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Old Walls, Hidden Stories

November 30, 2010

“Montgomery Avenue” – Collage, 4 x 4″
Available here in my Etsy shop

“Second Street” – Collage, 4 x 4″
Available here in my Etsy shop

I live in a small town among a cluster of little towns along the Tennessee River in north Alabama. They are all so close together that one town runs into another. When I was little, we moved to Sheffield, which I thought was the most beautiful town in the world. All of the nicest neighborhoods were right on the river. My dad had built us a brand new house on a sloped street with lots of big trees, and behind the houses were woods leading down to the river bank. On the back of our house was a terrace with a big picture window, where we could watch the squirrels playing chase from tree to tree in the bare winter branches.

Montgomery Avenue was the main street, just a few blocks from our house. One night Daddy shook me gently from my sound sleep and said “The hotel on Montgomery Avenue is on fire. We’re all going down there to see.” I was bundled up in my coat and slippers, and we watched for hours from our safe vantage point across the street as the old brick hotel tumbled to the ground, one wall at a time.

That was my most vivid memory of our downtown. The next most vivid were the beautiful colored lights that lined the street during the holidays and the almost-life-sized mechanical Santa’s workshop in the window of the Corner Drug Store, complete with Santa, Mrs. Claus, and all the helpers. There was my uncle’s big office supply store, the downtown movie theater, a florist, high-end dress shops, churches, and cafes. Just a block away still stands the Armory, where Elvis had a concert in his early years.

One Sunday morning I got a stomach ache in church, so Daddy sneaked me out and took me for breakfast at the Corner Drug Store lunch counter. Those were the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever tasted before or since.

It was a vital and thriving little main street. After the hotel site was cleaned up, a high rise assisted living facility was built there. The public library is at the other end of the street, alone between vacant storefronts. Just about every other shop is closed, and the streets are sad and neglected. I’m sure there are many factors that led to the decline, but I can’t help noting the crowded development of chain stores and fast food joints lining a nearby four-lane.

These pictures are from some of the virtually-deserted streets just a couple of blocks off Montgomery Avenue.

I wonder what other stories are slowly fading from these charming old buildings.

Everyone has stories and some of those need to be told. Have you expressed any of your stories in your art?

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2010 1:21 am

    For my art academy exam, I made a series of drawings about my family, using the drawings like a detective, highlighting parts of it which I wanted to show, because I had found out about a secret love affair between my grandaunt and a student from her father’s school in 1904/05. I passed with an A.

    • December 1, 2010 5:17 am

      Oh, what a wonderful use of art to reveal and conceal. I love what you’ve said about using drawings like a detective.

  2. December 1, 2010 5:11 am

    I really admire your collages!! Interesting story too…wonderful shots of a time gone by.

  3. December 1, 2010 7:33 am

    Martha I really enjoyed the stories of yesterday. Your beautiful art is was a perfect fit to your magical words as well of the photos of the treasured buildings. These buildings would be a photographers haven.

    This reminds me of our local apple orchard that was well known. The dad passed away and the kids sold the land for beautiful homes to be built on. Even though I have some wonderful friends that live there, I still feel sad to know the orchard is gone.

    Have a golden day! xo

    • December 1, 2010 10:12 pm

      I know, Joyce, it seems “progress” is evident everywhere.

      Your mention of the orchard makes me think of the apples in our refrigerator. Big, juicy Mutsu apples that friends from your area picked somewhere near Chicago and brought us a month ago. We will be enjoying those for much of the winter!

  4. Edgar permalink
    December 3, 2010 12:53 am

    Oh Martha, it’s all ABOUT the stories, and have been drawn (no pun intended) to work on a series inspired by marks and signs in my wanderings. I loved your reminiscences.

  5. December 3, 2010 2:22 am

    beautiful collages, beautiful photos, beautiful memories. thanks for sharing them. I love old buildings too, they feel sad, but also calm.

    • December 4, 2010 11:32 am

      Thank you so much, Hanna! I love the old buildings too. I love just going up and down those old side streets.

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