Tears & Laughter: Thirty miles and a world apart
July 1, 2023 | View PDF
It all started with a simple question. I asked her what kind of toys she had played with when she was a kid growing up in Wilcox County.
At least it seemed a simple question.
The only reason it was on my mind at all was because…well, I am having a bit of the empty nest thing going on and in redoing bedrooms, one of them is decorated with vintage toys. I had shown her the room and some of the things I have recently added – a Gunsmoke puzzle, a Little Lulu tea set, and a Whitman version of Old Maid.
We are only about eight years apart, and even with me raised in Clarke and her over here in Wilcox, I assumed there would be some commonality – as we would have been two girls from roughly the same generation raised about 30 miles apart.
She laughed gently at my question, explaining that there had been no toys in her world when she was growing up, that she grew up down in Tait’s Swamp.
She had mentioned before about being raised in Tait’s Swamp. She was raised by one set of her grandparents, within running distance of the other set. She had told me about how they would walk to church, even at night. She remembers summer revivals, walking back home after dark…on a road that was what remained of a wagon trail. She remembers being scared of ghosts, and sounds in the night. Pledger Cemetery and its inhabitants was along the path. It still is. She said she would always run passed it because everybody claimed it was haunted. She remembers being chased by cows, as the last trek to the church was a pasture.
They walked to church, because there wasn’t a car. Which meant they would walk to the church every school day to meet the bus, because the school bus could not make it down the road that was the remains of a wagon trail.
That changed after the “new” road was built.
The new road is no longer new, but is still red dirt and prone to flooding. There are places where you can still see the banks of the old trail.
I wanted to see this.
I don’t know why, but people who live in secluded areas like to go back in time. We try and retrace the steps of what used to be. Maybe it is like this in all areas, maybe it is not confined to rural areas – but for here specifically, this place is different. Some places started as nothing and became something. This area is the opposite. There are remnants of what used to be, and something about walking through what remains allows you to feel the spirit of the place.
So one sunny day last week, we planned a picnic in Tait’s Swamp. I packed a cooler. We drove into Camden and got a couple of Club sandwiches before driving back to Canton Bend, and down the road that leads to Tait’s Swamp.
She said there was a group of about twenty of them that would walk out every morning, over two miles, and back in the evening. There is not much evidence. We stopped at where the house she grew up in used to be. It is not there. Not even a cornerstone. It was nothing more than a shack, built directly on the ground. But she found a specific pecan tree, a peach tree, and a plum. She found the path that led to the riverbank where here grandparents would fish. She was back home…at this place only 30 miles from where I was raised, but in a completely different world.
Amanda Walker is a columnist and contributor with AL.com, The Birmingham News, 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.