A Tourist in my home town
Saturday night I attended the annual Fiddler’s Convention in Frankville. I had never gone before and I have spent the majority of my life in this community. My parents never allowed us to attend. I’m not sure why. Even in the days before cell phones, they always knew where I had been and the company I’d been keeping before I returned home. This is the one event that I could have honestly used that teenage utterance, “but everybody else will be there” and it would have been 100 percent TRUE! However, I was never allowed to go, so I never went.
My parents were strict, but they allowed for culture. As a teenager, I searched the Arts and Leisure section of the Mobile Press each Sunday to see which Broadway shows and concerts were coming within reasonable driving distance. Most of the time, my parents made sure that I got tickets to these. But going to the Fiddler’s Convention 1.9 miles from their house was not up for discussion.
So, Saturday night, we decided to check out what we’d been missing. We drove the two miles and parked at the post office, across the street from Frankville School. The sheer number of cars in the community caught me off guard like it has every single year that I have driven by the event. We spoke to friends and neighbors as we entered the auditorium, packed with spectators.
The old school building has always fascinated me and I have not been inside of it nearly enough! I remember going with my grandparents to vote there and going to a couple of programs there when I was a child. I have heard my dad’s stories of going to school there and I’d love to explore the halls. I have an affinity for old buildings.
So, I loved sitting in the auditorium with the windows raised and a spring breeze cutting through on Saturday night. The third Saturday each April is a perfect time logistically to host an event in a building that lacks modern heat and air conditioning. The scent of barbeque wafted through and the sounds of guitars, string bass, mandolins and of course, fiddles filled the wooden building. Feet were stomping. Hands were clapping. Voices were singing along.
I have to admit that I am not the biggest fan of bluegrass music. I didn’t know how I was going to enjoy an entire evening of it. I do marvel at the crazy, undeniable talents of The Isaacs, a bluegrass gospel group, but that’s as far as I have ventured into the genre. I didn’t realize how many bluegrass standards I knew, thanks to hanging out with my grandparents. I have to admit that I did enjoy myself.
Because every single person I know (except my parents) was in the room, I let my teenager hang out with her friends, knowing that if she tried anything, I’d know soon enough. She tried something alright! She decided to sing in the vocal competition. She didn’t even tell me so that I could be nervous for her! Her song choice was a hymn and she sang it beautifully, but it was definitely not a hand-clapping, fun song. She had fun regardless.
It was refreshing to see so many people using various talents. Young people and older people collaborated to perform beautiful selections. Because there is no cell service in Frankville and there is no WiFi in the school building, phones were just used to take pictures and videos. It was quite nice.
I probably will never listen to the bluegrass station on my radio. There’s no danger of me ever attempting to learn anything other than the history of buck dancing, but I will go back to the Frankville Fiddler’s Convention. It was good to see the community come together for a positive event.
Saturday night I was a tourist in my hometown and it was indeed memorable time. I’ll be back again next year! In the meantime, I am collecting history on the Frankville Fiddler’s Convention. Please contact me if you’d like to contribute. Shannoncourington33@gmail.com
I'll Take the dirt Road
I have lived on the same dirt road for most of my life and I will readily admit that I love dirt road life. Yes, my car and the rocking chairs on my porch stay dusty, but there is just something about dirt roads that endears them to me.
I reflected on my little dirt road during recent meetings of the Washington County Commission. Many people in the county want asphalt on their dirt roads. I don’t fall into the same category as them. I’m an old soul and dirt roads remind me of a slower pace of life.
There have been times that dirt road living has been inconvenient. During heavy rains, my road has gotten sloppy. The thick mud has caused vehicles to become stuck. That can be a pain. I recall a rainy winter while I was in high school and the school bus could not travel the road. Instead, one of the teenage boys who lived on the road loaded all the kids up in his dad’s 4x4 and took us to the highway to meet the bus. After school, we piled back into and onto the same truck and were safely deposited at our own homes. Thankfully that does not happen often!
