The stories

I turned the corner of the house and was facing the pool when I saw this:

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I knew. I just knew this was a Sherodsito addition to the pool and I was awash with amusement and delight at my spouseman’s wonderful sense of the absurd. Indeed, this little fellow was his doing. It’s a little water thermometer and yesterday it read 75. Still a little chilly for his taste though getting awfully close to perfect for me. Oh the joy of summer!

On Thursday we went out to old Cahawba. I think I’ve written about this archeological site before—this was the first capital of Alabama but too prone to flooding, located as it is, right next to the Alabama River. Along with remembering the March on Selma, this year also marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. On Thursday, there was a ceremony to lay a wreath at the tomb of an unknown Union Soldier. During the Civil War, Cahawba was the site for a Confederate prision, Castle Morgan. Built to house some 600 prisoners, it ended up housing over 3000.  It wasn’t just the prison conditions. As the war ended, a steamship came up from Vicksburg, picked up the prisoners in Cahawba, later stopped in Memphis and then continued up the Mississippi to take the men home.  An explosion in one of the boiler rooms led to the death of over 1700 men.

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On Thursday, the ceremony included re-enacters, both men and women. They were a rather motley crew and I imagined they didn’t look too different from the real protagonists of that dreadful war.  There was a cannon and then a gun salute in honor of the dead. And I just felt so achingly sad.  The afternoon was not very warm but very humid, and somehow, both moisture and tragic history hung heavy in the air. A wavering, thin thread of Taps came out of the bugler’s trumpet and somehow, that was what was most real about all this. I have lived in the South before, subscribed to Southern Living, know lines and lines and lines from many of the significant novels of the South and married a man from Selma. Somehow, this time around, the weight of history presses down harder.

And finally, yesterday afternoon, Sherod’s last living uncle and his wife came to visit. We sat and drank iced tea, ate cookies and told stories. My most favorite was about Sherod’s dad, Earl, and his grandmother, whom everyone called Gram. Gram was a tiny woman, slight and well below 5 feet tall. Every year, she bought a turkey and kept it for several weeks, feeding it corn and other goodies in preparation for Thanksgiving. On this particular year, she decided that Earl was going to help her when it came time do the deed in preparation for cooking the turkey. So Earl and Gram grabbed the his great big, old fat self, and Gram instructed Earl to be the one to do the chopping. In turn, he said that Gram needed to get behind the turkey and hold him down. Earl stretched out the poor bird’s neck and chopped his head off. Whereupon, the headless bird tore off and under Gram’s house with Gram holding on for dear life, hollering for help all the way.  Uncle Ralph laughed that Gram was so tiny she and that big old turkey cleared the house and came out on the other side.

We live very different lives these days. Living out here, I am becoming increasingly aware of how all of us are connected to all God’s creatures. Last Sunday, during my sermon, my congregation just roared with laughter, hearing me describe Sherod’s and my struggle with the decision to kill the cotton-mouth snake and that was a little disconcerting to me. But there is nothing precious about the stories I hear—just folks working brutally hard through brutally hard times, and still doing the things that families do in ways that allow us to laugh 60 years later. I am glad not just to be closer to the land, but closer to the history as well.

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