Thursday, August 9, 2012


The drive to Furman, Alabama, always fills me with melancholy. My father was born there and we returned there with him frequently. With the death of our parents came the division of their property. We drove to Furman to discuss the management of the property I inherited. 

Palmer Barlow Bristow House
My parents have joined the host of other descendants of my 3rd Great Grandfather and Grandmother, Stephen and Juliet Hartwell Palmer in Palmer Cemetery. They married in Virginia in 1820 and in 1829 they buried their daughter, Juliet, in the garden that became the family cemetery. They had left all they had known to move to the rich lands newly taken from the Creek Indians that those returning from the Creek War and the War of 1812 reported seeing.

I ride past what we called "The Big House" and recall sitting on that front porch on the bentwood settee drinking ice-filled Coca Colas after a feast in the damask curtained dining room around the mahogany table set with my grandmother's gold rimmed Limoges china and etched crystal glasses. It was only years later that I realized the house was the dream of the young doctor, my grandfather, who had raised his family in the modest house across the county road. They live again in my memory as I imagine Nanny and Papa laughing and talking, so proud of the son that soon would get his family back into the car to head back down the road past the Palmer Cemetery to Pine Apple and then to Greenville and back home to Dothan, Alabama.

Dr. Elkanah George Burson, Sr.
We pass the cross roads and into the ghost town that was once a bustling town with six doctors. I remember my grandfather standing in his office with the rows of medicine behind him that he had to mix up for his patients. The forester with whom we spoke said his father used to laugh about watching Dr. Burson pour Kool Aid into his bottles of medicine. "A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down," I said, also laughing and imagining. 

The images of people on the wooden sidewalk  and the old men sitting on the white wooden bench in front of his office, my trip across the street with coins in my hand for the candy I would buy in the general store across the street, my father reminiscing about sitting in a tent watching  pictures move upon the wall of the general store while someone played a piano to accompany the pictures flash through my mind. None of those buildings remain. Nature has reclaimed the land.

Now it is my turn to be the one making memories for the grandchild sitting in the backseat of our car. I look at that precious little girl and wonder what she will remember of what I tell her. I try to draw those images for her with words that are inadequate for the love that I knew in my grandmother's embrace, the pride I felt for the grandfather in that office, the security I knew with my small hand grasped by my tall, handsome father as he led me across the street to that general store telling me about the movie he had seen, the utter contentment I knew held in my mother's arms as we took that ride back home.

She'll remember this forever, the forester said looking back at her as she rode in the bed of the utility vehicle with a big smile on her face as we maneuvered the rugged roads to assess the land and timber. I realize this trip is about more than land and trees, it has become a pilgrimage to the past for the passing of memories to the ones who will come when we are gone.

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