Baldwin Square, Satsuma, Alabama: Before it was a beautiful park with sidewalks dotted with memorial plaques, under a canopy of oaks, moss, and home to a battalion of squirrels, there stood a small wooden house with a detached garage. Or as I liked to remember it – our horse barn.
Never mind that we didn’t have horses.
But we did have dogs who could pass for horses any day of the week in the mind of a four-year-old boy with lots of imagination.
There was no asphalt or cement for the short driveway, only fine granulated Alabama top soil baked in the afternoon sun.
It was also good for mud pies.
Behind the house sat a little one-room barber shop and beyond that, train tracks.
Or maybe the barber shop was past the tracks – it’s been a few years.
My dad hitched rides on southbound trains from the convenience of our backyard. As trains slowed to retrieve the mail, he’d hop on board and ride to Chickasaw, Prichard, or all the way into Mobile for work.
I spent most of my time with my sisters, dogs, and the front yard as it merged into 4th Street.
The city post office stood right across from our house, probably a mere 10 yards away. I think that the house is still there today, although the Postal Service relocated the mail office all the way 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 house and into the parking lot of the post office.
I say wandered, but it was only about 10 yards away.
I heard galloping.
I can’t imagine that there were many buggies left in circulation at the time, but some still non-conformists chose to travel by horse.
Here’s the story of the horse:
I’ll call him Mr. Ed. But because the young rider of the horse now has a grown son with that name, I’ll call him Speedy.
I watched as Speedy dismounted Mr. Ed, looped the rope over a chain-linked fence, and walked inside the post office.
Mr. Ed waited a few moments, tilted his head a few times, un-looped the rope, backed away from the chain-linked fence, and smiled at me, and said, “See ya…”
Or maybe he just winked.
One second later, he was galloping down 4th Street towards East Orange Avenue.
Soon thereafter, Speedy exited the post office with his mail, but with no visible horse on which to return home.
Speedy glanced at me, somewhat accusatorily, I might add.
Did he think that I had untied Mr. Ed?
If he did, I suppose the point was moot as his horse was on the way to Gulf Shores.
He took off after Mr. Ed on foot towards the high school because, well, he had no other visible means of transportation.
The only way I know, or am reasonably sure, of the rider’s identity, is that a few years ago, I told this story to a friend.
And he told me that he was most likely Speedy, the rider who failed to properly secure his horse when he went to get the mail.
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 very nice public park.
In August of 1992, I brought a young Russian Princess to this place where I had a kind-of “beginning” in life. That is, my parents had moved from New Orleans to Satsuma when I was four. It’s a stretch, but work with me!
I kneeled on one knee and asked her to begin a new journey with me.
She said yes.
Our girls don’t care too much for this story, especially after the 100th retelling.
But for several reasons, I like it.
Mainly, because it reminds me of home.