Summons

Memorial Day Weekend 1994

You got to come home."

Whenever Auntee calls, I always cringe, then lock my knees and brace myself for the bad news, and the news is almost always bad, even if she is calling just to check on me or to keep in touch. She rushes through questions about my job, the weather, what I ate for lunch or dinner, then settles comfortably into talk of gloom and horror. I bite my tongue as she plies her way through one account after the other of brutal stabbings, fatal gunshot wounds, near-death escapes, ravaging diseases. Someone is either wasting away from terminal cancer, covered with rotting, pus-filled sores, or has suddenly yielded up the ghost, without prior warning. Like Miss Lovie Stoudimire, who had a massive heart attack while watering her azaleas ("Nobody even knew she had heart trouble") or Mr. Cleveland Fleming, crushed to death beneath a dump truck on a muddy back road in Muscoda. Years later, when rumors surfaced that his own son was driving the truck and had meant to run him over ("accidentally on purpose," Auntee said), she even called to tell me that.

Auntee is preoccupied with death and dying. Maybe it's because she's seen so much of both up close and acted as their willing messenger, always late at night. She was the one who had called to tell me Great-grandma Edie was gone, and then she had called about Daddy, then Mother, then Mama, then Papa. Most in May, around Memorial Day, except for Daddy, who died in winter, on December 5, leaving us bereft and in no spirit to celebrate Christmas. The stroke had killed him almost instantly, barely an hour after he collapsed in a heap on the sidewalk in front of the Moore and Handley hardware store. The others--Crockett, Daddy Les, Daddy Frank, and Martha Faye had all died before I went away to college in 1968. But before I left, in that fifteen-year period from 1974 to 1981, someone close had died, one after the other. Uncle Jr. broke the stretch three years later in 1984. We had expected him to die--he had diabetes, an enlarged heart, and a drug habit he couldn't shake--but his passing at forty-two years old still left all of us in shock and wondering who would be the next to go. Almost ten years had elapsed since Uncle Jr.'s passing and one of Auntee's late-night death-angel calls. So when I heard those dreaded and familiar words in May 1994, "You got to come home," and the heavy pause that followed, I was sure the long reprieve had ended. Swallowing hard, I tried to steady myself for the worst.

"I ran into Buttercup up at Bruno's Food Store and he told me that the Pipe Shop is giving out settlement money."

"Wha?" I heaved a sigh of relief. At least no one had died. To keep from yelling at her, I drew another deep breath before asking, "Who in the world is Buttercup?"

"You know Buttercup. Theotis Sanders is his name, but he goes by Buttercup. Your daddy used to work with him up in the Pipe Shop. Married one of the Miller girls, Maxine."

"I don't remember anybody named Buttercup or Maxine."

"Well, I don't know how you could forget Buttercup, many times as he came to y'all's house. Don't you remember? He and your daddy knocked around together, belonged to the same club, the Esquires. Card partners. Anyway, he was one of the ones who just got money from the government for asbestos poisoning. You and Reggie and Bumbiddle can probably get some too, seeing as how you your daddy's next of kin. Seems to me that since Wiley worked out there for all that time with Buttercup, he was bound to get the asbestos too. Pokie just got some of the money because her daddy died of lung cancer."

"Auntee, Auntee, slow down. I don't know any of these people. Any- way, Daddy had a stroke."

"Don't matter. The asbestos could have caused it."

"I doubt it."

"You don't know until you look into it. Buttercup said that if a man had died, the money would go to his widow, and if she had died, it would go to his children. So now that's you and Reggie and Bumbiddle, and you the right one to see about it. You the oldest and you know how to stand up to these plant folks. You got to have enough gumption to deal with these peckerwoods."

"Auntee, this is bound to end up just like the pay discrimination suit did. I'Il go through a lot of toil and trouble--making phone calls, gatherng documents, writing letters--for a measly twelve hundred dollars."

When the Justice Department settled its 1970s class-action suit against twelve Birmingham locals of the United Steel Workers of America, that's all we got for all the years Daddy had suffered wage and job discrimination. Like all the other plaintiffs, he had been systematically and routinely assigned to dead-end jobs that paid half the average white man's wage. They were all trapped in a racially segregated system designed to exclude blacks from jobs requiring higher skills. If they tried to advance to better units, they lost all seniority at the plant.

