Several years ago I wrote a short, nostalgic story about the closing of Bragg's Grocery on Hurricane Creek. It was about people, most of whom are long dead, who had traded at the store.
I had forgotten the story until late one afternoon when a strange car pulled into my driveway. An elderly, well-dressed woman got out and walked over to where I was standing.
After I introduced myself, she asked, "Please, my mother is in the car, could you say something to her?" The lady went on to explain that in the story I had mentioned her father, who had been dead for almost fifty years.
Walking over to the car, I introduced myself to the old woman sitting there. Her face was wrinkled from almost a century of living and on her left hand was a worn wedding ring that must have been almost as old as its owner. In her other hand she clutched a copy of the story I had written.
Slowly she turned her head to look at me and, after glancing again at the magazine, said in a low, soft voice, "Someone remembered ... someone remembered his name."
I spent almost an hour talking to the old lady that day. She regaled me with tales about the Huntsville of her youth and the people she had known. It was obvious that she enjoyed remembering. She told me about dancing to the fiddle of Monte Sano Crowder and about working at Redstone Arsenal during the Second War when she would go home very day with yellow skin, a result of the chemicals with which she worked.
I listened as she described growing up in a mill village where preachers and bootleggers rubbed elbows at the local speakeasy.
Unfortunately, her body was weaker than her memory and soon her daughter had to take her home.
The memory of that old lady stayed in my mind a long time. "A life of stories," I thought, "and when she dies, they will be gone forever."
For the next several years collecting these stories became an obsession. Literally thousands of hours were spent talking with senior citizens and searching through old newspapers and manuscripts.
During this time I was confronted with many questions. Are ghost stories part of our history? Does a whimsical story about a neighborhood bar fit into a book about our city's history?
In the final analysis, the answer had to be yes. All of these stories helped to make our city special.
Old Huntsville Magazine makes no pretense of this being a literary work. That endeavor is best left to the scholars. I also leave to the historians the task of quibbling over people's middle initials, the exact date of some long ago occurrence and the thousand other trivialities about which they seem to be concerned.
My sole intention in writing this book is to try and preserve that part of our rich heritage which has been ignored for far too long.
Old Huntsville Magazine, Inc.