From long ago now and far away, there are memories that are cherished. Home. Family. Gran. Aunts and uncles and first cousins. Family like my children have never gotten to be a part of, extended family. It made you feel safe, secure, loved. You learned what was important even when you did not know that you were being instilled with values and wit and humor. My ancestors James Richardson Isbell and Elizabeth Birdwell Isbell lived in that little community of Paint Rock while other kin lived in Larkinsville and other surrounding towns and communities. In Jackson County during those days Isbell was a fairy common name. There was John Isbell, James Isbell, Allen Isbell, Levi Isbell. There were Birdwells, too. John Birdwell, Elizabeth Birdwell Isbell’s father, with all his family were in Jackson County before statehood as well. There were the Houk and the Peters families, and the
Murray lines. Rev Simeon Houk whose wife was Tobitha Murray Houk married William Deaton Jackson Murray and Susan Anna Isbell Murray in the year 1848 in Jackson County.
My Birdwell/Isbell line settled in Jackson County, Alabama after they had brought their family into the Mississippi Territory a good fourteen years before statehood. And then moved to Franklin, now Colbert County, Alabama. But first were the towns of Paint Rock and Woodville, Trenton, Pleasant Grove, and the communities of Aspel and LimRock and all the surrounding little towns and communities.
When I read the account of one man named Hodges recount in a speech in 1993 his experience and delight in being born and raised in the little community of LimRock and Aspel. His title is Judge Bob Hodges and his story sounds so much like one that my Gran may have told. It made me feel at home, safe, and longing for the good old days, the simple days, the days of extended family. The content of his speech follows:
AN ADDRESS AT LIM ROCK ‐ ASPEL HERITAGE DAY on October 9 , 1993 by Jackson County Circuit Judge Bob Hodges
Before you take anything else I say seriously, I want to read to you my father’s business card he used at Hodges Drug Store for over 30 years: “Robert Leslie Levi Buchannon Fairbanks Hodges, Jr……. Born on land lying N W One-fourth o f S E One ‐ fourth of Sec 10, Township 4 , Range 7E, Berry’s Cove, North Lim Rock, Alabama…… Now located in trading business about, 1 2 miles N E born site…….Come’n see me…. T
elelphone: Day: 2 longs and 1 short Nite: 2 longs and a half….” As you can see, he never forgot where he came from, and he was one of the best representatives o f the Lim Rock Chamber of Commerce who ever served. My roots go back here a t least three generations before me, and my memories of this community go back to the years of my childhood just before World War II. I want to share some of them with you today, because the heritage of a place, to me, means what culture that place has left us ‐ that unique and special quality a community has that is measured not just by its physical boundaries and its geographical features, but by its people: Who they were, what they believed in, and what they raised their children to be. And so, as I began thinking about what to say today, I considered In any memories of this community and its people, and ‘the special place it has occupied in my heart and in my family.
It began, for me, over 60 years ago, when three brothers left the cotton fields here on a sharecropper farm and moved ten miles up the road to the big city of Scottsboro. Each of them, my Dad, my Uncle Mess, and my Uncle Charles, never missed a chance t o remind travelers who stopped at Hodges Drug Store ‘that Lim Rock and Aspel were not just places you passed by on your way from Woodville to Scottsboro ‐ Lim Rock and Aspel, to them, was an oasis where you could come from Huntsville or Scottsboro or wherever else and quench your thirst for plain and simple beauty and good solid. working people who loved a good laugh and a rocker on the porch in the evening after a plate of pinto beans and corn bread and turnip greens, and the sound of the animals in the barn at night. The stuff a farm boy never finds, no matter how long he has been gone from the farm and no matter how far removed he has become in his dress and his income, from that simple beginning. The stuff he always longs to return to, and he can only find in a place he called home.
From my great ‐ grandfather George Johnson Hodges, known to the folks in this community only as Crockett, or my Grandfather Bob, for whom I was named, to my father, I learned legends of the people who lived here. They were told over and over to me and to others in my hearing so many times that they have become the stuff of this community. Whether they ever really happened or not is now not important to me when I think of them and of this community ‐ What i s important is the humor and the dignity of those who were portrayed in the stories I heard and the respect of the storytellers for them and for this community.
M y memories begin with evenings spent with. my grandfather here as a very small child on the porch of a two ‐ story log house which sat just over yonder around the curve from the Methodist Church. And I remember the smell in the springtime in those evenings of freshly turned earth, and of his eagerness over the crop he thought he could coax out of it, and of our watching and waiting for the sound of the Joe Wheeler to come churning through the night, its whistle blowing for the people of Lim Rock.
