Growing up in West Pratt

Out of the blue I got an email from Joe Plunkett. I haven’t seen him in over 20 years. We grew up together in West Pratt. His family moved next door when I was in grammar school. He had a brother Johnny my age, but Joe and I hit it off from the start and became the best of friends.

Joe Plunkett

We explored, hunted, and fished every trail, hollow and stream within twenty five miles of our house. When I got old enough to drive, my dad had an old 52 Chevy pickup that he let me drive and wheels extended our territory. One Saturday in April, the weather turned off really warm and we had spring fever really bad. Joe had an idea and it caught on fast with all us guys there in West Pratt. Robert Sperling had a car and we drove it down to Albritton’s Fishing camp. I followed in the pickup. He parked his car and jumped in the back of the pickup with the rest of the guys. We drove back to the 78 highway and headed towards the Warrior River bridge in Lynn’s Park. We made a quick pit stop at a gas station to air up inner tubes. We all jumped in the river on our tubes and drifted slowly, down the river… all the way to Robert’s car. It took us all day long. We saw bass, and birds and a hornet’s nest as big as a Volkswagen. We all looked like prunes when we got out of the water, but I can’t remember a time when we had more fun.

Joe graduated in 1967 and was drafted into the Marine Corps in 1968, the year I graduated. That’s when the Vietnam War took on a special significance to me. I never had been the praying type, but I did say a prayer for Joe.

A short time later the Dora-Cordova road went under construction and some men from the State came to our house and said that the highway was coming through and everyone on the west side of the road had to move. It didn’t hit me at first, but that bureaucratic decision made in Montgomery or wherever those decisions were made, split our community. They took our house, my Uncle Pete’s house, my grandmother and grandfather’s house, the Castleberry’s house, and the Plunkett house. There were no discussions, no bargaining, we were just told to move… so we did.

The State paid to have our house moved about hundred feet off the right of way, but the angle of the roadbed and the fact that none of the other families had room to move their houses back, left them no option but to find homes elsewhere.

My grandmother bought a trailer and moved it nearby. Uncle Pete and his family moved in old Dora across from Red Star Hill. The Castleberry’s moved to the Bryan Road and the Plunketts moved to Cordova. We all agreed to stay in touch and for a while we did, but we drifted apart and that piece of my childhood was gone forever in the name of progress.

Now I’m not saying that we all would have made our lives there in that little coal mining community different dreams take different paths but the highway made the parting more abrupt.

My path took me to the Army for a couple years and when I returned, I started to work for The Community News. It was a job I loved, but it didn’t pay much. New management at the paper put me in the unemployment line for a year before I got a shot at a job with the telephone company. I started to work there in 1977 and I’ve been there ever since. They put me through college, both an undergraduate and a Masters degree and I learned about computers. Eventually the path led me here… to a small farm in Empire, Alabama where I write, take pictures, and scan yearbooks for – This is what I do for fun. Work often winds me up tighter than a banjo string. Sometimes when I’m up to my butt in alligators, I think back to that warm spring day when Joe, Robert, and a bunch of us guys floated lazily down that river and I just have to smile.

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