The Farm in Alabama
1 When I was a child, Dutton, Alabama, was about as rural as rural Alabama gets. Dutton is at the top of Sand Mountain, and once one finished the steep climb up the mountain, city conveniences, such as grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping centers gave way to corn fields, cotton fields, and pastures for as far as the eye could see. This was rural country living that existed when I was a child because city life had not begun to find this place yet. Dutton was just a small, dusty country community, but when I was growing up, it was the most wonderful place on earth.
2 The house my father grew up in was a small, white, five room, wooden, weather beaten, tin roofed house with a large covered porch complete with wooden porch swings. The house had no heat (except for two fireplaces), no air conditioning, and no running water. A well was the only source of water, and the "toilet" was an old wooden outhouse that had seen better days. Taking a "bath" meant sitting in a big, round, aluminum washtub filled with heated warm water.
3 During the summer, my sister and I would spend one glorious week in July in Dutton without our parents around. My grandmother would let us dig in her garden, explore every nook and cranny of the house, swing as fast as we wanted on the porch swings, walk all the way to the end of the road and back, and play in the barn to our hearts content. The barn gave us shade and shelter from the blazing summer heat. The dirt floor was cool, and the hayloft gave us a commanding view of the farm.
4 There were many chores like sweeping and washing dishes that were done every day. But there were special chores only a child would actually think was fun. For instance, my grandmother made her own butter, and I would churn that cream until I thought my arms would fall off. But when the churning was done, there would be fresh, sweet, creamy butter to eat. My sister and I also helped my grandmother tend to her garden by pulling weeds, shucking corn, and shelling peas.
5 My favorite memory of helping with the chores was doing the laundry. Although my grandmother had some modern appliances, her washing machine, built in the early 1900s, belonged in the Smithsonian. It was a small, round shaped tub that stood on four metal legs with two ringers across the top to squeeze out the water. After a good long time of chugging, sloshing, and gurgling, my grandmother would declare the laundry clean. With guided hands, she helped my sister and I put the clothes through the ringers to squeeze out the water. Because we were not experienced at doing this, we would have water all over ourselves and the back porch.
6 When I was thirteen, indoor plumbing was installed in my grandmother’s house. Having a sit down toilet was great, but I was sad because my childhood days of the outhouse and bathing in the big washtubs were over. When I was in my late teen years, the house that had been so magical began to lose its appeal. It was, like my grandmother, beginning to show signs of wear and tear.I really noticed how run down the house was, and playing in the barn was no longer safe. The washing machine that gave me such fond memories stood unused on the back porch. The creamy butter once produced from the old, wooden churn had been replaced by sticks of butter from the grocery store, and the fresh vegetables that once grew in my grandmother’s garden now came out of a can. Nothing was as it used to be because my grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Eventually, my grandmother had to leave the farm she loved so much and spend her final years living with my aunt in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
7 The last time I saw my grandmother’s house was after her funeral in October of 1995. I stood in the front yard with my sister, each of us absorbed in our own thoughts and memories. The only sounds were muffled sobs and the wind as it rustled through the trees. The house was nothing more than a shell of despair and decay. The wood was rotting away, and the roof had started to collapse. The house looked as cold and abandoned as if it had never been lived in at all. The house would be torn down soon, so I wanted to see it one more time, no matter how painful seeing it like this was. I just closed my eyes and chose to remember the house as the simple, plain, country dwelling that gave me many years of contentment, amusement, happiness, and joy.