Tears and Laughter: School is starting, time to think and be kind 

She says she likes where I live because it’s green and country and different. She says she thinks she wants to live in Florida one day when she is older. She likes palm trees and sunsets and she thinks she remembers being happy there once when she was younger. It was the last time she remembers seeing her dad. And she thinks her mama might have been happy there too…for a little while. 

She has a natural ear for tone and can change pitch effortlessly with her voice. She was singing with my youngest daughter in the backseat of my car. They are both 13, both are about to enter the eighth grade, and they know every song on Sirius. 

She likes to talk about Broadway shows I know nothing about, so I just listen. She does a Donald Trump impersonation about “the wall” and will start an impromptu slogan and commercial over any sign that catches her attention. I told her she should study broadcasting after she graduates. She laughed. She doesn’t take compliments well.  

She is ambitious and expressive and prettier than she can allow herself to accept right now. Prettier than she has been told. She has bright eyes and clear skin – barring a couple of childhood freckles fading fast across the bridge of her nose.  

She makes too many self-deprecating comments. Old words seem to play like a tape in her mind, ruminating. They interrupt her sometimes, even when she is miles away and smiling. She is tenderhearted and will stand-up for others quicker than she will defend herself. 

Our route out of the city took us by her school. It is a magnet school. She starts back in a few days. I asked her if there was anything she needed to do in order to get ready. She said it wasn’t anything you could prepare for. It is just something you have to make yourself do.  

She said she wishes she never ever had to go back. “Not because of the work,” she quickly added. “I can do the work. It’s just the people.” She offered no further explanation.  

We passed a church with a sign out front that read “Black lives matter here” beside a small rainbow flag. “Look at that,” she said. I guess it is okay for anybody to go to church there. I like that. Everybody ought to be able to worship don’t you think?”  

I nodded, although I really hadn’t given it much thought. I was still just listening. We were at a crawl in traffic. There was an accident ahead of us on the Interstate. We were two miles out from our exit. 

“You know my mom has been staying at the women’s shelter, right?” 

I nodded. I did know. 

“Well I hear she has started going to church some too and I figure that can’t hurt, do you?” 

She waited for an answer. A nod wouldn’t do.  

I told her not to worry, that one of the greatest mysteries in life is how God can take the most complicated of problems, even the ones people can’t see any solution to, and working them out for the good. 

Content with my response, she settled back, and they started singing again.  

For her sake…I just pray I’m right.

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

Tears and Laughter: Know what you love, and be willing to run to it

I have written before about teaching writing class and how one of the initial exercises is to have the students write a short, simple essay about their own self.

Five paragraphs.

It is supposed to be easy and serve as a transition into writing about others in second person, but there are always those who seem to draw a bank. They stare into space like they have been asked to describe a stranger.

This is sad to me. One of the many responsibilities we are charged with as parents – and teachers too to some extent – is to help our children to know who they are as individuals.

This is not the same as teaching them. You can’t teach them who they are the same way you can teach concepts. You might be able to teach them who you are, and in that you can influence what they accept or believe, but as for who they are as God naturally made them, it is something they have to discover and allow to develop.

It is why we introduce them to a myriad of books and activities. It is why we take them on trips and encourage them to play sports and take art classes, music classes, and dance.

It is why we let them have hamsters, take them to reptile farms, and start stamp collections we know they will never continue. We do it so they can learn what they like and equally important, what they don’t.

Knowing what they like helps them know what to choose, it helps them know what they want, what suits them, how they tick, how they learn, what they are attracted to and why it is the are drawn to it.

It is how they identify their strengths and weaknesses. Talents, skills, and boundaries. It is how they grow into their purpose, just through knowing who they are and what they like. And writing five paragraphs about it should not draw such a void.

And it is not just children. There are grown people who take six months to pick out a paint color or what dress to wear to the next low country boil because they don’t know what they like. They are too worried about what other people might think or what color their mother would have preferred rather than just walking straight in and saying this it, this is me.

I met a little girl this week who I don’t think is going to have any trouble with the personal essay one day. I say I met her. I never caught her name. She fluttered through our day like a butterfly.

I had taken my youngest daughter to the Tickled Pink Petting Zoo that was visiting Thomasville. She was waiting to hold a python. She is 13. She is shy and creative, smart, and intuitive. She has a heart for animals, all of them, and most small children.

