by Foster Dickson
In the summer of 1974, I came home from Baptist Hospital to a small, brick, ranch-style house in Normandale, on the corner of Princeton Road and Byrne Drive, which my father inherited after his mother passed away in 1971. This meant that my older brother and I were raised in the house where our dad was raised, surrounded by elderly people who had known three generations of our family. My grandparents had bought the house new in the 1950s, and though I never knew them, they made the decision about the place I would call home.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, Normandale constituted our world. We got our groceries at Winn Dixie, our Buster Browns at DeShields-Larson, our ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, our music at The Sound Shop, our books at the cavernous public library adjacent to Hancock’s Fabrics. We waved at Santa in the upper window of Loveman’s department store, helped our great-aunt Lillian stuff envelopes at the American Heart Association, and found the stairwell to the fallout shelter beautifully mysterious (before it became Underground, the teen club).
My family made a home in that corner of south Montgomery. We cut grass for as many as a dozen neighbors, my father and brother sold Christmas trees with the Boy Scouts in the median by Norman Bridge Road, and my mother was active in Floyd’s PTA and neighborhood watch. We knew the old proprietor of the Union 76 service station since my dad had worked there in high school, and we knew Winn Dixie’s meat-cutter Mr. Kennessy since my mother had been friends with his daughter. Going to Duff’s Smorgasbord, which filled the empty Loveman’s, was like an indoor block party, with families we knew spread out all over the restaurant.
I left that house in Normandale in 1996, after finishing college at Auburn University at Montgomery. By then, that vibrant community was in the past. People had moved or passed away, and the stores in the mall were closing as the city looked east. And even though it makes me sad to see it as it is now, I know that had the privilege of passing my youth in a place where, as the Cheers theme song put it, “everybody knows your name.”
originally published in The Montgomery Advertiser as “Normandale: Where Everybody Knew Your Name,” in February 2020