Dirt roads usually have just one lane. This means when you meet someone, one of you has to pull over and let the other pass. I love this because it is (sadly) one of the only times I catch up with some of my neighbors. We will usually roll the window down and speak for a moment. It’s a country quirk.
Dirt roads are for ATV riding. Like it or not, the younger crowd brings their ATVs to dirt roads. As a teenager, I rode my fair share. Now I see my friends’ children riding the same road frequently. Sometimes they will stop and visit for a while if they see us outside. It’s always pleasant and again, a country quirk that sets us apart.
One-lane dirt roads aren’t conducive to speed. There are some that challenge this, but typically, you drive slower on a dirt road than a highway. A slower pace allows you to notice things like dogwood blooms, rabbits and the water level in a branch. On the highway, these things are a blur.
Dirt roads don’t lead to major cities or major attractions. They are a way of getting to a home, a farm, a small country church, or a cemetery. You won’t encounter a lot of traffic, but you’ll likely see livestock, ponds, barns and kids out playing in their yards.
In addition to leading to quiet destinations, dirt roads are also for walking. Some of my favorite memories from my childhood are of walking the dirt road with my grandmother and great-grandmother. They said they were walking to get exercise, but looking back, they didn’t walk fast enough to burn any calories. They were walking for enjoyment and to go see relatives and neighbors that lived down the road. It never involved a planned visit, just joining someone on the front porch for a few minutes before needing to, in my grandmother’s words, “mosey on.”
At the end of our road, there’s a little country church. It’s a nice reward for walking one mile over the rocky road. It too is a reminder of a slower pace.
With a full calendar and no end to activities in sight, I think I need to prioritize better and take a stroll down the dirt road more often. For me, the little dirt road that I have always called home will be a reminder of sweet, simple memories and opportunities to enjoy all the quirks that country living has to offer.
Welcoming Sam Home
“Welcome home.” Two simple words that mean so much. To know that someone is glad to have you back from your journey and to know that you have a place to call home are two monumental sanctions. It is unfortunate that not every pilgrim gets to hear these words, especially if the pilgrim was a soldier in the Vietnam War. Due to political rifts in the country, those who returned alive from the southeast Asian country were not welcomed with the fanfare and accolades that their service merited. Often, they entered homelessness and isolation upon re-entering the land for which they fought.
Honoring the Marine
Those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Vietnam were also denied the recognition and respect that fallen soldiers deserve. Their funeral services were often quiet and lacked pomp. Many times, there were protests at the funeral services.
For a Washington County family, the shock and trauma of losing their 18-year old son, never lessened. Sam Busby’s death, three weeks’ shy of his nineteenth birthday, is known of throughout the county. It is Sam’s life, prior to becoming a United States Marine that only few recall. At a service in St. Stephens last month, Sam was celebrated with full rights, fanfare and accolades. For members of his family, the ceremony brought comfort and even relief. More than 130 family members, friends, neighbors and veterans assembled to commemorate the 50th anniversary of “Savage Sam’s” death.
The ceremony was a culmination of a year’s worth of planning for Gerald Deas of Montana. Deas was a friend of Sam’s in St. Stephens and when he was old enough, he too became a Marine. Over 130 people were at the ceremony to pay homage to the sacrifices of one whose life was cut short, but whose legacy lives on. Thirty-four of those present were veterans.
The young man who refused to give up
Sam William Busby loved life to the fullest. He never backed down from a challenge, no matter if that challenge was breaking a wild horse in St. Stephens or facing enemy fire in Vietnam. His siblings remember him as a true outdoorsman and an athlete with a passion for life and an outgoing personality. An avid hunter and excellent marksman, Sam found his niche as a Marine machine gunner at boot camp and military occupation specialty school. In a matter of weeks, he was training other young men to properly use machine guns.
Sam valued deep, authentic relationships. He had close relationships with his siblings and his parents. He loved his friends deeply also and was known for being honest and intentional in his relationships. In letters to his mother, he vividly described the atrocities of war. He felt that his family and friends at home should know the realities of what soldiers were facing.