She did not pull away when a little redheaded girl sporting a hot pink tutu ran up to her after recognizing her favorite characters on her shirt. She leaned in, pointing to each with one hand and calling them by name, while holding McKenzie’s long hair out of her way with the other.

She ran back to her mother as quickly as she had appeared, but she left me thinking maybe we should all try and be more like her. Know what you love, and when you see it, run to it.

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

Tears and Laughter: The Purse Policy

If there’s anything I sometimes try to be…it’s agreeable. And currently, I’m trying.

It is a personal choice for a woman, the purse she carries. And a girl just knows her bag when she sees it. It is kind of like picking out a pet. There has to be a connection…a certain style or something that looks good being carried and yet still looks good riding shotgun beside us.

There are as many shapes and sizes of purses as there are women. I prefer mine to be, like my car and shoes, black. And maybe women who only want to carry lip gloss and a debit card can manage with the cutest of tiny purses. Something like you would take to a casino where all you need is an ID and a ticket. But usually, women of a certain age need a big-ass purse, and I am one of these people.

It is all very organized and necessary. I know because, as I mentioned, I am trying to be agreeable. I just dumped it all out on my bed and tried to edit it down to fit into something someone in middle school might carry. I stuffed it all in and it was so tight I couldn’t fit anything more in or search for what was already there.

I have bragged before about how Camden is blessed with four dollar stores. If you live here and raise a family here, you may order all of your clothes and shoes and exclusive bedding online and you can buy most everything else out of town when you are on your way home from the doctor or headed to buy lottery tickets, but you will still find yourself frequently shopping in the local dollar stores.

I’m sure the cashier felt obligated to tell regular customers about the new purse policy. She told me she was trying to tell everyone with “big bags” because she was about to hang a sign on the door banning them.

She apologized and seemed to search for an explanation before saying the store’s inventory had been audited and they were within $150 in losses away from every employee being fired.

I told her I understood her position. And I do. But the purse policy causes another set of circumstances for women. Just taking in a wallet causes a problem with break-ins being common. Leaving purses in cars is not recommended, if you intend to keep the purse and your back windshield.

A wallet is easy to grab, and more difficult to keep an eye on than a purse. You can’t sling it over your shoulder and have both hands free to shop with. You either juggle it, or leave it in your shopping cart and gamble with it being stolen when you look away.

It is not just a problem at this one store in Camden. It is a problem plaguing retailers nationwide.

Across the parking lot another store has been remodeled. A customer commented to a cashier there about how the new layout would make it easier to see down the aisles and maybe would deter shoplifters. The cashier quietly replied, “I don’t think there is anything that can stop that.”

Shoplifting overburdens police and weighs down courts. It costs communities the taxes lost, and it costs the store both in retail loss and security expenses, which inevitably costs customers more. And while I am trying to be agreeable, I can’t help but feel as if the thieves are winning.

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

Tears and Laughter: Two men in the Black Belt, 2017 

The focal point of my backyard is a ten acre pond. Before it was a pond, it was a cotton field. You can’t tell it just by looking anymore, but through the woods is an antebellum home that once oversaw it. It still stands silent and majestic. Its walls don’t talk at all.

We could ride over to the river. We could be there within five minutes and from a secluded cliff we could look down at the sparkling Alabama that once brought people in and carried away bales of Black Belt cotton. But the proof of it now lies beneath a watery grave and can only be seen in black and white pictures.

It was the black fertile soil that invited in agriculture and helped fuel it. This region was once the wealthiest in the nation. It was home to affluent men and accomplished women. They wore the finest of dresses and slept on the best of linens and furnished their homes with elaborately handsome furniture.

None of this remains. Only in fragments and pieces. In busted-up sets of dishes forgotten about in old china cabinets. What wealth remains in Wilcox County has more to do with pine trees and paper than the cotton plant.

The one way in, one way out road I live on is named after the son of a slave. Perry Johnson is said to have fathered 23 children, though a set of twins passed away at birth. Most of my neighbors, practically without exception are the sons, daughters, and extended relatives of his children.

There is calm here now. You can feel it in the evening shade. Even the spirit in the air seems to whisper peace. But I’m glad the ground can’t talk. I know what was witnessed here and mirrored everywhere. You just would never know by the terrain.

