No Hill Too High for a Stepper: Memories of Montevallo, Alabama
Born during the Great Depression, Mike Mahan was in many ways a very lucky boy. His parents, a barber and a beautician, owned their own shop and home, always providing ample food, clothing, and warmth. No Hill Too High for a Stepper is not, then, the usual story of economic or family struggle, but rather a celebration of life in Montevallo, Alabama, during the thirties, forties, and fifties. It paints excellent portraits of unusually supportive parents as well as of other family members and townspeople, creating a detailed sense of small-town life during this period. At the heart of this book is an absorbing depiction of an irrepressible child and adolescent who approached all of life with a great sense of wonder and who meant to live it to the fullest. Throughout the memoir, the reader comes to see the richness of this life and the pride with which Mahan remembers it.
American dream—or at least one version of it—but in it there was a terrible self-destructiveness. Sister was anything but a self-destructive person. Throughout her long life, she was a survivor, strong and solid. Momma used to say that Tootsie took after her father, but that Sister took after her mother. And based on the little I knew of Mr. Peters, that assessment is pretty much on target. But both sisters gave me opportunities, especially as a child and adolescent, to see a world I would
couldn’t follow the written music—a skill that has served me well in my musical life. When the dance was over and the managers gave Sam his cut of the door, he paid us off immediately, with his usual quip he had picked up off a preacher somewhere, “Boys, we had a hundred-dollar sermon and a ten-dollar crowd.” But I was proud to get the four greasy George Washingtons he pressed into my hand. None of us players were bothered that Sam’s cut was bigger. He held us all together. And he was generous. I
day of big ditches—up the slopes on foot and down on cardboard box tops, we would be “red clay dirty.” Returning home with our clothes caked with the red dust, we always knew that our mothers would not be happy. But sliding the ditches was worth it. Living as I did on Shelby Street, with Shoal Creek right in my backyard, I could not avoid being interested in swimming and fishing. Before Big Springs swimming hole was completed, I usually swam at Little Springs, which served as the water source
out. Dad assumed somehow that this was worse than the belt, but, though it made a great racket, it really hurt much less. I remember feeling the true blaze of Dad’s anger only once, and that hurt me to the quick. This time he didn’t need to take off his belt. He wounded me with his words. I was about twelve and had gotten quite interested in mechanical things, spending a lot of time in the garage working on my bicycle. When I got tools from Dad’s toolbox, I was careful to put them back, but one
there in nigger quarters. They ain’t gonna pay no attention to him.” I knew for a fact that he was selling liquor to prominent people in town. Another opportunity to drink came because Pete Givhan’s Coca-Cola bottling company served the Shelby County Gold Coast, a series of honkytonks on Highway 31 South and on Highway 280. Sammy Fiorella had a joint on the Shelby County side of the Cahaba River, and on the other side of the river was the First Stop. We’d send the oldest boy in to buy beer at