I watched the sunrise over Brewton, Alabama. I was the only vehicle on the road when the sun started to peek above the the trees.
The sunlight hit Brewton just right. It looked golden. It was quite a sight.
Sometimes I get to feeling low. Brewton makes me high. Always has. I have good thoughts here. This is where I got a second crack at life.
Right after I was married, I visited Catawba Springs Baptist church with my wife’s family. I had much younger skin then, and a supple lower back.
The preacher mentioned us from his pulpit. Folks I’d never met clapped for us. Strangers hugged my neck. Old women kissed my cheeks. Three different men invited me hunting.
If I’ve ever felt more loved, I don’t remember it.
We ate a big Sunday meal. My wife’s father roasted a Boston Butt. He made squash casserole, butter beans, and creamed corn with too much black pepper.
I love creamed corn with too much black pepper.
“Tell me about your daddy,” said my father-in-law. “Tell me all about your family.”
My family. There wasn’t much to tell. We were sad and poor. And I had no daddy—he ended his life with a hunting rifle. It wasn’t exactly uplifting dinner conversation.
Her father’s blue eyes turned pink when I finished talking.
“That does it,” he said. “I’m adopting you, right here and now. Understand me? This means WE are your kin. And THIS is your home.”
It was ridiculous. And it seemed like an idle promise.
I’d heard people say things like that before. They were only words. Lots of folks enjoy saying charitable things, even when they don’t mean them.
Not him. This man was different. And so was this town.
Years later, we visited Brewton during Hurricane Ivan. We pitched camp in a small plank house, out in the sticks.
The bad weather tore through town like a freight train. It uprooted trees, tin sheds, and sucked clapboards into outer space.
During the storm, I got so scared my hands shook. My father-in-law sat beside me. He put his arm around me and started humming:
“Hog-head cheese and butter beans,
“Me’n you in New Orleans,
“That’s what I like about the South.”
Then, he told stories. Good stories. He talked about the local man who accidentally cut off his own arm with a chainsaw. He talked about Mister Bobby Smith—who played for Bear Bryant. He told me about Mister Ra-BITT and Mister Buz-ZARD.
I’d had about all I could stand.
“Thank you,” I interrupted him to say.
“Thanks for what?” he answered.
“For letting me be part of this family.”
“Don’t you thank me ever again, hear me?” he said. “Family don’t have to thank each other.”
I’ve been a few places in my time. I’ve met a few people. But I never met anyone like Jim Martin. And I’ve never felt what I feel when I am in this place.
Maybe it’s called love. I don’t care what you call it.
I needed some of it today.