CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

March 24, 2013

Preserving memories - Descendants keep family history alive

By Loretta Gillespie
The Cullman Times

— The old house whispered its secrets to her one last time as she peered in from the safety of the porch at rooms long unused and about to disappear forever.

In her mind’s eye she focused on the corner of the front room where first her grandfather, Charles Gilbert Woodard, and years later her grandmother, Ellen Woodard, died in bed.

Across the hallway were the rooms where she, her sister, Jackie, and her mother, Lula, had spent happy years living in one side of the house, her grandparents in the other. That would have been from 1945-1953. She was around eight years old when they moved into the house on Ohio Street in Hanceville.

Jerry Gay Talley loved this old house. It was full of childhood memories and of later times when her family would congregate here for big dinners, or when babies, like her cousin, Jane Neal, were born in the house. Of course there were also Christmas celebrations, Thanksgiving feasts and just because they wanted to be together. She recalled playing for hours with paper dolls in the hot, unfinished attic.

It was on this old porch that her Grandmother Ellen sat rocking contentedly on warm summer afternoons. It was from the mimosa trees out in the yard that she, her sister, and her cousins hung upside down by their knees like a line of little ’possums, giggling as they felt the blood rush into their freckled cheeks.

Jerry gazed lovingly at the distinctive front door with its stained glass trim, the one she had walked out of each morning on her way to school at Hanceville Elementary, just about a mile down the road.

Back then the house had no inside plumbing, so the Woodards had an outhouse, just like most of their neighbors. She smiled, looking toward where it had stood — remembering how their cocker spaniel, Bonnie, had fallen into the outhouse “pit”. Her Uncle Carl rescued the poor thing with a hoe.

Her eyes grew misty as she continued around the outside of the house. If there were ghosts here, they were good ones.  

It was September of 2012. Jerry had gotten a call early in the day from a neighbor down the street from the house, telling her that her grandmother’s old house was about to be torn down. She rushed from her home in Cullman to the place where so many of her memories were made.   

Someone had already torn off the roof. The house, which dated somewhere around 1907, had seen better days. Still, Jerry could point to the empty places around each room and tell you what piece of furniture used to occupy the space.

Already old and in disrepair, the tornados of 2011 had done further damage so the owner had chosen to have it demolished. Before the demolition started, Garlan Gudger Jr. of Southern Accents Architectural Antiques, a salvage company, had made arrangements to go through it and remove anything salvageable (The word “salvage” actually means “to save” which is the mission of Southern Accents. They do not handle the demolition, which is another trade altogether).

When Gudger arrived, Jerry shared some of her memories with him and asked about purchasing the door. Unfortunately, the door had already been sold, but Gudger, knowing the sentimental value of the piece, contacted the buyer to find out if she would be interested in relinquishing the door to the granddaughter, Jerry.

“Very graciously, the buyer, Lucy Farmer, agreed to pick out a different door for her own home,” said Gudger.

The agreement settled, Jerry made her way home, heavy-hearted about the house, but glad that she had been able to acquire the door.

Later, Jerry wrote Lucy this note: “I hung it on the front of my house and I just walk by it and stand and gaze at it with love and the memories fly through my mind. I love my door and tears come just writing you now. Thank you so much and I also think of you’re a sweetheart for letting this happen for me! A big thanks to Garlan, who I love so much for making this happen. You ended with a great door that is beautiful on your creek house and we are both happy. God bless!”

“I'm so glad that Jerry has that door and the memories,” said Lucy. “It is a wonderful thing Garlan is doing — saving old things so that we can still enjoy them! It fills my heart knowing it floods Jerry with wonderful memories!”     

However, that’s only half of this story…

When Gudger began to pull away the trim he thought was salvageable, he stumbled across something precious.

“Typically we find small items, like coins, cards, or letters,” he explained. “Lots of times items that were placed on a mantel somehow find their way behind it, trapped there forever.”

 “As we tore out the mantel, we discovered an empty space in the wall around the fireplace. It was filled with all sorts of trash,” said Gudger. “Among the trash was an item that stood out from the debris, a child’s shoe.”

The shoe was an old-fashioned lace-up type. It was, of course very worn, but actually in good condition, considering how old it is and how long it had been hidden away there behind the wall.

The house was scheduled for demolition right away, so the crew threw it into the back of a truck and brought it back to the shop with them, where it lay forgotten until several days later.

Gudger took it to a local cobbler, who estimated it to be a circa 1920-30s, girls hightop boot, made from leather. “As he explained, these handmade shoes were typically passed down from one child to the next,” Gudger repeated. “From the condition of this shoe we can only imagine that it had seen a lot of play on multiple little feet.”

He had the shoe cleaned, oiled and stuffed, then presented it to Jerry Talley as a gift. Of course, she cried when she saw it, not knowing right away whose it was, but there was no doubt that it had belonged to someone in her family.

Later, Jerry presented Garlan with a picture of her grandmother’s house as well as an old family portrait. Much to everyone’s amazement, there on the back row was a young girl wearing a strangely familiar looking shoe!

“That was my Aunt Ruby Woodard Mullican,” said Jerry, proudly pointing out where the young girl stood, the shoe clearly visible.

According to Ruby's daughter, Frankie Wildmon, of Hanceville, Ruby was born in 1915, so Jerry figures that she was around 12 years old at the time. Ruby has one sister still living, Ruth Marler, of Gardendale.

These days Jerry greets visitors at the same door that her family came through for four generations. It holds pride of place, is a great conversation piece and a sentimental reminder of bygone days.

The stained glass squares marching in a line that form a square around a central piece of clear glass once looked out on a quiet street in Hanceville. Its weathered wood saw many changes to it's solid surface. According to Gudger, who sanded it down to the original state, there were 16 coats of paint.

Jerry has chosen to leave it unpainted, though, because she loves it just the way it is.