Before it was a park in the middle of the now heavily populated Satsuma, Alabama, under a canopy of oaks and home to a few squirrels, there stood a small wood framed house with a detached garage, or as I liked to remember it — our horse barn.
We didn’t have horses.
But we did have a few dogs who could pass for horses any day — at least to a four-year-old boy with lots of imagination.
There was no asphalt or cement for the short driveway — only finely granulated Alabama top soil baked in the afternoon sun.
It was ideal for mud pies.
Behind the house sat a little one-room barbershop and beyond that — train tracks.
My dad caught rides on trains from our personal train station. The train took him to Chickasaw or Mobile for work. I’m hoping it slowed to a manageable speed as there was really no depot in Satsuma at the time. I don’t know that there ever was one there.
The post office was across the street. I think that the house is still there today, although the Postal Service relocated the mail office across Highway 43, near what used to be a neighborhood store. I liked the old house better.
Once, as a three or four-year-old, I wandered away from the homestead and into the parking lot of the post office.
I say wandered, but it was about 10 yards away.
I heard galloping. There weren’t many buggies left in circulation, but some still non-conformists chose to travel by horse.
I would call the horse Mr. Ed because he’s what I think of when I remember this scene, but that young rider of the horse now has a son with that name so I’ll call him Speedy.
I starred as the traveler dismounted his horse, looped the rope over a chain-linked fence, and walked inside.
Turns out, Speedy was not interested in checking the mail, or for that matter, waiting for its rider.
Speedy tilted his head a few times, un-looped the rope, backed away from the chain-linked fence and smiled at me.
OK, maybe he just winked. Regardless, one second later he was galloping down 4th Street towards East Orange Ave.
Soon thereafter, the rider exited the post office with his mail, but with no visible horse on which to return home.
For only a brief second, the horseless rider glanced at me.
Did he think that I had freed Speedy?
He didn’t wait around to ask. He took off in a gallop after his horse on 4th street towards the high school.
The only way I know — or am reasonably sure — of the rider’s identity is that years ago, I recounted this story to a friend.
And he told me that he was most likely the rider who failed to properly secure his horse when he went into the post office.
Years later after we’d moved to the only slightly larger city of Saraland, Mr. Baldwin (for whom the park is named) demolished (or moved) that old house. In 1982, the Baldwin family gave the land to the city of Satsuma and it now serves as a public park.
In 1992, I brought a young Russian Princess to this place where I had a kind-of “beginning” (i.e., my parents had moved from Louisiana to Alabama when I was four — so this was my beginning in Alabama. I know it’s a stretch but work with me!)
I kneeled and asked her to begin a new journey with me.
She said yes.
My children don’t care too much for this story — especially after the 100th time.
But I like it.
It reminds me of home.
Originally Published at PaulSwann.com