It’s a foggy morning. The highways are empty. Our dog sleeps in the backseat.
The drive to Brewton is a nice one. We ride through a piece of Crestview, then Milligan. Highway 85 hits Highway 4; now you’re in the area some folks call “Heaven.”
You’ve got Baker. Think: Mayberry, only with The Gator Cafe—which should be a national landmark.
You have the cotton fields and backwoods of Munson, Berrydale, Fidelis, Dixonville—your cellphone is worthless here.
Suddenly, you’re in Alabama.
There’s Riverview—there aren’t two hundred folks in Riverview. My tool shed is bigger than the courthouse.
And East Brewton—faded single-story homes in need of paint jobs, with folks on front porches.
A bridge runs you over Murder Creek toward train tracks that cut through Brewton. Two caution arms lower. A whistle. Red lights. Bells ringing. Here comes the engine.
Say goodbye to the next ten minutes of your life.
We wait in traffic at the intersection of 31 and 41. The clacking boxcars hypnotize me. I love it. No matter how old I get, when I see a train I’m twelve.
As a boy, my father and I were smitten with trains. We’d count boxcars when they rolled by. Once, in Tennessee, we counted 129 on one engine. That was our record.
The arms raise.
And we’re in my wife’s hometown. The remains of the old theater stand in the distance. It’s not a theater anymore, of course, it’s only a neon sign. I’ve heard stories about this theater.
“When we’s young,” said my mother-in-law. “If a boy was worth his salt, he’d take you to that theater and pay for your popcorn.”
“When we’s young,” responded my father-in-law. “I wasn’t worth my salt.”
We ride a winding road toward Union Cemetery. There must be five billion stories in the ground here.
We’re here to see my wife’s father.
We’re the only visitors today. My wife steps out of the truck. She’s carrying flower arrangements made from pinery in our backyard.
Christmas is in four days. Neither of us have fathers. We’re adults most of the year, but at Christmastime we’re very tall children.
You never get over the death of the man who made you. Neither do you forget a fella who told Mister Buz-ZARD jokes, swallowed his tongue for laughs, taught you to tie fisherman’s knots, how to shoot a .22, or count train cars.
My wife is graveside. I’m watching at a distance. Her lips are moving. She’s talking.
I think about my own father. I haven’t visited his grave in twenty-some-odd years. It’s not that I don’t want to, I do. It just takes a lot out of me. One day. Maybe soon.
After ten minutes, my wife bends low. She kisses her palm and touches the gravestone. She wipes her eyes and stands.
“Daddy says ‘hey,’” she says.
I don’t cry for Daddy anymore. You reach a point where you cry mostly on the inside. And it’s crying that almost feels good.
Still, no matter how old I get, when visiting cemeteries, I’m twelve again, and my father is the perpetual young man who died in his prime.
We climb in the truck. We ride back home. This is a magnificent town. And a magnificent drive.
I counted 81 boxcars.