"The Portable Creek: Southern Nostalgia and Other Shenanigans" By: Keith Huffman
“The Portable Creek—Southern Nostalgia and Other Shenanigans”
Author: Keith Huffman
Publisher: Archway Publishing
Price: $17.99 (Paperback)
Essay Collection Focuses on Family Stories
“The Portable Creek” is a collection of about 66 previously published short pieces. Keith Huffman, a native of West Alabama, raised around Gordo, is now a licensed professional counselor in Lee County and a graduate student at Auburn. He placed these mostly in the “Opelika-Auburn News,” over the last five years.
Huffman plans to write a doctoral dissertation on nostalgia, a really good topic and not fully understood. There are studies under way. What triggers memories? Why do we remember what we remember and how do we reshape memories, emphasizing some aspects, usually positive ones—and even perhaps failing to remember unpleasant experiences? Nostalgia is presently under scrutiny from every angle, including which parts of the brain light up and when.
Although nostalgia is in the title, many essays are not exactly that. Now, Clyde Bolton’s “Hadacol Days”—that’s the real thing. No one used to lock a church door; now, if left open, thieves would steal everything. In the old days, boys could hitchhike safely all over the south. No one would dare now.
In the 1940s and ’50s there was no drug problem.
And Bolton is not wrong. In many ways life was simpler and safer.
Huffman is not doing that. There did not used to be a golden age we have since lost.
These are family stories he has lived or heard. He reports them honestly and some are truly odd. Huffman tells of how his maternal great-great grandfather Alf Sanders successfully wrestled a wildcat—not a bear—and won a new suit of clothes.
His grandfather, Paw Paw Buck Huffman, saved a “chunk of cash,” bought a pair of leather dress shoes, went to New Orleans and spent all his money “on liquor and women.” He had to walk most of the way home to Gordo, wearing out those shoes.
Later Paw Paw Buck wrote to his son, Mike, called Doe Doe, then stationed in Saudi Arabia, that he loved him “more than I did any of my ex-wives.” Keith’s father replied “Lord Daddy, I hope so.”
This is the Paw Paw Buck who, near death, finally consented to be baptized. The relentless Brother Posey brought the creek to him, in a plastic cup.
Huffman writes candidly of his parents’ marriage, his father’s alcoholism and getting into the car with mom “to try to find my daddy.” Huffman’s parents divorced when he was nine.
It is clear that Huffman himself is devoted to the roles of husband and father, to doing this right.
He writes of the evening he proposed outside De Palma’s, about the delight he takes in his wife and their two sons.
The family essays are warm and cute. His older boy, Kaleb, seems to have undergone a sympathetic pregnancy while his mom was pregnant, rubbing his tummy and feigning heartburn.
Some of these essays are not about family and are more like short news items. A little girl died tragically in Auburn and Huffman writes of how the family coped, through faith, and how there is now a memorial and pavilion in honor of little Sadie Grace.
Huffman clearly means to be the next Rick Bragg, which is not entirely out of the question.
He has the observant eye, the sensitivity, the drive, and plenty of material—there are Paw Paws and Mawmaws galore.
If he will take the time, research the family lore, interview everybody, gather and organize all the details, fill in the background, whether it’s WWII or Auburn last year; if he can flesh out these peculiar characters from quirky types to full-blown persons, that is into “Ava’s Man” or “The Prince of Frogtown,” then he can move from purveyor of colorful anecdotes to genuine Southern Storyteller, and there is definitely an audience for that.
Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.