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Bubba, Frances, and the flowers of spring

Ellie,

I do not know if you will ever read this. Your father David keeps encouraging me to tell my story and I resist, mainly because I do not feel worthy most of the time.

But this is springtime 2016 and I’m watching flowers break out in riotous joy everywhere I look. And that reminds me of your great, great grandmother Bubba.

iris One flower always jumps out in my mind, the iris.

One of my first vivid memories was at our little house in West End. I can remember that the poor front yard was small and had no vegetation, mostly dirt and weeds. But on the side yard between our house and the wealthier Reeds, my mother had somehow performed a miracle and transformed the dirt and rocks into a wonderful garden. There were, of course irises, but also roses and daffodils and, in the summer, daisies and bachelor buttons.

We were relatively poor, with only the income my father made as a hair stylist, and there was no way my mother could have afforded to buy plants for her garden. So how did she get the plants?

When I was a lot older, Bubba and Travis finally were able to buy a home in Acipico that had room for Bubba to make a garden. Prior to that, Bubba and Travis had rented space from my great grandmother Big Momma Dean. I learned that my mother Frances was giving plants from her garden to Bubba for her new place. And Bubba had a tremendous green thumb. While Frances had been successful in growing the plants in her small garden, Bubba soon had a very large flower garden that dwarfed the one Frances had.

On one of my overnight stays with Bubba and Travis, I worked with Bubba in her garden and she shared for the first time more of her story.

Travis was not my blood grandfather, she told me. Bubba had divorced my ‘real’ grandfather Snow long before I was born because he was cruel to my mother. Your great grandmother, Frances, was a smart, athletic girl – she won three letters in basketball at Whitwell high school in Tennessee – and had wanted to go to nursing school. Back then, most southern girls did not think they could be doctors. But Grandpa Snow did not think girls should do anything except find a husband and work in the home. So he refused my mother and Bubba divorced him because of that. This is not to mention that Grandpa Snow had played around on my Bubba – he had. But when it came to her daughter, Bubba drew the line.

At the big house in Whitwell, Bubba had a large flower garden. But Grandpa Snow kept the house in the unfair divorces of the era, given that Bubba had initiated the divorce, and she lost her garden. Or would have except she colluded with a friend and raided the big house and ‘stole’ a large quantity of the flowers she was growing. Her friend transplanted the flowers at her home and promised Bubba she could have them when she found a new garden of her own.

After they moved to Birmingham, Bubba and Frances lived in an apartment house on Southside and, of course, could not make a garden there. But after my parents were able to get the small house in West End, Bubba’s friend would drive down to Birmingham with a trunk full of flowers and so Frances began her garden with the offspring of Bubba’s flowers. I’m guessing Bubba did her green thumb magic, because later when she and Travis were able to buy their own home, the flowers came home to roost.

Years later, we moved to East Lake, and after a few more years, so did Bubba and Travis. Both houses in East Lake soon had tremendous gardens that were unbelievably beautiful in the springtime. I spent many an hour helping Frances with hers, and just as many helping Bubba with hers. They had quite a competition going back then in the early 60s.

While I was at the Air Force Academy, my mother Frances finally found a way to go to nursing school. I to this day do not know how she found the money. But she did and by the time I graduated, she had earned a LPN, licensed practical nurse, associate’s degree. For the first time in my life, she had a way to make her own money and, shortly after I graduated, she divorced my father. They sold the house on 9th Avenue and most of the flowers found their way back to Bubba’s, as did my mother and brother Dan. Mother took over the second of the two bedrooms upstairs in Bubba’s house, and Dan got the new bedroom in the basement that I had dug with Mr. Grey the summer before I left for the Academy.

Your grandmamma, Cyndy, and I started a new home in Lake Forest near Mobile just before Bubba died. Frances soon began to insist that I take some of Bubba’s plants for our new house and I did, though I did not have much of a green thumb. Those flowers were lost when Cyndy and I temporarily separated when your mom was two, but after we built the house in Sans Souci, Frances again gave me offspring of Bubba’s to plant at our new home. I don’t have a green thumb, and most were lost, but enough lived and prospered to grow into a respectful garden on the back side of our garage in Sans Souci.

