Delta

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If you find yourself in Delta, Alabama, don’t go looking for the river because there’s not one.  No cotton, no corn, no rich alluvial farms that stretch out so flat and far that heat shimmers upward in waves in summer, and a good shade tree and a cold drink of water might be worth a thousand bucks if you had it to spend.  No history of callused black hands picking cotton, or of poor white tenants buying their supplies on credit based on cotton futures that never seemed to quite pay-out at harvest time.  No dynasties in this Delta, be they Duck or otherwise.  You might find the blues down at the crossroads, but don’t go expecting to make any deals with the devil for your guitar licks.  I suspect that even he has limited time, and the selection is better where the souls are more concentrated.  Maybe just up the road in Anniston.

On the west side of Highway 9 you’ll find the post office and general store.  Not much on the shelves in store, and I wonder if a couple of thousand dollars might buy the entire inventory.  It does offer “Hunt Brothers Pizza!” and “Wing Bites!” — but you won’t find much of a selection of liquids to wash them down with.  The coolers aren’t full and the selection of soft drinks is limited.  You won’t find a beer because Clay County is “dry,”  one of the last counties in Alabama to carry that distinction.

Next door is the “Delta Mall,” an old-style brick and glass-front facade building that is largely empty but for a few items that look like they might pass for antiques.  A handmade sign near the door near reads “Come Buy Honey!”

I wonder where Honey lives, but there is no one to ask.

Across the highway there is “G & S Auto Sales” which has no autos to sell.  Next to that is “Morrison Feed and Meat” which I assume has got a man covered from calf to freezer.

I head west of the crossroads and find the Clay County public lake, which offers fishing for three dollars a day.  Business is good for a weekday, and a man with a heavy stringer of bream looks to be getting his money’s worth.

Headed back I notice my friend The Land Man has a nice old farm for sale.  Sturdy  country house with a big front porch.  I let my mind wander for a second and see the picture postcard potential.  A little sweat and diesel fuel would put that land back as it should be.  A porch swing and a dog or two is all the house needs.

Back at the crossroads I notice that everything here is neat as a pin.  Prosperity may have moved on down the road (if she ever lived here to begin with), but nothing looks run-down or neglected.  Mostly it looks lonesome, like some stray lyric in an old Hank Williams song.

Lonesome suited Hank in a convoluted way, and sometimes it suits me too.  I reckon we both believe that the best way to view it is in the rearview mirror as you head back out on the road.

37 thoughts on “Delta

  1. Nice report. I find it interesting that in these email times, the post office has not one but two signs thanking anyone who comes in the door. They didn’t used to thank you for using their services because there were no options. Now there are too many, from the PO’s point of view.

    And next door diesel fuel and boiled peanuts are interestingly hawked in the same breath.

    The house behind the PO looks pretty nice. I could live there. And being a dry county wouldn’t be a problem for me anymore.

    1. Yes, most of the little post offices have closed in places like this. I was a little surprised that this one is still kicking.

      That little store would probably be closed if it wasn’t for the people headed to the lake.

      Interesting that the county is still dry. You can find moonshine there, if you are inclined to look. Not stump liquor either, but the kind that will stand up against anything bonded in Kentucky or Tennessee. Just a little too young to be called bourbon.

  2. I think that you might need to pay a little closer attention to Delta, Alabama. You have provided a fairly accurate description of the physical aspects of a little crossroad in a little community. It seems that you somehow missed the community itself. I moved to Delta in 1998 after having lived all of my adult life in greater metro Atlanta. I moved to a map dot which has afforded me more friends than I’ve ever had before. The peace and tranquility that I have here is as palpable as a warm embrace. I have heard guitar licks in Delta that I would stack up against any that I’ve heard anywhere. If I need hustle and bustle, I don’t have to go very far to find it; but hustle and bustle are things that I can mostly do without. I’ve not been lonesome a single day since I’ve lived here….and, incidently, there is a river in my backyard.

    1. I found Delta to be charming, like a thousand other rural communities I’ve visited.

      It’s unfortunate that I don’t get much of a chance to meet people when I go to these places, because after all, people are what really make a place what it is. Having to make a living makes my writing incomplete sometimes.

