I took my granddaughter and great-grandson on a ride down memory lane this past week (of course, my great-grandson slept through most of it). We went to south Alabama to visit the graves of my parents and grandparents and also got in a trip to Gulf Shores and some good seafood at Wintzell’s Oyster House in Mobile.
The city has changed a lot. People continue to move out west, north, and east across the bay. Despite significant investments of time and money, downtown and surrounding areas are inner city and are largely in decline. There are some bright spots—new downtown hotels and convention center, efforts at restoration and preservation, and a growing arts community.
We drove past four places that were meaningful to me growing up—North Carolina Street where I spent my years from age 5 to 18, the church where I professed Christ and was ordained to the ministry, my old school, and the Mobile Public Library. The house where I lived is long gone, lost to a massive urban renewal program some decades ago. The church building where I spent so much time now houses an African-American congregation. My parents were still there when Oakdale Baptist sold the facility to another congregation and merged with West End Baptist Church to become Government Street church (which has since relocated). My school is still there, but it has grown so much that I hardly recognized it. The library was largely the same, but the size has been doubled with a new addition and added parking lot.
All of these were defining places for me as a child. First, the house provided a home where parents struggled to do their best for their child and taught him the faith that sustained them. Second, the library was the place that provided the resources that nurtured my mind and imagination. What I know about writing I learned from reading the books I found there provided by kindly and indulgent librarians. Third, the church and its members provided a place for me to take my first steps in Christian leadership and discover my gifts for ministry. Fourth, the school challenged me to do well and several instructors encouraged my love of history and reading.
There are no markers on any of those places to memorialize the influences I received there, but I know and I remember the people that made them important to me.