Sam’s brother Kedrick and sisters-in law Ginger and Norma shared stories of Sam that have been preserved through retelling over the years. Norma was a member of the Leroy High School Class of 1968 and knew Sam as the likeable, mischievous, athletic classmate who was voted “Most Athletic.” Like most teen boys, Sam sometimes drove a bit too fast. Sam was tenacious, never giving up on any task that he deemed worthy.
Kedrick was only 7 months old when his older brother was killed, but he says that he would know his older brother because of the great lengths that his parents, Valton and Nell Busby, went to ensure that their son’s legacy endured. “I’d know who Sam was if I met him in the middle of the night. My mama told me, ‘You’re going to know him.’” Kedrick has carefully preserved the family lore and indeed knows his brother, Sam.
The eldest Busby son, Levone, was drafted to Vietnam. Levone Busby, knowing the gravity of the situation in Vietnam, offered to stay for a longer tour so that his younger brother could have more time at home. He was aware that Sam had willingly joined the Marines prior to his graduation from high school in 1968, but for his parents’ sake, he hoped that his little brother would be able to avoid Vietnam for a while longer. Unfortunately, the U.S. government does not honor the wishes of concerned big brothers. It issues the orders and the soldiers go where they are told to go and do what they are told to do.
The entire family was on American soil together for two weeks before Sam’s tour in Vietnam began on Dec. 10, 2968. Sam was eager to defend his country. Busby’s intensity and resolve became widely known within his squadron, who dubbed him, “Savage Sam.” In his last letter to his mother, dated Feb. 27, 1969, Busby wrote, “My squad leader got killed and I took over the squad. The reason I am up for a meritorious promotion and medal is because of the actions I took in battle.” Marines who knew Sam have told the family that he never faltered and refused to back down in any situation.
As he faced the enemy in hostile fire on February 27, 1969, Sam was shot in the leg. Rather than retreating, he continued to fight, saving the lives of five other men who were with him. The gun that Busby was using jammed, still he did not retreat. Captain Daniel Hitzelberger detailed Busby’s death in a letter to his parents in March, 1969. “Sam did not stop his attempt to clear the weapon, but died as he continued his efforts. Every man that died that day was fatally wounded helping another Marine. Your son died as he lived, honorably.”
Valton Busby was watching CBS news on Thursday, Feb. 27. 1969. As Busby watched film from Vietnam, he insisted that he saw his son’s body on a gurney. Though some doubted what he saw, Busby knew that his son had not survived and was so convinced of this that he went to his pastor for consolation, knowing that a funeral would soon need to be planned. Busby’s concerns were validated on Sunday, March 2 when the family, gathered for Sunday lunch, received the dreaded knock on the front door.
Sam’s funeral was the first to be conducted in what was then the new sanctuary of First Baptist Church of St. Stephens. His traumatized family sat in the sanctuary and listened to the words of Revs. Darnell Archie and Bobby Rone. Their cousin, Wanda Pezent, sang a favorite hymn, “What a Day That Will Be.” A Marine delegation and a Navy firing squad conducted military rites. Sam was home, but home was never the same again.
With each year that passed the Busby family, honored their brother, but this year’s service was unique and offered healing and hope to the Busby family and to each of the veterans in attendance. The service marking the 50th anniversary of Sam’s death was much different than the first. For this one, the family had time to prepare and time to process. The ceremony gave his siblings a time to grieve and to recall the five decades that have passed with pride amidst their grief. Kedrick described the ceremony as “refreshing” and stated that for himself and his siblings a burden was lifted as their brother was remembered and honored properly. As they gathered around his grave this time, the grief remained without the shock and the true impact of Sam’s sacrifice was known. As she did fifty years prior, Wanda Pezent sang, “What a Day That Will Be.”
Levone Busby wore his Army dress coat and saluted his brother and the veterans in attendance at the memorial ceremony. . Together, Kedrick and Levone placed a wreath on their brother’s grave and accepted a medal commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. Levone was honored for his service with the presentation of the U.S. Cold War Medal. Another Busby brother who served was recognized posthumously. Louie Busby was an Army veteran, His wife Judy accepted the Silver Dollar Freedom Medal from Deas in his honor.