      1. Let me know, Felipe, and I’ll hook you up with The Land Man for a deal on that farm I mentioned. You’d look like a fine southern gentleman sitting on that front porch.

    2. Amen to that sister! I think that review was a little nasty about my home town! I like what you had to say much better!! Growing up there was good, wouldn’t have wanted to grow up anywhere else!!

  3. This is my home town and there isn’t anything about it that doesn’t bring back a memory, between the delta store and the delta mall is where me and my best friend walked with her son to make her go into labor with her second son. Down the road is her old house where we used to party hard every Friday and Saturday night. This may be a one horse town but we tear it up like the wild children we are.

  4. I lived in Delta for along time. The people that own the house behind it are the sims. I use to work for the old man that owned it when I was 13( btw he owned the store then too). He was 85 yrs old then. After I cut his grass we would go and check all his gates to ensure they were all still locked. This was just a chance for him to get behind his seat and get him a sip of whiskey. There are definately some good memories in delta. From the store, post office, county lakes to lake gerald that is down the road.

    1. Thanks for reading and for adding to the story of Delta. It reminds me of another little Clay County community, Hollins, where my people are from.

      I think I would have liked Mr. Sims.

  5. Wrong on most accounts. There was cotton here for years, hence the terraces in all the land. It’s not some hole stuck in time, and there is plenty of money here, just not for the stranger to know about. We like it like it is, and our little store is no Walmart but it supplies what we need! If you looked when you came into the county you saw we are the volunteer county, that’s because we have so many serving in the armed forces! Our state senator was born right downtown delta, and still calls here home! We welcome those who come to visit with open doors, but we resist those who want to change us! Don’t judge the book by the cover!

    1. Bennie, if I offended you, you read me wrong.

      I am a lover of Clay County. I grew up near Hollins, where my ancestors settled many years ago during the Kaul Lumber Company days. I’m told the Clifton’s farmed and owned the store, and that they sold the first ice cream in that neck of the woods. I also know that lots of folks in Ashland and Lineville don’t consider that side of Rebecca Mountain to really be Clay County.

      I’ve traveled all over Alabama in twenty-five years of forestry and land business. I’ve never found anyplace in the state as pretty or as friendly. I know most of the county commissioners, and I certainly know Senator Dial.

      I’d be completely at home living in Delta. But unfortunately I’d be single if I made that choice. I married a pretty Redhead about 32 years ago. She’s given me two fine sons. She’s enough of a “city girl” that she’d have a hard time giving up Auburn/Opelika, so I have to be content with just visiting.

      1. Your supercilious tone offended me too, Ray. My family’s been in the Delta area for a couple hundred years. That store with the honey? It’s belonged to the Dials since the late 1800’s, so I’m a bit sentimental about it.
        There is a Delta you didn’t discern during your visit, a close-knit, loyal, dedicated group of people living smack-dab in the middle of some of Alabama’s most breathtaking scenery. Bless your heart–you just didn’t know where to look.
        Beth Dial Duke

  6. Well, thanks for reading it anyway, Beth. My apologies for appearing to be supercilious. That was not my intent.

    I have a heart for rural Alabama and the folks who are “making a stand” there. So many of these little country communities are great places to live, but misguided economic policies have made it almost impossible for young people to stay and make a living. I see rural Alabamians being neglected and forgotten, and it makes me sad. Maybe that didn’t come out in my “tone,” which tends more toward dry and sarcastic than supercilious in most cases.

    I hope you’ll come back and visit again (and maybe read some other posts), as I hope to visit Delta again.

      1. Well, it’s nice to actually have readers and comments for a change, good or bad.

        You, on the other hand, get this EVERY time you write.

        I could get used to it.

  7. Hum, Ray, looks like you’re going to have to add a disclaimer on your blog, i.e., that it is meant as “creative non-fiction,” a blurring of fact and fiction to create a story of interest to an impartial reader. Otherwise, folks might think you’re being 100% serious 🙂

  8. For the record, I am neither “country folk” nor “riled up.” I’m a writer. I’ve lived the vast majority of my life in a large city . . . and sarcasm is my first language. Congratulations on the attention this post has generated, Ray–that’s what it’s all about!

