Sunday, November 16, 2014

No Hill Too High for a Stepper

No Hill Too High for a Stepper: Memories of Montevallo, Alabama
© 2014 Mike Mahan
384 pages



No Hill Too High for a Stepper is a work of reminiscence, a country dentist's recollections of growing up in a small Alabama town during the 1930s through to the 1950s. Though listed as a biography. Mike Mahan's intent is not to talk about himself, but to regale the reader with interesting stories from his childhood, stories that are meant to bring to mind the reader's own -- assuming he or she grew up in the era.  The book is part of a fundraiser by a nonprofit, the Cahaba Trace Commission, dedicated to protecting the history of communities along Cahaba River, sharing the lives of people who have lived upon its banks.  My own interest in the book stems, of course, from its chief setting in my adopted hometown of Montevallo, though anyone with an interest in folk history will find it appealing, especially if they're the nostalgic sort who dearly miss the days of mom and pop shops,  train service even in small towns, and entire lives lived without the benefit of beeping, blinking, shrinking gadgets.  Mike Mahan's childhood wasn't as wild as say, Tom Sawyer's, but he made a go of it. Contained therein are stories of boyhood --  killing a snake, then thinking up a system by which pulling a rope would cause the snake's body to suddenly drop down from a tree onto unsuspecting pedestrians -- and tales of adolescence, like  boys anxiously trying to sneak peeks of girls dressing at a coed water hole. Fashions, careers, and diversions come and go, but regardless of the passage of time somet things are  eternal:  boys will forever find trouble, or make some if need be.

Reading stories set in this era have an innate charm, especially set as they are  in a small town; this is the allure of Dickie William's The Other Side of Selma.  The reader is invited in to a life of intimacy; here there are no inhuman institutions; everything is personal. The stories are owned by people who live in them; the politics are local. It's Mayberry life readers made privy to, of  solid, down-to earth citizen yeomen, quirky characters, even the odd scoundrel or two. The multitude of stories has a common cast of characters, Mahan's community, and one story's co-conspirator is another's antagonist.  It is romanticized, no doubt; despite this being the Depression most seem hard at work, and there is in the background the unfortunate racial tension that is the South's great curse.   The University of Montevallo is part of this story, but not its whole; as a Selma boy I was enormously amused to learn that airmen from the base once here used to drive into Montevallo to hunt dates from 'the Angel farm', as the once-girls-only college was then known.   Mahan works his way through the down, street by street,  reflecting on the characters who lives once dominated them. If nothing else No Hill Too High is a visit back to the idealized American hometown of yore, the kind of place that no longer exists in these days of constant suspicion and the devastation of main streets by sprawl.

Related:
Images of America: Montevallo,  Clark Hultquist and Carey Heatherly
The Other Side of Selma, R.B. "Dickie" Williams.

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