When you leave a place, that doesn't mean it leaves you. I've been haunted by Fairhope and working it out by writing books about the Fairhope I remember (The Fair Hope of Heaven, Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree) and the Fairhope of the days before I was born (That Was Tomorrow).
There's a new Fairhope now, and I certainly know it. The old one is
not quite buried yet, however, with this last trip I for one was able to
identify the source of my conflict about the place. When I lived in Fairhope I
carved out as my mission the education of the new people about the
place; after over 20 years I have realized I was talking to myself. History
is not high on the agenda of a town on the move and on the make. New
people are not interested in the old ways, even if they were radical and
would be avant garde today. The new who have come to Fairhope would be
even less interested in the radical and avant garde.
I'm grateful, however, for the magnificent little museum run by my old friend Donnie Barrett, in the heart of town. There are history buffs and Fairhope buffs who congregate there and bask in the weekly teas and talks about the old days. It and the Marietta Johnson Museum, the restored Bell Building on what is now the campus of Faulkner Community College, provide a blanket of psychic warmth and a stimulus of respect for history for the curious
I wrote this several years ago in The Fair Hope of Heaven: "No matter where people move, they look for the tribe they can relate
to, and there is a sense of inclusiveness in the many tribes of
Fairhope. They are pleased to meet and work with new people. And the
tribes reflect a myriad of interests which may catch a person off guard
and may trigger new enthusiams."
There is still a
chance for me, then, in the new Fairhope. I still have a tribe there,
and it is one of writers, artists, and historians, amateur and professional, whom I haven't yet met. There are people I know
and trust from years past. And there is always the coastline of Mobile
Bay with its spectacular sunsets and instant solitude and peace.
what one writer was inspired to say in a book about Fairhope: "And
somewhere in a gully on a particular day in a certain season, the
fortunate wanderer will actually find a tree covered in butterflies...It
should not be a surprise, even if it is not expected, if a shadow
dances among the leaves, a face appears (or seems to), even a community
of phantoms from the past. Here you will find answers, questions, and a
host of stories."
That writer was me. The book is called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree. And somewhere in my heart I retain the belief that that magic might happen only in Fairhope.