Tri-City Ledger -

By Earline Smith Crews
Guest Writer 

Observations along the way to Texas


February 21, 2019

Lamar and I set out to Center, Texas for a looksee. Lamar (The CEO) has talked for years about going to Center to find the reason why his Granddaddy Joesph Holland, founder of Hollandtown, Florida went to Center circa 1915-1919. Why he didn't move there is still unknown. He knows from family lore that it was at the suggestion of a friend to move there, buy some land and raise cattle. If Granddaddy Joe was planning to complete that venture his plans were cut short due to his unfortunate death in April of that year (1919) from injuries caused from being thrown from a horse.

At the time of his death he was in the race for sheriff of Santa Rosa County.

His death announcment and obit was written about in the Pensacola News Journal and the Milton Gazette. Lamar and members of the Holland Family have those old yellowed copies in the collection for future generations of Hollands to read and share.

The Hollands take pride in what was written about their forefather. He seems to have been a well thought of citizen, interested and involved in the affairs of his county, a christian and solid family man.

Along the way on that two day trip we met some interesting folk. First fellow we met was in a greasy spoon across the Mississippi from Natchez in Vadilia. We were gobbling down some shrimp and oysters, minding our manners when a robust man across the way asked in a loud voice,

"Where y'all from?"

"Sweet Home Alabama",............. "FLOMATON/ATMORE/BREWTON".

That question answered, opened it up for him.

Off and running,

We got his connection to Jesus, his bank balance, his kids degrees, his travels, his support of Isreal, his questions from a Rabbi, his investments, his money, his gold collection, his opinions on the city of Natchez government, his building of a city in Isreal where folks could live free and clear, his political party, his money, his money and finally a question to us,

"Are you Baptist?

My thought was,

" Do you know Jesus"?

"Well Jesus has blessed me with so much money since I came to know Him."

My thought was,

"Well bless your heart, plenty folks got money and don't know squat about Jesus".

Rain falling in buckets, bright flashes of lightening followed by loud claps of thunder made me nervous for the man.

We wiped off our faces from dabs of ketsup, tipped the sweet waitress, paid the bill and ran out into the rain to jump into the truck and head on west.

After a quiet spell for lunch to settle we discussed the, "rich man."

Beware of fast talkers with loads of money and close connections to Jesus..............

Center is in Shelby County and holds the beautiful old Gothic style courthouse on the square.

We strolled around looking and pondering on what the place may have looked like in circa 1919.

" Bet they had the mules and wagons hitched to those posts there".

" Yep, see the rein rings on those iron posts".

Next day as we sat eating lunch at Nettie's Sammich Shop on the courthouse square in Center we noticed a real cowboy looking cowboy all dressed in cowboy clothes. Sitting alone at a table across the room he sipped from a real china cup and munched his lunch as he listened in on our conversation with the staff.

First talker/teller was a blue haired lady that was a worker there in the diner/gift/consignment shop. First question for us was,

"Where y'all from?"


"Alabama "?

I love Alabama. My daughter has a place in Orange Beach and we go there a lot".

"Yes'um , lottsa folk heading for Orange Beach this week." "Spring breakers from Georgia passed us on I-65 yesterday before they turned off at the exit going there."


talking with the cook, the other cook and the other cook all talking and asking until from out of a side room in walks Nettie.

Dressed in finery not seen before then with diamonds on every finger and arm and earlobe, Nettie breaks in with, "Heard y'all talking, Alabama huh?"

"I'm the owner, thats my daughter doing the cooking". " My office is in that closet."

The CEO,

"Hey Nettie, why call it sammich?"

"Cause that's what my daddy called it."

" He told mama to fix him a bologna sammich fer supper."

"He said it just like that, "sammich."

We listened, they talked, we talked, we all laughed.

Lunch was winding down when the old cowboy unfolded to stand, correct his balance and walk by us looking closely through thick lens glasses.

Nettie says goodby to "Albert" and gives him a Happy Birthday greeting.

Albert nods, tips his hat to amble away.

I holler out,

"Happy Birthday Albert"!

He turns and nods with a,

"How do".

For some reason we all go silent, stare and watch Albert go out the door.

He almost had to lower his head to get through the door, but his skinny frame would easily have slipped through the cracks of the place.

Nettie turns back to tell us that Albert comes in everyday and she feeds him. Some days he sits for hours sipping on coffee and listening to conversations. She tells us he was released from Angola prison in Louisiana after 17 years of a murder he didn't committ. His wife had testified against him for that crime and she hasn't spent a day in prison for her part in his life spent on death row.

Albert shows the wear from those hard years.

Albert is paid by the State of Texas to speak sometimes to groups about wrongful sentances.

Glad I wished him a Happy Birthday.

Bless him Lord.

Bless Nettie and her sammich shop Lord.

We head to the Shelby County Historical Museum to have a look. Right off the bat, The CEO is accosted by a weathered old lady dressed in hairspray. In fact, I did a close up inspection of her "do" . I'm trying hard not to judge here, but it looked like a big wad of SOS pads. She cancelled out my harsh judgement with her sweetness though.

A sweet manner will turn most anything toward good.

She asked where we are from and the moment we reply, "Alabama", she is off.

"Alabama, you know we get everybody in here from Alabama."

I'm thinking, "do what?"

She tells us, "I'm from Alabama, Dale County."

I shuffle off to another room because I know we will be here for a bit.

Miz hairspray and The CEO was leaning into each other from across an old glass display case while deep into Alabama genelogy.............

The hairsprayed lady had family from Dale County Alabama and her roots run deep there. She was born and raised in Center, Texas.

Her claim to Alabama was from her roots in Dale County.

You need to listen to how things are said to understand.

In her way of thinking, she didn't need to be born in Alabama to lay claim to being from there.

DNA is important, roots and all that you see.

After a long time in those musky smelling rooms we part ways and spend the rest of the afternoon discussing how much fun we had meeting folks from the real world.

We determined from our tour around Center, Texas that the land seemed to be a good place for cattle raising and a beautiful place to live and raise a family.

Big woods of tall pine trees, green pastures, churchs with white steeples with mixes of demoniations, neat houses and some rusting trailers.

Center had the old time town square holding the courthouse. Businesses like, law offices, antique stores, a hardware and Nettie's Sammich Shop flushed out the edges.

Had fate not taken a turn who knows where the two of us may have landed in life.

One thing I believe for sure is, make the best of the hand that is dealt you and live with honor, talk to friendly strangers and leave with new friends.

***My advice to the young:

Get off your cell phones, look and listen, real life is happening right in front of you. Don't miss it.


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