Monday, June 14, 2010

The Other Side of Selma

The Other Side of Selma
© 2001 R.B. "Dickie" Williams
103 pages

Years ago while roaming aimlessly in my home library, I spotted a little collection of stories about Selma during the fifties and sixties. I read and enjoyed it, as the book added depth to the downtown area for me. Selma was almost a different town in those days, the economy primarily main-street: now the town's old commerical thoroughfare consists of abandoned buildings with boarded up windows, shopping being down on a depressing stretch of highway flanked by fields of concrete and boxes with bright neon signs. Part of the decay is simply the passage of time, but the closing of Selma's air force base dealt it a serious blow. This summer I've been walking the streets of downtown, pondering each building in turn, thinking about the human stories that have played out through the years. I realized recently that revisiting The Other Side of Selma -- an "old fogey's" recollections of the Selma-that-was would be appropriate for this summer tour.

Williams' style is simple: he shares funny, mysterious, touching, romantic, and outlandish stories to the reader about the people who lived in Selma during those days. No reference is given to the town's turmoil during the Civil Rights movement: this portrays Selma's Andy Griffith existence. Selma had a blind bookseller who could feel dollar bills and tell you their denomination, a barber who claimed to speak Russian fluently until he was embarrased by a visiting Russian-language professor, and a man who was known for his barbequed chicken because he did clean-up at the local underground cockfighting club. There are many little stories in here that will give me a slight smile whenever I drive through town and see various settings for these stories: for instance, when I return to Mabry Street to finish taking pictures of historic architecture there, I will know under one particular house there once were a barreful of ruined and water-swollen peas, dumped there by a newlywed woman who wanted to hide her first botched attempt at cooking black-eyed peas from her husband, so she and her friend threw them in an unoccupied house's basement.

Like Memories of Old Cahaba, this has somewhat limited appeal -- although Williams' stories are entertaining enough by themselves even outside the context of Selma that casual readers looking for a few nostalgic chuckles will enjoy this, particulartly if they hail from this time period or the mid-century South.

No comments:

Post a Comment