"Auntee, I repeat, I don't have the time for this. Not for chump change."

"You don't know how much you'll get until and unless you try. Plus twelve hundred dollars was more than you had."

I wanted to get off the telephone and finish reading the chapter of a dissertation I had promised to return the next day, but Auntee refused to let me off the hook. "Look into this" and "Check on that," she commanded, as I shifted impatiently from foot to foot to keep my bladder from exploding. Hoping to placate her for the moment, I asked a few more questions.

"Did this Buttercup tell you who to contact?"

"No, he didn't. But you can call him. Hold on, let me look up his number. Wait a minute. I can't see these little numbers anymore. Let me call Brittany. "

"Don't wake her up."

"She's not sleep."

"Well, she oughta be. What is she doing up this late on a school night?"

"They don't have school tomorrow. The teachers have some kind of in- service. Brittany, come here and look up a telephone number for Grandma. "

I jotted down the number as Brittany read it to me.

"Buttercup can tell you who to call. Just tell him you Wiley's daughter. He'll remember you. I still can't believe you don't remember Buttercup. He used to call you 'Thin Thighs'."

"Oh, yeah. Now I do. He lived up near Cox and Autry Food Saver. Had a lazy eye."

"Yeah, that's him. Nice man. Do anything for you. Give you the shirt off his back."

"Auntee, I didn't even know the Bessemer plant was still open."

"Oh, yeah, it's open. Ain't too many folks working out there, but they still open."

"Well, I'II call the plant tomorrow."

"You know, this might not be the kind of thing you can take care of on the telephone. You might need to be here, you understand. If I was you, I would come home and do my business that way, face to face. When you do your business face to face, folks ain't as quick to try to mess over you."

"Auntee, I just can't drop everything and come running home every time you hear rumblings about money at the Pipe Shop. And, anyway, the school year just ended and I still have a lot of loose ends to tie up."

"When will you be through?"

"In about three weeks."

"Well, come then."

"I can't. I have to go to Berlin and then I have to teach summer school."

"Berlin? In Germany? For what!"

"For a conference."

"What kind of conference? I sure do hate to see you doing all this ripping and running back and forth overseas. What with all these people shooting airplanes out the sky and bombing up everything, I just can't believe that you want to be traipsing all around the world all by yourself. Just like Mother."

"I won't be by myself. Other people are going."

"Don't matter," she said, then proceeded with more bizarre imaginings. "You need to settle down and move back home. Have a family. Your mama gone. Your daddy gone, and it ain't gon' be too long before my head gets cold You need to come back home amongst your own folks."

Auntee would not let this subject loose. She needled talk of my moving home into every conversation, pleading with me to come back to Alabama--for good. Since I'd gotten as far as Virginia--at least I was back in the South, she said--she still clung to the hope that I would eventually wend my way home. After eight years in the flatlands of Indiana, moved to Waterville, Maine, a few months after Mama died.

"Maine. That's up near Canada, ain't it?"

"Yeah, Auntee."

"Then you might as well be in another country."

During the eight years I stayed in Maine, bundled up and blanketed against the cold for most of the year, Auntee never missed an opportunity to remind me of just how far I was from home. "Why you want to live in a place with snow coming all the way lip to your window that's got you looking like some kind of Eskimo?" she wanted to know when I sent her a picture of me in a hooded parka, standing knee-deep in snow outside the house I lived in. It was the day after one of the worst blizzards in the state's history.

"it's not always that high."

"Hmmph, if it only got that high one time, that would be one time too many for me."

I had trekked to Colby College to teach African-American literature to the sons and daughters of the upper class. Many hailed from places like Darien and Greenwich, Park Avenue and Central Park West. The faculty shared the opinion that the students had selected Colby only because of its proximity to Sugar Loaf Mountain, where they skied when they were not jetting off to the slopes of Cortina. Though skiing had seemed to be their primary preoccupation, the students learned to love the works we read, especially Toni Morrison's Sula and James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues."

When I left Maine eight years later and headed for Virginia--this time a blizzard did run me out--Auntee wanted to know why I couldn't just come on home. There were perfectly good universities in Alabama. What about the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where all the Acoff girls had gone? They were now all engineers, all four of them. And what about Tuscaloosa?

