Sunday, October 28, 2007

Demopolis

Mom, Pop, and big sister, Sharon arrived in Alabama a few days ago. They're staying 9 miles down the road in Livingston. York has only one motel and it's rather run down but the trek between York and Livingston is common and easy. They'll be here till Nov. 2 and I'm excited to do a little exploring with them.

Demopolis is about 30 miles southeast of York. I lead workshops at Demopolis High a couple of days a week. The Drama teacher at Demo High, a great young lady named Jody White, suggested Mom, Pop, Sharon, and I explore Demopolis and the surrounding area. I thought it a good idea as I always enjoy the pleasant, scenic drive down and would love to see and know more. Jody directed us to several spots and they were all great. Knowing a few local folks is an exclusive ticket to the real, I tell ya.
(More about Jody and the school next week).

Mr. Bird has a huge plot of land off Route 43. He creates sculptures from metal junk, branches, and giant hay bales and places them along the highway in a quarter mile display. But you can walk on the grounds for a closer look. Mr. Bird is the guy who donated the big rooster to the Coleman Center. Here's Mom and Pop under the tin man. The legs are welded oil barrels and the feet are inverted bathtubs.

Yard Art is a big thing in the deep south. It's popular all over America actually but here, you don't have to travel far to encounter it. It's everywhere - every town and neighborhood has a yard artist or two. Black and white folks do it in equal measure. Mr. Bird is a Yard artist with a slightly larger than average yard but his technique is consistent with the regional mode - mostly discarded things assembled into familiar forms representing nature and the man made - whimsical, extreme, benignly grotesque.


Sharon snaps "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil".

This licking thing is just evil.

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Bluff Hall is one of the so-called Plantation Houses in and around Demopolis.

Forced Laborers aka slaves not only built the house but damn near everything inside including rugs, beds, fine furniture, nouveau cabinets, fireplaces, fancy window frames...

...and this clever item Mom's checking out called a Hat Tub. It's for bathing babies and small children without splashing water everywhere.

Many Slave Master Scumbags owned highly skilled artisans and craftsmen. They'd lend them out to other rich Pieces of Human Excrement and reap huge profits...

...rewarding the laborers with cramped, smoky, cold, rundown shacks such as this.

It's enough to make you wanna go buck wild and burn down the South in a whole new Sherman's March. But you realize these horrors aren't confined to the South. It's just that it's mostly in the South where the evidence is clear and memories are long.
And, screw it - Call me sentimental, naive, and silly - But I can't deny that being down here has been the closest damn thing to heaven I'll probably ever experience. Life and soul, dignity and real grace have sprung up from the blood.
It's an honor just to wander here for a spell.
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Jody also guided us to Ella Jackson, the local basket maker. She lives down a hidden road. One I always pass but never notice. Ella lives in an enclave of small houses with her children and extended family and a large pride of cats. Where you'd expect to be greeted by huge barking dogs you get cats. They come running up and surround your car in that quiet curious cat way. Jody said just drive on in and knock on one of the doors and that's what we did. Saw the baskets in the window of a little shed and knocked on that. A man's voice kindly boomed from another house across the way directing me to a third house, a little blue house. A small girl opened the door of the little blue house and Ella, rising from an afternoon slumber, soon emerged. I felt like an intruder but the warmth of this cool cool lady soon assuaged my discomfort.
Sharon bought two little baskets and we all just talked and talked. You can become old friends real fast down here.

We asked about the cats. Why cats and not dogs like everybody else? Turns out the surrounding woods and marshes are prone to rattlesnake infestation. She said there's Rattlers as big as my thigh. Ella gathers all her raw oak for her baskets from those woods and her children's children play there. Only the cats can keep the big snakes at bay. Snakes get out of dodge at the slightest whiff of a cat and I can imagine how a skilled cat could easily take down a snake. A snake'll easily kill a clumsy dog though. Makes you appreciate cats more.

The conversation came to quilts. Quilts are a major craft export of this region. Mom mentioned that she'd like to find one for my dad. Ella happened to have a few so she pulled them out. Mom bought one. Then Ella brought out a Quilt made by one of her slave ancestors. Just to show us. She thinks it's rare because it was made with sugar cane sacks and not the regular fabric folks used. I will tell the Folk Art Museum in Birmingham about it. Maybe they can send an expert to check it out.

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The talk soon moved into something more scary - how a certain plantation discarded unwanted and feeble slaves...

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And how was your week?

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