Growing up I didn’t expect that I would ever live on a farm. I was not a member of the FFA. And maybe in retrospect, I should have been. It’s no secret that I have a fair amount of “Green Acres” in me. Usually my responsibility when it comes to farming is to stay out of the way. I’m too sensitive for some parts of it, and other parts can be tedious and unavoidably dangerous.

Such was the case this past Saturday morning, as it became clear that a first time mother cow needed help delivering. She had become panicked and unpredictable. It was more than one man could safely handle.

A neighbor came over and helped. These two men have helped one another many times over the past 25 years. They have prepped gardens that fed their families and other families. They have shared pears, pecans, Catawba worms and catfish. There has been an exchange of a couple of pet kittens and puppies along the way.

After storms they have worked together with other neighbors to cut fallen trees from the one way in, one way out road we all live on. If time allows, they will help one another again, both as neighbors and as friends.

They reminded each other of this assurance as they shook hands Saturday morning.

I don’t think they have ever noticed their hands aren’t the same color. It’s just not something that matters to men in the Black Belt.

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

Tears and Laughter: Let’s not mess with Alabama swamp people

At some point this attraction, or jealousy, The Daily Show has toward the state of Alabama is necessarily going to have to be addressed. I don’t know if it’s healthy anymore.

I think they want to be more like us. We seem to know how to have more fun than they do. We are happy and content and comfortable with Jesus while they are stuck up in New York City polishing their big apples and wishing they were down in Dixieland.

Like most Alabamians, I don’t typically watch The Daily Show. The fact that Alabamians don’t watch the show is what made them to decide to produce this whole “Alabama Week” series in the first place. They claim they want to get to know us better, but that’s not it. They were just put off because we would rather watch sharp dressed men squawking for ducks on Duck Dynasty than The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.

Maybe Trevor Noah should host the show from a duck blind. It might help ratings. Then again, people in Alabama tend to value their 10 o’clock time slot, so it would need to be seriously entertaining to compete.

I have followed the first two nights of the “Alabama Week” series and have been neither impressed nor repelled. It is difficult for correspondents unfamiliar with Alabama to accurately portray our culture, the issues we find important, or who we are as people. It’s as if they are coming in wanting to dislike us, but once here they are realizing they don’t hate us after all.

At the end of the first or the four-part series, correspondent Desi Lydic offered a half-ass prayer asking God to help her with her struggle to believe in Alabama. She admitted she had held a lot of preconceived notions about people here. She thought we were all real “swamp people.”

I take it that correlation refers back again to the ratings between Duck Dynasty and The Daily Show, but what’s wrong with swamp people? Come to Alabama. Conduct your interviews. As far as politics go, hey – there are no holds barred. It’s pretty much the same with religion, because we know God has got us. But…don’t make light of Alabama swamp people. They are some of the best of us.

Those overpriced, ridiculous jeans at Nordstrom’s designed to look muddy are probably trying to emulate swamp people. If things turn stormy, if the situation suddenly shifts and reality gets really real – if the power goes and cell batteries die and no one can post prayer requests on Facebook. If destruction surrounds and strength and perseverance are required to start again, it will be swamp people who rise like a phoenix out of the wetlands. Swamp people are survivors. They know how to live off the land and water, and most of them tell better stories than The Daily Show.

The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta consists of almost 260,000 acres of swampland making it second in size only to the Mississippi River Delta. The Daily Show crew should go have supper with some of these characters of the swamp. Catch a sunset. Listen to the hush between day surrendering to night. Chirping birds and daytime buzzing subside to silence before a cadence of frogs and crickets play against a damp breeze, drowning out all but nature.

Alabama has its problems. Our swamp people aren’t one of them.

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

Tears and Laughter: Why Governor Ivey still calls Camden home

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey (Alabama.Gov)

Within minutes of Kay Ivey’s being sworn-in as Governor last week, there were requests for comments out of Wilcox County.

Ivey was raised in Camden. She graduated from Camden High School before attending Auburn and launching herself into a life that has included many successes. She was a high school teacher, bank officer, and state treasurer before becoming the first Republican woman in Alabama history to hold the office of Lieutenant Governor. She won re-election in 2014.