"You know, it's changed a whole lot since George Wallace was down there raising Cain." I laughed as we remembered chat day in June 1963, when she, Gina, and I huddled tensely in front of the black-and-white television to watch the showdown in Tuscaloosa: Governor George Wallace versus a federal court order. The all-white Alabama National Guard rolled onto the Tuscaloosa campus armed with M-l rifles, in readiness for a riot. And as the phalanx of uniformed soldiers thickened, we wondered aloud whether Wallace would take his stand in the schoolhouse door and thus keep his inaugural promise of "segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. " Now, of course, all the world knows he didn't. Knows all about his face-saving gesture. While he grandstanded in one door, Vivian Malone and James Hood marched right through another, without incident. Defiant to the end, Wallace sped back to Montgomery, vowing that he would "never surrender" the fight to keep segregation the law and the custom of Alabama.

"Oh, it almost slipped my mind. Buttercup say you will need your daddy's death certificate before you can file a claim." She had segued back to the subject of asbestos, and this time it set my teeth on edge.

"Auntee, look. Daddy's been dead and gone, soon will be twenty years. I just don't want to stir all that stuff up again." I could tell from the tone of her voice that her face had taken on that familiar pinched and sullen cast. Silence always follows.

"Well, then, good night."

Auntee Estella--most of the family calls her Stella--is my oldest living relative, my father's only sister. She and her only daughter, Gina, and Gina's only daughter, Brittany, are my closest relatives left in Bessemer, Alabama, where I was born March 14, 1951, in a rural industrial community called the Pipe Shop, twelve miles from Birmingham. Short for the U.S. Pipe and Foundry, Pipe Shop gave our neighborhood its name and the men of Bessemer menial employment while the steel industry hung on, paying a barely livable wage. Health care has now replaced ferrous metals as the city's main employer, but in the boom times, the men of Pipe Shop donned sooted overalls and poured molten iron into spinning molds for casting pipes sold all around the world.

From a distance, U.S. Pipe looks like a school grounds. Even the grassy slope at the west end of the complex resembles a giant green chalkboard. Bright white letters, stretching high above street level, are cemented into the grass:

U.S. PIPE: AND FOUNDRY. EST. 1890.
MORE THAN A PLACE TO WORK
Once, skipping alongside Daddy on a run to Gober's package store, we passed the group of hulking, fenced-off, red-brick buildings that spanned two long blocks. Yanking on his arm, I remember asking, "What does that mean, Daddy?"

"What?"

"The sign. More than a place to work."

Now I can't remember what he answered, but those white letters remained a puzzle throughout my early years.

U.S. Pipe dominated our neighborhood, which was bounded (and crowned) by the plant at Nineteenth Street on the north, Twelfth Street on the south, Seventeenth Avenue on the east, and Twenty-second Avenue on the west.

When I left Pipe Shop to go to college in September 1968, I vowed never to come back, except for brief visits to see my loved ones. By escaping Pipe Shop, I would permanently put the images, slights, and restrictions of racial segregation far behind me (or so I naively thought).

Why would I want to return to Alabama? I had always silently asked myself whenever Auntee laid the pressure on. While summer's palette, its sounds and smells, had framed my childhood memories in Pipe Shop, at least from adolescence onward, the place looks sere and desolate in my mind's eye and conjures up the sadness I often feel when roses shed their petals and magnolia blossoms turn from cream to rust.

As the years have galloped by, my trips back home have been few and far between. I must admit that, at times, it's only duty that compels me to visit when I do--the duty owed an elder who helped to raise me from a gangly knobby-kneed girl and taught me to love Dinah Washington's blues.

Sleep deserted me that night. Between midnight and morning, memories, rolling, rolling, rolling from the deep, pried my eyes wide open. First, watched the play of dogwood branches silhouetted on the pleated shade, then tried to read but could not concentrate. In this agitated state, I picked my way in the darkness down the stairs to search for Daddy's death certificate. I was certain that I still had a copy somewhere in my house. I first searched underneath the cabinet in my study, opening the big battered manila envelope with meaningless dollar figures scribbled on the outside, red ink soaked into the fibers of the paper.

