“My Little Town; A Pilgrim’s Portrait of a Uniquely Southern Place” By: D.B. Tipmore

Apr 12, 2021

 

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“My Little Town; A Pilgrim’s Portrait of a Uniquely Southern Place” 

Author: D. B. Tipmore 

Publisher: NewSouth Books 

Pages: 160 

Price: $25.95 (Hardcover)  

Reflections on a Decade’s Sojourn in a Small Alabama Town 

Tipmore, a professional journalist who wrote for a while for the “Village Voice” and many other magazines, has a clear, trustworthy style. This is a sincere narrative, not in the least ironic or snarky. 

As a boy, Tipmore spent some time on a farm, but since then has led a cosmopolitan life, living in New York, Miami, and for short spells in Venezuela, Paris, Morocco and elsewhere. A restless soul, he tells us he never fully engaged with his surroundings, was always looking for something—perhaps, he says, “an earlier me.” 

His friends around the world were astounded when he announced he had taken a job as administrator at Marion Military Institute in Marion, Alabama. 

“You live where? They would say in disbelief.” 

But it was true. 

Tipmore decided to conduct a kind of Margaret Mead or Ruth Benedict anthropological experiment, not visit the South for a few weeks and write about it as Paul Theroux and less recently V. S. Naipaul have done, but live in the real-est South, live there with goodwill, optimism, an open heart, not as someone there to find fault or satirize or fix things, but to see if he could fit in and, in time, understand the place, and as one always hopes, understand himself better. 

He was, generally speaking, treated courteously, kindly, invited to join a church. He bought a nice old home and was on the Pilgrimage Tour, exhausting and pointless, but still an honor. 

The experiment, the experience, had mixed results. Tipmore, after ten years, has moved away. But his report on Marion, called here Lovelady, is earnest and fascinating. He writes as an insider, but can a person not born in a small Alabama town ever become an insider? 

His conclusions mostly match what we all think we already know, but, as the result of spending time and paying close attention, his conclusions are earned. 

The town was once prosperous. Now, decidedly not. There were 30,000 citizens in 1860; 3000 now. There is almost no industry and little commerce. Apart from a marijuana trade and some meth labs in the country, there are few opportunities, really, for anybody who does not own a thousand acres of soybeans. 

Some lists:  

Lovelady HAS one doctor, one dentist, two lawyers, one fast food restaurant chain. 

No hospital, ambulance service, clothing store, movie theater, and so on. 

There are periodic attempts to revive some businesses. They fail.  

He has heard that “some people like to travel to Australia because they say it reminds them of America in the 1950’s,” but jokes that there is no need to travel so far.  

Lovelady has ignored the past 50 years: “No Beatles…. No Dylan…. No fond memories of Vietnam protests or Woodstock or … waterbeds…. No independent films…. No international films…. No Warhol,” and so on. 

And, he tells us, his white lunch companions are “proud of [their] ability to exclude any unwanted influences…unembarrassed…happy … in [their] own ways….” 

The town, Tipmore concludes, is dying—the word he likes best is “decay”— “from a fear of modernity, an addiction to the past, from fear of the future….” 

The past, in Lovelady, he tells us, quoting Naipaul, is a wound, “so perpetually fresh that, with each scrape of the skin (any sort of federal intervention, any sort of imposition of modernity) out seeps some bloody recrimination.” 

In Lovelady, life is predictable, repetitious, static, and hierarchal among the many churches and the many women’s clubs. The same women bring the same very soft food to the potlucks. There used to be a Jewish community of merchant families; now there are two Jews. 

The Christian churches get along, mostly, although “the pastor of one of the Baptist churches is said to have remarked about the small Episcopalian congregation: ‘I’m not sure what they believe.’” 

The educational system, now fully re-segregated, he describes as “tragic.” Surprisingly, Tipmore suggests school integration in Lovelady, poorly planned and executed, was “unintentionally harmful,” especially for blacks.  

African-Americans, the majority, control county politics, with some corruption, but there is little to steal. Republican whites vote for Roy Moore and Trump, and black Democrats are understandably still angry about slavery and Jim Crow. 

Cultural segregation, despite sporadic goodwill efforts at interracial events, is nearly complete.  

Tipmore concludes “the implicit message (from many blacks) remains: leave us alone. We don’t seek your company. We get along without you very well.” 

Tipmore, like nearly everyone who can, left Lovelady, but he left perplexed and not without regret. 

Although he realizes that he is “caught in a paradox of [his] own making,” Lovelady “will not, cannot, be [his] home.”  

He acknowledges that he has been treated with kindness. Individuals who seem politically cruel and ungenerous towards any social welfare programs bring him dinner when sick from kidney stones, drive him to the emergency room at 4 a.m.  

He asks, “What mystery of the human spirit allows them to combine these examples of Christian charity while owning so many un-Christian and uncharitable opinions and behaviors.” 

Finally, he cannot live in a place where the inhabitants “refuse to know, and to imagine, so much of the world.” The attitudes towards food stamps, the military, Fox News, patriotism, the refusal to consider health care a “right” finally became too much. 

Lovelady, he tells us, left an “ineffable mark on [his] heart, an imprint that runs deep”—but he can’t stay there.  

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.