In 1920, as he accepted the Republican nomination for vice-president, Calvin Coolidge warned, “The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.” May we never forget.
For Sam and for every veteran, “Welcome Home.”
Happy Birthday, MAwmaw!
My grandmother will celebrate her 85th birthday on Monday. She will be the first to tell you that my love of reading did not come from her, but she does read her Bible daily and the paper on Thursdays. So, I am writing a public ode to the strongest, most practical, honest to a fault and beautiful woman I know. Nathalee Autry Hodge Brooks, you are my favorite!
I have been fortunate enough to know both sets of my grandparents, a both sets of maternal great-grandparents and one paternal great-grandmother. I have treasured photographs of these people, some of whom my children were blessed to meet. I don’t take the memories of any of these for granted, but on “MawMaw” Nathalee’s birthday, I’ll just talk about her.
From childhood, I was fascinated by her Royal typewriter, but I knew not to touch it. She left paper in it and sometimes I broke the rules. I am quite positive she never noticed it because pushing those keys did NOT leave a mark on the paper. Right. The temptation was simply too strong! She worked for years as the cafeteria manager for Coffeeville High School. The typewriter was for her monthly inventory or “book work” as she called it. She was meticulous about the “book work” and a good steward of every resource that ever came through her hands through work or in her personal life. That typewriter still fascinates me.
I hated penmanship in second grade. I cried over cursive, but I loved the flourishing, looping strokes with which MawMaw wrote. Her grocery list, ever present on a steno pad on her bar (to this very day) motivated me to practice and practice and practice.
The steno pad on the bar is evidence of her practicality. One side is for groceries. One side is for household items like toothpaste and trash bags. The notepad and pen are always found right at the end of the bar and she writes things down as she runs out of them. Her children and grandchildren learned quickly that there are other pens and notebooks in the house. The steno and its pen stays put!
In the days before cordless phones, MawMaw had one phone in her house, again practical. She could only talk on one at a time! That phone was centrally located at the end of the hall, right across from the bedroom where my sister and I slept when we stayed with her. Without fail every Saturday morning, Mrs. Merle Hicks would call. Lots of people have memories of Mrs. Merle, but no one remembers her being a quiet person! My sister would put her head underneath her pillow and mutter. I just listened to both sides of the conversation.
Ulcanush Baptist Church is where my grandmother has worshipped for decades. Her parents were involved there. She still goes as often as she can. Even if she can’t physically be there, she sits in her home and reads the Sunday School book during the time allotted for Sunday School. A couple of years ago, I noticed that she had gotten a new Bible. She told me that her other one was “wore out” because it got used every day for many, many years. That statement will never leave my brain.
My grandmother is not a huge fan of makeup. If I had looked like Vivien Leigh, I probably wouldn’t be either! However, lipstick is something she rarely goes without. Her lipstick collection is another thing that has always fascinated me. I can remember the long row of tubes in vibrant shades of red and bright pinks. She still has a nice collection.
Life has not always been kind to MawMaw, but she has always chosen to be kind, no matter the circumstances. She raised three children as a single mom on a limited income. Their needs were always met and they never doubted their mother’s love. She forgave their father and made memories with him and with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren before his death. That is a kindness and strength that is so rare!
With limited space, thank you, MawMaw for peanut butter cookies, hidden chocolate in the fridge, birthday cards, weekly phone calls and your prayers. Happy Birthday!
Lessons from Harper Lee
I could never be considered a “fan girl” of any band, television show, actor, actress or athlete. I don’t watch enough t.v. to get drawn into things deeply. If I were going to be an obsessive, obnoxious fan of anything, the object of my obsession would be Harper Lee. She only wrote two novels and for decades, we only knew about one, but she is absolutely my favorite.
Lee was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame last week. The honor is well-deserved for the Alabama author, most famous for the beloved, yet controversial novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. As I reflected on Lee’s influence on American literature, I considered a few lessons that can be taken from her life.
Yet another lesson from the captivating Nelle Harper Lee.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.