John M. Alday of Leroy is a man of many talents. A naturally gifted storyteller and a preserver of the past, Alday and his wife Jan have built a life in his hometown of Leroy. In 1960, due to the lack of employment in the area, Alday joined the Army. He served for two years in Germany during peacetime. It was an eye injury that occurred while in the Army that changed the trajectory of his life. Due to this, he was not drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.
Instead, Alday found steady employment on a tugboat that carried freight up and down the Tombigbee River where he had grown up fishing. From the boat, he watched the building of the Allied Paper Company, now Packaging Corporation of America. While life on the river was good, Alday longed for stability and more time at home. He was hired at Allied in 1964 during the startup. From October 1964 to October 2006, Mr. Alday supported his family by working in one of the Pine City’s well-known industries. He spent a total of 42 years at the plant.
Whittling was a common hobby during Alday’s formative years, but he did not try it until much later in life. This simple hobby involving a block of wood, a knife, and an imagination turned into so much more. Always willing to challenge himself, the small figurines that he whittled soon turned into larger pieces of folk art and required larger tools. Since retirement, Alday spends much time in his very modern woodshop. He fixes wooden furniture for neighbors, and crafts beautiful wooden bowls from a variety of wood types. When I entered his workshop, he was repairing a violin.
In 2015, the man who was always active and busy had to have a serious surgical procedure. His recovery was difficult, especially since he did not enjoy sitting still. To channel his very active thoughts and to somewhat escape from the mundane of recovery, he began to write down his memories from childhood. To further challenge himself, Alday then turned the memories into poems.
In a two-year period, Mr. John Alday composed 133 poems and divided them into two sections, neatly typed in a three-ring binder. The first section, “Memories of Youth” is a collection of poems about growing up in Leroy in a time prior to television and indoor plumbing. Memories of dinners on the grounds of area churches and rolling stores are shared. The second half, titled “Other Poems” is a mixture of the author’s thoughts and creative wordplay. With rhyming schemes in the style of Shel Silverstein and country experiences that could equal those of Jerry Clower, Mr. Alday’s poems will definitely bring a smile to one’s face.
At the conclusion of our interview, Alday stated, “Memories of the past are still my pride.” This shines through the stories he tells, the poems he writes, and the love he shows for the simple way of life.
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.