I am a serious pack rat. Large envelopes, brown paper bags, and paste- board boxes are my intermediate filing systems. Not for nothing am I Mother's granddaughter. I learned from her the habit of stuffing clippings and mementos into cavernous bags. The only difference is that in Mother's case, they often made their way from paper bag to photo albums and scrapbooks. Mother was famous for her scrapbooks. When the Bessemer Voters League honored Mr. Asbury Howard for all his hard work as its president and for his courage as a leader, I vaguely remember that Mother's clippings from the Birmingham World helped to compose "This Is Your Life," the large scrapbook chronicling his career as a Civil Rights activist. I plan many scrapbooks in my head, but the last time I actually pieced one together was at high school graduation. Since then, my clippings have remained in this disorderly zone, stuffed into wrinkled envelopes shoved into corners of cabinets and closets of my study and behind the sofa bed.

Inside the envelope were old playbills, the stubs of concert tickets, my dried corsage from the junior prom, still pinned to lime green tulle. My medal for proficiency in Spanish, various newspaper clippings from the Birmingham World. Funeral programs and sympathy cards, Mama's spiral club book, a copy of the recipe for Papa's famous lemon pound cake, pages of a 1956 speech by Martin Luther King Jr., mimeographed in fading purplish elite type.

There was the photograph of Daddy we used on the front of his obituary. A young man in military uniform, his hair close shaven, his pants stuffed down in knee-high, stub-toed boots, hands clasped behind his back. He had signed the photograph "To Mother, With Love, Wiley."

Everything but the death certificate. Maybe it was in the large grocery bag in the cabinet's corner. I unfolded its zigzag lip, but the death certificate wasn't in there either. Just a sandwich baggie of random snapshots and my faded pink baby book.

This was actually the second time the baby book had surfaced as searched for something else. The first time I found it, it lay inside the cedar chest, buried underneath piles of fabric, stray pattern pieces, Daddy's honorable discharge papers, and pictures of his German girlfriends. That day I was looking for a pattern piece for Miss Ezell Wilkerson's shawl-collared jacket, smoothing out wad after wad of caramel-colored tissue paper. Although a great seamstress, Mama was forever losing pattern pieces or stuffing them, distractedly, into the wrong envelopes. My guess is that after finishing one of her intricate garments with bound buttonholes, or mutton sleeves, or tiny tucks setting off the bodice of a dress, or accordion pleats with precision spacing, she couldn't he bothered with folding pattern pieces and tucking them neatly away.

"You still didn't find it?" Mama asked impatiently, then broke into a tirade: "This is absolutely the wrong style for Ezell. Her chest is entirely too big for this jacket. It's just gonna gape wide open and expose her sagging titties for everybody to see. Folks always trying to wear what God didn't give 'em the shape to wear. Coming in here with pictures from these magazines wanting to look like these models. Bur ain't no way for them to look like these models who ain't no bigger than a zipper." Next to open- necked garments on the buxom, Mama hated sleeveless ones on women whose upper arms had melted into jiggling flesh. Even if the soft pockets of fat had only collected just above the elbow, Mama still insisted that the woman's arms be covered up--for good.

The day she told Miss Ezell that she shouldn't wear a sleeveless dress to Pokie's wedding, even though it was planned for the middle ofJuly in Alabama, I thought she had taken her dressmaking dos and don'ts a bit too far. I know she embarrassed Miss Ezell in front of Baby Jean, our neighbor from across the street. One of the few "kept" women in Pipe Shop, Baby Jean was bored, and when Mr. Willie, her common-law husband, went to work, she often drifted over to our house in the late morning. With a pack of Camels, crimped aluminum foil for an ashtray, and a bottle of Royal Crown Cola, she perched on the edge of the bed while Mama sewed. That day she was wearing a sleeveless duster, which prompted Miss Ezell to 17rorest: "Look at Baby Jean; her arms ain't covered." Mama lost no time in quipping, "That's right, but look at your arms, then look at Baby Jean's. She ain't got chick nor child. You got eight, and nothing will ruin a woman's arms for sleeveless dresses like having eight children. Now look here, Ezell, this is your oldest child and your only daughter, so when the usher walks you down the aisle, you better not have your arms wiggling and jggling all over the place like Jell-O." Miss Ezell put up some resistance, but the dress of ice blue silk brocade ended up with cuffed three- quarter-length sleeves. Mama had won again, just as she would the following Christmas when Miss Ezell wanted a leopard-skin pillbox like Jackie Kennedy wore. Mama simply said, "Your head's too big and your neck`s too short."

I can't remember whether or not I found the missing pattern piece curved like a scythe's blade, but I did find the baby book with the pink-satin-padded cover and a garland of hand-painted red roses.

