Closer to Mobile than Montgomery, wedged between woods and water, is a place nobody goes. A few homes, a church and cemetery scattered along a road leading somewhere else. Parents hope opportunity. They remember before it was paved. Now broken white and yellow lines on gray stretch up, down, around, away. Maps show a thread, Highway 59, emerging into a rope, Interstate 65. Travelers blurring through at night or without reading the church sign don’t know they’re seeing what’s left of a town. Those that do think they see a peaceful solitary country community, an actual Gone with the Wind Grandma Moses’ Hallmark card where everyday life like nostalgia takes time.
The air is clear, the water pure, longleaf pines scrape the sky. Birds tweet. Crickets chirp at night. Seasons change from green to dead without an in-between. Winters are pleasant and summers tolerable because of the Gulf Stream and air-conditioning. Tomorrow can happen whenever or yesterday years ago. The locals are friendly though they gossip about each other. But strangers passing through Canaan are usually lost. They don’t know how it is or was in a place where memories and dreams have died.
The turpentine still, which sent barrels overseas during World War II, rots in the woods burying hoops and nails found by metal detectors on Sunday afternoons. Miss Charlene’s post office and general store, the white box standing before the house on the curve, is closed. She always wore white gloves and had a Negro child nearby to handle money. The sawmill, which floated lumber to the Capitol, took Mr. Peck’s hand and cut a Negro man in half, burnt long ago leaving mountains of dust. The stores, the hotel-restaurant, the brothel on the river are gone. The town became another victim of progress that, like cancer, settled, spread, sucked.
Folks blame the railroad for skipping them or yellow fever running wild. Others claim they clear-cut the land and for several seasons the spring stood dry. Still others claim, “It was God’s Will, that’s how it’s written, nobody knows His mind.” Children packed up, running from or to something, chasing dollars. They return older, but still so-and-so’s grandson or granddaughter, to put their parents into the ground. If they settle for a while, or their children after earning a life, they live in an energy-effective brick modern with cedar trim and solar windows trying to capture what wasn’t. The two well-kept established homes, the Harper’s and the Williams’s, with Doric columns, wraparound porches, branching magnolias, overflowing gardens, are passed down family lines. Folks say the inhabitants are “Strange, but nice.” Weekend cottages and Negro’s shacks are poked in back, some still without electricity.
What’s left of the Widow Sutton’s place, decaying under sheets of rusting tin, is off the road about a half-mile north of the church. Once Bertha lived there, but after she died, over twenty years ago, the house remained empty. She never married and kept flowers on the blank grave. Some folks do that mourning love.
from In Memory Of —A 99 cents Kindle Countdown Deal until May 10, 2018