Memories larger than life

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The small block had once been part of the downtown shopping area.  It was anchored on one end by Rexrode’s Barber Shop and the other end by Joe Calhoun’s Five & Dime Store.   In between, there had been Myras Granberry’s insurance office, Grace’s Dress Shop, an early version of Pauline’s City Café along with others that I have forgotten.   

I heard the last of these buildings had been torn down a few weeks ago and visited the small town of Cottonwood, Alabama this week to see for myself.   Sure enough, it was all gone, leaving a vacant space that seemed much too small to have accommodated all these businesses of my youth.

I spent an hour or so driving around town, taking in what has changed and what remains the same.  I struggled to remember who lived in some of the houses though each of them was familiar in my mind.

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City workers were taking down an old cedar tree in the cemetery.   I learned in my earliest days of genealogical research that cedar trees were often planted when families could not afford a suitable headstone.   One of the few remaining trees shades my family’s plot; no longer a garden spot with no family in town to tend to the lot.

The IGA owned by my grandfather and run by my father in my earliest years became city hall, until the city moved to the Bank of Cottonwood building.  The IGA is now the utility office.   The dry goods store, also owned by my grandfather, became a community center.   

The two old jails, which I explored hundreds of times as a child, eventually gave way to a new, modern fire station, with its parking lot on the foundation of a peanut warehouse that was gone before I was born.

There is enough of the peanut mill site left to stir a few memories, including the building that housed the shelling plant built by my father in the late 1960’s.  It seemed so big back then, but then everything did.

The house I grew up in seems smaller with each passing year, but was plenty for the family of five that lived there until all of us kids had graduated from college.   The steady decline of my grandparents’ once fine home is always the saddest part of any visit to my old hometown.

A fairly new Subway stands where the Sinclair station, bank and theater once stood.   The theater was before my time, but I fondly remember exploring the inside with the Todd kids.  The old post office is now a Chiropractic Clinic and seemed to be one of the busiest places in town on this rainy afternoon.

The old Lewis Gin buildings had been torn down since my last visit, though I never remember the gin being operational in my childhood.   Only a small shed remains.

There were crosses along the roadways from one side of town to the other, remembering all the many residents that have served this country in various wars.   A mural recognizes 7 members of the community that received Bronze and Silver Stars during World War II.   I knew most of them well and as a child never had a clue they had been honored as heroes. 

Despite the changes, the town looks better with the old buildings gone.  There are so many depilated buildings in small towns across the country, often owned by families that have been gone from town for decades.   Owners cannot bear to tear down grandpa’s old store or the house where they grew up, letting them slowly decay for years.

Sometimes it is best to let memories live in our minds.   Tear down those things that hinder progress and make your town attractive and livable for the next generation.   Perhaps that will allow a new generation of grandchildren to one day make a trek back home to remember what life was like during their own childhood.

Forty five years after leaving Cottonwood, I still struck by the many ways it molded me.  It was a good place to grow up and left me with memories larger than life.  In many ways, it will always be home.