She is only the second woman to serve as Governor of Alabama, and the first to rise through the political ranks on her own. Yet no matter when or where along her life’s path, Kay Ivey has never been shy about calling Camden home.

She knows Wilcox County is not without its challenges. It competes back and forth with Sumter on being the poorest county in the state. Wilcox has always held the highest unemployment rate in the state. And the public school system has a record of graduating too many students who are not prepared for even entry-level position with the lowest of skill requirements.

Few counties more thoroughly represent the natural beauty Alabama has to offer. Wilcox’s agricultural roots gravitated out from the majestic Alabama River, but not everything here is beautiful. Headlines out of Wilcox are often critical and riddled with crime and corruption. The crime is usually domestic related. The corruption is so common it is easily ignored.

Being a quiet, rural community has not made Wilcox immune to societal issues. Substance abuse is a problem, as are broken homes, poverty, and hopelessness. They seem to progressively connect and have become a subculture present in the shadows.

Outsiders have long questioned why even the smallest of populations choose to stay in a place haunted by its past, while forgotten by time. But if you are of here or from here, you feel a connection to land and place. It is a lot like loving a person. You begin to understand why the weaknesses exist, you learn to accept aspects you can’t understand, and you value what remains. The energy that holds people here, is the same spirit that compels visitors to stay, and convinces those whose life’s work has taken them away to forever call it home.

Kay Ivey knows there are rare flowers still blooming in lonely yards along Broad Street. She knows garden spots where there are no longer gardens. She remembers people’s pets by name, and can practically recite the menu at both GainesRidge Dinner Club and Larry’s Drive In.

The kind of governor she becomes will be determined in time. We will leave that for the historians and critic to debate at a later date. They can one day word it however they will, and Wilcox County will still be proud of Kay Ivey. We appreciate that when we hear her speak publically, we can recognize snippets and syllables spoken in our own distinct dialect.

It reminds us. And it reassures our children that even with the challenges rural Alabama communities face, there is no bounds holding anyone back at the county line.

I guess it is fairly simple for everyone to understand why the residents of Wilcox County are proud of Governor Ivey. What may be more remarkable is how she continues to be so proud of us.

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

Tears and Laughter: Other reasons Alabama may be the most stressed state in the nation

The personal finance site, Wallethub, has found Alabama to be the most stressed-out state in the nation. Being defensive about Alabama the way I am my first impulse was to try and disagree with the study’s findings. They claim Alabamians are stressed because we don’t have easy access to mental health care, have – on average – lower credit scores, and don’t get enough sleep at night.

Alabama hasn’t had all that much money since cotton was king, so I can’t imagine that people’s credit scores are keeping them awake at night. But in regards to our mental health I am going to have to unfortunately beg Wallethub’s pardon. Exactly what are they implying by reporting that a majority of people in Alabama need mental help? Because I think it comes across a touch strong.

Just because it has been well-documented and reported that our governor has frequently in the recent past few years taken leave of his senses doesn’t mean the rest of us need professional help. Unless you consider the fact that the majority of us voted his craziness into office, twice.

I guess we do have every right and excuse in the world to be a little stressed. We are a little angry too. What should have been the best of us, has failed us. Our leadership has been embarrassingly corrupt. We are all capable of accepting that this is not the first time there has been some physical action take place in the governor’s office. Many rumors of adultery have breezed through the halls of the capitol building before during previous administrations. But some of the details that have emerged from the Bentley-Mason affair have made even the most seasoned and worldliest of us either blush, or cringe.

And it wasn’t even so much about the affair. It was what it took to facilitate it. It was accusations of using public office for personal gain, violating the Ethics Code, and misusing campaign funds that made an investigation to prove the affair necessary.

It is abundantly clear now. To repeat it in detail would be redundant, but an enormous amount of time, resources, and energy were spent serving and protecting a relationship that never should have been allowed to evolve into what it became. All of that money, time, and effort should have been channeled toward the problems facing this state and the issues directly affecting the quality of life for Alabamians.

