Tears and Laughter: What makes a good day good? 

We tell people all of the time to “have a good day.” I tend say have an “easy” day. Some people carry it so far as to say “have a great day,” but…I guess that is where I draw the line.  

It is a positive practice to be grateful for all days. Relish every hour you can because it’s all so very temporary, but even with the mindset of gratitude – not all days are great. 

With any luck and careful planning, most days are good. But some will be bad. Some will be awful. Some…you will literally just have to survive. You just have to live through them. 

It is often the bad days that help us recognize the goodness in ordinary days. If you are relatively healthy, not grieving the loss of anyone, and nobody close to you is in pain or suffering – it’s the start of a good day. Time teaches that to everyone. 

And sometimes, when you aren’t planning it and when you are least expecting it, a really great day happens. 

I had one of those days Monday. 

Once a year, for just over 20 years now, a couple of friends and I go Christmas shopping. We pick a city and a date, and we plan the thing all year. We send each other reminders for months in advance and do a countdown waiting for it to arrive.  

On that day, we always leave earlier than any of us are used to functioning, so nobody has enough coffee, sleep, or mascara. That is part of the fun, and so is the drive. We claim we have shopped the full radius around us, including so far south we could practically see saltwater.  

This year it was narrowed down to the Galleria, or Prattville. After much deliberation, Prattville won out because it is closer and we can take backroads the entire way. 

So Monday by noon we had blown through several stores, a flea market, and a few sips of Sangria. It had been so cold at the flea market that two of us began to experience the first stages of hyperthermia. There were still patches of snow everywhere. Our other friend said she would normally have been cold too, but due to hot flashes, she was comfortable. We had walked through old memories and talked our way back again. 

It was at one of our last stops for the day. The afternoon was ticking too quickly along, and I was making final decisions at the jewelry counter when out of nowhere a familiar voice behind me said, “Hey, your mom is in here somewhere.” 

It was my stepdad and he was motioning towards where she was when I saw her. She was just standing there, her back was to me. Sunlight was pouring through the overhead windows around her. 

They live far on the east side of Montgomery. It is not unusual for us to have our own day together, especially now that she is retired and my kids are older. But it was unusual for us to meet in such an unexpected way and place. It struck me later how lucky I was to have had such a simple experience.  

That was my final thought that night after the day was done and the trip complete. Not all days are great and are ever perfect. But every once in a while, like snow in South Alabama, they happen…and those are the ones we treasure forever.

Amanda Walker is a blogger and contributor with AL.com, The Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Wilcox Progressive Era. Contact her at walkerworld77@msn.com or athttps://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist

Demopolis Singers Present “Christmas In our Home Town”

The Demopolis Singers will present the “Christmas in our Home Town” on Thursday, Dec. 7 at First Baptist Church of Demopolis. The community is invited to attend.

Demopolis police spread holiday cheer to two families

The Demopolis Police Department presents gifts to Crystal Williams to brighten Christmas for her three daughters Camrion, Alexi and Caitlyn.

The Demopolis Police Department presents gifts to Crystal Williams to brighten Christmas for her three daughters Camrion, Alexi and Caitlyn.

The Demopolis Police Department played the role of Santa Claus for two local families Wednesday when it presented a sleigh’s worth of gifts.

Crystal Williams was tearful as she received the gifts on behalf of her daughters Camrion Scarborough (9), Alexi Williams (7) and Caitlyn Harris (5).

“For them to have something when they wake up means a lot to me, especially when I can’t do that much for them,” Williams said. “The police department went way over my expectations with the bikes and everything. They’re going to be excited.”

For Williams, the moment was born of the time she has spent at the Demopolis Public Library seeking information to help cope with her medical condition.

“I go to the public library a lot to look up information. I got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and I have seizures real bad. Mrs. Connie Lawson has helped me out a lot with that and she has helped me find places to help with my disease because I’ve lost my license and other things like that. Mrs. Connie is really a good person,” Williams, who moved from Meridian approximately a year ago, said.  I’ve got three girls: 9, 5, and 7. “They go to Demopolis here. We love it here. We love the people here. It means a lot to me and the girls. They know who Mrs. Connie is and they treat her like she is their grandmother.”

“An individual in town said this family had been through a lot. They have some kids and it looked like Christmas was not going to be good for them,” Demopolis Police Department Chief Tommie Reese said. “We wanted to do something to show that we appreciate them and to show the spirit of Christmas this time of year to people who don’t have a lot.”

Monroe Reese Jr. (12) along with his aunt Canary Howard and her daughter Chloe (9) receive Christmas gifts from the Demopolis Police Department.

