Trip back home brings smiles

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2011

Do you remember the first house you lived in?

I once read an article by an author named Bill Roorbach, who made some suggestions on how to bring back hazy memories of the past. One was to draw a map of your earliest neighborhood. As I pondered that thought, I knew I couldn’t do it because we moved away when I was around 3 years old. Yet, surprisingly, I can visualize the first house I lived in – the house where I was born. It was located in an Alabama coal mining camp. I can picture the house and yard in my mind because of the pictures my parents had and the stories they told me.

I can’t remember them sitting me down with the photos in hand or pointing out things, yet they must have done so. Our house was one of a row of unpainted houses that sat on a hillside in Belle Ellen. It had a big front porch with a swing on it. A picket fence enclosed the front yard. My parents and some neighborhood children pulled me around the yard in a little red wagon.

My daddy had some hunting dogs. I know that he called one of them Shine. Daddy, who had midnight black hair, thick eyebrows that met each other on his forehead and hairy arms, was quite handsome in a picture made in the back yard with those dogs. He wore a cap and knelt with a gun in one hand.

I can also visualize the commissary where Daddy was a butcher. Someone snapped his picture with three other store employees. They all wore long white aprons and stood with their arms crossed in front of their chests. One year I had a copy of that picture put on a mug for a birthday gift for my mother.

In later years, during a camping trip at Tannehill Historic State Park with my husband, I saw a photo display of Belle Ellen that included the commissary and some other buildings. It had long been a dream of mine to return to Belle Ellen and visit my birthplace. Sitting in a little church on a hilltop at Tannehill on a Sunday morning, I heard the park director call out a familiar name on the prayer list. It was the name of one of the men wearing a white apron standing beside my daddy in the picture.

I couldn’t wait to ask the director about him. It was then that I found someone else who was born in Belle Ellen, the director himself. I had never run across anyone else who had that distinction. I never have since. He shattered my dream about visiting Belle Ellen, though. He said that many years earlier, it had been strip mined out. However, my parents’ friend lived close by. We drove to his house, popped in unexpectedly, and enjoyed a delightful visit.

I couldn’t draw a map, but Roohbach’s method of memory jogging worked for me.