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Stories | Recipes | Events | People | Places | Things | Local News October 2019

Black Warrior Electric MEMBERSHIP CORP.

Cooking in cast iron Speedway upgrades at Talladega Growing kiwi

Manager Daryl Jones Co-op Editor Dawn Quarles ALABAMA LIVING is delivered to some 420,000 Alabama families and businesses, which are members of 22 not-for-profit, consumer-owned, locally directed and taxpaying electric cooperatives. Subscriptions are $12 a year for individuals not subscribing through participating Alabama electric cooperatives. Alabama Living (USPS 029-920) is published monthly by the Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives. Periodicals postage paid at Montgomery, Alabama, and at additional mailing office.

Celebrating 50 years


Historic racecars and a $50 million renovation and upgrade await racing fans when they visit the Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 11-13.

VOL. 72 NO. 10 n OCTOBER 2019


POSTMASTER send forms 3579 to: Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, Alabama 36124-4014. ALABAMA RURAL ELECTRIC ASSOCIATION

AREA President Fred Braswell Editor Lenore Vickrey Managing Editor Allison Law Creative Director Mark Stephenson Art Director Danny Weston Advertising Director Jacob Johnson Graphic Designer/Ad Coordinator Brooke Echols



American MainStreet Publications 611 South Congress Ave., Suite 504 Austin, Texas 78704 1-800-626-1181 USPS 029-920 • ISSN 1047-0311


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October is the time for scary costumes and scenes. Our readers captured a few eerie looks for this month’s snapshots.


No swan song for him


Worth the drive

His novel Swan Song was named to PBS’ “The Great American Read” list, but there’s no end in sight for the work of popular Alabama author Robert McCammon.

The Sharp family’s Top O’ The River restaurants in east Alabama cook up delicious farm-raised catfish, seafood and even hand-battered fried pickles.



340 TechnaCenter Drive Montgomery, Alabama 36117-6031 1-800-410-2737 For advertising, email: For editorial inquiries, email:

Spooky snapshots


WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! ONLINE: EMAIL: MAIL: Alabama Living 340 Technacenter Drive Montgomery, AL 36117

In this issue: Page 10 Page 28

11 Spotlight 26 Gardens 29 Around Alabama 34 Cook of the Month 40 Outdoors 41 Fish & Game Forecast 46 Hardy Jackson’s Alabama ONLINE: ON THE COVER: Cajun shrimp, made even tastier with onions and peppers, is one of many meals you can create in cast iron. See Page 34 for more recipes.

OCTOBER 2019 3

Members who vote either by mail or in person will also be eligible for the prize drawings at the close of the meeting! You do not have to be present to win but you must return your card with your vote! Mail your voting package back as soon as you get it! Get your vote counted!

Thank You!

| Black Warrior EMC |

It’s time to participate again! Daryl Jones, Manager

Just like the cover wrap said, there will be an important envelope arriving VERY soon from your Board of Trustees. If you were a member in good standing on the record date as explained in last month’s magazine, you will receive the official notice of our Annual Meeting that will include a ballot package. As you remember, the Board adopted this mail ballot back in 2017 as a means to allow every member to afford the ability to engage in this democratic process and secure a quorum at the Annual Meeting to conduct any necessary business transactions that appear on the ballot. This year’s business includes the election of Trustees in Districts 1, 2 and 3. Whether you live in those districts or not, you can vote in this election by mail with this packet that should arrive over the next week or so from our independent audit firm of Jackson Thornton. Your action is needed and will be added to all other members who respond before November 5, 2019 or attend in person on November 8, 2019. A ballot will be included in your envelope along with your registration/certification card. This ballot will contain the names of the nominees for those districts as selected by the Nominating Committee. It will also include any other candidates who may have been nominated by an approved petition as provided in the bylaws. The official notice you receive will also state the time and place of the annual meeting. For any who wish to vote in person, you must bring your registration/ certification card from the ballot packet or have proper identification. There will be a 1-hour window before the meeting begins to accommodate the process of registration and voting in person. As your cooperative’s manager, I strongly encourage each of you to PARTICIPATE in your cooperative by voting in this very important election. To vote by mail, simply mark your ballot, insert your registration card as outlined in the instructions and mail your ballot to our independent auditors for verification and tabulation by an independent Credentials Committee. The address of the auditor is already printed on the postage paid return envelope in the packet.