Monroe Richardson Jr. (12) along with his aunt Canary Howard and her daughter Chloe (9) receive Christmas gifts from the Demopolis Police Department.

The department also presented a bevy of gifts to Monroe Richardson Jr., 12, who tragically lost his mother in October when she was shot and killed at her home.

“It means the world because right now he is trying to get past his mom’s death. It means the world to him,” Canary Howard, Richardson’s aunt, said of the Christmas gesture.

“We wanted to do something for that child because Christmas is kind of tough with his mom having passed away. We wanted to do something to show the spirit of love,” Reese said.

The initiative became possible due to the work of John Scales and West Alabama Charity Clays, who held a skeet shoot to benefit the DPD and Demopolis Fire Department in May.

“We used those funds to be able to bless two families,” Reese said. “This represents the whole department. They wanted to be able to give back to the community.”

TRAC presents A Christmas Choral Sampler Nov. 17

On Nov. 17, the University of West Alabama Concert Choir and Singers, in collaboration with the Two Rivers Arts Council (TRAC), will present A Christmas Choral Sampler at 6 p.m. at the Demopolis High School Auditorium. This is the first of three UWA choral concerts this semester.

The community is invited to come enjoy a preview of The University of West Alabama’s upcoming Dec. 3 performance of Handel’s Messiah, along with selections from holiday classics like The Boar’s Head Carol, of the Father’s Love Begotten, and the Twelve Days of Christmas!

“Thanks to the Two Rivers Arts Council, Demopolis is our first stop for Christmas caroling”, said Dr. Christopher Shelt, the group’s conductor. “We want to get the people of Demopolis in the Christmas spirit with excellent Christmas vocal music. The Nov. 17 Demopolis concert is one of two prelude concerts leading up to the Dec. 3 evening performance of Handel’s Messiah on the UWA Campus. The second prelude concert is earlier in the day on Dec. 3, a 2:30 p.m. family concert entitled “UWA Young People Sing at Christmas.”

Alongside UWA faculty and student players, Shelt is bringing in players from the Mississippi Symphony to accompany both the concerts on Saturday, Dec. 3. Two professional soloists, both trained by Shelt, will sing some of the Messiah solos along with UWA student soloists. A Christmas Choral Sampler will feature several preview performances of Messiah choruses along with other Christmas classics.

Within the next five years, Shelt, who is the new Professor of Vocal Music at UWA, wants to build an unparalleled culture of vocal music-making at UWA, the very finest in its history. He wants to see UWA a recognized vocal leader in the State of Alabama, bringing great vocal music of all kinds to the Black Belt Region, building a culture of great singing that impacts children and adults in our extended community. This vision includes producing Music Majors in the Vocal Arts at UWA, who will impact the world. Shelt is a formidable choral and orchestral conductor with three decades of experience. He is vocal pedagogy instructor and active student of vocal science with more than 18 years of university level experience, training studio teachers, music educators, and church musicians in state-of-the-art vocal methodologies. He is also a clinician and consultant in vocal music, doing many seminars in vocal pedagogy, locally and internationally, at conservatories in Peru and Indonesia as well as in other parts of the world.

Come out on Nov. 17 and hear A Christmas Choral Sampler, featuring selections from Handel’s Messiah along with selections from holiday classics like The Boar’s Head Carol, Of the Father’s Love Begotten, and The Twelve Days of Christmas. General admission is $10, while students and TRAC members are free. Tickets can be purchased at the Demopolis Public Library or at the door the night of the performance.

Nominations sought for 2016 St. Nicholas

Demopolis, Ala. - 12-3-2015 - Rebecca Hasty (right) named Martha Griffith (left) as St. Nick for COTR 2015 at the Demopolis square on Thursday night.

Demopolis, Ala. – 12-3-2015 – Martha Griffith, left, is named 2015 St. Nicholas by Rebecca Hasty during last year’s Christmas on the River festivities.

He could be your next-door neighbor or your baseball coach. She could be your Sunday School teacher or your Girl Scout leader. Who are we talking about? The 2016 St. Nicholas is a Demopolis resident who best portrays the spirit of Christmas all year long by being involved in the development of the lives of children in our community. This person is someone who has made a positive impact on your life or the lives of your children. He or she is someone who brightens your day when you see them or goes the extra mile when you need a little boost. This person is drawn to children and children are drawn to them. He or she seeks ways to help, teach, guide, or lead children to become the best version of themselves. Who comes to mind when you think of the next St. Nicholas?

The Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce and the Christmas on the River Committee are seeking nominations for this year’s 2016 St. Nicholas There is no greater compliment than for someone to sit down and write a letter of recommendation on your behalf. All of us know someone who has made a difference in our community and the lives of the children in our area.  Take a few minutes and write a letter of recommendation on behalf of someone who has made a lasting impression on you.

The crowning of St. Nicholas event will be held on Thursday, Dec. 1 in the Public Square, Downtown Demopolis at 5:30 p.m. In case of inclement weather, the event will be held at the Demopolis Civic Center. In addition to the crowning of St. Nicholas, the Christmas story will be read, we will light Public Square, Santa will be available for photos and the children of Demopolis with their hand-made lanterns will have the Lantern Light Parade.

It is a fun filled evening honoring people that help make Demopolis such a wonderful community.

Nominations must be submitted in written form and received by the Chamber of Commerce no later than Nov. 18. Remember to sign your letter, without a signature we cannot accept your nomination. You may send your letter to PO Box 667, Demopolis, AL 36732; fax to 334-289-1026; drop off at the Chamber at 102 E Washington St; or email your nomination to demopchamber@yahoo.com.

For more information, contact the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce at (334) 289-0270.

Demopolis Singers invite public to participate in Christmas concert

From left, Rush, Deeya Fitzgerald, and Janelle Baker rehearse in preparation for the Demopolis Singers' upcoming Christmas concert last year. (Photo by Jan McDonald)

From left, Rush, Deeya Fitzgerald, and Janelle Baker rehearse in preparation for the Demopolis Singers’ upcoming Christmas concert last year. (Photo by Jan McDonald)

The Demopolis Singers will hold their first rehearsal for their annual Christmas concert on Monday, Sept. 12 at 6:60 p.m. at the Old School on Main. Anyone wishing to participate is invited to come and join.

Merry Christmas from the WAW crew

WAW Christmas 2015

Demopolis residents getting “Grinched” during Christmas season

Grinch 1The operators of Uprooted Junk in downtown Demopolis have found a new and exciting way to spread a little Christmas cheer this holiday season. Sinda Fendley and Pam Clink, who dedicate their professional and artistic efforts to repurposing various items and antiquities have repurposed the meaning of Dr. Seuss’s iconic Christmas curmudgeon, The Grinch.

“The Grinch concept came out when we kept seeing the meme online for the simplest Christmas decor. Sinda said she wanted to do that to her house this year. I told Sinda I could make them if she wanted one,” Clink said of the genesis of the concept. “I got a sheet of plywood, traced the shape out and discovered I could get four out of a sheet. So we decided I would make one for Sinda, one for my apartment and try to sell the others so I could have a little money for Christmas for the kids.”

When the plywood grinches drew no takers, the duo decided to use the holiday decor to see whose heart they could make grow three sizes each day.

“When I didn’t sell a single one of those boogers, I was laying in bed trying to figure out what to do with them and it hit me. Let’s use one for putting in random people’s yards to give them a little surprise, and something to hope for,” Clink said. “We decided it would be a good promotion for the store and to spread a little Christmas cheer from Uprooted Junk.”

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” — Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Employing the assistance of their own children, Fendley and Clink set out to “Grinch” their first home, the residence of Deborah McAfee.

Grinch 2“When we pulled up, there were neighborhood kids headed to visit and they saw us! Instead of giving our location away, they joined in on the fun,” Clink recalled. “Suddenly McAfee started heading out the front door to see what all the commotion was and we bolted! Just in time! When we drove back by, we received lots of cheers and excitement over the surprise.”

The duo now has three Grinches that manage to find their way into the yards of unsuspecting citizens and each carries a message urging residents to enjoy the Grinch and the fleeting nature of the holiday season.

“We made our list at first of people we knew that wouldn’t get offended, and that had children who would be excited to wake up to see the grinch in their yard,” Clink said. “After a few people, we realized from then on it had to be people that had outside decorations, hoping it would encourage others to decorate their yards.”

The employment of The Grinch and the Whoville trees Fendley created helped earn the store Best Christmas Decor recognition from Demopolis in Bloom. But, more than anything, The Grinch has created a new buzz and excitement about the holiday season for a number of residents who have been visited by the surly Santa.

“People have been so excited about getting the grinch in their yard, they have been posting pics all over Facebook tagging us in them and getting others excited too! One person even went as far as asking Sinda how much it costs to have the grinch put in someone’s yard. It doesn’t cost anyone anything,” Clink said. “It’s just something that we have enjoyed doing with our children to spread a little Christmas cheer.”

Tears and Laughter: Merry Country Christmas

Christmas in Southwest Alabama does not have the same feeling as the glistening Christmases portrayed in movies and on Christmas cards.

