In honor of the 50th anniversary of my arrival in Alabama, I’ve decided to share a local road trip Gracie and I took last week, driving by (with the AC on) places I’ve lived since moving here. Hope these memories spark some for you, too.
When my young family moved to the Birmingham area in early 1970, there was no Red Mountain expressway and no I-65 south of the city. The Birmingham Symphony played at Boutwell Auditorium, the Art Museum was one block long, and there was no classical music on the radio, even on FM stations. UAB (officially called The University of Alabama IN Birmingham until November 1984) was just beginning to sprawl across the south side of the city. (UAB did, thank goodness, create WBHM-FM in 1976.)
Back in 1970, it was almost as if Highway 31 South civilization stopped right past the Greenbrier Furniture Store and the Thunderbird Drive-in and didn’t start up again, sort of, until you reached Clanton. Our first Alabama address was the Montreat Apartments (now condominiums) just off Highway 31 and up a hill from Greenbrier and the Thunderbird in Vestavia Hills. I don’t remember how we happened to choose this particular apartment complex, but “over the mountain” sounded like a good place to start, so we moved into a ground floor, two-bedroom unit in February 1970.
Our neighbors across the hall were Junior and Carole Thomasino (later of garage door fame), and they (along with my husband’s new boss at Honeywell) quickly begged our allegiance for their side of the Auburn/Alabama football rivalry, which turned out to be at least as rabid as the OSU/whole state of Michigan rivalry we were used to. Fifty years later, I have three Auburn grad grandchildren and one who starts there this fall. War Eagle!–and Go Buckeyes!
There were many interesting adjustments when we left Columbus, Ohio, for Birmingham. If you want to read more about that experience, I’ve posted below a copy of an article I wrote for Birmingham magazine in November 1981 (Making a New Home). You should be able to click on the insert and see all of the copy. If that doesn’t work, leave a comment and I can email you a copy. NOTE: I left in the advertisement for Parisian, once a favorite shopping destination.)
One thing we learned quickly was that, in the south, food is a synonym for hospitality, no matter what the occasion and even when there is no occasion. Carole came over one spring afternoon with a sack of fresh veggies from her mother’s garden out in McAdory. We visited over coffee, and when she went back across the hall, I emptied the sack onto my kitchen counter, then promptly knocked on Carole’s door. “Okay,” I said, laughing, “I really appreciate the vegetables, and I will be happy to cook them as soon as you explain what they are and how to do it.” It seems ridiculous now, but back then I’d never seen or tasted okra, purple hull peas, or turnip greens. Back home in Ohio, we cooked turnips in soups or stews, but the greens we ate were beet greens (and the beets) from my Dad’s garden. Crookneck squash looked familiar, but not by that name.
One evening, Junior and Carole invited us over for dinner, and I offered to bring something. “Okay,” she said, “how about creamed potatoes?” No problem there. I whipped up a batch of what my grandmother had often served for Sunday family dinners—par boiled cubed potatoes with pearl onions and fresh parsley stirred into a seasoned white sauce. Carole looked a little dismayed when she explained her version of creamed potatoes (what I had always called mashed potatoes). She’d planned to serve them with the gravy from her roast beef, which, by the way, was delicious.
That first summer, I was guilty of insisting for a week or so to my four-year-old that ants do not bite. They just bother picnics, I said. That was before the evening I sat out on the front stoop in my sandals. Carole and I were visiting while our sons played on the grass. All of a sudden, my right foot lit up. A fire ant, I discovered, waits until at least fifty of its relatives have climbed aboard your foot, and then it gives the “Charge!” signal for them all to bite at once. My son Roger was gracious and accepted my apology.
When one of my husband’s co-workers warned me not to let my son play in the ravine behind the apartment building and began describing the local snake population of rattlers, water moccasins and copperheads, I considered, just for a moment, praying for a transfer back to Ohio. That summer, I also learned what a tick is and that my neighbors had at least thirty different remedies for how to get rid of one. As I remember, the remedy that worked best was heating tweezers with a cigarette lighter, pinching the thing until it let go, and then, of course, stomping on it really hard once it dropped to the bathroom floor.
Stay tuned. Next stop: Bluff Park Road