ELBERTA, AL – This is the story of Marvin Williams, 70, the second term mayor of Elberta, Alabama, and his 48-year-old son, Chris.
It would be hard to find a father more dedicated to a physically handicapped son than Williams. The time he has devoted to his son plus his Navy career has resulted in three failed marriages.
Elberta is a 111 year-old farming community with a population of about 1,200 – one of the few true farm towns left in the area. Years ago it was best known for potatoes, oranges, tangerines, and gladiolus. Then the Alabama climate grew cooler.
So the citrus industry shifted south to Florida. Today, in addition to cattle, local farmers often raise cotton soybeans, and corn.
Williams married when he was 19 and his bride was 17. They had three sons.
Williams joined the Navy, and served 22 years, 3 months and 3 days. He served on an aircraft carrier that went to Guantanamo, Cuba for 45 days during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. He was later sent to Viet Nam on an aircraft carrier. Next he served on a Mine Sweeper for a year and a half.
One Navy assignment took him to Key West. In time he was sent to Chicago. However, as a native of the South, he disliked the snow and cold Chicago weather so decided to retire from the Navy. That’s when Captain C.C. Dudley, Area 3 commander, asked him to stay on for two more years, then provided him with a car as an incentive and reassigned him to warmer Montgomery, Alabama.
At about the same time his oldest, son, Chris, who also was in the Navy, based in Virginia Beach, was involved in an accident that paralyzed him from the neck down. About that time Williams’ own father had become ill, and so Williams bought ten acres of land at the edge of Elberta and built one house for Chris and a second home for his elderly parents. Soon they purchased another 5 acres.
When Chris was transferred to a Veteran’s facility in Tampa his father went with him and spent several months learning how to properly care for him.
“I needed to learn to be a nurse,” he said. At first the doctors objected.
“Then I told them, at some point you are going to send him home and I need to know what to do.”
Chris may be paralyzed and forced to live in a wheel chair, but he is mentally sound and thinks clearly and effectively. His father calls Chris brilliant. Chris urged his father to buy a bar in Magnolia Springs. Chris then ran the bar from his wheelchair with the help of a single employee for 20 years.
Chris’ problem took a toll on William’s marriages. His three wives all complained that Williams was spending too much time caring for Chris. Some of the complaints came in the form of ultimatums. Williams said his handicapped son would always come first. In one case his wife found a boyfriend. Another wife threatened to leave Williams if he continued to focus so much of his time on Chris. Two weeks later he divorced her.
When Williams took his son to the races at Talladega they were sitting in the grandstand when his cell phone rang. For years Williams had been purchasing tickets for a raffle at the Catholic church. The person on the phone told him he had just won a Ford Explorer.
Since Williams already had two good cars, Chris suggested they sell the Explorer and use the money as money down on a motorhome. They designed the motorhome with a wheelchair roll-in shower and a bedroom for Chris up front and a second bedroom in the back with the kitchen area in between. Winnebago built it to his specifications while Williams had to find an additional $75,000 to pay for it.
Chris had urged his father to purchased two buildings on the highway that runs through Elberta. One, which cost $150,000, was rented by a dentist. The rent covered the mortgage with a little left over. After six years of paying rent the dentist bought the building for $285,000. The profit helped the family in many ways.
Chris has become skilled at using a voice controlled computer and does all the purchasing for the restaurant and his family, according to Williams, who sold the bar when he ran for mayor.
The second building had remained empty. Williams, an outgoing man with a highly refined sense of humor, used white shoe polish to write on the window to pretend he was opening a restaurant there that he would serve cats, dogs, possoms and other animals. A nearby newspaper took a picture.
Williams liked the publicity and while joking around with a brother, Williams came up with the name Road Kill Cafe. The restaurant remains successful today, and is now run by another of his sons, although it is only open for lunch from 10:15 to 12:30.
While those hours sounds easy, the son actually goes to work around 5:00 a.m., and begins to slow-cook the meat. He also slow-cooks vegetables in three large kettles so that food is, Williams says. ready to serve when customers arrive. He offers “all you can eat” meals, including drink and desert, for $9.00.
Williams, who just turned 70 in March, and had a stroke a few years ago, celebrated his birthday by going to Hawaii. He had been there earlier with Chris when Alabama played the University of Hawaii.
While recruiting for the Navy he made friends with Alabama’s legendary football coach Paul W. (Bear) Bryant, who gave Williams autographed photos to hand out. (Bryant was so popular the autographs were signed by a machine he kept in his office).
Williams has remained friends with former wives, although two have now passed on. And he says if there is a bigger fan of the Alabama football team then that man has to be both taller and heavier than he is.