I remember Clyde Gentle’s store, where my father had his first job as a boy clerking and keeping up with the eggs and chickens on the rolling store, and the smell of pine wood floors and kerosene, and the sight of mule harnesses hanging from pegs, and glass jars of candy, while we waited for the Joe Wheeler to return me to Scottsboro after a weekend. Even as a child, there was a sadness on leaving, a sense that the old man in the overalls who was waving bye to me as the train pulled out from Clyde Gentles’ store, and so many others like him in this community were somehow special parts of my beginning that I wanted to come back to and hold on to until I understood the peace and the simple virtues of this place.
I remember cotton fields and hoes and long pick sacks and the hot day in the field when my grandfather and Charlie Stewart watched me drink in gulps from a cool thermos jug and then cackled and told me it was a chamber pot they kept under the wagon for themselves.
Some of the past citizens of this community, many of them now dead and gone, have become legends in my mind, because of the stories I was told about them. The athletes in Lim Rock took on superhuman proportions for me. Dr. Rayford Hodges swore to me in the drug store as he was sipping his coffee, time and again, that Rabbit Gray, the catcher for Lim Rock’s baseball team, played barefooted and once caught a foul ball that traveled 200 feet and never got higher than his head. M y father swore to me that Shine Lusk kicked a 50 yard field goal barefooted for Lim Rock’s football team, against the wind, in the closing seconds of a big game against Aspel.
The people of this community were always church ‐ going people on Sundays. My father’s earliest memories were of being carried in a wagon by my Grandmother to the Primitive Baptist Church. He remembered it well, because when they got to my Grandfather with the footwashing, he always let out a cackle when they got to the foot with the stub of a little toe he had cut off when cutting railroad ties.
The people of this community“ have always stood out for me as being folks with a never ‐ give ‐ u p attitude. Through the droughts, the flooding rains, the bitter winters, the poverty of the depression, the great tornado that swept through Paint Rock and here, the infant flu deaths that struck family after family ‐ through all those times when it seemed that a mother and father and children could not possibly hold up for another day ‐ your ancestors and mine ‐ and some of you who are older and here today ‐ squared up your shoulders and spit on your hands and went back to work and endured. I think that never ‑ give ‐ u p attitude is best remembered by me in a little story by Bob Hodges my grandfather told me that happened back in the late twenties.
My Uncle Mess, an older and larger boy than my father by far, had my father down, pinned flat to the ground, pummeling him at will, when my grandfather discovered them on his way back from milking. “What’s going on here?”, he asked. Immediately, my father, who was flat on his back and taking a mighty whipping, said: “Papa, you better get him off of me or I’m gonna kill him.”
The generations of the people of Lim Rock and Aspel before us were hard ‐ working, church ‐ going, mostly quiet ‐ spoken people, it seems from my memory and from stories I heard. But in all that toil and adversity they faced as farmers and farmers’ children, there beat within many of them the pulse of a sense of humor that no other community surpassed.
My father never got past the little nine ‐ grade school house that used to sit down the road over yonder, and he always envied his older brother, Charles, for being so bright and for getting a college education. There came a day when my father’s old school teacher came in the drug store to get a prescription filled and my father” waited on her. He was working there as a teenager then, and he had some conversation with the lady, and then called all of us employees over t meet her.
We gathered around, and he said, “Now, Miss Birdie, tell all these people what you just told me.” She looked at u s and said: “He was the brightest student I ever had. He made all A’s and h e could work any problem I ever gave him. He was a brilliant student.” My father swelled up and beamed at all of us, and the little old lady made her way to the store going out, and she turned, looked back at my father, and said: “CHARLES (not R.L.), it sure was nice to see you again.”
My grandfather and my father had the same name, except for the junior and senior that separated them. One day a juror summons came to the drug store delivered by the sheriff and made out to just R . L . Hodges. My father made a call to the courthouse and discovered that, by the birthdate, it was intended for my father. He called my grandfather to the store and told him he had a jury summons delivered there for him.
M y grandfather took the subpoena, never said a word, went to the courthouse the next week, and served on the jury. Many months went by, with never another word being said. Then, just before Christmas, Mr. Brad Stewart, a long ‐ time friend and customer of m y father’s, delivered a nice big country ham to m y father as a gift, wrapped in brown paper and labeled “R.L.Hodges.” My father put it on a table at the back of the store until he could take it home at quitting time. In comes my grandfather, walks straight to the back room, picks up the ham, and starts out the drug store. “Papa” screamed my father. “Papa ‐ that’s m ham!” “Son,” my grandfather said, “If that was my name on that jury summons, that is my name on this ham.” And off he went.
