I Am a Huntsvillian
by Tommy Towery
This reminded me of a story I published in one of my early writing efforts entitled "I Am a Huntsvillian" which I will now share with you. I wrote:
Now just because I was born in Huntsville doesn’t automatically make me a true “Huntsvillian.” It’s a good start I must admit, but there are many people who walk the streets of this quaint Southern town today who were not born in Huntsville, Alabama, but still consider themselves Huntsvillians.
Well then, just what the Sam Hill is a Huntsvillian you may ask? To approach this complicated subject, you have to accept the idea that for many people over the years there have been several things to define such a status. I am sure many of the old mill workers would argue that I cannot make the claim, because I did not pay the dues they did to aid this city’s history. However, I am but one of many who was born and grew up in the small town which boomed over the last half-century. My generation remembers paying a dime to ride the green and white city buses, which were rumored to have been bought used from Atlanta, or walking to town on Saturdays to go to the Lyric or Grand Theatres. We remember the ole’ Southern looking granite courthouse and its proud Confederate soldier standing atop a monument on its lawn, long before the grand building was replaced by the glass and metal new one, and the world of political correctness made being proud of our ancestors a cause of concern.
We remember the sound and vibrations of the rocket engines being tested at Redstone Arsenal. I remember how the dishes in the cupboard would rattle as the mighty rocket engines roared on the test stands miles away, and knowing the shaking was not being caused by an earthquake only because we did not live in California.
I remember when we had a telephone with no dial but had an operator instead who talked to us, and how my family shared a party line with an unknown family somewhere in our neighborhood. When we first started the new dial telephone system, our number was “Jefferson 4-2656” and then later the designation was shortened to “JE 4-2656” which finally settled as just “534-2656”, I guess when Jefferson was put out to pasture. I grew up knowing that “47” on a car’s license stood for “Madison County” because it was the 47th county in Alabama in alphabetical order, after the “1”, “2”, and “3” were reserved for the cities with the largest populations. I even remember watching Benny Carl when we could only receive TV stations from Nashville or Birmingham, and only then with poor reception.
But those are not unique things and many of the older crowd remembers them as well. There are other items just as memorable and just as deep-rooted to today’s generation of Huntsvillians. I believe somewhere in this wonderful city nestled in the loving arms of Monte Sano Mountain, there remains many universal truths for all generations to share. Even many of the rocket scientists and their families who came here from Germany with Von Braun arrived early enough in their lives to feel like they belong to Huntsville more than anywhere else in the world.
There are a lot of simple things which help define this status. These are things which just make us feel at home and at peace with the world when we are there. It can be simple things like knowing that no matter how crazy life gets, calmness and serenity can be found by a slow drive up Bankhead Parkway, and by enjoying the peaceful sway of the road’s bends and curves and the flashing of light and darkness on the hood of the car as it dances in and out of the shadows of the trees lining the road. A true Huntsvillian even knows who Bankhead Parkway was named for.
Unlike people who live in other places in this country, a Huntsvillian knows there is only one mountain people speak of and if someone says they are going up on the mountain you know they mean Monte Sano. He or she is a person who at one time or another has sat at one of the lookouts on the mountain, and followed the streets below, trying to navigate them to a friend’s or relative’s house with their finger. Most Huntsvillians have kissed someone at one of those lookouts.
A Huntsvillian is a person who has, at one time in life, slowed down their self-imposed hectic schedule enough to take off the shoes and socks and sit on the edge of the Big Spring canal and let the cold waters of the spring flow through bare toes, while watching the water plants calmly sway with the clear currents as the fish swim through them.
A Huntsvillian is a person who enjoys going to high school sports events and rooting for the local teams as they continue the fierce tradition of contests with the rival schools across town, and knowing no matter how good or bad a team is, there is always next year.
A Huntsvillian is someone who at one time or another has sat at the bottom of Upside-Down Hill, turned off the car’s engine, and marveled at the mystery of how the car slowing began its roll – up the hill. Old timers have become the keepers of the secret of this Holy Grail of places and take pilgrims to view this miracle occur, since the signs which once proclaimed it were long ago removed.
A Huntsvillian is a person who, even after all these years, still has pride in the Space Race and in the fact it was our city, our friends, relatives, and neighbors who gave this country some of our proudest moments.
A Huntsvillian is a person who still loves living in the South - no matter how hot it gets, no matter how many tornado warnings sound, and no matter how big or how many mosquitoes attack on a summer’s eve.
A Huntsvillian loves the State of Alabama as well, and probably knows one of the two possible translations of the Indian words which gave this state its name.
A Huntsvillian is someone who welcomes the first cool evening of fall just as much as the first warm spring starlit night, and someone who can not only put up with the heat of the summer but still has eternal hope this year might be the year that winter brings a White Christmas.
A Huntsvillian is one who thought the Memorial Parkway traffic moved too fast, and now cannot understand why anyone needs an Interstate to bypass the city even more and has higher speed limits.
A Huntsvillian is someone who knows what it is like to do without, and how much hard work it takes to get ahead in an honest profession. Most Huntsvillians have at least one ancestor who worked in the cotton mills and have heard their stories of how hard life was back in those days.
A Huntsvillian knows the best cafe in town to find a greasy hamburger or the best barbeque and where you can go to get the best cup of coffee and best piece of coconut pie or bowl of banana pudding.
A Huntsvillian has at least one ancestor buried in Maple Hill Cemetery, and understands what Decoration Day is all about, and why you still stop your car on the side of the road when you see a funeral procession coming from the other way.
And maybe it's true that a Huntsvillian has at one time or another called the town "Huntspatch," but that same person grew up knowing one of the dirtiest names you could call someone was "a Yankee!"
He or she may not have been around when the cotton mills were running and the city was known as “The Watercress Capital of the World,” or when that title was replaced by “The Rocket City,” but still has as much pride in this sleepy, little town in Northern Alabama as any of those New York, New York, citizens and would not trade residences with any of them.
Yes, I’m a Huntsvillian and do you know what else? I’m darn proud to say it.
A few days ago I got this note from John in response to the story I sent him.
Thanks for reaching out—I enjoyed reading your essay. Actually, I learned more about the history of Huntsville within five minutes of reading that than in the past six months haha…what’s a Huntspatch?
Happy New Year!
Memphis, TN - Starting to pack for our annual pilgrimage to the East Coast. Will be heading to the Disney Resort at Hilton Head Island for some R&R following a very busy holiday season. I'll keep the Traveller current provided I have a good enough internet connection at the resort.
We received the above photo in our email this week. This was the first time these two Lee classmates have been together in over 45 years. Can you identify them?
From Our Mailbox
Subject: Last Week's Issue
Pat King Fanning
I so enjoyed yesterday's newsletter....thanks big time once again for taking time to keep us in touch.
I loved the article by Dale and the mailman. That is SO awesome!!!
The year 2014 is gone, and I am so grateful. It was a tremendous year of loss. Loss of many dear friends and family members as well. I literally could hardly wait for the new year to begin (which is really, just another day! duh.) so we could breathe a sigh of relief and pray for a better outcome in 2015. I realize we are all growing older, so maybe it's inevitable to begin sensing the loss of loved ones more intensely. Still, the year was quite exhausting.
So this year, I'm trying to be more grateful for life and for the lives of those who mean so much to us. Must admit, I may not be able to eat a Lima Bean - in 2015 ... though!