A Bridge, Barbecue, and Butterflies

Published 5:39 pm Thursday, January 7, 2010

SELMA – “The only thing Selma’s got is a high school that plays good football.”

I remember those words echoing out of my mouth as I began to exit the small town of Selma many years ago.

I was a young lad, no older than 10, and had just finished a peewee football tournament, one that we lost to Morgan Academy.

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More than a decade later, I heard my journalism class had to go back there for a field trip.

One could imagine my feelings toward going back to a place I found boring.

Truthfully, I was excited to meet the person we were traveling to see, a woman named Kathryn Tucker Windham.

After reading her book, “The Odd-Egg Editor” for the class, I was interested to meet her and see just who this woman was.

Going to Selma was something I wasn’t too excited about, but then we began doing in-class discussions about the history of both Mrs. Windham and the town of Selma itself.

My teacher, Ed Williams, did all he could to teach us the historical facts and figures of Selma to make it seem like an interesting place, but still the only reason I wanted to go on this field trip was to meet one of Alabama’s living legends.

I could care less about Selma…until I actually got there.

Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge was almost like when Dorothy came out of her black-and-white house into the colorful land of Oz.

Like a ton of bricks, I was overcome with a sense of astonishment at just how much history there was in a town I had once called dull and uninteresting.

I had visions, almost like a movie in my mind, of what Bloody Sunday was truly like. I saw buildings that were mentioned in Mrs. Windham’s book, and began to picture what they looked like many years ago.

Passing several butterflies along the way, we finally got to Mrs. Windham’s house. Mr. Williams went in first, just to let her know we had arrived.

I sat outside on the bus, awaiting her arrival. I felt like a groupie waiting for a rock star to come out of the dressing room.

Then she walked out, arm in arm with Mr. Williams. A woman who at first would seem like just another older lady to anyone, she certainly didn’t seem that way to me.

I realized just how much this woman had seen and heard, and I felt lucky to get a chance to even meet her, let alone spend the day with her.

After a brief introduction, I remembered we were going to go to the Live Oak Cemetery, and I began to get excited, similar to when I was younger and my parents would tell me we were going to the park.

The cemetery wasn’t like any ordinary one. Oak trees as far as the eye could see lined the gravesites of former members of the Selma community.

I got off the bus and began to walk around. I was one of the only students who didn’t have a camera, but I didn’t need one. The images of that place will forever resonate in my brain.

We paid a visit to one last historical Selma landmark, Hancock’s Bar-B-Que.

Along the way, Mrs. Windham made an interesting historical note, that Ralph Shug Jordan, considered by many to be the greatest Auburn football coach of all time, is from the city of Selma.

Being an Auburn fan, the historical value of Selma increased five-fold in my view when I heard that bit of news.

A visit to Brown Chapel before heading to lunch was another place of historical importance. Civil rights marches began at that chapel, and the great Martin Luther King made many speeches there in years past.

Sitting amongst my plate of barbecue, baked beans and coleslaw, I finally got the opportunity to meet the great Kathryn Tucker Windham.

I asked her a lot of questions, many of them pointless, but they helped me get to know this wonderful person who had seen so much in her lifetime.

I felt like I was interviewing a walking history book.

We finally got to go to her house, and the interviewing session began. Everyone around the room asked questions, ate Little Debbie snacks, and enjoyed a nice piece of cake.

She shared a lot of information with us, even some odd facts like her grandson giving her a fake bloody leg for Christmas one year, as a joke for the phrase, “You’re pulling my leg.”

We even got to play some tunes on the combs she gave to us. From now on, I’m convinced the Auburn fight song will always sound best when played with a comb.

She also shared a lot of life lessons and things that she wants all of us to remember.

After hearing her tell us, I’ll never forget the four L’s of life. Listening, laughing, learning and loving.

“That’s my advice to you,” she said.

It’s arguably the best advice I’ve ever received.

The drive back was the worst part of the trip. It’s the same feeling I got when I’d get a chance to be with a close friend or family member for a week or a weekend, and then had to go back to my own boring everyday life.

On that day, I would have rather been in Selma, the most exciting place I’ve been to in many years.

Paul Stockman is a journalism student at Auburn University.