Oxford, Alabama

May 14 – Just a quick update on our whereabouts, in case anybody has wandered into this journal and wondered if we’d gotten lost in the pages of Deliverance.
We departed Tallapoosa, Ga., this afternoon after a serendipitous and wholly wonderful 11-day stay with Anthony and Audrey Williams. When we rolled into town on Friday afternoon, May 3, we had no plans but to check in with the family of our old friends, the late siblings Stan Clarke and Clara Williams.
Briefly as possible: I fell under the sway of Stanley D. Clarke shortly after moving into the little hovel on Rocky Point outside Bremerton, Wash., in the summer of 1996. From then till his death at 90 on Oct. 15, 2005, I sat on Stan’s couch, drank his liquor and listened to his stories about growing up in Tallapoosa.
One of John and Emma Clark’s 11 children, Stan graduated from Tallapoosa High School in 1935. He was the only one of his siblings to graduate from high school.
Everyone loves Stanley. He was one of a kind. He added an “e” to his surname and gave himself a middle initial, D. When people asked what the D stood for, he said Darling. Stanley Darling.
I first came to Tallapoosa in October of 2002 and had a great visit with Clara. I had such a nice time I returned to Tallapoosa with Becky the following year. Then I brought Lauri Lebo here in 2007.
Clara passed away on Aug. 26, 2009, 12 days after her 92nd birthday. I figured we’d stop and pay our respects to the family and then move on, either east to Atlanta or west toward Birmingham. After visiting the cemetery at the Riverside Baptist Church, we drove toward Clara’s old house, which sits right on U.S. Highway 78. Down here, they call it 78 Highway. I love the way they talk here.
We slowed down as we passed the house. A man waved to us from the driveway. We drove on, made a U-Turn and returned. I nosed the Behemoth into the driveway just far enough so we wouldn’t get clipped by transfer trucks rumbling past on 78 Highway. They call them transfer trucks down here, by the way, and not tractor trailers.
As I walked hesitantly up the incline toward the porch, a lilting voice cried out: “Have you folks gotten lost in our big city?”
So we met Audrey Mae Robinson Williams, Anthony Williams’ wife and Clara’s daughter-in-law.
We parked the Behemoth on a flat spot farther up the driveway, where it stayed for most of the ensuing 11 days. Anthony and Audrey introduced us to relatives and friends and a roiling vat of southern stories.
We’d planned to leave Sunday. We planned to leave just about every day in the past week. On Sunday we met Melvin and Gladys Agan, Audrey’s sister and brother-in-law. I was in the camper when they pulled into the Williams’ driveway. Melvin marched straight toward me, knocked on the door and introduced himself.
As we walked toward the house, Melvin said he couldn’t have hand-picked better in-laws than Anthony and Audrey.
And that about sums up our last 11 days. We couldn’t have picked better people to stumble upon. We stayed nearly a fortnight and somehow failed to overstay our welcome. Every night we deconstructed the day which had just passed and looked for clues that we had become loathsome interlopers. And we kept failing to leave.
Yesterday, Audrey shared this wonderful definition of hospitality:
“Hospitality is making people feel at home even when you wish they were.”
Then she stressed this definition did not apply to us.
They have a 6-year-old grandson, William, living at home. Max and William bonded over tractor rides and TV shows. We visited with Wally and Polly, Rodrick De Luna and Tiny Arlene and spent a couple afternoons in the Alabama woods with the one and only Johnny Devere, an old friend of Anthony’s and a self-described hermit. There will be lots more on all of this when I get a chance to process our time in Tallapoosa. For now, here’s a brief video of Johnny Devere on the harmonica:

OK … This was supposed to be brief. We’re at the public library in Oxford, Ala. In the past two hours, I’ve gone from the Oxford library to the Anniston library and back again. I went to Anniston to chase the trail of Ty Cobb, who played semipro ball for the Anniston Noblemen in 1904, the year before he hooked on with the Detroit Tigers.
I visited the Alabama Room and inhaled the deep, intoxicating aroma of history. I met a genial Anniston native named David Hodnett, who is chasing a story of his own. He’s researching and writing about the vanished Alabama town Vienna (down here they say “Vye-enna”), where his people came from. His grandfather, William Battle Peebles, played baseball for George Leidy at Marion Military Institute. Leidy was Cobb’s manager with the Augusta Tourists of the South Atlantic League in 1905.
David was gracious enough to sit and let me record two short videos where he described some of his research, and we will return the favor by making a pilgrimage to the lost town of Vienna, Alabama.
The library here is a world-class discus throw from Oxford High School, home of the Yellow Jackets.
The Yellow Jackets are presently engaged in spring football practice. You can hear the shrill call of coaches’ whistles blowing up East 6th Street.
Oxford’s well-appointed brick football stadium, Lamar Field, is a brick colossus. It looks like a mini-Franklin Field. On fall Friday nights, reporters follow the action in the Lane Thweatt Jr. Pressbox. The Dr. James H. Lett Fieldhouse is located across the field.
In case you didn’t know, they take their football seriously in Alabama.
And that about sums up this brief return to the blog. I apologize for the long absence.

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