Aunt Queen Esther Harris, who wrote life and burial insurance for North Carolina Mutual, had given the baby book to Mama when I was born. Although she had never had children of her own, she was fond of them, so Mama chose her as my godmother. Throughout my childhood, whenever she came to collect the insurance money, she brought me all my favorite things--bags of Big Moon cookies, tins of sardines, boxes of Crayola crayons, coloring books and jigsaw puzzles, loose-leaf pastel paper, and pencils inscribed with my name in gilded letters. She even gave me my first savings bank, a mottled ceramic pig with a plastic stopper underneath. But my favorite present of them all was Cindy, the "Walking Bridal Doll" in white lace gown and veil, with rooted hair like stiffened bristles and a dark brown face that dented to the touch.

When I first found the baby book, each page was blank. There were no first pictures, no print of feet and hands, no record of contagious diseases or vaccinations, no names of pets, no record of athletic events, not even how much I had weighed at birth, the date I was christened, what my first words were or my first prayer or who had taught it to me.

"Mama, why didn't you ever write in the baby book?" I wanted to know the day I first found it.

"Oh, child, I never had time for all that. That's for folks ain't got nothing else to do but sit around all day. I been too busy working."

That day I commenced to writing in the book myself. I must have been about fourteen when I started filling in the blanks, for the "Height and Weight Chart" is clear up to that line, where I recorded being 5 feet, 8 and a half inches tall, an inch short of my current height, and weighing 122 pounds. I would have been in ninth grade then at Brighton High.

I put the baby book into the paper bag and carried the stack of snapshots back up to my room. By the muted yellow light of the bedside lamp, I shuffled through them, lingering, as always, over that one of us at Mother's house. My brothers, Reggie and Bumbiddle, were not yet born. My guess is that the picture was taken after one of Mother's famous Sunday dinners, held after church when she was home from Mountain Brook, where she worked as a live-in private-duty nurse for a wealthy family named the Bergers. Daddy, Mama, and my half sister, Martha Faye, are seated on the camelbacked sofa. Daddy wears an ivory-colored jacket and a printed bow tie and holds me round my waist between his knees. I look to be about three, although still gripping a pacifier in my mouth. Mama smiles admiringly at Daddy, who stares straight into the camera.

Martha Faye does not seem happy. She hugs the sofa's bulky arm, almost escaping from the picture. Martha Faye was the daughter Daddy had fahered before he married my mother. Her mother, Ernestine, was only sixteen when she was born. As Auntee tells the story, Daddy would have married her, but Mother begged him not to. According to Mother, everybody knew the girl was fast and wild and opened her legs for anything warm and breathing. To make amends for not marrying Ernestine, Daddy adopted Martha Faye soon after he returned from his army stint in Germany, but she remained with her mother and visited every now and then. When Ernestine eventually married a brawler and a boozer, who was mean to Martha Faye, she came to live with us in Pipe Shop when I was six years old.

"She looked so thrown-away." Mama would say when she remembered the day Martha Faye moved in. "Great big moon eyes and would jump it you called her name for going on I don't know how many months. But raised her just like she was my own flesh and blood. I didn't make a bit of difference between you. Not a bit. If I made you a dress, I made one for her. If you got shoes, she got shoes."

I remember the day Martha Faye left Pipe Shop for good as one of the saddest of my life. She had been in our lives for many years--in the same house for almost three-and I'd grown quite attached to her. She went to live in Buffalo with Ernestine, who had moved there with her husband, now born again and preaching. It was too soon, so sudden, just like her death from bone cancer when she was only twenty-five years old.

We buried her in Buffalo. It was my very first trip North. Ever since Martha Faye had left Pipe Shop, I had dreamed of going to Buffalo, pickling my fantasies of the grand time I would have once arriving. After being cramped in the backseat of the car, bickering through the night with Gina, we arrived in Buffalo near dawn the next day and I discovered just how much it resembled Birmingham, except the houses were stuck together like rows and rows of Siamese twins.

Gina's in the picture taken at Mother's house, standing opposite Martha Faye. She must have been around six and about to go somewhere, since she is buttoned up in a plaid coat, a velvet tam slanted on her head. She clutches the pole of the torchere lamp and grins to expose two missing teeth.

