Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Bunkhouse

There was something soothing about the sound of rain falling hard on the old tin roof of The Bunkhouse. A young boy sat in the deep arm chair beside the abiding embers of the hearth, listening to the drumming overhead for hours during a Fall Saturday of his youth in Canoe, Alabama.

The Bunkhouse had a original rustic look before rustic was "in." This family shrine was a painted, deep red, one-story, oak wood cabin. The handle on the white screen door was a slender, faded red, bent tin Coke sign. As you opened the screen door, and took a step into the musty air of the old hunting cabin, scanning the room from left to right you would discover a brass post twin bed, tin signs that were "borrowed" from the old gas station across the railroad tracks and newspaper clippings from the local Atmore Advance decorated the otherwise raw wood walls. Moving just to the right of the bed was an old style, rather large radio-record player and a gray cloth couch with a wooden gun rack hung above it. The open door to the kitchen marked the middle of the cabin. To the right of the kitchen door was a massive bookcase full of old leather bound books, and a dark green, checkered pattern deep-arm chair. The cloth chair sported a wavy black-haired, five year old boy, sittin' beside the dark brick fireplace on the far right of the room.

The boy wouldn't be bothered by your entry into his experience, because if you were setting foot in The Bunkhouse, you were family and he already knew you. You may have been one of the twenty some odd relatives that lived in the tiny south Alabama town, or one of the fifteen aunts, uncles, or cousins that were visiting for Thanksgiving.

Upon entry you already knew who was winning the Auburn-Alabama game, not because of the loud shouts and cheers coming from familiar voices in the lower room of the cabin where the television was, but because there was a little black-haired boy sittin' in the chair, conspicuously not watching the game, and his Granddaddy was in the kitchen making himself busy. Alabama was up by more than a touchdown.

Turning on your heels to go down to the lower room located on the other side of the fireplace, you would go through the door and take two steps down where the Tide fans were jubilantly watching the Iron Bowl. A strong waft of coffee, Jack Daniels, cigars, and turkey sandwiches assailed your nostrils as you looked for a place to sit amongst the rest of your Hall family brethren.

The lower room had several chairs and couches in an "L" shape along the front window and right-hand wall, which made for the best angle to view the black and white Magnivox that rested on the far left of the wooden bar. Many a bottle of Wild Turkey, George Dickel, and Jack Daniels lay in the cabinets under the old bar. Even if these bottles were never opened, they served as a kind of insurance policy that the Hall men would not be disturbed by their wives while they were reveling in The Bunkhouse.

Every one of the Hall women were teetotalers, and refused to set foot in an establishment where whiskey was being served. In an age before cell phones, in a house without a phone line, the most the women would do to bother the men would be to stand outside and shout something from twenty feet away, which could easily be ignored or "misunderstood." It was a man's paradise.

This particular rainy November afternoon in the 1980's affected the little black-haired boy more than just about any other. Even though his Auburn Tigers were losing, and he was sitting by himself, looking up at the cotton American and Confederate flags that were nailed side by side on the ceiling of the main room, he always remembered that this is what family is like. What it sounds like. What is smells like. What it feels like.

The boy took his Auburn allegiance with him even after his Granddaddy died four years later. He stopped by the cigar shop on his eighteenth birthday as a right of passage. He took the sound and smell of the fire with him to Searcy, Arkansas where he discovered that family is not just the blood that flows in your veins, but it is a common, kindred spirit he shared with his new brothers and sisters as he sat with around the fire most nights his last two years of college.

It is an idea of family that he now shares everyday, sitting on the den floor with his wife and one year old daughter wherever they may be. That chilly, rainy, fall, Alabama afternoon twenty-two years ago has stayed with him every day since, and has helped make the boy the man he is today.

These are his stories, his musings, and his dreams. He hopes you'll share yours too.

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