Tears and Laughter: Measuring change, by what remains the same

In my mind, I tell myself I am going to go back to it one of these days when I am in Montgomery. I am going to stand on the sidewalk in front of it and look at it face to face, see if it still has the same front door.

The address was 2421 Plum Street. I moved there when I was 18. I was a freshman at AUM and a teller at Colonial Bank’s Eastdale branch. I’m sure there were bright spots along the way. There had to have been some good times, but I seldom look back. When I do, mostly I see gray, like the color of the house.

It was old. I think it had been built in the 1920’s. It wasn’t uniquely different from any of the other working class homes neighboring it – wood frame, functional, three bedrooms with one bath.

It had 10 foot ceilings in the living room and kitchen. It had hardwood floors and gas space heaters. I don’t think the walls had ever once seen happiness. There was a heaviness it seemed, even to the air. It never once felt like home in the three years I was there.

It was a busy time, but no matter what work and school required, at least one afternoon a week I would have to go to Al’s Wash-House, a coin-operated laundromat conveniently located in the strip mall at the intersection of Ann and Atlanta Highway.

Al’s was on the far left end. Since Plum Street connects to Ann I could look over and see Al’s every weekday morning on my way to work when I turned onto Atlanta Highway. Every morning I looked and every morning I hated knowing I had to go there.

I would make my weekly trip to Al’s after the bank closed at 5:00. I would make sure and have enough quarters for cheese popcorn and a Coke. There was a machine in the corner and a small table. At least part of the Montgomery Advertiser would be left on the table. Usually there was a neighborhood kid sitting at the table attempting to do homework. Usually there were toddlers wailing to go, tired of waiting.

Al’s was always busy. Having to wait for machines was typical, yet people waited. There was no choice.

Faces became familiar, but it wasn’t a place for friendship.  Mostly it was a crowd of tired mothers, struggling wives, and young women saving for their own washer and dryer.

I was so happy when I bought my first set. They were used. I found them in an ad in the Bulletin Board. They were olive green, but they worked and my season at Al’s Wash-House came to an end. I think I told them goodnight for the first two weeks after I got them.

That has been almost 25 years ago. So much has changed on Ann Street. There are so many more businesses. New shopping centers have been built and stores have come and gone with new ones returning in their place.

I have changed too I suppose. I hardly know the young woman I used to be back then. I recognize her less and less as each year passes. But Al’s Wash-House is still in business, still in its same location on the far end at the intersection of Ann Street and Atlanta Highway. Every time I see it, I am reminded… and I am grateful.

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.