The Man From Brundidge.
Magical places and magical people are all around us. Behind every front door is a person with a story. My camera sometimes opens doors to these magical places and people. It often begins with an unusual building and striking up a conversation with the occupant or neighbor. It's a "spur of the moment" thing, that really can't be planned, and begins with a question and a handshake. This is the story of such an experience.
If you visit Wikipedia (not the most reliable source, but hey, I didn't have much time for research this week) you'll find a sparse and fairly straight-forward description of a place called Brundidge, Alabama. Wikipedia will tell you that, according to the census, it's a small town getting smaller. Wikipedia also will tell you Brundidge was once known for making peanut butter and even hosts a Peanut Butter Festival each autumn. Now it hosts a major Wal-mart distribution center. It was also once the hometown of Mr. Herb Siler, who in 1960 survived four rounds against the Greatest of All Time, Mohammad Ali, before getting knocked out. Wikipedia will also mentions Brundidge lies in the "humid subtropical climate zone." I'd been to Brundidge a few times on photo expeditions, but it was on a serious "humid subtropical climate zone" day in June, with temperatures nearing triple-digits, that I met Mr. Michael Robinson.
I'd interrupted his lawn mowing when I approached to inquirer about a nearby property. He graciously answered my questions, and then motioned to his own home and said it was the oldest house in Brundidge. What started as a few questions about the nearby house turned into an invitation to park my motorcycle in the shade, a cold drink, and a tour of his amazing property. Before I knew it, I had spent the afternoon with this truly fascinating gentleman of many talents and interests, whom one might call a "renaissance man."
Mike Robinson is a retired high school football coach, history teacher, and Methodist preacher. He is a classic car buff and restorer, as well as a collector of many interesting things. He and his late wife were the fifth owners of a house dating back to 1859. The property spreads over several acres, with an outbuilding, original barn, separate modern garage and workshop, and well-cared for gardens. All of it is meticulously maintained. Within and without, treasures were everywhere and everything has a story - every building, vehicle, and piece of equipment. I wish I had brought something to write with, or even a recording device. All I had was my camera and memory.
We began outside, with an original US Army jeep from the 1940s, a "barn find" he has lovingly restored. Later, he showed me his garage, where he had an exquisitely restored an old Ford truck, perhaps dating back to the 1950s. He told me the exact years, but I didn't write them down. He also had a vintage Volkswagen Beetle. This is a man of many experiences and talents, and his automotive restoration work was amazing.
The tour continued to an outbuilding, which Mike had converted to a little schoolhouse in honor of his late wife, who had been also been a teacher. An school bell stands vigil outside, as if waiting for someone to call the children to class. Inside were books, maps and everything one would expect in an an old country school. To me, it felt like a shrine not only to his beloved wife's memory, but to learning and education. This theme of education continued in the main home as well, as books and collections of unusual object filled the home.
While Mike gave me full permission to photograph, I'm not going to include most of the images I took inside the main house out of respect for his privacy. I will simply say it was beautifully restored home, keeping the old home's original charm and feel. However, there were eclectic touches throughout the house, such as a pair of hand carved Chinese doors.
I will also say that this was an educator's home. There were collections and memorabilia from his days as a teacher, a coach and minister. This blending of mind, body and spirit gave the house a feeling of balance, and perhaps a touch of "feng shui." Photos of his players from his coaching days lined the shelves, including one he took with legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant. I found his collection of puppets from his days of children's ministry very fascinating.
The old barn was the favorite part of the tour. With its bright red roof, old woodwork, and amazing light, it is a photographer's dream. He allowed me to climb into the hayloft. The heat up there was brutal, but the light was breathtaking. I had just happened to catch it at the right time, when the midday sun was reflecting underneath the eaves from the red roof into the loft. It painted the loft's north end in an unearthly crimson light. Some of the light trickled through old doors resting against the wall, casting rays of purple and greens across the floor. It was extremely exciting to capture.
The last part of my visit with Mike was spent in his kitchen as he showed me historical documents about the home's original owners, as well as local Brundidge history. The shadows began to lengthen, and the time had come for me to get back on the road. Before I left, he lent me book about Pike County history, and I promised to return with one of my own books to give him.
A soft-spoken man of many talents, it was a blessing to meet Mr. Robinson and be able to spend an afternoon with him. I look forward to making my way to Brundidge again soon.
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