About three years ago, Karen and I recovered our senses and returned to the home of our ancestors here in Santa Rosa County. As I recovered my sense of place I may have rediscovered a need to express in writing some of the things that cross my path. I am known as an opinionated person and I form so many opinions it can be a heavy task at times just to keep up with them. But I also have a reasonably accommodating spirit. An occasional opinion may seep into my writing, but my primary purpose is to record in some fashion the spirit of the people both in our region and beyond as Karen and I travel from place to place.
My primary conspirator in taking paths that lead to so many interesting people and places in our own region, is a fifty-ish retired farmer from Allentown, named Roy Allen. Roy is blind now and has nothing to do but ride along with anyone who will drive his truck. I have been absent these environs except for brief interludes, the past 40 years. There was a time when I could depend on my dad, J. Lee Campbell and my mom, Myrtle Carswell Campbell, for all the particulars about the lives of the pioneer families in our county. They are gone now. Roy Allen has become my guide.
Years ago, my dad introduced me to Roy, who was farming then. D. Allen and Parnel Allen were among Roy's uncles. I remember them and others among his relatives There are Jones' and Kelley's. Roy Allen, Sr. ran a mechanics garage over on Highway 89, North of Allentown. Dad told me about Roy's younger brother, Terry, who was an Allentown High basketball prodigy. They called him “Frog”. “Frog” was struck by lightning while mullet fishing in Mulat a week before he was to go to college on a full scholarship. This devastated the Allen family. Eventually the family sorted out their places and Roy was farming full time for the Griswolds as well as farming his own family land. In the course of time, Roy became a consumer of good food which eventually put him in Sumo Wrestling weight class. When I met him again – a long lapse of time expired from my prior acquaintance through my Dad and the meals of pizza or Philly Steak Sandwiches at Diamond's store. And now Roy was blind.
About three years ago our mutual friend, Tom Reynolds of Chumuckla, got us back together. Roy needed an occasional driver to get chores done. Roy provided the truck. I became the driver. Several times a week, I would drive big blind Roy to breakfast, to shop, to see a doctor. For about a year we enjoyed the weekly breakfast with the Kiwanis Sunrise Club that meets weekly at the Tanglewood Golf Club. But we backed off that for awhile as other issues sort out.
Meanwhile, at 480 pounds, Roy decided to lose weight assisted by a gastric bypass. The weight was a big issue anyway, which was a primary factor in his heart attack about five years ago. This heart attack came on in stages so he was rushed to the hospital where bypass surgery was performed. A month after his surgery, he woke up and could not see ANYthing. After the surgery, he had a severe fever for many days and was in a coma. Unknown to any of the doctors or to Roy, he had a pituitary tumor at the base of his brain. In the fever, it swelled up and then died and crushed his optic nerve. The heart surgery was a success. Nobody could have predicted he would now be blind.
After some years of learning to be blind, he was ready for the weight loss regimen and the surgery to help out. At this point, he is about 270 pounds and still dropping weight. Pictures of him three years ago and pictures of him now show a remarkable change.
So – how does a blind man become a GUIDE for a man with vision. It turns out, Roy has a remarkable brain. It is somewhat photographic in quality. He remembers people, places, dates, whole families and it turns out, every bump in every road in our region. He has given people directions over the phone to find places 150 miles away in Dothan, Alabama. It is a wonder to me every time I go somewhere with Roy, with me at the wheel. He will give me a running account of the farms we pass, tell me who is in the field and what they are doing. He'll remark on an old homestead and tell me the people that live in the next five houses and the color and style of the house as we pass them. All this by the feel of the road and something I describe as a bionic GPS.
My dad (J. Lee Campbell, from Chumuckla) could to that. He probably could have done it had he been blind. There are a few people among us who have a full grasp of people and connections and places. And they never forget a name. Roy is one of those. So, Roy is my guide. We meet people whom I am supposed to know. I may have even met them a couple of times already in the past few years – reconnecting with 40 years of lost history. It will take me three or four or more times before I put all the parts in place and have the person back in my mental Rolodex in the right order. Fortunately, Roy helps me to make the connections and patiently re-describes the connections several times before a year passes.
I'll try to revive some of the feel in my past writings, from the long out of print book I authored about 20 years ago. “Junction: County Road 197 (mild adventure for the armchair ruralist)” found a sizable audience in the area. I am often asked if I am “the one that wrote the book”. (My brother and I were known as the two Campbell brothers – and he is the retired Navy Captain). It was a fun book. It was a collection of newspaper columns I wrote for the Press Gazette and other regional papers in the first 10 years Karen and I lived in New Jersey. I wrote a farewell to “the South” letter to many of our friends when we packed up and headed from Georgia to New Jersey where careers would take root. Our friend, Wanda Lockett worked at the Press Gazette then and asked if they could print it. From that a whole series of columns emerged. They kept my heart close to home as we adjusted to New Jersey (which by the way, was very pleasant where we lived). I would write a basic story and then call my dad and have him fill in actual names and accurate place descriptions because I wanted the various reflections to carry the weight of authenticity of place. Mom provided some input too. The book was dedicated to them and since few people would buy a book for $20, twenty years ago – I ended up buying up a lot of them that my dad and mom gave away to their friends. That is how it got such wide distribution. They had an awful lot of friends. The book is today, free to read on Google Books . You can download it for a small fee, or you can find used copies on Amazon, sometimes for as little as a couple of dollars!
Bear with me. This episode has been an introduction. Look for travels with Roy, Look for travels with Karen. Karen and I sometimes take trips to various other parts of America where people are exactly like they are here at home, only different. Karen wonders if there is any money in this writing venture. Experience tells me that is not a likely benefit.
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