Under a star-filled sky, I sit on an old front porch listening to a man singing folk songs while his wife plays the harmonica. The air is warm and a light breeze whispers in the trees. The year is 1956. I have traveled back in time to meet Charlie Bundrum, a man who will never grace the pages of a history book, but still left an immeasurable impression on his family and anyone who cracks the cover of the book Ava’s Man.
After a long day of work roofing under the hot Alabama sun in his overalls, Charlie invited me to join him, his wife, and their seven children for dinner. While I could see that they lived on a modest budget, I graciously accepted their offer. During dinner, his children recounted stories which illustrated that despite a rough exterior, Charlie Bundrum was a kind hearted man, who sacrificed and fought for those he cared about. During the Depression, Charlie would not eat until all of his children had eaten. On one occasion, Charlie stepped out of his house empty-handed to face a man aiming a shotgun at his chest knowing that his family was counting on him to keep them safe. After our dinner, Charlie took me to see the places where he made liquor illegally, during and after the Prohibition, when several counties in the South remained dry, to pay the rent and put food on the table for his family. As we hiked through the woods, Charlie told me stories of the nights that sheriffs chased Charlie all over the foothills of Alabama trying to catch him at one of his stills. I asked Charlie if he had ever done anything else that was unlawful. He replied that he had willfully disregarded game regulations to feed his family. While Charlie felt the uneasiness that accompanies guilt, his internal sense of justice overrode artificial restrictions. As we walked on in silence through the dark trees, I stared in awe at the silhouette walking in front of me. Here was a man whose love for his family was so great he had the daring to put himself at risk to provide for them.
As the music fades and I am snatched from my memories of the day, as the Bundrum’s head inside to go to bed. I am left sitting on their porch under the vast Southern sky, thankful that I had the opportunity to meet an unknown hero. A man who will be remembered certainly not because he was a saint, but because his family was secure in knowing nothing would hurt them as long as their daddy was around.
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