History can be told within a name

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2006

By By Michele Gerlach
What's in a name? Sometimes a lot of history, especially around here.
In the middle of my hometown, there's a one-stop convenience store that sells everything from gas to a pretty decent pizza to crickets and worms. It's a Shell station, but locals refer to it as "the Elba Texaco." You guessed it: it used to actually be the Elba Texaco.
Imagine the confusion to a newcomer, riding around looking for a Texaco sign so they can buy a pizza or crickets and all they see is a Shell station!
Someone pointed in a meeting last week that there's an industry in downtown Brewton, Citation. But most people refer to it as ADICO, short for Alabama Ductile, its former name.
In the same vein, many Brewtonians still refer to Smurfit Stone as "Container" and the mental health building as "the old medical center." It's such a common description that a announcements of events scheduled there usually list the location as "the old medical center.
Dogwood Hills, Brewton's municipal golf course, hasn't been a country club in about 10 years. But it's still "the old club" to most people.
Jefferson Davis State Junior College merged with Atmore State Technical College in December of 1990 to form Jefferson Davis Community College. But the Atmore campus is still "the technical school" or the "trade school" to locals, while the Brewton campus is commonly called "the junior college."
It was about that same time that Atmore Community Hospital adopted a new name. To many, ACH is still "Greenlawn Hospital."
Eons ago, Buster's Restaurant on Hwy. 31 in Atmore was McMurphy's Dairy Bar. Still, it's "the Dairy Bar" to locals who know that Friday's special is roast beef, best ordered with gravy fries.
Before Robert Faircloth bought a David's Catfish franchise, his Atmore restaurant was "The Ponderosa." Rather than make that name change, many people decide to eat "down at Robert's."
Speaking of the Faircloths, the same rule of thumb goes for married last names. I once identified Escambia School Superintendent Buck Powell's wife, Mary Bess, by her maiden name, "Mary Bess Faircloth," in a photo caption. Mind you, I didn't know Mary Bess before she was married, but I had heard enough people call her by her maiden name that it rolled right off of my fingertips and on to a newspaper page without a second thought.
The practically brand new three-county economic development association in our area was "Tri-County" for only months before getting a snazzy name to make it resonate more with businesses and industries considering locating here. Still, if I refer to it by the new name, "Coastal Gateway Economic Development Authority," I almost feel as if I have a responsibility to qualify it with a "tri-county" or description.
I'm not sure what this says about us. That we resist change? That we're stuck in the past? Slow?
Regardless, if you're moving to a small town, it's best to bone up on local history, lest you get lost in search of ancient signs.
Y'all call me if you want to go for pizza at the Texaco.
Michele Gerlach is publisher of the Brewton Standard.

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