Curious about mining camp

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 10, 2011

I have a lot of curiosity about the Bibb County coal mining camp, Belle Ellen, Ala., where I was born one cold December day. I had always wanted to visit there, but in 1996 I found out that strip mining had wiped it out. My Internet inquiry yielded little results. I do have an assortment of pictures that belonged to my parents and memories of things they said about it through the years. Some of those pictures give me the impression that our residence was one of a row of unpainted houses built on a hillside. My parents enjoyed a warm friendship with their neighbors who were apparently thrilled when I arrived. Although we weren’t kin, they requested that I call them aunt and uncle.

My daddy had learned to cut meat standing on wooden cola crates at a butcher block as a boy. Those skills as a butcher must have earned him his job in the community store which was possibly a company commissary. A young friend looked after me while my mother worked in the post office housed in the store.

Mother and I found a photograph of Daddy standing on the steps of that store with several other men. They all wore white aprons and stood with their arms folded across their chests. Later I sneaked the picture out and had a copy of it placed on a mug that I gave Mother on her birthday. She identified all the other men in the picture and told me a little about them. I remember only one. His name was Pope. He roomed with my parents when I was a tot. Mother said, “You loved Pope and would tell him you were going to marry him when you grew up.” About 17 or 18 years ago, my husband and I met someone who was also born in Belle Ellen. He knew Pope, gave us directions to his West Blockton home, and we paid him a surprise visit. He was in ill health, but received us graciously. I enjoyed hearing him reminisce about his friendship with my parents.

Mother and I also found a photo of Daddy made in the back yard with a couple of his squirrel hunting dogs. Mother had several pictures of herself in ankle-length dresses holding a chubby me garbed in a wool sweater and leggings. In another, she knelt beside a dog. In a picture of that same roly-poly babe sitting in a little wagon, I noticed a picket fence in our front yard. In another photo, I nestled between two little girls in a swing on our front porch.

My mother stayed in touch with several Belle Ellen neighbors for years. Everyone except her baby-sitter died before Mother passed away at 96. Having heard my parents speak of the happy times they spent in Belle Ellen fueled my interest in the community. It is a shame that nothing remains but a plaque as a reminder of its past.