Alabama Living

Terry Barr President District 7

A.R. Taylor Jr. Vice President District 1

Peter M. Reynolds Jr. Secretary-Treasurer District 3

C. Irvin Eatman District 2

Clyde Fields District 4

Randy Hollingsworth District 5

William Rankin District 6

Ottice Russelle District 8

John E. Lanier District 9

Demopolis Office 1410 Hwy. 43 South Demopolis, AL 36732 800-242-2580 334-289-0845 OCTOBER 2019 5

Black Warrior EMC Board Member Peter M. Reynolds Jr., fourth from right, joined Forkland Mayor Charlie McAlpine, center, and other dignitaries in breaking ground for a new Dollar General store. Not pictured are Board Member Irvin Eatman and Black Warrior’s Demopolis District Manager John Barnes, who also attended the groundbreaking.

| Black Warrior EMC |

Black Warrior EMC board member Peter Reynolds helps break ground in Forkland for new Dollar General store When the town of Forkland held a recent groundbreaking ceremony for a new Dollar General store, it was a big deal for the small town and surrounding community in Greene County. There aren’t many places to shop in Forkland, and residents often drive to Eutaw or Demopolis to buy groceries or other necessities. The new Dollar General will give them a convenient place to shop at home as well as a much-needed source of tax revenue for the town. The groundbreaking was also a big deal for Black Warrior Electric Board of Trustees Peter M. Reynolds Jr. and Irvin Eatman, both Greene County residents. They, along with Black Warrior’s Demopolis District Manager John Barnes, were among more than 15 dignitaries who helped break ground for the store. “We have a new commercial customer in the Forkland community,” Reynolds said. “From a business development standpoint, that’s a big deal. We (Black Warrior EMC) look forward to serving this new business customer.” Reynolds, Eatman and others in the community credit Mayor Charlie McAlpine for bringing Dollar General to Forkland. The store was part of the mayor’s three-year strategic plan, which he developed after taking office in 2016. Once “we got our house in order” and were financially sound, the town implemented the plan, McAlpine told The West Alabama Watchman, an online publication. Another part of the plan, according to The Watchman, was the creation of a program to teach computer and life skills to senior citizens. In addition, the town reactivated its police force, which has been dormant since 2010, hired an interim chief, and established a municipal court. A 100-space parking lot is planned at the Municipal Complex, and a storm shelter is under construction next to it, the publication reported. Other projects envisioned by the mayor include a public service building for the fire and police departments; the acquisition and renovation of a local park that would include a new pavilion, playground and concession stand; and converting the former Birdine Elementary School into a recreation center. 6  OCTOBER 2019

“We applaud Mayor McAlpine and the town of Forkland for all they are doing for the people in the community, including bringing Dollar General to the town,” Black Warrior Board member

Mayor Charlie McAlpine tells guests at Dollar General groundbreaking that more good things are in store for Forkland. Eatman said. “I, like many other people in the community, am looking forward to the opening of the store and what it will do economically for the community.” Reynolds said the groundbreaking was a great way to highlight not only the coming of the Dollar General store to Forkland but the other community improvements in the works. “It was a real honor to take part in the groundbreaking, and I thank town officials for including us in the festivities,” Reynolds said. “It (the groundbreaking) was very well-attended. People are really excited about being able to shop locally.” The store is expected to open in November and will initially employ six to 10 people, according to The Watchman.

| Black Warrior EMC |

CUSTOMER SERVICE PORTAL A new tab has been added to our website called “My Account”! When you view our page you will see it in the upper right corner. For first time users, you will be directed to the page with information and instructions needed to set your account up for making on-line payments. Subsequent log-ins will take you directly to the bill pay portal.

Please contact us at 1-800-242-2580 if you need any assistance.

Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019  7


1-855-GOBWEMC 1-855-462-9362

Fosters Knoxville


Clinton Eutaw Greensboro

Heiberger Marion

Livingston Demopolis


Uniontown Marion Junction

Ward Linden


Cromwell Miller


Dixons Mills Campbell



8  OCTOBER 2019

Catherine Lamison

Eutaw District Greensboro District Demopolis District Linden District Butler District

| Alabama Snapshots |

spooky PHOTOS

Karen and Matt Williams dressed as Zombie Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy at Dragon Con 2012 in Atlanta. SUBMITTED BY Matt Williams, Montgomery.

