Southern Scribe
     our culture of storytelling

 

Memoir Review    

 
 
My Heart Is in the Earth: True Stories of Alabama and Mexico
By Wayne Greenhaw
River City Publishing, 2001
ISBN:  0-913515-16-7

 

 
 

Alabama and Mexico captured the imagination of journalist and writer Wayne Greenhaw.  In his words, “Both are laced with myths true and untrue.  Both are filled with delightful people who amaze and confound.  As Alabama has been viewed as a backward state, Mexico has often been written off as a third-world country.  Neither is true.” 

Wayne Greenhaw comes from a storytelling heritage.  His grandfather, Bub Able, was a natural at weaving a tale together.  Bub joined the union and worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority (T.V.A.).  The union during the depression was almost a church providing for its members.  Greenhaw still has in his possession his grandfather’s prize clock with the inscription across the base – FDR: The Man of the Hour.   

Wayne Greenhaw’s father was a beauty supply salesman, who brought lively stories from the road.  On one of the trips young Wayne joined his father, they ran into Hank Williams, Sr., who greeted Wayne’s father with a grin and a hug.  Though young Wayne wasn’t into the hillbilly sound, Hank’s lyrics spoke to the writer in the young boy. 

As a young man, Wayne Greenhaw lived in an apartment in Montgomery’s Winter Place – an old mansion where Scott Fitzgerald courted Zelda Sayre and where Hank Williams performed in the basement, which housed slaved at one time.  The White Palace was a gathering place for creative energy.  One Sunday, Wayne and his friends drove down the Woodley Road to Orion, Alabama to hear the Mississippi blues of C.P. Austin.  On the way home, Steve Young composed the song “Seven Bridges Road” – named for the seven concrete bridges on Woodley Road.  The song has been a hit for Joan Baez, the Eagles, and most recently Alan Jackson.  

George Wallace had two important traits important to politicians – ability to remember a face and to find the pulse of the mass.  Wayne Greenhaw met him as a boy, when Wallace asked, “How’s your daddy?”  That was a key characteristic of Wallace’s style, and he never forgot to ask about someone’s father.  When Wallace lost his first election to the segregationists, Wallace made segregation his platform.  After he was shot in the 1972 presidential campaign, Wallace returned to Alabama where his infirmity slowly took his health.  As the mindset of the country changes, Wallace sought and won redemption among many of Alabama’s black population he had fought so hard several decades ago.       

One of the most interesting people that Greenhaw writes about is Asa Carter, known as the speechwriter of Wallace’s “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”  A master of lyrical phrasing from northern Alabama, Carter was a segregationist leader and once ran for governor on that ticket.  In the early 1970’s Asa Carter disappeared only to be transformed in the Cherokee cowboy Forrest Carter, known as author of Gone to Texas (Outlaw Josey Wales) and The Education of Little Tree.  What remains is a farce of identity with Carter being buried -- twice.

Greenhaw’s essays on Mexico are equally captivating.  While in a body case for scoliosis, a condition resulting from childhood polio, 14 year-old Greenhaw reads an article about the creative writing program at Mexico’s Instituto Allende and decides to go there.  At age 18, Greenhaw travels by train into the foreign country of a language he does not know.  Initially, the American midwestern instructors critically slaughter the young writer’s southern style.  But over time, he puts the lessons he learns from visiting poets and writers to find his own voice – which has a southern essence.  

Like Alabama, Mexico has had its artists and revolutionary heroes.  Greenhaw profiles those he was fortunate enough to meet. 

My Heart Is in the Earth draws on Greenhaw’s previously published articles about Alabama and Mexico and weaves a connection of the creative spirit between the two.

 

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews