Tears and Laughter: A slice of life in Alabama

(Photo by Amanda Walker)

(Photo by Amanda Walker)

It is hard to be born and raised in Alabama without developing some level of appreciation for county living. The huge majority of the state – 55 out of 67 counties – is rurally located. I am tenth generation Alabamian. All I have mostly ever known is country. I am comfortable around it.

I had noticed the white square sign before. It is poked in the ground on the left side of Highway 84 going through Excel. It reads in red hand-painted lettering, “Exotic Birds for Sale.”

In passing, in the distance behind the sign is an old country house. Some people not from the rural South might would stop short of calling it a house. They might describe it as being more of a shack with a thrown out dusty living room chair on the front porch.

I guess I saw that too. I had even noticed, sometimes, there will be someone sitting the chair watching traffic.

I had thought about it before, but would never stop when I would be alone or even when having the kids with me. But last week I had a friend with me, and to be honest, I just wanted a picture of the sign with the house in the background because it too is a slice of Alabama living. Only about the time I took the picture, a man appeared on the porch. He smiled, and welcomed us with a wave, motioning for us to come in.

We made our way up the front steps and Jimmy introduced himself and started up about the cockatiels he had raised. He grabbed around in a cage until he came out with one to show us. He held the bird close to his chest and smoothed its feathers with his other hand. He had others that were too little still, and an adopted cockatoo – a rescued animal he explained – that said things he wasn’t supposed to say.

Somewhere on premises, there was a stereo of some sort, because fittingly, “Sweet Home Alabama” was playing as he was going on about the typical life expectancy of the average, well cared for cockatiel.

There was a poster behind him that was stuck to the wall with Scotch tape. It said, “Remembering Eddie” and was written in the same handwriting that had painted the exotic bird sign. There was a rose taped to the poster. I’m sure it had once been deep red, but it had browned with time. Two pictures of a man were under the rose, Eddie I presumed.

Printed in blue ink around the rose and two pictures were other endearing “facts about Eddie.” There was a list of his friends, the name of the woman he married, and the names of his three kids.

I didn’t ask Jimmy who Eddie was or what he had meant to him. It was clear he had held value. Another artist might have used a different medium, but Jimmy used what he had, and that is the heart of all art I suppose.

If you ever get to feeling that life has somehow dealt you an unfair hand and what you’ve got just doesn’t seem enough to suit you, go visit Jimmy. You can buy a cockatiel for $30, if you are able to pry it out of his hands, and I assure you that you will leave with a different perspective on your life here in Alabama.

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.