An old-fashioned love story that stays

Published 1:13 pm Thursday, May 16, 2024

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By Lloyd Albritton


Louellen Dyal was 6 the first time she laid eyes on Charlie Madison.  Charlie was 8 and possessed that certain mystique which younger women often find attractive in older men.  It was a sad occasion, which brought them together. In the spring of 1923, Charlie’s older brother contracted blood poisoning after using one of his mother’s sewing needles to prick a pimple on his face.  He took sick and died three days later.

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The Dyal and Madison families were not social friends, but Lou’s father had worked on the same crew with several of the older Madison men on the state’s road construction projects and he believed it only fitting that his family attend the funeral to show their respect.  The Dyal family filed into the church with the father leading the way, the mother right behind, and the six children following, oldest to youngest.  Father Dyal selected a pew and proceeded to the end against the wall.  Lou was the youngest, so she squeezed herself in next to the isle.

As the dead boy’s family entered the church, Lou turned to look back down the aisle. Her eyes fell on Charlie just as he entered the huge double doorway with the bright sun of a beautiful spring day behind him.  To Lou, it was a regal image, which was cast in her mind’s eye forever.  “Isn’t he the most beautiful little thing you ever saw?” she gasped to her sister as Charlie walked past her.  “He is so-o-o pretty!”

Charlie’s flawless bronze skin was topped by a headful of jet-black curly hair.  “He has the face of an angel,” Lou confided to her mother later as she struggled to explain her feelings. “I love Cha’lie,” she sighed wistfully.  “I will never have eyes for another boy.”  Lou pronounced the “r” in Charlie’s name softly, as southerners are often inclined to treat their r’s.

“Shush now!” her mother scolded.  “Your Papa says the Madisons are good people, but they are still Indians, so you might as well get such foolish notions out of your head. You are not going to be marrying no Indian boy if I have anything to do with it.”  Lou smiled.  Not only would Mama not have much to do with it, but in time, Charlie Madison would become her most beloved and favorite son-in-law.

Many white people in southwest Alabama held a strong racial bias against the Creek Indians of this region in 1923.  The schools were segregated then, but progress was in the making and within a year or two a new Consolidated School would be completed.

“I was so happy when that happened,” Lou cooed dreamily as she spoke of it many years later, “because now I could see Cha’lie at school everyday.”

Lou’s father always called her Black Eyes.  One day when she was about fifteen, he said to her, “Black Eyes, do you want to ride to town with me in the wagon today?”   

“Papa worked so much,” Lou said, “that the very thought of spending an entire day alone with him was exciting.”  “We had to ford the creek to get to town and that was exciting too.  Papa stopped the wagon at the logging camp where he worked cutting cross ties to build the roads. He suddenly turned to me and said, ‘Black Eyes, you love that Indian boy, don’t you?’”

“Oh yes, Papa, I do!”

‘Well,’ Papa said, ‘if Cha’lie asks you to marry him, you tell him yes. I know his family and they’re good people. If you marry that boy, he’ll always treat you good. He’ll take care of you and your children will always have shoes on their feet and clothes to wear and you’ll always have a good home to live in.”

Lou’s father died later that year. Only a short time later, Charlie told Lou it was time for them to get married.  “He never really asked me,” she said.  “We always knew we would get married.  He just sort of told me when it was time.  I was barely sixteen when we got married.  Cha’lie got a job clearing stumps out of the woods.  He was the dynamite man.  He walked nine miles to work in the morning and the same nine miles to get home in the evening. Cha’lie worked so-o-o hard, but he was always sweet and kind and gentle to me, no matter how tired he was.  He was just so good to me.”

Later, Charlie got a job driving a bus. He loved to drive and eventually saved enough money to buy his own long-haul truck and trailer. Charlie spent many years on the road driving that truck.  In those days there were no interstate highways and no laws restricting the hours a trucker could drive. Charlie hauled freight coast to coast in his big rig on the narrow two-lane state highways of the day and often went days without sleeping.  He took amphetamine pills and drank coffee by the gallon to stay awake, year after year.  When he came home, he would sleep for 2-3 days straight, then be off again with another load.  Charlie would later express regrets that he was unable to spend more time with his children while they were growing up, but he was keenly aware of the earning limitations of an Indian boy with little formal education and his trucking business provided well for them.

Lou nurtured her Cha’lie when he came home like a great warrior returning from battle.  She cooked his favorite meals and shielded him from any distraction that would disturb his rest or his precious hours with his family.  She took primary charge of raising their four children so that Charlie could stay focused on his patriarchal task of providing the family income.  Charlie’s bright smile against his handsome bronzed face would always lift Lou’s spirits to the clouds and she would stroke his dark hair and adore him for a moment, then bid him another sad farewell as he waved goodbye to his family and drove away in his massive 18-wheeler rig.

In the late 1960’s, as Charlie approached his mid-fifties, he tired of the long absences from his family.  He sold his truck and came home to stay.  He joined the Ironworkers Union and worked for many years doing heavy iron construction work.  It was hard work, but Charlie was a hard worker.  When his work took him away from home for extended periods, he took Lou with him.  When Charlie retired for good in his late sixties, he and Lou devoted the ensuing years to serving their church, both at home and as missionaries in other parts of the U.S.  Even as an old man in his seventies, with bad knees and bowed legs from a lifetime of hard work, Charlie volunteered for every church work project that came along.  He could still work men half his age into the ground. Charlie was not much of a talker, but he was a hard worker.

Lou talked about Charlie a lot in her later years, both before and after his death.  She would always smile wistfully when his name came up and her face would gather the look of a little girl in love with a little boy.

“I didn’t get my kiss this morning,” Charlie said to Lou on the last day of his life.

“Well, how many kisses do I owe you?” she teased.

“A hundred and thirty-nine,” he teased back.

“I leaned over his bed to give him a kiss,” Lou said.  “Cha’lie looked up at me, smiled, and said, ‘Don’t worry about anything my love.  Everything’s going to be just fine.’”

“Then Cha’lie put his arms around me and kissed me,” she said.  “But it was not a normal kiss.  My Lord!  He kissed me like a twenty-year old, long and passionate.  It surprised me, and I thought, ‘Oh yes, it’s going to be a good day for Cha’lie.’”

“Then Cha’lie took his last breath and his arms slipped peacefully to his side.”

Lou leaned her head back in her recliner and raised her eyes toward the ceiling as she finished telling me this story and silently reflected on her last day with Charlie.  “He was so-o-o pretty,” she cooed with a smile.

I slipped quietly out the door as she savored the memory of her life with her beloved Charlie Madison.