Stuff: One Man’s Stuff

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All this week we’ve been looking at stuff by examining some of the things we keep and the stories contained in them. Of course many of us have no shortage of possessions. We store things in basements or attics. Even rent storage units because we’ve run out of room. But what if all you had was what you could carry around yourself? What would you keep?

WBHM’s Andrew Yeager continues our series “Stuff” with a look at the things one Birmingham homeless man hangs onto.

Tim Bally fills his cup with ice here in the fellowship hall of Highlands United Methodist Church. He walks with a limp back to his table. Bally munches on a peanut butter bagel and a doughnut during this hospitality hour offered by the Five Points South church. Bifocals cling to the end of his nose. Grayish blond hair trickles out from his toboggan hat and white stubble rings his chin.

“I”ve been in Birmingham about 30 years.”

He’s spent those three decades on and off the streets. But he grew up on a farm in Kansas.*

“Such an intense place to live. Forty mile an hour winds every day. The wind literally just takes your face apart.”

He talks proudly about his military and businessman father. The “pick yourself up by the boot straps” mentality he instilled. Bally says he attended Louisiana State and worked as a merchant marine in the Gulf of Mexico. But he suffers from metal illness and describes intense bouts with depression. He speculates on the causes. Pneumonia as a newborn. His parents’ divorce. His father’s death.

“That left me very hollow and empty for years. It took me 20 years for me not to cry every day.”

He says depression made it difficult to hold a steady job. His boast of five years sober points to his battles with alcohol. But he says as he’s aged, he turns 52 this week, the depression is better controlled, although he still deals with chronic pain. He gets by on a disability check.

What’s in his Bags?

When it comes to Tim Bally’s possessions, he’s practical. The first thing he mentions are black socks.

“The black’s better than white. Doesn’t show the dirt. Tends to keep heat in more than white. Always keep band aids. That’s a necessity. And also triple anti-biotic.”

Bally is diabetic, so he has quick pens with insulin. No syringes. They attract the wrong crowd he explains. He has a black garbage bag holding blankets and everything else in a red gym bag. He rummages through to find his cowhide gloves.

“Your warmth of your hands makes you most comfortable when you’re outside. And on the inside…”

You can find deodorant, anti-histamine, a thermos and cheese sandwiches.

“This is my letter notebooks in here. Just not to keep them in my hand and drop them and that would be pretty disastrous.”

He says he sometimes writes short stories or just his to-do list for the day. He says his school teacher mother always complemented his writing.* Besides his medicine, Bally’s cell phone is important. For 911 or to look up information.

“I can go to weather. CNN. ESPN. And look at my Saints teams and things like

He says it’s expensive to pay by the minute, but the phone is his connection to the world. Makes his feel a little less homeless. It’s also his connection to his family. He says he texts his sister in New York several times a day. She’s too busy for conversation, he explains, because she’s a movie production accountant working on Men in Black 3. Bally pulls a glossy Christmas card from his inside coat pocket.

“My sister. My niece, you can see the resemblance. And my nephew. And that’s my niece and her husband.”

A Mixed Take

Bally stands outside the church and fights the wind to light a cigarette. It’s a habit he wants to break. He says when he was younger he used to get envious of what other people had. Not so much anymore. Bally explains there’s a freedom to being on the street. But he’s not anti-stuff.

“I realize it takes material things. I think Madonna was right.”

He says he wouldn’t mind a quiet place where he could come as go as he pleases and he heard of an apartment he might be able to afford. Ideally he’d like a studio apartment because it’s smaller to maintain. Tim Bally also says it would make him feel more creative. More like an artist.

Tim Bally passed away in his sleep February, 9, 2011. His sister says the family did not grow up on a farm in Kansas. She adds their mother was not a school teacher.

Andrew Yeager

Andrew Yeager