Birmingham, Alabama—the mighty Vulcan statue stands over the city. He is in good shape for a man his age, but he’s looking tired.
He’s been on the job for a long time. I am beneath the statue with my wife.
There is a group of high-schoolers visiting the statue. They are loud, and animated. They laugh every few seconds.
Old “Vulky” resides on a 124-foot pedestal, he is the 56-foot tall god of fire, the largest iron ore statue in the nation. He holds a spear outward in his powerful grasp, and he isn’t wearing any pants.
The moon rises above him tonight and illuminates all 4 of his cheeks.
He was designed for the 1904 World’s Fair, and I can only imagine what spectators must’ve thought when they first marveled at this artistic achievement of the industrial age.
I point upward and marvel aloud to my wife, “That guy has a butt of iron.”
The high-schoolers ask me to take their picture. I am handed three cellphones. The kids remind me with hand gestures how to hold a camera and actuate a flash.
They pose with arms around draped over each other, and they are grinning.
I point the camera and holler: “Say VULCAN BUTT!”
“VULCAN BUTT!” they shout, laughing.
Before the flash goes off, a boy kisses a girl who is beneath his arm. He kisses her forehead. He is young. She is young. Their noses are red from the cold, and they are bundled in jackets. Young love is beautiful.
And I am thinking about a time I had my young heart broken at this very statue, long ago. The female offender isn’t what this story is about. But you never forget heartbreak. It leaves a scar you can always touch.
I remember Young Me. The kid with red hair, who was no prize catch. He drove an ugly vehicle that had been retrofitted with a bumper made from a two-by-four and baling wire.
The young man worked dead end jobs. His dog, Lady, got dog hair all over his clothes. Girls don’t like ugly vehicles, baling wire, or dog hair.
“Aren’t those high-schoolers cute?” says my wife.
I hold my wife’s hand. We don’t say anything because we don’t have to. We’ve been married awhile, and this is one of the perks.
Besides, I’m thinking. I’m thinking about how we honeymooned in a beat-up vehicle, and she didn’t seem to care about the torn upholstery. Or the dog hair.
I’m thinking about the surprise birthday party I threw for her after one year of marriage. I cooked a batch of chili for ninety people at the soiree. My mother-in-law ate one bowl and announced, “This chili tastes like dirty underpants.”
And our relationship grew from there.
I’m remembering how many times my wife and I have visited monuments, or landmarks. And how many times I have handed my camera to complete strangers and said, “Will you take our picture?”
I’m remembering our arguments. Our triumphs. Our dreams that never came true. And how beautiful it is for two people to struggle against a sea of fools and, and if they’re lucky, live long enough to see their loved one’s hair turn white.
And of course, I am recalling that heartbroken redhead who once stood on these steps, beneath this statue. A young man who wondered if he mattered to anyone. He stared at Birmingham’s lights and thought he’d never recover.
But he did recover. One day, she crawled into his life and made him feel like he was important.
That’s what I’m thinking.
An old man wanders near us. He’s looking upward at the statue. I remove my camera and hand it to him. “Would you mind taking our picture, sir?” I ask.
“Sure,” he says.
Before the flash goes off I kiss her forehead.
I recall the day we sat in a UAB Hospital waiting room. I remember how we hugged each other because we were scared. And how I held her wedding ring in my hand when they wheeled her back. I’ll never forget how I cried when the doctor smiled and told us it was “benign.”
Life is short, another Thanksgiving is a few days away. I am grateful for my life, for home, and the beautiful woman who doesn’t mind dog hair on her clothes.
“Say ‘cheese,’” says the man with the camera.
My wife and I smile big and shout, “VULCAN BUTT!”
Jim Keith - November 19, 2018 7:17 am
When I was growing up in B’ham, much time was spent racing to the top of Vulcan. That was long before the elevator existed. I was wondering if there was still access to the cave(s) that were somewhere around behind the old man.
Karen Erwin-Brown - November 19, 2018 9:11 am
VB back at you. Sweet.
Terri C Boykin - November 19, 2018 12:43 pm
Love you much Sean.
I’m grateful for you and your gift of storytelling this year. I just can’t tell you how much it means to me to read these good, heartwarming stories each morning. God bless you, your bride and your beautiful pups.
Karen - November 19, 2018 1:24 pm
S Robinson - November 19, 2018 1:31 pm
Precious! Thank you!
Rhonda - November 19, 2018 1:55 pm
I will be adding Jamie to my list of things I am grateful for. All hearts need a Jamie but not all get one. I an so glad you did. She is in good hands. Happy Turkey Day to my favorite people that I don’t know.
Don Helton - November 19, 2018 3:09 pm
And I’m thinking, the best view of B’ham is from the top of the Vulcan because you can’t see the Vulcan from there.
Carol - November 19, 2018 3:30 pm
Happy Thanksgiving “”YOU CRAZY KIDS””
Shelton Armour - November 19, 2018 3:44 pm
Happy Thanksgiving and if I ever see that statue…my thoughts will be centered on something other than the magnificence of the statue. Thanks….
Jack Darnell - November 19, 2018 3:49 pm
Nothing sensational happened when I first saw the Vulcan. Musta been ’48-51 I can’t remember but we were traveling. Dad said, “You gotta see this son. This is the biggest statue in the world.” Well daddy didn’t know the rules of size and iron and stuff. His background was farming and preaching. BUT THIS BOY WAS IMPRESSED! And I have never forgotten it. No girl kissed me on the forehead, dadgummit! Nor anywhere else for that matter!
Jack Quanstrum - November 19, 2018 4:42 pm
Enjoyable story! Loved reading.
firstname.lastname@example.org - November 19, 2018 5:07 pm
Minnie Tate Bourque - November 19, 2018 5:50 pm
Love it, Sean!! Young love forever!!
William Hubbard - November 19, 2018 6:29 pm
I wish I knew how to send this to everyone I have ever known just to say “thank you” for appearing in my life. I am not “red-headed”, but b my 81 years have similarly swam upstream with dig hair on my clothes and worn out upholstery. And it’s been GRAND JOURNEY!!!
Edna B. - November 19, 2018 7:05 pm
Seems that awkward young man grew up into quite an exceptional adult. I’m so thankful for all your wonderful stories. God Bless You and Jamie and your doggies. Hugs, Edna B.
Sharron Paris - November 19, 2018 10:47 pm
We wanted to see the grown up, young red headed boy, but alas I found out too late about the show at the Imogene for the bbbsnwf.org… Maybe next time but until then I look forward to receiving your emails. Keep ’em coming!
Mike Mc - November 19, 2018 11:51 pm
Dear Sean & Jamie, 43 years ago I asked Karon to marry me. We were standing at the top of Vulcan overlooking the city lights. She accepted, we married and raised a family. We now stroll the grounds and trails around The Vulcan with our grown kids and grandkids. There are 12 of us now. I tell them stories about my grandfather, a stone mason who helped lay the stones around the Vulcan park.
Sean, thank you for sharing more stories about The Vulcan.
Judy - November 20, 2018 1:30 pm
You are a thankful person….a thankful person is beautiful. You are a beautiful, thankful person. Happy Thanksgiving.
Heath Smith - November 29, 2018 3:43 am
I have been driving a truck over the road for 20 years now! I used to load steel out of Birmingham back in 99 and early 2000’s. Can’t remember exactly when but it was in the early 2000’s the Vulcan was removed for a long time and given a makeover. I thought it had been removed permanently but later learned it was redone.