Posted 5/16/20

We had an occasional visitor who would stay with us for days or weeks. My dad had a cousin, Raleigh Ryan, who lost his mother, my grandfather’s sister, when he was young. He was assisted by an aunt …

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We had an occasional visitor who would stay with us for days or weeks. My dad had a cousin, Raleigh Ryan, who lost his mother, my grandfather’s sister, when he was young. He was assisted by an aunt who gave him a temporary place to live. After his aunt moved out of state, he had no anchor anywhere on dry ground so he joined the Merchant Marines and sailed the world. At times when he was on shore leave, he would come to our house to stay until he sailed again. We never knew when he would show up or how long he would stay.  

We children would be outside doing chores or playing when he would appear, walking down the road toward our house. We would announce his arrival in a loud voice, “Here comes Raleigh!” Dad assured him that he was always welcome at our house, and as he had few places to go while on shore leave, he headed our way. We always enjoyed listening to him tell of his episodes in his worldwide travels and were always thrilled when he made his appearances.  

There are many memories of Raleigh that I could never forget. One time he was helping us clear some land when he uncovered a nest of yellow jackets. He had a tear in his clothes and the bees found the opening and displayed their displeasure in being disturbed. Raleigh shed his clothes and voiced his displeasure in loud sailor talk which was not suitable to the ears of the innocent children present. To even the score, he took some kerosene, poured it on the nest, lit a fire and ran. The problem then was that he started a forest fire which took a while to extinguish. On another occasion, he declared that he could ride our mule, Dock. After all, he was a sailor boy, so he climbed on. Everything went well for a little while until Dock decided that he had enough and promptly, unceremoniously removed Raleigh from his backside. Dock was not too impressed with the bravado, tough man sailor talk. Upon the ejection, Raleigh hit a rock, HARD, and he lay there and moaned for a while. I was told that he had occasional flare-ups from the injury for the remainder of his life. Needless to say, Raleigh never again attempted to ride old Dock. 

I realize that I am getting into a personal story here about an individual, but I insert it here as an example of hospitality extended to one who was homeless. Dad was not obligated to offer Raleigh a place to stay and food to eat when it was needed. We certainly did not have a spare bedroom or a freezer full of food, but we always had enough to spare if it was needed. There is a good ending to this story which I will share. After Raleigh retired from the Merchant Marines, his aunt and her husband, Gurtrude and Sye Yagle, had sold their store in Pickinsville, Alabama, and moved to Arizona to be in a healthier climate. They had kept the house and gave it to him as he had no home. Raleigh lived there for the remainder of his life.

Raleigh was the only person said to have lost his job by the building of the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway. It happened like this: when Raleigh left the Merchant Marines he stayed on the water but in a far smaller capacity. He operated the ferry that crossed the Tombigbee River at Pickinsville, Alabama, for decades before a bridge was built to span the new waterway, thus putting him out of a job. While he operated it, Raleigh returned the favor which we had earlier extended to him. Ferry service ended at nightfall, and after that he would load us onto the ferry and go to the middle of the river and allow us to fish from it. The Tombigbee River was noted for its good cat fishing, but I remember catching a lot of eels more than anything else.

Raleigh’s work on the ferry was not overlooked, and he was given a job at the new Bevill Lock and Dam at Aliceville. There was an old steamboat moored there as an attraction, and Raleigh was hired to give tours and tell people about the river. There was no one who had as much knowledge about the Tombigbee River as did Raleigh. After his death, a local launching area maintained by the Federal Core of Engineers was given the title Raleigh Ryan Launching Area in his honor. This boat launch on the western side of the river near the Mississippi line has probably been used by some readers who fish the Tombigbee at Pickinsville. Raleigh made such an impact on my young life that his name was used in my three published books. It was given to the main character, Raleigh Walker. Hospitality extended often results in it being repaid by appreciative recipients.

Looking back, I can appreciate the way Dad welcomed Raleigh into our house as I imagine that he wanted to repay the hospitality extended to him by such as the Knight family in Dora, The Wadsworth’s in Arley, The Carmichaels in Lynn’s Park, and other families who extended hospitality to him and took him into their homes when he did not have one. Our family still remembers these families for their hospitality.