My birthplace is but a memory

Published 2:17 am Saturday, October 31, 2009

Maybe you know all about your birthplace. I’m still learning about mine.

I was born in the coal mining community of Belle Ellen, in Bibb County, Ala. My mother and daddy were a young couple among a neighborhood of older people who delighted in having a baby in their midst. They sort of adopted us. My daddy moved us to Panama City, Fla., when I was around 4 years old. We returned to visit my “adopted aunts and uncles” some time later, but I was too young to recollect that visit or the time I lived there.

They evidently loved living in Belle Ellen, because I grew up hearing about it and their friends. My mother compiled an album with pictures of us snapped in our front yard inside a wood-paling fence, on the spacious front porch, and in the backyard with my daddy’s hunting dogs. That provided a glimpse of the terrain and appearance of the houses.

Approximately 15 or 16 years ago, my husband and I attended church at Tannehill Historic State Park. The park director called the name of one of my daddy’s former co-workers in Belle Ellen in a prayer request. That friend boarded at my parent’s home when I was a baby. As soon as the service ended, I approached the park director. To my surprise, he said he was born in Belle Ellen. He was the first person I had ever met from Belle Ellen except my parents’ friends.

When I said I’d like to visit my birthplace, he shook his head. “It’s no longer there — strip-mined years ago.” That was bad news, but the good news was, he told us daddy’s old friend, Willis Pope, (my parents just called him Pope) lived close by. The next day, my husband and I knocked on Pope’s door. It was a big surprise to him and his wife for someone he hadn’t seen since she was a baby show up out of the blue.

I often think of Belle Ellen. Out of curiosity, I searched the Internet to see if there was anything about a mining camp that no longer exists. To my delight, I found a photo of the company store where Daddy worked. I have a picture of Daddy, Pope, and another man. Mother said it was taken near the store. Daddy was a butcher, but I don’t know about Pope and the other man. All three of them stood with their arms folded on their chests over long, white aprons. I had that picture placed on a cup as a gift to my mother.

That photo confirmed what I thought; that we lived on a hillside and the store was at the foot of a hill. A close look revealed at least one, maybe two housetops among the trees on a hill above the store.

I regret I didn’t spend more time talking with my mother, now deceased, about Belle Ellen. I still have questions.