Robin McAllister Johnston

Growing up my younger brother and I spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents. Our parents were just setting out in their respective careers at the Medical Center and Farley Nuclear Plant so those undesirable evening and night shifts were common.

Papa Dodgen was a retired Army Master Sergeant and spent a goodly amount of time at the VFW or playing dominoes over at Billie Joe’s, aka Hunt’s Oyster Bar. I didn’t realize they were one and the same place until I was a grown woman.

Mema Dodgen was quite the storyteller and I loved to listen to her harrowing tales of growing up in Germany post WWI and in the middle of WWII. She never got over the lack of good bread here in Alabama, but her green thumbs were right at home. The flower beds she planted and tended to are still thriving today! On Saturdays she’d say “Let’s go to town”, and off we’d go to Northside Mall where two of our favorite haunts resided on the Fountain Level. The Art and Craft Hut and Oriental Imports were chock-full of amazing wares and I still occasionally visit those places in my dreams.

My Mema Mac could also be found at Northside Mall, working at the glamorous women’s boutique Claudine’s. I reveled in being surrounded by the clothing racks full of fabulous fabrics, myriad makeup and perfume counters, sparkling jewelry displays, and a swanky seating area complete with gigantic ashtrays. Mema Mac was also noted for her superior Southern cooking skills, I can still almost taste her signature dressing, mac’n’cheese, colored butter beans, collard greens, and fried cornbread!

Papa Mac was a traveling salesman for Mack Electric and was always up to date on the latest technology. He was the king of the home video, no milestone was left undocumented in our family. On Sunday mornings we’d head over to Tom’s Diner for pre-church breakfast and he’d take me back into the kitchen to see Tom flipping those pancakes and bacon. I was totally impressed and even a little star-struck by this celebrity chef whose name was printed right there on the sign and menu!

Yep, those were the days, back when the Dothan City limits were pretty much defined by the Ross Clark Circle.

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