He seemed very sincere and comfortable lying to everyone – his wife, his family, her, her family, us, our families. He spoke calmly and reassuringly. He had learned the skill of making eye contact while lying. He was convincing and confident, and rightly so I suppose. For so long, it worked

Governor Bentley’s impeachment proceedings were cut short Monday by his resignation, Lieutenant Governor Kay Ivey was dutifully sworn-in as Governor, and Easter Sunday is waiting to greet us at the end of the week. Maybe through grace we as a state will somehow find hope within all of the disappointment. Maybe this public shame will serve as a reminder as to why not to make certain choices. Otherwise, Wallethub could be right, most of us are going to need mental health help if we want to ever trust again. Or is the stressful part…that we did.

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.comor athttps://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist

Tears and Laughter: The freedom and economics of American stay-at-home moms

An Australian columnist, Sarrah Le Marquand, penned an article last week that has caused a worldwide discussion about stay-at-home mothers. In the United States we tend to respect and value all mothers whether they work full-time, part-time, or not at all.

Not so much so in Australia apparently. At least not according to Ms. Marquand who believes it should be illegal for a woman to be a stay-at-home mom once her children reach school age. She claims it doesn’t help anybody – not husbands, children, bosses, or other women – and they should be forced to go to work like everybody else. Her opinion was based upon a study by the Australian Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development which found stay-at-home moms represent large losses to their economy.

Things really are different here. Stay-at-home moms help the American economy if through nothing more than their frequent use of Amazon.com and eBay. Moms stay in a constant state of shopping for shoes big enough to fit one, jeans long enough to fit another, and birthday presents. They all drive full size SUV’s or minivans. What they spend on fuel to get everybody back and forth on time to ball practice, dance, church, art, the orthodontist, and piano lessons should mean something. Plus there is the fact that almost every single one of them makes plans every summer to go help stimulate Florida’s economy too.

And let us not pretend that this particular faction of society doesn’t like to eat. Have you ever seen a group of these sweet mamas gathered at a Mexican restaurant for girl’s night out? It’s remarkable from appetizers through desert. Not to mention how they have spent more money than any of them care to recall on Happy Meals and Sonic dogs. Grocery store owners just love to see a stay-at-home mom dragging in pushing a buggy and holding a list – especially if she has all of her kids swarming around begging, and fighting, and complaining, and crying. This is why some stay-at-home moms sometimes buy wine, but still, they contribute to the economy.

In her column that has offended all of Australia and most of the free world, Marquand wrote, “Only when the female population is expected to hold down a job and earn money to pay the bills in the same way that men are routinely expected to do will we see things change for the better for wither gender.” She also added, “Feminism is about equality, not freedom of choice.”

I was listening to a group of girls last Tuesday in a writing class. The lesson was personal essays and the exercise to help them focus was a “heart map.” This can be as simple or as creatively elaborate as students wish, but the point is to list the people, experiences, and memories that have shaped their lives. It serves as a visual starting point for the personal essay.

Just like little American women they were quietly talking among themselves, their eyes and colored pencils never leaving their work. One of them asked another what she wanted to do when she grew up. She answered, “Well…I will to go to college and get an education. And you know I like to sing, and I want to do some mission work, but then…I believe I just want to get married and be a stay-at-home mom.” The other girl agreed, “Yeah… me too.”

They are young. They have time to change those plans, before changing them yet again. America was founded on principles that protect our children’s freedom to do just that.

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

Tears and Laughter: The endless art of Alabama writing

Writing, for the most part, is a solo sport. You can only talk about it for so long before eventually having to go into the back room and write. Writing classes won’t make you write if you aren’t already compelled, but they do serve as a good way to learn techniques for when an idea or inspirations strikes.

I have had the opportunity over the past few months to teach creative writing in Monroeville, and if you teach writing in Monroeville, the natural starting point is somewhat set. In 1997, by a joint proclamation of the Alabama House and Senate, Monroeville was declared the “Literary Capital of Alabama.” The town was given the title because of the many famous authors that have called Monroeville home including Harper Lee, Truman Capote, Mike Stewart, Cynthia Tucker, and Mark Childress.

Most widely known of them are Harper Lee and Truman Capote who were friends and neighbors during the 1930’s. It was interesting to hear kids from the Monroeville area talk about the town from their perspective. Some of them were fully aware of who each author was while others had never considered why there are mockingbirds painted on the sides of building.

As it happens, the class takes place within the shadows practically of the old courthouse. Even the youngest of children can appreciate the significance of learning about the craft of writing in a setting where a young Harper Lee and Truman once played.

