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TRAVELING THROUGH SOUTHERN ALABAMA, U.S.A.
A small, two-lane road cuts through mostly flat land bursting with green—bushes, pine trees, evergreens, and mighty oaks dripping heavy with eerily-beautiful Spanish moss. Where are the cotton fields? Most seem to be replaced by soy bean fields—the super bean that nourishes the human body and mixes with molecules, plasticizing the interiors of Ford vehicles.
We pass several cypress swamps. I wonder if alligators lurk under the glossy surface. . . . However, a serious personal problem causes distraction—I need to (**well, excuse me**) urinate! Badly. And we haven’t seen a hint of civilization for at least 45 minutes! Clouds hang dark and low. Using the “au naturale" facilities is complicated by the recent rain. Knee-high wet weeds (full of chiggers) stand between me and the bushes and trees I desperately need to go “visit.”
For a country girl, certain things are expected in such situations: Looking out for rattlesnakes, copperheads, and other poisonous snakes. Afterwards, checking my body for blood-sucking ticks. I even know how to get rid of all the chigger bugs before they burrow by the hundreds into my skin (leaving me with embarrassing red whelps and itching). And, of course, avoiding poison ivy. But I really do not want to squish through that Alabama mud and soggy weeds! THAT is unacceptable!
Finally, a full hour after I told DH (Darling Husband) I needed a toilet quickly, the speed limit signs tell us to slow down. We must be nearing somewhere that humans inhabit! Within five minutes, we spot a white-washed concrete block building, “The General Store.” Two humans are walking inside, and I’m gonna be the third. At last!
“Mam, do you have a restroom?” I plead.
“Yeah. In the back,” she answers.
It is customary when one uses the “facilities” at a little store like this to make a small purchase. What to buy? After all, this is the only little grocery store in the entire area (there really is no “town”). Let’s see, maybe I can purchase a little snack: Pork rinds? Cracklins? No. White cheddar popcorn, it is! A man checking out ahead of me asks the woman behind the counter if it’s her birthday.
“Sure is,” she says.
“Happy birthday,” he says in a kind, deep, sonorous voice.
As I step up, I see the woman has a $10 bill and six $1.00 bills pinned to her frock. I ask why. She responds,
“This is primarily an African-American community. I’ve been working this store for 13 years. Every year, when it’s somebody’s birthday, people come by and give a $1.00 bill to ya. The idea is for the person to get as many dollar bills for the number of years they are old. That ‘a way, they can go out to dinner that night!”
If she receives as many dollars as she is years old, she should have quite a meal! Where in the world will she go “out to eat,” though? There’s no real town-- just a few shabby businesses here and there on a stretch of road. Maybe somebody will have a fish fry, a pig roast, or maybe 30 miles away is a real town with a real restaurant!
I don’t care about birthdays per se. Yet, this custom touched me. In this tiny, rural community jobs must be hard to come by. The economy is stark, and people seem to be struggling. Still, they will make their way to The General Store (such as it is), sharing their $1.00 bill--or a little more if their means allow—for this little old lady to pin on her smock.
What kind, thoughtful, giving, unselfish people! They aren’t worrying whether they have meat on their table this day. But because of them, a little old lady will get a special meal out tonight (somewhere)!
Through the mouths of babes and very fine people of little means, we have much to learn—about what “community” means--and sharing what little we have, no matter what the day.
June 11, 2012
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