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A sad trip down memory lane

Following an Auburn football game a couple of weeks ago, Mary Lou and I took a route home that we had never traveled.  From Auburn, we traveled down through Hurtsboro, Midway, Clayton, Clio, Louisville, Clopton, Abbeville and Columbia.
It was a peaceful drive down a very rural part of my home state.  It was also a sad reminder of a way of life that has slipped away.  Most of the trip was like stepping back in time.
Town after town had boarded up buildings in what were once bustling centers of commerce.  Occasionally there was the bed of an old railroad that was still visible.  An occasional abandoned train depot reminded us of the economic lifeline these old communities once enjoyed.
Many towns had fine old houses, evidence that successful people once called these towns home.  Some had been restored, some were in severe disrepair and some were beyond any salvage.  Each home had a story that was once known to many and is probably known only to a few now.
Several towns had curbed streets, old sidewalks, and a storm water drainage system.  Now many had lost their last traffic light.  In some cases the best kept site in town was the cemetery dotted with large tombstones bearing the names of those whose families made these towns what they once were.
Some of the towns had small pockets of success where the remaining people had made efforts to improve downtown.  However, the closed doors were prevalent everywhere we went.
Between the towns were miles of pine trees, mobile homes and junked cars.  Part of the drive was like a stereotypical view of the poor South.  “Where would someone work if they lived here?” I thought aloud.  Industry was long gone, if it was ever there in the first place.  Agriculture no longer required scores of people to operate a regular size farm.  The children left and never came back.
There was actually quite a bit of interesting history along the drive.  George Wallace’s boyhood home once stood in the middle of the town of Clayton.   It seemed somehow appropriate that only the foundation and a few plants remained following a fire just a few years ago.  
Rosa Parks lived on a farm owned by her grandfather during her earliest years.  He owned a farm of nearly 300 acres at the beginning of the 20th century.  A black man owning a farm of that size in the rural South at that time was almost unheard of.
The Pea River Presbyterian Church near Clio, still stands on the top of a hill as it has since being formed in 1823, one hundred and ninety years ago.  
Blue Springs State Park offers cold spring water that can be a welcome respite during our hot, humid summers.   
As I drove back into my adopted hometown, I thought of the many positive things we have going for us.   Things aren’t perfect here, but we have a chance to not only maintain our city, but to actually improve our quality of life.  
The death of most small rural towns started 50 years ago.  Survival and success takes leadership at every level, cooperation between everyone involved and a genuine belief that our way of life is worth fighting for.  
If you don’t believe that our choices make a difference, let me take you down a trip on Memory Lane through Alabama.  It will break your heart.
Dan Ponder can be reached at

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