Lim Rock and Aspel people have always been known as good neighbors. My grandfather Bob Hodges’ neighbor was Charlie Stewart, who lived on the next farm down the road toward the school house. One cold January day, when the snow was on the ground and more predicted, a Saturday, my grandfather told Charlie that h e was taking his wife and children down to Paint Rock Valley to sit with a sick relative for the night, would be gone the whole weekend, and would Charlie milk the cow and feed the mule the next day. Charlie readily agreed to help out.
The next morning, more snow having fallen during the night, and bitter cold, Charlie came trudging up in the darkness, milked the cow, set the pail on the back porch, fed the mule, and on his way out through the snow, just as he passed my grandfather’s bedroom window, my grandfather threw up the shade and the window, and said, “Much obliged, Charlie.” You don’t find good neighbors like that any more.
There are many, many other stories I could tell which reflect the solid kind of people who founded this community and those who came after them. It says something about what we revere in this community and its people that those of us who have ties here come back and back again and are here today to celebrate it.
Someone once wrote that you can never really go home again, but I think we can, time and again, in our memories. Less than thirty days before my father died, just before Christmas of 1983, we took our last ride together. He was s o frail I had to help him in the car, and he was so weak he could hardly talk above a whisper. “We’ll o anywhere you want,” I said as I backed the car out of his driveway. “I’ll show you,” he said, and he just from then on, pointed his finger where he wanted me to turn.
W e came here, and w e rode through Aspel and by Jenny’s Chapel and past Gentry Hastings’ house and down to Pinky’s Store to say hello and then by the old Clyde Gentle store where he first worked as a boy. And then on we went, by the fields where there used to be cotton and by the piece of ground where the barn and log house once stood, and around the curve where the old schoolhouse once stood, and then out into Berrys Cove where he was born, until. he became too tired to continue. He wasn’t talking during the ride, but both of us were thinking of these communities and his childhood and all the years that had brought him full circle back to here. You see, he never ever forgot that this was home. And you never ever forgot to take him in. That is why I am here today, and that is why I thank you for letting me be a part of it.
The phone number has changed for us – It’s no longer ” 2 longs and 1 short”, but our “trading business“, as he said on his card, is still about 1 2 miles northeast of Berrys Cove, and, for our family, this is still home.
Robert L . (Bob) Hodges practiced law before being elected Circuit Judge of Jackson County, Alabama. He is a highly esteemed judiciary by profession, much sought after as a speaker, and without equal as a storyteller and writer. Bob is the son of the late R . L and Zelma (Nichols) Hodges, Jr. who set an impeccable example before him.
shows descendants of Levi Isbell at the 1930 family reunion at the Isbell home on Main Street, Albertville, Alabama. The home was later demolished but stood on the court house square across the street from the court house. Levi Isbell was the brother of our James Isbell. Levi Isbell married Sarah “Sallie” Birdwell and James Isbell married her sister Elizabeth Birdwell. James and Elizabeth Isbell are my third great-grandparents on my Murray line. The Murrays who married Isbells moved from around Paint Rock and Larkinsville in Jackson County, Alabama sometime between 1865-1870 to Colbert County, then Franklin County, Alabama.
and a nice surprise came in my email today. Family researchers on collateral lines to my Murray family are now participating in DNA research as well. One of them sent me this photo of a railway ticket that one of our ancestors bought in 1863. A cousin in Birmingham has the original. It is a ticket that James T Murray purchased in 1863. He died that same year. He died while serving as a the War Between the States as did his brother-in-law, John Lawrence, He was but 30 years old. He left a wife and five young children, among them a set of twins.
James T Murray was a son of John M Murray who fought with Andrew Jackson in the Creek War aka the War of 1812. John M Murray was my great-great-grandfather on my paternal side. James Thomas Murray served in the same Company during the War Between the States as did the husband of his sister Sarah Ann Rebecca Murray Lawrence (John Lawrence). John Lawrence died while being held prisoner of war at Rock Island Prison in Illinois. They both died in the year 1863 and both widows applied for and received Confederate Widow’s pensions. Both served as a Private in Co D of the 6th Regiment of Alabama Volunteers, CSA. James Thomas Murray’s wife was Jane Wood Dowdle. His children were: Sarah Elizabeth Murray Lawrence 1854 – 1935, John Robert Murray 1856 – 1938, Mary Jane Murray Wood 1860 – 1928 . William Moore Murray 1860-1904, and David Jefferson Murray 1862-1948. Mary Jane and William Moore Murray were the twins.