Not once in all of my life has a snowflake fallen on Christmas. Both sides of my family have been in the Clarke/Marengo area for 200 years and I doubt they ever saw a white Christmas either.

I guess that is best though. Snow paralyzes the Deep South. If it ever snowed here we would probably cancel Christmas entirely so that we could all go buy milk, bread, candles, and batteries.

What we lack in snow and holiday glow, we make up for in colorful lights. Every year I have friends who want me to ride with them to different places and see outstanding light displays in Mobile or Montgomery.

They tell me with great excitement how you can tune your car radio to certain stations and listen to Christmas music that will keep rhythm with the flashing lights.

These yards are over the top gorgeous. They are bright and dazzling and clearly take a great amount of skill and patience. There is no telling how many people have been inspired to wonder, “My God, how long did this take to put together?”

They are something to see, and some of them mixed with a song, can make you feel like you are standing on the edge of something wonderful happening.

But Christmas in the country is different. Some houses have an electric lighted candle in every window. Others have two, or even just a chosen one, like they have it on waiting for somebody to return.

There might be a snaggled strand of big-bulb lights draped over a row of shrubs. Sometimes portions of fences will be lined or only a section of a roof will be outlined. Some places look like the owners just connected string to string whatever they had in the attic, allowing them to stop just wherever they ended.

I question sometimes when I am driving along what it was that made them put them out to begin with. Why did they even bother? And yet, in me I already know. In the country, the slightest twinkling can seem magical.

We hang wreaths on gates out front of houses where only memories remain, just to stand for a moment on ground where old family used to stand.

We use their handwritten recipes and bake their cakes, so our hands go through the same motions as theirs.

I have never known anyone who eats fruitcake, but I still see them every year. There is always someone trying to recapture a slice of the way things used to be.

I can’t feel that spirit within lights that keep time with the beat of Christmas music on the radio. But a single strand of colorful lights outlining the front door of an old frame house, I can feel. It interrupts the dark and quiet countryside at night…and reminds me how very much I love and value this place we call home.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.

Tears and Laughter: The heart of a community

It is growing, of course, and improving every year, but for the last few holiday seasons the Christmas in Camden celebration has consisted mostly of a local guy dressed as Santa Claus being delivered to the downtown square in a fire truck.

And I guess this has been enough for us because we would gather outside the courthouse and cheer when he arrived. Different groups and individuals would sing Christmas songs and hymns while we waited.

Always before, Christmas in Camden has been held on a weekday afternoon, but this year it will be on Saturday, Dec. 12. This will make it easier for crafters with booths, and church groups having bake sales.

Also in the past, Coast to Coast has stayed open late giving shoppers the chance to shop after hours. Its storefront window attracts everyone young and old. It glows with that small town Christmas feeling, and serves as a fitting backdrop for Santa’s arrival into downtown on the fire truck.

There are Christmas stories read at Black Belt Treasures. Cookies and punch are served. They too have always stayed open late, and like Coast to Coast, they would have door prize drawings for customers. Some years the popularity of the Christmas stories has been dependent upon how cold it was outside. But for the last two years they have really been a hit.

We have learned though to schedule the stories before Santa’s arrival and again afterwards but nothing dares try and compete with him. The first blares from the siren send kids running and squealing with anticipation. The whole town plans and prepares for weeks, mostly, for these few short moments of joy it provides for our local children.

It was in this spirit that I was already writing this column meant to encourage involvement in our community when I heard the news that young Jack Sessions had accidentally broken his leg Saturday afternoon while playing football with friends in a neighborhood in Camden.

A friend called and told me, my daughter asked if I had seen the sad news on Facebook, and I received a text that simply said, “Y’all pray for Jack.”

And we did. Camden was praying, so was Canton Bend, Possum Bend, people in Millers Ferry, down in Coy, all the way out past Pine Hill into Thomasville and over to Marengo County. Everybody was worried about him. One of his neighbors said he didn’t even care about the Alabama and Auburn game anymore. He just wanted Jack to be alright.

Sunday evening his parents happily shared that the surgery had been a success and they would soon be bringing him back home to start his recovery. Wilcox County rejoiced.

Go to as many parades, strolls, and festivals in neighboring towns and counties as your schedule will allow this year. Travel to the city, if you need to see more. But if you just want to feel the spirit of Christmas, it will most likely be found within the people who will surround you in prayer if ever it is needed. One strong young man has reminded Camden of the importance of community this week. There may be places with brighter lights and bigger celebrations, but with no greater hearts than those we have here.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.