The haunted mansion is missing a few ghosts and this romantic couple is dying to get back. Can they hitch a ride with you? SUBMITTED BY Jackie Whitehead, Orange Beach.

Bennett Strickland is a four-year-old werewolf. SUBMITTED BY Donna Speeker, Hanceville.

Kim Fletcher and Aryssa Sullivan dressed up to scare the kids for Halloween. My niece wasn’t at all scared! SUBMITTED BY Kim Fletcher, Bridgeport.

Submit Your Images! December Theme: “Elf on a Shelf” Deadline for December: October 31

SUBMIT PHOTOS ONLINE: or send color photos with a self-addressed stamped envelope to: Photos, Alabama Living, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124 RULES: Alabama Living will pay $10 for photos that best match our theme of the month. Photos may also be published on our website at and on our Facebook page. Alabama Living is not responsible for lost or damaged photos. Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019 9

Spotlight | October SOCIAL SECURITY

Social Security can help you get back to work

If you rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments or Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits and want to start working or return to work, Social Security can help. A plan for achieving self-support (PASS) is a plan for your future. This plan lets you use your income or the resources you own to help you reach your work goals. You could set aside money to go to school and get specialized training for a job or to start a business. PASS is for both SSI and SSDI. The job that you want should allow you to earn enough to reduce or eliminate the SSI or SSDI benefits you currently receive. You should use the PASS if all of these apply to you: • You want to work. Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

• You get SSI (or can qualify for SSI by having this plan) because you have a disability or are blind. • You have income, other than SSI, or resources above the resource limit, to use to get a job or start a business. In some cases, someone on SSDI can use a PASS and become eligible for SSI while pursuing the plan. Your employment income may reduce or eliminate your SSDI benefits. Under SSI rules, any income that you have may reduce your SSI payment. But if you have an approved plan, you can use most of that income to pay for the items you need to reach your work goal. We don’t count money set aside under the PASS when we decide your SSI payment amount. This means you may get a higher SSI payment. However, you can’t get more than the maximum SSI payment for the state where you live. With an approved plan, you can set aside money to pay ex-

penses needed to reach your work goal. You can read more at pubs/EN-05-11017.pdf. The plan must be in writing, and Social Security must approve it beforehand. To start, contact your local Social Security office for an application (Form SSA-545-BK). You can access this form at socialsecurity. gov/forms/ssa-545.html. If you need help, there are many people who can help you write a PASS, including a Ticket to Work service provider, vocational counselor or a relative. Social Security’s Ticket to Work (Ticket) program supports career development for Social Security disability beneficiaries who want to work. The Ticket program is free and voluntary. The Ticket program helps people with disabilities progress toward financial independence. To learn more about the Ticket program, call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

New just for you: an Alabama crossword! We know our readers love a good puzzle, judging from the response to our popular “Find the Dingbat” feature. So beginning this month, we’ll be featuring an Alabama-specific crossword puzzle. The puzzles are the work of Myles Mellor, whose work has been published in more than 1,000 magazines, newspapers and websites. He’s created more than 15,000 crosswords over his career. Have fun, and let us know what you think! Write to Answers are on Page 39. Across 1 Island known as “The Sunset Capital of Alabama” 5 Civil rights heroine who refused to give up her bus seat 8 Electrical units 9 Mountain that is the highest point in Alabama 13 Green, prefix 14 Horsepower, for short 16 Green, good word to describe many Mobile parks 18 Time to visit Gulf Shores for the Gulf Coast's greatest beach party 21 Southern General in the Civil War 22 Ala neighbor, abbr. 23 List you can review at the Central Restaurant in Montgomery 24 Alabama’s nickname, “The Heart of ____” 25 Wildcatter’s find 26 System for distributing electrical power 27 Birmingham’s Museum of ____ 29 Nurse, for short 32 Where the Confederacy was formed in 1861 36 Artificial intelligence, abbr. 37 Compass point 38 Caverns known for being a 2000 year old Native American burial site 39 Alabama coach who has dominated the modern era Down 1 Movie being filmed in many Alabama cities, “The ___ All The Time”

