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Day 6: F is for Florence

April 7, 2015

I’imagesm the one who got away. I’ll admit it.  I was born in Florence, Alabama,     and lived most of my first forty years there before moving to North Carolina in 1995. Everywhere I go, though, I run into people from Florence.  My friends have seen the phenomenon often enough that they tease me about it.  I fly home from my first trip to Europe and find myself seated by a man who coaches at my high school–in Florence.  I attend a regional English conference and discover that the woman sitting next to me not only grew up in Florence but was in my husband’s sixth grade class. In the middle of a cow pasture at a fiddler’s convention, I look up to see a former student edging her was down the row of seat toward me. Yep, she’s from Florence.

Alabama’s Renaissance City (yes, sister city to her namesake in Italy) has a lot going for her.  I grew up in the sixties and seventies when the Muscle Shoals Sound came into its heyday, and we thought nothing of running into some of the top recording artists.  Sam Phillips of Sun Record fame began in the music industry in Florence.  Percy Sledge’s mega-hit “When a Man Loves a Woman,” was the first gold record out of FAME studio (Florence Alabama Music Enterprise, that it.)  W. C. Handy, the Father of the Blues, was born in Florence, and for decades now, the city has celebrated his achievements with a great festival every year.

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The music success is not just past history either.  Nowadays, John Paul White one half of The Civil Wars, the Secret Sisters, and Patterson Hood of the Drive-by Truckers are Florentines.  The Alabama Shakes are from just up Highway 72 in Athens.

One of the local celebrities these days is designer Billy Reid, who decided to put his flagship store right on Court Street.  In the most recent issue of Garden and Gun magazine, he was quoted in a feature about “50 best things about the South.”  His favorite was Odette’s, the restaurant that sits between his store and Coats Clothing Co., the haberdashery where one can find my father and my son most days.  My mother tells me that she sells Odette’s eggs from her chickens.  Six degrees of separation? I think not.

One of the strongest draws of the area is the access to water.  The Tennessee River runs through town, widening out at Lake Wilson and with plenty of creeks and tributaries for fishing, swimming, and water skiing. In fact, my parents brought me home from the hospital to what we still call “the Little Red House,” right on Shoal Creek.

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Florence has her shared of outlaws too.  Jesse and Frank James came through town and robbed the payroll at one of the Locks in the county.  My great grandmother always believed Frank had taken an alias and settled in Florence as an old man.

Less of a folk hero, though, was Mountain Tom  Clark, an evil man reported to have killed babies on his bayonet and who bragged, “No one will ever run over me.”  A judge with a wry sense of humor had his body placed not in the city cemetery but under the busiest main street through town in front of it.  Now cars run over him all day every day.  There’s a nice sense of justice in that.

I don’t get to Florence as often as I’d like to now–or as often as I should.  After all, I still have both my parents, my older son, three sisters and their families and my husband’s siblings there, as well as my best friend (See D is for Debbie).

We aren’t likely to return there to live, but I’ll back often enough to gather talking points for all my Tar Heel friends who know to expect to hear my stories about Florence.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 8, 2015 1:04 am

    I love your description of and ever so interesting facts about Florence. Our visit there last summer was absolutely wonderful! Beautiful details and as always beautiful writing, Cuz!

  2. April 8, 2015 4:06 am

    I’m an Alabamian who lived in Chapel Hill for a couple of years before returning to Alabama. I loved living in Chapel Hill and, while Auburn has our heart, we also have Tarheel loyalties and consider UNC our second team! http://threefriendsandafork.blogspot.com

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