Last Sunday, while visiting family in Birmingham, I made a quick stopover to the Southside…the Glen Iris neighborhood to be more specific. As I drove west on 11th Avenue South from the 5 Points intersection, I saw all of the familiar sights: the Southside Branch of the Birmingham Public Library, the Rast Hall and Blount (West) Hall dormitories on the UAB campus, University Laundromat. There were some new sights: a Circle K where the Shop-a-Snak used to be, a BBQ spot where Fat Sam’s Subs used to be. One thing remained the same though: 11th Place South. I made the left turn and the yellow house on the corner (AKA 1101 11th Place South) was still there. And right next to it was 1103 11th Place South. I parked and had myself a moment. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Little Big Green House.
How I first came across this moment? I’m pretty sure that my introduction to Grandma Sallie’s house was shortly after I was born in October 1984. After all, my mother did live there at the time. My recollections of life in the Little Big Green House take me back to when I was 3 years old. I remember being a toddler in that place…basically doing all the things Ashton does now.
What it meant to me then? Life at 1103 11th Place South was something of an everyday adventure for me. It wasn’t the most luxurious place out there but it was home…and most importantly, it was comfortable. There were a lot of intricacies about the place that made it unique to me back then. The mint that grew in abundance on the southeast part of the house: I won’t confirm or deny that I used to pull it off and eat it all of the time. The secret mechanism to unlocking the back door. I remember when my cousin taught me that while I was in kindergarten. Grandma’s old figurines and maps of Birmingham. They scared the hell out of me when I was younger but I grew to appreciate them by the time I hit middle school and high school. The way the radiator clicked when it turned on. The walking path down the hill in the front yard. There was so much uniqueness to the place. Speaking of the front yard, I spent most of my time there. As long as the sun was shining and Grandma was sitting in the living room with a clear view, I spent a lot of time playing baseball in the front yard. Just me with a stick and a random bottle cap trying to hit home runs over the fence into the yellow house property. The family events were more like spectacles. From the Easter Sunday gatherings to the Halloween night meetups, the entire Thomas clan usually showed up and showed out at Grandma Sallie’s place. Before I knew of luxuries and amenities in homes, there was the Little Big Green House. As a young child, it was basically the best place ever.
What it means to me now? Last Sunday was my first time there in maybe 10 years. Though it seems to be fairly intact structurally, it appears to be in a state of disrepair. A lot of the exterior features that defined my childhood there still exist though, which is incredible. Grandma’s son—my granduncle, James—still owns the property. I think he’s holding on to it for the simple reason that it was Grandma’s house and the prevailing thought amongst Black Americans is “don’t sell Grandma’s house”. Personally, I’m glad he hasn’t. It’s been 16 years since she passed and for most of the family, that house is her legacy…or rather our legacy. Maybe, at some point when the Foreign Service money rolls in, I’ll reach out to Uncle James and ask if he could transfer the property over to me. In my mind, I’m thinking of an exterior restoration alongside an interior renovation…something that can carry the family flag for generations to come.