Unfortunately, that is where the story of Bubba’s flowers ends. When C and I sold the Sans Souci house, neither of us had earth in which to plant the flowers. So all were left to the new owners. Perhaps, if God is good, Bubba’s flowers continue to grow at that house in Montrose. Perhaps, someday, you can go to that house and ask the owners if you can take a cutting or bulb.

Bubba would like that. This one and the original.

 

Just Keep Your Mouth Shut!

A friend writes a column on a local news site. Today she wrote one warning us all to shrink from confrontations in the public because of guns: “Assume everybody’s packing heat”

I am disappointed.

gun nuts 2And so it has come to this – sage advice from an Alabama gun supporter: Just shut your mouth and slink away from any and all potential confrontations. Don’t stand up for your rights or your family because the opposing party may and probably is carrying a gun. And that person just may decide to settle the argument by shooting you.

How is this possible? How can we allow our society to be so dominated by gun-rights nuts that everyone must start packing their own gun and be ready to use it at the drop of a hat? How is it that no one seems to realize that encouraging this will inevitably lead to more gun deaths, and not just the primary protagonists, but also many innocent people who just happen to be in the field of fire.

What she is recommending is giving up your right to free speech. What she is recommending is giving up your right to enjoy a night out at a restaurant and engaging in a spirited debate of today’s issues. What she is recommending is going to a football game but not wearing your team colors or cheering when the opposing team screws up. What she is recommending, if you are a teacher, is not covering both sides of an issue and instead playing to the themes of the dominant group. What she is recommending is always pulling over into the slowest lane of traffic, and getting yourself blocked in, even if you are passing cars but not moving as fast as the fastest cars.

What she is recommending is to become passive and afraid of life because we have given in to the gun-nuts, the NRA, and the gun manufacturers who foment this just to keep selling more guns.

8211 9th Avenue South and Oh Carol!

8211 9th avenue soJust thought I would take a moment and see what Google had on our old house on 9th Avenue. Turns out it is still there and for sale – a steal at $34k! Reading the specifications I am surprised how small the house is – about 1100 square feet, with two bedrooms and one bath. The house is hard to see in this Google photo and the one the realtor posted is the same one, but you can actually see the house pretty well here. The house on the right is the Jone’s rental house I told you about in my post on model planes. When we lived there, the lot on the left was vacant, and then came Jones the lawyer’s house. But I like being able to scan around from the street in front of our house, 9th avenue of course.

I have a lot of memories about that street and the hill that leads down to the Parrot’s house. I can remember (more…)

Mules, mules, mules and the white stuff!

This morning while scanning the tv channels looking for something to distract me, I stumbled upon a “marathon” presentation of the 1950’s TV show “Death Valley Days.” What caught my attention was the theme song being played at the end of an episode from 1953. I immediately stopped scanning and waited to watch the next episode.

Hearing that song brought me back to my childhood in the West End of Birmingham. In 1953, I was eight years old and a fan of that TV show, Death Valley Days. So much so that my mother saved up box tops of 20 Mule Team Borax, or Boraxo as I remember it. (more…)

“Over the Mountain”

Banks, Phillips and Woodlawn students protest integration, Sept 12, 1963. Photo: Birmingham News

Banks, Phillips and Woodlawn students protest integration, Sept 12, 1963. Photo: Birmingham News

Still thinking about the movie Woodlawn that I am yet to see. And merging those thoughts with the Facebook conversation about the proposed new football stadium for USA. I guess that is part of the reason I’m so uptight about that one stadium supporter’s words that he “is tired of going to football games in the slums.” I’m feeling guilty by association, by not having spoken up in the 60s and 70s when the white flight from Birmingham, and so many other southern cities, was beginning.

When I was growing up in Birmingham, downtown was the place (more…)

Woodlawn and Mother’s Day 1961 in Birmingham

Don and Coach TaylorI just watched the trailer for the movie Woodlawn and it brought back some vivid memories. I played football for Banks High School in Birmingham in the 60’s. That’s me, #80, talking to my linebacker coach, Coach Taylor, during a game.

Woodlawn was our arch rival and I looked forward to that game each year. Usually we played at Legion Field, but once when I was on the JV team, we played Woodlawn on the field behind their school. Much like one of the games in the movie, the field was muddy, but we won.  Shorty White, an Auburn graduate but admirer of Coach Bear Bryant, took over the football program at Banks in 1961 and began to build a (more…)

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