There was the snapshot of Reggie and Bumbiddle. Pictured together as they usually were when we were children. Reggie must be four here, seated behind the infant Bumbiddle on the kitchen floor. For some reason, they are poised between the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinet, where jelly- glass tumblers of cartoon scenes are upended on the counter. A head taller, Reggie faces right, on the side where the scar would later be from when the dog almost ripped his eye out. He grips his baby brother tightly round the belly. Here they are again in much the same position, this time on the front porch, where long shadows dance across the knotted floorboards and around the window frame.

One by one, I studied each of these cherished pictures--my first-grade picture, the only one in Daddy's wallet the day he died. Gina and me in matching dotted swiss dresses, standing with Uncle Jr. the day before he went away to college. The ninth-grade class picture of me in the dark brown shift that buttoned down the side and hung loosely on my slender frame, my wiry hair tamed by a bright gold headband. Mama in her high school robe and mortarboard, posed stifly against a wintry wooded backdrop. She sits sideways, curls touching the white collar. A ten-year-old Auntee looking forlorn, a huge bow pinned in back of her head, drooping down like rabbit ears. Auntee as a young woman in white cafeteria uniform, a lace handkerchief stuck in the pocket. Her hair is freshly pressed and curled and she smiles, as always, with lips pursed tightly together. Reggie in his eighth-grade class picture. Bumbiddle, in his seventh-grade equivalent, the corners of his mouth turned up in that familiar devilish grin. Several pictures of Mother. More of Mother than of anybody else. In one she's standing in one of her trademark suits on the steps of an Eastern Airlines jet, looking over her shoulder and waving at someone below. Mother in California in a floral bathing suit, seated on the steps of a huge swimming pool, her legs dangling in the shimmering blue-green water. Mother holding the Bergers' grandbaby, Laney, in a receiving blanket, the baby's bald alabaster head resting on Mother's shoulder.

Mother, who was my paternal grandmother, insisted that her children and their children call her Mother, a departure from the Southern black custom of "Mama" or "Muddeah" (for Mother dear). This oddity created some confusion throughout my childhood, not so much because of the naming but because of what it signified. Who was responsible for mothering me? It wasn't always clear. So many "mothers" were answerable for my care, and all too often, least of them my own. Mama's authority was constantly usurped by Mother, who was strong-willed and brooked no opposition, and certainly not from her generally quiet and unassuming daughter-in-law. This situation created divided loyalties in me, but in the end I let Mother's claims prevail. Almost everybody did.

What happened to the rest of the pictures, I don't know. The family's photographic archive just stops at a certain point, leaving everyone frozen at a much earlier moment in time. It's such a mystery. I know Mother snapped pictures at Auntee's wedding and at Gina's debutante's ball. And I know there were several of Uncle Jr.--different shots of him the day he left for the citizenship tour, the day he graduated from Dunbar High, and many of the day in August 1959 when he left home for Howard University. Pictures of him in ROTC uniform, cords of braided gold dangling from the epaulets.

These were all in a scrapbook I helped Mother put together soon after Auntee's wedding. She spread the pictures over the dining-room table, arranging them in special order, then I pasted the chevrons on pages of black construction paper and secured the photographs in the four pointed corners. Just below each one, I wrote in silver ink the cursive captions Mother dictated. "Wiley in Uniform," "Mother with Baby Laney," "Mother takes Her First Flight," "Mother and Papa at the General Conference, Buffalo, New York," "Mother in Florida," "Mother in San Francisco," "Mother in New York with Mark Goodson," "Estella's Wedding, May 1967," "Fred Jr. in Officer's Uniform," and many others. Where was the picture of Great-grandma Edie and her two sisters standing on the hanks of a reflecting pool? All swathed in long, glistering white dresses, they looked like apparitions rising from the water's mists.

"Here is the number you need to call to get the death certificate." I played Auntee's annoying message on my answering machine the next afternoon. As much as I wanted to ignore it, I was compelled, despite myself, and for reasons that I still cannot explain, to dial the number I had scribbled on an index card. "This is the Bureau of Vital Statistics, Jefferson County, Alabama," announced the official-sounding voice. He instructed me to request a search in writing, including the name of the deceased, race, sex, place of death, date of death, and funeral home, if known. Send a $12.00 money order for each search to:

Death Records
Jefferson County Health Department
P.O. Box 2648
Birmingham, Alabama


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