To further the point, I told them how if they could talk their mamas into taking them to Mel’s Dairy Dream to get a hamburger sometime, that they could have lunch with what is left of where Harper Lee and Truman used to be. The small drive-in restaurant is located in the spot where Lee’s childhood home stood, and next door are the remains of Truman’s. It’s not much in one respect. No one can run through the halls. But their spirit is strong, and the energy is there both on sunny days, and when rain is falling. And I also explained that while things have changed over time, the chances of seeing either of the two great authors remains about the same as always.

It isn’t just Monroeville that produces writers. It seems the state itself has an endless list of famous writers. Winston Groom grew up in Mobile, and is best known for Forrest Gump. Rick Bragg, from Piedmont, is a current Professor of Writing at the University of Alabama and is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist as well as the author of several books. Fannie Flagg was born in Birmingham and is most well-known for, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. Wayne Flint has written over a dozen books focused mostly on the historical, economic and social fabric of Alabama. Kathryn Tucker Windham grew up in Thomasville and considered herself a storyteller as much as a writer. And author and screenwriter, Eugene Walter, took a shoebox of Alabama red clay with him to Paris to remind him of home.

There is an ongoing conversation between writer types about what it is in Alabama that helps produce so many writers. Some say it is elements in the soil and water, possibly the air too. Others will say it is history blended with a culture of storytelling. I don’t know. Maybe it takes a little of it all, but for sure the only way it continues is through our young writers.

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: Get your heart in Alabama, or get out

Most everybody I know lives in Alabama. My family has been here for over 200 years and I’ve made it about 30 miles from where they first settled. Knowing I can go stand on land they once stood on holds meaning to me. They never had to have any great achievements or walk any particular line. All they had to do was be, and I love them. That’s the same way I feel about Alabama. I felt it last week after receiving a message from a producer with The Daily Show saying they are working on a couple of pieces here and asking if I had time to chat about Alabama – “in general.”

I have time. And all I know is Alabama, but The Daily Show portrayed Jeff Sessions as a barefooted lumberjack-looking character. Their features about Alabama might be funny, but would no doubt have a demeaning slant.

We keep family with us here long after they are gone. We name our babies after them and pass down their pocket knives. We restore their old houses so we can still sit on their porches. We pick flowers from bushes they planted and put them in vases as centerpieces on our tables. We weave their memories into this life as if we expect them to show up for Sunday dinner. And in ways, they do when scattered family gathers. They return in mannerisms and expressions, in gestures and tones…just as Alabama culture mirrors and reflect some of what it has always been.

Not too far past the “coon meat for sale” sign in Uriah, there is a man that sits in an easy-chair on the side of Highway 21 in Atmore. The chair is in line with a row of small mobile homes. There is no porch. The chair is out in the weather with the mailboxes and his yellow dog – a friendly cur and bulldog mix, who according to his master “has never caused any trouble.”

The chair, not unlike the dog, looks like someone might have thrown it out before Will Amos claimed it. But it stays there now, and if it is daytime, and it’s not raining, he is usually in it, with his yellow dog nearby. He has lived in Atmore all of his life. He can no longer hear well, and a stroke has left his right arm useless, but he stood the afternoon I stopped to meet him. He stepped toward me and extended his left hand with a smile as I introduced myself.

Driving to Florida, you won’t notice him. Not unless you happen to glance over and see him. I don’t know if he is waiting on someone, or just sifting through his memories as the cars go by.

There is a sad layer of Alabama. It’s the only layer some see. Poor has been popular for so long that there are people who live their whole lives without ever having any expectations. When life is a struggle, just having a good day is good enough. And a good day can be as simple as retelling stories about the way days were once spent when the fish wouldn’t bite.

The rest of us rednecks are protective of these people. Because some of us were raised right, and the rest of us know we aren’t too many generations or paychecks away from poor. We tend to count our blessings. We don’t all wear camouflage on Saturday nights, and while we might be better off for it if we would, we don’t all go out dancing in work boots either. But from the most northern point, where the Alabama line kisses Tennessee, all the way down below the salt line to the Mobile Bay, and along every street and gravel road in between…we agree on one thing. Get your heart in Alabama, or get your question-asking ass out.

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.