GOING CHICKENIn Boyd, Alabama Population six
IN RURAL ALABAMA a little community is about to change forever. Boyd’s store, home to guns, groceries, tires and hardware goods of all description has closed. Saturday was the last day.
Johnny Boyd, his late wife, my cousin, Minny Ruth operated it for nearly 60 years.
She passed away last year and Johnny is now ill and wheelchair bound, and holds a picture of Minny Ruth.
Their son Bobby long left and moved to the big city where he works as a principal. It’s no secret he never liked the store business and wont be taking it over.
Johnny retired once, sold the store, bought a fancy motorhome and set out to discover America. “We’re going to travel in our golden years to national parks”, he told me. But they never made it to the Mississippi state line, he sold the motorhome and bought the business back after a miserable two week retirement. “The store needed him” he claimed. Minny Ruth would just roll her eyes.
Johnny’s father had a store here before his. It was across the road, and that store came from where his father had a store before him a piece down the road. No one is quite sure how long there has been a store in Boyd but its at least back to the Civil war.
Boyd is not a very big place. Standing in front of the store you can see each end of it. With a good aim you could shoot a deer at the city limits sign in each direction. There is one church and approximately six people live here. The nearest Walmart is 20 miles away.
I am told the population varies from 6 to 8 because one couple has ….marital troubles. I ask what kind of troubles.
“They keep having babies, divorcing and remarrying. Those kids can’t keep their hands off one another. She got knocked up in high school, they are childhood sweethearts”.
The couple now in their forties are still making babies.
“Young folks breed like rabbits round here”, the older man told me.
Love is strong in Boyd Alabama.
I had a tire blowout on a trailer so I went up to Johnny Boyds to get it fixed. While there I had a conversation with a Mr. William Burks.
Mr. Burks is an icon at Boyd’s store.
Since I have been 2 years old William Burks has been at the store never missing a day. If they were closed and you needed a tire fixed, ran out of gas, or medicine for a cow or horse, he would open up to the store get you what you needed. It was William who fitted me with my first .410 shotgun after Mule-kicker bloodied my nose and gave me a black eye.
William never asked what happened, kind and gentle he made sure the new shotgun fit my shoulder just right. We walked out back and I shot a tree in the church yard. “Try not to shoot the church” he calmly cautioned.
I promised him I would not shoot God. He chuckled.
Waiting on my tire I reflected on all the years of coming here and realized that William was the story.
Working with all kinds of people I never saw him be anything but courteous and nice. He always remembered the name of people ’s children asking how and where they were. Most young people leave this area when they get grown. William genuinely cared about them all.
Remarkably William shared a wisdom learned from watching everyday life in a rural community for 50 years. People simply exploit one another was his conclusion, the most successful of those are who seem to get ahead in life. “All you can do is be true to who you are and not be someone else. God puts us here to live and die, not much we can do to change that. What we can do is learn to care about one another”.
I hear people, not from the South, describe it as fake where people are nice but really its an act. The southern hospitality thing is a myth they say.
No, its not and that is one of the qualities about being southern that is hard for an outsider to understand.
How we can we be so nice to one another and hate one another ?
But its true. In a tragic landscape often filled with racism, corruption and violence, people somehow remarkably care deeply about one another. Perhaps this is what has held this place together all these years.
People like Mr. William Burks in Boyd Alabama.