Today's newspaper had an article in the travel section about Monroeville, AL. My mother's hometown claims to be the "Literary Capitol" of Alabama, which is what any article about Monroeville would be quick to point out. But to those with roots in L.A. (lower Alabama) there are always expeditions to places off the beaten path. I beat my path down I-65 south to exit 93, turning right onto US 84. 15 miles closer to Monroeville, you pass a sign declaring you are in Repton, AL. The first right hand turn past your welcome to town is Burnt Corn Road. How could anyone not want to drive on a road named "Burnt Corn"? Actually, traveling on this road takes you to Burnt Corn, AL. But that would be someone elses story, because I'm talking about Repton.
Repton may not be the bustling metropolis that Monroeville is, but it is just as firmly woven into my heritage (and my heart), as any place in the universe. Not far up Burnt Corn Rd, on the right hand side of the road is the William Carter Hospital. My mother gave birth to her first child in that hospital. Not even Monroeville, the soon to be literary capitol of Alabama, had such modern conveniences as hospitals in the mid 1940's. A little further up the road on the left hand side is Alabama Rut and Strut. I'm certain that taxidermy has its place of importance, but for me the Rut and Strut is a landmark. Directly across from the "Strut" is the front gate to Daddy Bill's farm. My mother's younger brother, William Lee Hendrix, is and has been my favorite uncle for as long as I can remember. My first cousins, Babs and Jacque, have called their father "Daddy Bill", also, for as long as I can remember.
Last year, and again this year, we have held our family reunion on DB's farm land. Turning off Burnt Corn Rd, through the gates, you have little choice but to follow the path made by the tractor as it heads toward the fields were Pensacola Fescue is grown for livestock feed. Passing through what was once a marvelous pecan orchard (severely damaged by hurricane Ivan), you enter the first large field. At the far end you turn to the left and head slowly (I don't drive a Jeep) down toward the pond. The pond could well be the center of the universe, a nexus of Louisiana Iris and Pear tree. A place where worry and stress float away, for they have nothing to hold on to. There could be no better place for a family gathering, and cousin Babs and her husband Jeff have added to natures perfection. An outhouse complete with hand wash station, and a fire pit so fine I think it should be patented. An adjacent field provides room for dueling clay launchers, where the men folk can embarrass themselves with their lack of marksmanship. This allows us to work up a healthy appetite, so we burn animal flesh over the fire pit and talk about how next time those clays won't be nearly so lucky. For those with an aversion to shot guns, there is always the pond itself. One can fish it, and probably be just as challenged as shooting skeet, or one can walk all around it, which will provide a more sublime satisfaction.
I wish I could understand exactly why I feel such a strong connection with this place. Why do I want to repair that pecan orchard? There is no doubt it is to some degree the peace I feel while I'm there, but it's more than that. Some people want to belong to something larger and more important than they are individually. The fields are large, but they are only important to a handful of people. It's said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe it's the beauty my eye perceives, a simple elegance that only nature can provide. The way the fescue waves in the wind, and the divine color scheme on a perfect Saturday in Autumn. But it's something more, beyond the beauty and the yearning to belong, a secret element to this equation which defies definition.
I am a believer, and I will make my pilgrimage to the temple that is DB's farm land. I will worship at this temple, with the other believers, my cousins and their husbands and other family members that may be in attendance. I seek enlightenment at this temple, because it is here that my perception of God is clearest.