IN THE HEART OF THE HEART OF THE RED CLAY COAL DUST ALABAMA COUNTRYSIDE

Listen to Jim’s 4-minute podcast:
or read his story below:
*
*
IN THE HEART OF THE HEART
OF THE RED CLAY COAL DUST ALABAMA COUNTRYSIDE
*
*
Memoryshifting is one of my favorite things.
*
Way down deep inside me is an erratic but accurate record of everything ever done, all things experienced, every turning point that brought me to Now.
*
Hurtling forward in time occurs parallel to snapping backward in time. Adventures and expectations meld together, making each day unpredictable, making me pay attention lest I miss something key to my understanding of the world around me, the life around me.
*
Right now, I’m back in time to just a few days ago:
*
I find myself deep inside the countryside of Tuscaloosa County, not too far from where all my childhood memories were made concrete.
*
I am driving into rural Brookwood, Alabama, where citified civilization is not allowed easy entry. Through automobile windows right, left and straight ahead, through rearview mirrors, lives and locales pass before my eyes,
*
Railroad crossings raise their gates. Beneath me, wet orange red clay washboard roads are fore and aft. Strip mine hills surround emerald ponds. Spent earth is all around. Cracked rocks sucked lifeless stare back at me.
*
I pass a coal company tower that drops a steady stream of black dust onto five-story-high cones. Further into the old and vaguely familiar land, there are two-laned roads beneath tall trees, bending overhead to form arches, to form long primeval tunnels blocking the grey skies.
*
A sense of not having the option to turn back toward the city comes over me.
*
Something hypnotically urges me to continue, urges me to see this through, urges me to complete the story of this journey.
*
I turn onto a narrow one-laned gravel and orange-colored road. There is no way to tell whether this path continues over the next rise, but I have been assured by those who gave me directions to this place that the road will continue for a way.
*
I choose to trust the instructions.
*
I have not seen a human for many miles, but there are signs of humans—United Mine Workers lodges and masonic buildings pass by. Mail boxes stand guard here and there.
*
At last I come to the end of the path and idle the car to get my bearings. To the left is a double-wide blue-roofed home with porch and deck added on. Down the damp coal-dust yard is an old brick home that seems sealed. Way past that is another home partially hidden.
*
I’m supposed to meet the owner of these properties but there is no life apparent. Knocking on doors brings nothing but echoes.  I pull a phone number out and key it in. The phone reminds me with a smirk that this is rural Alabama. No service available. Period.
*
I sit for a while in the cold, quiet woods and look at my options. Will I be able to find my way back, since everything looks different from its obverse side?
*
Shall I just follow my mother’s childhood insistence that the best thing to do when lost is stay in the same place till somebody finds me. This worked fine in department stores or on town streets. Let’s see if it works here in the faraway countryside of Brookwood.
*
Sure enough, the owner pulls up and does all that is promised. Soon, I am examining hundreds of old German-language books that have been waiting generations for adoption. I am in my element. This is the funnest part of my job.
*
With fresh instructions on how to get back home, I drive smiling toward Birmingham in a book-laden vehicle on a winding road in the heart of the heart of the country on a very cold and wet day on a tiny dot of earth on an insignificant planet in a universe filled with shifting memories of fond adventures of almost no importance to anyone but me the recorder of turning points
*

Comments are closed.