Life is a journey, not a camp
I grew up in the rural community of Nokomis, Florida, and attended Florida schools at Davisville and Walnut Hill, but like most of the citizens who lived in the extreme northern end of Escambia County, Florida, my family considered Atmore, Alabama, the town nearest us, our "hometown." In those days, mail was delivered to these same Florida residents at various rural route addresses through the Atmore postal delivery system.
When I left home and went away in the military, my comrades-in-arms were often confused by this geographical quirk when it came time to exchange addresses for future communications.
I suppose this issue was confusing to enough people that the postal department corrected it some years later.
Even so, most of us from that era still consider Atmore to be our hometown, no matter what the address line says.
After leaving New York a year ago, I spent several months in Colorado, where two of my three children live. My plan was to travel awhile and focus on some long-procrastinated writing projects, to sort of drop out and "walk the earth," so to speak.
I returned to my hometown several months ago intending to visit family and friends for a short while and then move on to richer digs.
I have not done that. Instead, I have stayed day by day, caught up by a feeling of nostalgia which I did not anticipate after a long absence in faster lanes.
Some never experience the wanderlust that I have always had and never leave local digs. They make a life for themselves and make the best of it. Many of these find life in an economically depressed region to be a perpetual struggle, but consider that to be the price one must pay for personal happiness and contentment.
A few may even find a niche career and prosper financially. Many others move away, never return and never look back. And then, there are those like me, who move away to find job security and financial prosperity, but whose fond memories of a happier, simple small-town life draw them back for one more look and consideration of the possibilities in these changing times.
After spending over eight years in the Marines, during which time my three children were born, I came to that crossroads with which I am now familiar.
My children were beginning to enter elementary school; my first reenlistment expiration date was approaching; and I was scheduled for another overseas assignment unaccompanied by my family.
Military life was not a bad life. My wife and I had acquired many friends in our travels and we liked the lifestyle just fine. Still, we had both grown up in Atmore and we placed a high value on our family roots.
We wanted our children to experience the wonderful youth that we had known, to know and bond with their grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins, and to form lifetime friendships and home roots.
And so, we returned home in early 1975, built a home in the Bratt community, and lived there for many years.
Our children attended the schools we had attended, were taught by some of the same teachers who taught us, made friends with the children of our childhood friends, and life was all that we hoped it would be.
We attended church regularly and participated in our childrens' school events, made new friends and reconnected with old ones.
Having never been one to indulge in many personal hobbies, I found solace in my lifetime affection for horses and spent endless hours during those years riding and training a series of good horses.
These were wonderful times, despite my personal struggles to find and settle into a rewarding and successful business career.
I sold life insurance for several years, working mostly in Pensacola. Always a dreamer, I left the life insurance business to attempt several ill-conceived business ventures which ultimately failed.
Needing immediate employment, I went to work in the Louisiana oil fields. Though I hated both the work and being away from home so much, the income was good and it was four years before I finally determined to leave it.
I acquired my securities license and became a stock broker, a sales job which I was good at and which was financially rewarding.
Still, I had to travel to Pensacola to work each day and for a year or so worked for a firm in Atlanta, commuting home on weekends. It was during this period that my life began to change. My children were entering young adulthood and my role as a father began to change.
My work environment tempted me into drinking and carousing and my loud suspenders, red power ties and double-breasted suits inspired in me a swagger that was not consistent with family solidarity. My marriage began to stumble.
In the end, I left the securities business and my marriage stabilized, but my business career faltered. Following another business venture failure, June and I pulled up stakes and moved to Denver, where I soon acquired a sales position in the telecommunications industry.
Again, I was prosperous, and again my marriage faltered. June and I divorced and I took a sales position with another telecommunications manufacturing company in New York, where I experienced another six years of financial prosperity and another failed marriage.
As the telecommunications boom began to unravel a couple of years ago, I found myself on a sinking ship in an ocean with which I was not familiar.
Consequently, I quit my job, sold my home, jumped into my lifeboat (my Ford Explorer) with my trusty Golden Retriever companion, Gus, and began my latest pilgrimage to friendlier shores. And now, here I am, right back where I started from.
Many things have not changed in Atmore. I suppose this is both a good thing and a bad thing. The old, solid friendships and loving family connections I have here are a good thing.
Being near older family members and friends in the twilight of their lives to give them comfort and companionship is a good thing. Seeing the economic blight that seems to be smothering our nation, and particularly the Atmore area, is a bad thing.
As always, finding a way to prosper in the best of places to live is a dilemma I believe I share with many.
Whether I stay or whether I go, I think I shall always return to search for a way to be home again, to set my bags down, and never leave.
Lloyd Albritton is an independent columnist for the Atmore Advance. Readers who share Lloyd's interest in the art of storytelling are invited to join him every Friday at 6 p.m. at Atmore's Community Cup. He may be contacted at (850)384-6676 or by e-mail at LloydAlbritton@aol.com.
By Staff Ethel E. Marshall May 18, 2003 Ethel E. Marshall, 88, died Sunday, May 18, 2003, at Beverly Healthcare... read more