By moving from coal-mining country and paper mill stench in Tuscaloosa to densely-particulated air in Birmingham, back in 1969, did I manage to ameliorate my throat-clearing sneezing habits of old? Nope. Still do it, still don’t know the real cause, still muddle on through.
As I make these notes that you are now reading, I can see Vulcan the Iron Man through the window, a 55-foot-tall cast-iron statue of the Roman god of fire and armor—an unlikely overseer of Birmingham. He looks out over a vast valley where the particuates settle and are inhaled each day.
If you ever get to visit Alabama, don’t miss Vulcan. He’s what we have to show off—the world’s largest cast-iron statue. St. Louis has The Arch, Paris has The Tower, we have Vulcan.
Anyhow, one of the things I like about this enormous hulk is that, while macho and tough and stocky of build, he has a finer, more gentle side. For one thing, he is holding aloft a metal spear he is fabricating, gazing up the shaft to see if it’s straight and true, obviously taking great pride in his work above the hot anvil at his feet. The other nice thing about him is he’s thinking of his secret love across the valley, a 23-foot-tall gold statue of the beautiful (and nude) Miss Electra, symbol of the harnessing of electricity to make things work better.
There you have the romance and beauty of pollution. The unrequited affair of Vulcan and Electra, their pride in rising above the heavy, dusty mists, their stoic stances representing the spirit of all of us who are powerless to change the course of industry and nature, their very symbolism keeps us going.
No matter how tough things get, there’s always some hope that us little folk can keep our heads up, our pride intact, our babies nurtured, our kindnesses perpetuated, our love affairs familial and romantic and sustainable…
And each time someone nearby goes “Wah-CHOO!” it’s nice to reflect on what that strange noise means, it’s nice to raise a truing spear or a bolt of energizing lightning to the sky and give a silent salute to the meek—the meek, who will not inherit the earth but who can at least now and then contest the Will
(c) 2013 A.D. by Jim Reed