    1. Beth: If you’re gonna be sarcastic, a questionable trait I often rassle with myself, it’s advisable to be more obvious. Sarcasm can’t be excessively subtle. It must stand out. That’s what I think.

    1. Most of my post are, Mike. They are more about conveying an impression or using an idea as a metaphor for something else. They aren’t meant to be journalism. You are probably one of the very few who picked-up on that.

      Thanks for reading, and come back by again some time.

  9. Well, Ray, I think maybe you misunderstood my comment. Delta is an obscure place. It seems odd that of all the communities on the globe you chose Delta to be the focus of your unsolicited comments. I work with impressions, too, and you’re welcome to view mine at http://www.shutterlizard.blogspot.com. But no matter where I visit, I never find it necessary to make comments that will undoubtedly be offensive to the people who live there.

    1. I think have misunderstood the piece.

      All of the writing that appears on this site is “unsolicited.” I write for my own personal pleasure. Although I have been published in magazines, newspapers, and other print media, I have never been paid one thin dime for anything I’ve ever written.

      I wrote “Delta” as I stopped by there in the course of my paying job. I was there was intrigued with the name, and the obvious comparison to the Mississippi delta region — which I thought most people who had been to that region would pick up on.

      I write about “obscure” places because these are the kinds of places that I travel. I’ve written about others in the past. You can find these in the archives here if you care to look.

      “Delta” wasn’t meant to be offensive. It was my snap impression of a brief visit. Not journalism. No interviews. No research. No searching for a story. Kind of like a snapshot, which you are familiar with.

      I had no idea that the post would garnish any notice beyond my usual readers, who number less than 50, and none of which live there. This is not “The Birmingham News” or “Southern Living.” It is an obscure little blog among thousands of obscure little blogs.

      1. I just went back and read the post a third time. Nothing offensive about it at all. It is what you say it is.

        Kinda funny the reactions. They reflect modern American life. Get offended about pretty much anything. You even said the dinky little town is “neat as a pin.”

      2. Ray, I reread your piece – which would have been a good idea for something to do before I reacted. It is just what it is meant to be: an impression, a snapshot. And the bit about Hank Williams at the end – absolutely poetic. Again, thanks for stopping by.

  10. I agree with Mike–you portrayed your impression very well. I don’t believe you intended to hurt anyone’s feelings, either. But…that little store with the limited inventory is run by a dear friend, who provides an invaluable service to local residents by offering staples in a convenient location. The 135-year-old building belongs to me, and my tenant sells excellent honey along with refurbished furniture (which is never represented as “antique”). I also think you may have mistaken modesty and a lack of pretension for the appearance of long-gone prosperity.
    It’s a fine place to live, Ray, and if you’re back this way we’ll show you the prettiest parts. And I promise not to blog about the section of Opelika I got lost in years ago.

  11. Felipe gets comments because he goes looking for trouble and throws out lots of bait. Sometimes I bite, but mostly I don’t.

    1. Actually, what I “throw out” is simply common sense and straight-thinking. But since that usually is contrary to left-wing Gospel these days and since left-wing people are incensed so incredibly easily, it does bait them. They are unaccustomed to hearing contrary opinion because they have effectively shouted it down in America. I ignore that. It is fun on occasion.

  12. Felipe said something that has been scratching around in my brain…about life in modern America where people get offended by pretty much anything. I think that is well-said, a good observation.

  13. I am from Coosa County, Ray. I believe we are still ranked below Clay County in population, income, and most everything else. If you want to come to see us down in Coosa, we would be most happy to have you write something so beautiful, poetic, and observant about our appearance to a traveler moseying down Hwy 9. Come on by my daddy’s shop that has been closed since the 80s or my great-granddaddy’s store that used to be the voting place until we started storing a few bales of cotton there, but even that stopped over 50 years ago. You capture the rural parts of Alabama much like Fannie Flagg does in Fried Green Tomatoes or Rheta Grimsley Johnson does in her syndicated newspaper column. Your description of Delta makes me want to grab a fishing pole and head off down to those lakes, making sure to stop and buy some of that local honey on the way back home ;). But those folks up in Clay sound kinda uppity if they are too good for a Hank Williams song comparison. They would probably turn their nose up at my Alabama County 22 license plate.

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