I grew up in Morgan County, Alabama and attended A.P. Brewer High School. Brewer is in an incorporated area central to several junior highs that feed into it, so it lacks a sense of “community”. I only attended a handful of football games during my tenure there, and while I was proud of my school and believe I received an excellent education there, it wasn’t my rally point on Autumn Friday nights.
After a decade of commuting up I-65, I moved my family to the Huntsville area a few years ago. I work in the defense industry and am involved in several non-profit organizations, both technical and Veteran related. I loved living in one of the most high-tech cities in the world. On top of that, my work has taken me to all the major cities in the United States, from New York to Miami to Los Angles to Seattle and points in between. While I’ve only experienced urban life from the comfort of a hotel room, I have experienced slivers of it nonetheless.
Earlier this year, my wife and I decided that when the lease on our apartment was up, we would move into a house my In-Laws had for sale down on Smith Lake. I work from home, so anywhere with decent Internet and close proximity to an airport is good enough. If I was going to pay someone rent, it might as well be family. So now we live there until the house sells, which given the downturn the market has taken, could be a few months or a few years.
To be honest, I do miss some of the amenities of Huntsville, but I am adjusting to life in Double Springs. There is no bustling job sector and few outlets for dining and entertainment. But there is something down here that I never found other places I’ve lived, and that is the camaraderie of small town community. Mind you, I’m still an outsider, but I am an observant outsider, and I see it amongst the residents.
Recently we went to see the Winston County Yellow Jackets play the Lynn Bears. My nephew is the WCHS quarterback and this is his senior year, so we were there to support him. It wasn’t the first WCHS football game I’ve attended. I went to quite a few games years ago when my wife and I were dating. Something was different this time. This was the first game I attended with a vested interest; for the first time I was there amongst my neighbors.
My observations began as I dropped my daughters off at school that morning. I saw lots of elementary kids showing their Yellow Jacket pride. All seemed exited for the game that night and my kids came home exited as well. They were going to see their cousin Payton, their hero, play ball that night. My In-Laws are season ticket holders, so we’d gotten season tickets so we could sit with them. This provided me an excellent perch from which to conduct my observations. As we walked in my wife was greeted by friends whom she had not seen in several years, who through the small town grapevine had heard we’d moved to the area. My daughters saw several of their new classmates as well.
On the field I saw the team: some players living what would be the highlight of their lives, others just experiencing another day in their journey to bigger and better things. I saw the heroes of the night, the soldiers of the mock battle we were all there to see. In classical society there were three estates, or classes of citizens, and the players represent the warrior class, the second estate.
There were little boys on the sidelines throwing their own footballs and imagining themselves on the field in a few years. There were older men in the stands who in years past had been themselves on that field; others who wished they had been. I saw coaches walking the sidelines, mentoring and admonishing the boys to press on for the victory.
I saw the band in their ceremonial uniforms on that hot August night. They represent the first estate, their music providing an emotional and ministerial element to the battle. The band calls itself the Pride of Winston County, and they performed on a level to be worthy of that moniker. Also representing the first estate were the cheer leaders, performing their acrobatics and motivating the crowd. I saw a couple girls near my daughters’ ages in the stands beside me mimicking their moves, imagining in a few years they would be down there.
There was also the student section, which according to my nephew is colloquially referred to as the “swarm” cheering for their classmates on the field. They, along with the rest of the crowd, represent the third estate, neither warrior nor minister, but representing the majority of society. Many of them will accomplish or already have accomplished great things in their own rights. Others will always be at best spectators, living vicariously through either the warriors or the ministers.
Around the field I also saw order. The “swarm” had to be reprimanded by the ominous voice over the loudspeaker for their celebratory “white-out”bursts, which were tamed except for one infraction near the end of the game. Isn’t it just like the third estate to rebel against authority?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the valor of the adversary, the Lynn Bears, that night. They were down 48 – 0 with less than a minute left in the game. They had the ball within yards of the end zone, giving it everything they had to avoid being shut out by the Yellow Jackets, but their effort was fruitless. In the real world, no matter how hard you try, sometimes you lose and lose big. I’m sure they felt shame, anger, and frustration on their bus ride home that night. Such is life.
What I saw was a small town functioning as social groups have for millennia. I saw social order and structure, not where one is locked at birth into a certain caste, but where one determined at an early age which he wanted to belong to. I saw elder generations cheering on the success of younger generations. I saw a tribe forged by the nature of rural life, where everyone knows everyone else, and everyone has a role to play. I saw what I believe to be a more perfect version of what post-modern society and urbanism have robbed us of.
Many people across the country forsake small towns like Double Springs and accuse them of being backward, but they haven’t seen what I have. Where they see a lack of progress, I see stability. I see a community where traditions are valued, and people still love their neighbors as themselves.
Update: This essay also appeared in the September 5, 2015 edition of the Northwest Alabamian.