Tears & Laughter: The Beauty of Alabama Dirt
March 1, 2021 | View PDF
Alabama has delivered into the world many an eccentric personalities, one of those being the late Eugene Walter – an entertainer, writer, and chef who engaged in so many varied activities he was known as “Mobile’s Renaissance Man.”
He grew up in old Mobile, back when women would dress-up in their finest attire – wear heels and put on lipstick – just to go shopping downtown on Saturday mornings.
He could describe it in such a charming, and almost intimate way, that if you read his work even today you will find yourself feeling homesick for a place you’ve never known, wishing there was a way somehow to still drop in for evening coffee at the Bluebird all night lunch room down on St. Julian Street.
He adored Mobile, often claiming it to be closer to the Caribbean than Montgomery, but that in no way took away from his love for Alabama. Most of his career he lived in Paris, and it was in Europe that he attained much of his success and the majority of his fame. During all of his time overseas he always kept with him a shoebox of Alabama red clay. He kept it under his bed, and it helped him feel connected to home.
I wonder where he got the clay? If it was from somewhere specific, or from a bare spot in his backyard, or was it an afterthought and he stopped along side the road on the way to the airport? Regardless, there seems to be a connection between people and the ground they know by heart.
When I was growing up in Sandflat, I would go through creative spurts, and one of my crafty adventures was to replicate some type of layered sand doorstop I had seen at my great grandmothers house. It was in a glass jug with a cork, and the sand was from the Holy Land or the beach or some spectacular place somebody had traveled, I can’t remember. But during that time in the late 1970s, doorstops were more widely used than they are today and I had the bright idea that I was going to make one using Alabama sand in a Mason jar and give to my other grandmother.
I was going to fancy it up, I had a quilt square of cloth I was going to put over the lid and tighten it with the ring. I knew where there were several different colors of dirt in my yard alone. There was the black soil from the garden, and there was of course red clay because everybody in Alabama has a little red clay, and in the driveway there were white sandy places, and other spots where sand has washed in with soil.
I went around with a plastic shovel from a sand pail scooping enough dirt from each place to make a layer in the jar. I repeated the process with as many different colors I could find until the jar was full.
I was young. But when I held it up and looked at it after it was finished, I thought it was pretty. One layer blended into the next almost seamlessly, divided by only a slight line of variation that highlighted and complimented the start of the next.
Alone, it would have just been a simple jar of dirt. But together, without any effort – without any one outweighing or overtaking the other – it was pretty.
Maybe we feel a connection to land, to the very dirt, because it represents its people. Together, living side-by-side in harmony, without any one trying to overshadow the other…what a beautiful state we have become.
Amanda Walker is a contributor with AL.com, The Selma Times Journal, Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Alabama Gazette. Contact her at Walkerworld77@msn.com or at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.