This is Decatur

By: Manh C. Dang, MD

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“A River Runs Through It” is a 1992 film about a small town in Montana. It won an Academy Award for spectacular cinematography depicting the magic of fly fishing. But what makes the movie great is the story about two brothers and their relationship. Here in Alabama, nestled by the bank of the Tennessee river, the city of Decatur also has its uniqueness and charm. In its heyday, Decatur nicknamed the “River City,” was an economic powerhouse due to its strategic location for railroad transport and shipping industries. Today, it is an important regional financial center and home to various farming, manufacturing, chemical, cargo transit industries, and high-tech companies.

Decatur is also known to most of us for having the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge, Point Mallard Water Park, a historic district, or perhaps the Alabama Jubilee Hot-Air Balloon Classic. If you have an opportunity to visit Decatur, I suspect you would marvel at the interesting blend of the revitalized new and nostalgic old this place possesses. Driving through the city, one may encounter giant grain silos or manufacturing plants within short walks of quaint, old neighborhoods where Magnolias and Crepe Myrtles grow tall. I come across a new condo next to a contemporary park just a few feet from an old railroad track running to and from a historic railroad bridge. And a short drive on the “Beltline,” after a plethora of fast-food eateries, car dealerships, hotels, and anything else one can imagine seeing along a busy thoroughfare, will lead one to the calm of cornfields and the wild of a nature preserve. This is Decatur.

Having the opportunity to work there for two weeks, I, too, have a taste of this charming city. Coming from Huntsville, I enjoy looking at the Tennessee river as I cross the twin bridge into Decatur. In the morning, the sunray dances with the waves in its magnificent amber as cargo barges pass on by. Then, in the late afternoon, driving back from the other direction, the bridge dips so low that I imagine me racing against other boats on the river. And, looking through the passenger’s window, I see the sky reach down to touch the waves. One day after a rainstorm, the water is so still that I can catch the clouds smiling at their reflection below. American lotus’ (or perhaps watercress’) white blooms perch gracefully atop green fonds by the riverbanks. Decatur, indeed, has its uniqueness and charm.

But for me, seeing old friends at the Decatur Clearview Cancer Institute while making new friends there and seeing how compassionately they care for their patients makes this place personally endearing. I also have a “taste” of Decatur, more literally. I enjoy the delectable fried shrimps at “Two Fish and a Toad,” savory salmon patty at “Minnie Lee’s,” and tender baked chicken at “Hard Hat Café .” Whether having lunch at those “hole-in-the-wall” eateries or at Decatur Morgan hospital cafeteria, I always smell the goodness of southern cooking, see the gentle smiles on the faces of the servers, feel the ease of southern charm in the staff, and sense the polite friendliness in fellow customers – no matter how busy they are.

The Tennessee river and its tributaries run through this city. But, more importantly, the grace of God runs through the hearts of the people living or working there. Genuine kindness oozes through the pores of their souls. That’s why Decatur, Alabama, is always one of my favorite places to visit.


Dr. Manh Dang

Manh C. Dang, MD, author of the book The Fields, Our Journey Through Medicine, Mission, Life and Faith, is a medical oncologist at the Clearview Cancer Institute and lives in Huntsville, Alabama. Manh is married to Karen and they have a daughter Emily and triplet sons, Mark, Blake, and Tray. Aside from a busy oncology practice, Manh’s passion is to work in the mission field, travel with his wife, dabble in photography, write inspirational blogs and Facebook posts, drive through the countryside at dawn, and go plinking when he can.


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