Rambling in old haunts

Published 3:53 pm Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It was almost 40 years ago that I broke in the back door of the old hospital. After all, the door didn’t have a lock and the hospital no longer operated. Besides, it was almost a rite of passage for teenage boys to visit the old Moody Hospital in Dothan.

You couldn’t really be cool until you could honestly say you had been in the hospital. The three-story building operated by Dr. Earle Moody and his staff had been closed for many years by then.

I knew the room I was born in, so we snuck up the steps and down the hall. It was an eerie feeling going down those halls with the equipment and files just there like the world had stopped still.

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You always wanted to find your birth records. To be honest, I don’t really recall if I did or not. You always said you did, but you could get in big trouble by being in Moody Hospital, so even the bravest were ready to get out pretty quick.

For almost 20 years, my office stood near the deteriorating buildings of the old Seminole Hospital in Donalsonville. Although the facility was open when I moved here, it had met a fate similar to the old Moody Hospital and seemed to have been closed with much of its equipment intact.

Many times I would glance in the windows while walking to the Post Office. Slowly the window panes were broken and the curtains became threadbare. You could see an old adding machine in one of the windows; never once disturbed in all the years I walked by.

Gradually part of the roof and ceiling started collapsing. Amazingly a toilet of all things came into clear view. Periodic jokes would make the rounds in the paper talking about how someone was going to be killed one day walking by the exposed commode. Indeed, it did slowly shift over time, so slow that you really didn’t notice it until the toilet was literally hanging out over the alley.

Occasionally I would cut through that alley noticing other broken windows, and even some double doors that someone had broken into at some point. I would walk by and think of those childhood dares to go into Moody Hospital, but I never went into the old Seminole Hospital. No matter how many times I thought about it, I never got up the guts to slip in when no one was watching.

Until last Sunday. They had already removed the asbestos, the door was open, and even the yellow tape admonishing you to stay out had been removed. It seemed like a last invitation to come in before the building was reduced to a memory.

I walked in and could immediately see through the floor above and in some parts clear through the ceiling to the sky. I moved carefully and quietly around the clutter until I came to the first hall. The green walls looked much as they must have so many years ago. Narrow halls, with small rooms. A far cry from the private rooms with flat-screen TVs and private baths that are common at the current hospital.

You could almost feel the stories with these walls. The babies born and lives ended. Doctors mending broken bones, giving bad news and dispensing hope. I opened up a folder laying on the floor and read the diagnosis of lung cancer for a patient I knew had later died from the disease. That seemed much too private even though every thing was being hauled to the public dump. I put it back and didn’t pick up another thing to read.

For 30 minutes I wandered the halls of the crumbling building. Part of me was like the boy of 40 years ago doing it almost as a dare, but most of me was more of a citizen of our community saying goodbye to all the good things that happened here.

By Friday, the building had been reduced to just the front faade. If you peered through the front windows you would have seen nothing. It was like a movie set where the building fronts made it seem like the town was alive, but in fact there was nothing there.

Tomorrow it will be gone and with it a piece of Donalsonville’s history. However, not all old buildings are worth keeping. The long awaited demolition of Seminole Hospital has removed the biggest eyesore in the downtown area. There are others, but this was the biggest of them all.

In the place of the floating toilet, there is now open space, offering a view of the back side of some of the buildings on Main Street that haven’t been seen in three generations. It’s a good start and hopefully will spur other redevelopment projects in the area.

Thanks to the mayor, city council and all others involved in finally removing this blot on our fair city.

Poking around on Facebook

I am not the most computer illiterate grandfather around, but I have stubbornly refused to join Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and all the other social networking formats that are the rage of the Internet. After all, I have mastered e-mail, even if I can’t seem to significantly reduce the 11,000 e-mails residing on my computer today.

Friday I plunged in to the Facebook world because a couple of people had really been bugging me to do it. How fun is this?

With 48 hours I had connected to the exchange student from Kosovo that lived with our family in 2000. I connected with a former colleague who has gone back to law school at the age of 50 and is the managing editor of the Emory Law Review.

I discovered my wife had a page on there, along with my children. When I put in my profile that I was married to Mary Lou, the page said it had to ask her to confirm we were married. What a hoot! After 31 years, I have to confirm we are married to show it to total strangers. What if she said no?

I discovered my old college girlfriend. We are both in our 32nd year of marriage. I discovered many of you reading this column. It is amazing how many Seminole and Decatur County residents are poking around on Facebook at midnight on a Saturday night.

State offerings

Today I am writing from Lake Blackshear Resort near Cordele where our company has taken some 55 of employees and invited guests to a GM Rally. We have done these events from New Orleans and Atlanta to Savannah and Orlando. Surprisingly, the top rated venue by our people was one of our own state parks.

The folks there did a wonderful job accommodating our needs last year, so we’re back. We brought a lot of people from around the country in for both meetings. It is great to hear them talk about the natural beauty of this area.

If you have never been, check it out. The National POW museum in Andersonville and Jimmy Carter’s Boyhood Home in Plains offer some nice side visits along with way.