Goshen, Alabama—I am on a dirt road. Above me is a canopy of shade oaks, stretching to Beulah Land. I am surrounded by thousands of acres of farmland.
With me is Darren.
Darren is mayor of Goshen. He is young, but he has gray in his sideburns. He is a paramedic, a captain for Troy Fire Department, a volunteer firefighter for Pike County, and he cuts grass for a living.
“This is a tiny town,” says Darren. “You gotta do lotta jobs to make ends meet.”
Town Hall sits off the highway. It’s a brick building—small as a Waffle House. The place doubles as a senior center and cafeteria.
On weekdays, the kitchen serves complimentary country fare: fried chicken, okra, collards, and potato salad.
“Lotta our residents are old,” says Darren. “It’s important for us to take care of our own.”
I meet one such elder. Mister Jimmy—a man with hair like snow and a voice like ribbon cane syrup. He shows me black-and-white photos from Goshen’s glory days. He tells stories.
“Did Darren tell you about Goshen’s claim to fame?”
No sir, not yet.
They show me a ledger book with yellowed pages and loose binding. It contains jail records, dating to the nineteen-hundreds. If anyone ever spent a night in Goshen’s one-room drunk tank, it’s written here.
Darren points to a page. The cursive handwriting reads: “Hank Williams, 1943.”
“Public drunkenness,” remarks Mister Jimmy. “Hank used’a travel with a medicine show, playing music. He was known to have a wild time.”
When Mister Jimmy was freckled and barefoot, he saw Hank several times. The string band would play atop a flatbed trailer. The whole town would turn out.
“Goshen’s always been close-knit,” says Mister Jimmy. “Used’a have street parties. We’d rope off roads, have covered-dish deals, country dances.”
Country dances. Potlucks. Traditions which have faded in parts of the Southeast.
But not here.
Darren takes me for a ride in his truck. His vehicle’s tires are for running across muddy land. Camouflage gear sits on his dashboard, a rifle beneath the backseat.
We tour the sleepy community. I see old cotton gins, peanut processing plants, chicken houses, soybeans, cattle, live oaks suffocated in Spanish moss.
Darren talks about his people. He tells me about the girl who had brain cancer. People in town pooled money for the child to visit Disney World.
He talks about a local farmer, Curtiss—who lost his leg at eighteen. Today, Curtiss is a full-time paramedic and fireman. Exceptional isn’t the word.
Darren talks about growing up, running through creeks, pastures. And about his late daddy.
While he talks, the sun is low. Football practice is almost underway in Eagle Stadium. Adolescent boys walk the bumpy highways, helmets in hand, shoulder-pads on.
We pass a hamlet of double-wides in the woods. Mothers sit on front porches. The marching band rehearses on the school lawn. Kids play in front yards.
“This is home,” says Darren. “We love each other. But don’t get me wrong, now. I know Goshen ain’t perfect.”
The good mayor and I will have to agree to disagree.