10 OCTOBER 2019

2 Post on the net 3 Towel stitching 4 Falls with a nine foot statue commemorating a romantic tragedy 5 Buttermilk is a popular one in Alabama 6 Cheer leader cheer 7 Court __. Florence, ALA 10 Alabama town, New ___ 11 Tuna type 12 Expression of surprise 15 What the Alabama Electric Cooperatives bring to residents 17 Produce

19 The Tide’s shirt color 20 What the Battle House Renaissance Mobile Hotel & Spa offers 22 Leave 23 Roman 1002 25 Alabama beach to chill out at 28 Goes left or right 30 Electrical power unit 31 Big cat that’s the mascot for the University of North Alabama 33 ___ caching 34 Cow sound 35 Sound from the State Senate, often

This Month In


ALABAMA HISTORY Honoring Our People

October 8, 1896 Botanist and inventor George Wa s h i n g ton Carver arrived in Tuskegee to direct the a g r i c u ltu r- George Washington Carver al school at PHOTO BY ARTHUR ROTHSTEIN, COURTESY OF THE the TuskeLIBRARY OF CONGRESS gee Institute. Known as the “Peanut Man,” Carver earned international fame for his innovative use of alternative crops to cotton, including peanuts and sweet potatoes. He geared his work in Tuskegee to the “man farthest down” and brought extension resources and techniques to farmers through the Tuskegee Institute Movable School. Carver received many awards and honors, including the Spingarn Medal of the NAACP. He was inducted into the Alabama Men’s Hall of Fame, and the George Washington Carver Museum in Tuskegee commemorates his life and achievements. article/h-1064


[] Tell us your Christmas Eve traditions!

October | Spotlight

Whereville, AL

Do you or your family have a special tradition, or perhaps a special meal, that you enjoy on Christmas Eve? Church candlelight services are common, but we’re interested to know of other traditions. Perhaps you celebrate your family’s cultural or ethnic background? Or you travel to a place that has significance to your family? Or maybe there’s a particular dish you always make? Tell us! Send your story to Allison Law via email at alaw@, or by mail to her at P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124 by Oct. 15.

Find the hidden dingbat! We never cease to be surprised by the responses we get to the monthly “Find the Dingbat” column, especially the creative places our readers claim to find the missing item. In September’s magazine, we hid a football in pretty plain view (we thought) on Page 29, right at the top of the page, in the southeast corner of the map of Alabama. The majority of our nearly 700 entries were correct, but a few readers incorrectly saw the football in some imaginative locations, including in the hands of the lady in the photo on Page 29. Another said the case might be made for a football shape in the back window of the pink car on Page 10. Our poetic reader, Eleanor Madigan, had a few more “rhymes” for us: Found the dingbat without drama On Page 29 in the State of Alabama. And like the German couple I smile, I cheer Now shuffle to the fridge to get a cold beer. Thanks to all who entered. Our winner is Annette Russell of Moulton, a member of Joe Wheeler EMC. This month, try your luck finding this pumpkin on our pages. Remember: It won’t be in an ad, and it won’t be on Pages 1-8. Good luck! By mail: Find the Dingbat Alabama Living PO Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124 By email: Alabama Living

Identify and place this Alabama landmark and you could win $25! Winner is chosen at random from all correct entries. Multiple entries from the same person will be disqualified. Send your answer by Oct. 11 with your name, address and the name of your rural electric cooperative. The winner and answer will be announced in the November issue. Submit by email: whereville@alabamaliving. coop, or by mail: Whereville, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124. Contribute your own photo for an upcoming issue! Send a photo of an interesting or unusual landmark in Alabama, which must be accessible to the public. A reader whose photo is chosen will also win $25.


It’s hard to miss the bright pink back end of a Volkswagen Beetle at the Our Place Diner on U.S. Highway 231 in Ozark. Tyler Wright, who bought the restaurant in 2016, provided some background: The bug used to have a trailer hitch where the other half of the car should be. A man named Mr. Judah used it in parades, pulled behind a car. Homecoming kings and queens and mayors would ride in the back half. Shortly after the previous owners opened the diner in June 2008, they bought the bug from Mr. Judah to attract customers. They would move it all around the property “because it drove people crazy.” After Wright bought the restaurant, he found that people didn’t know where Our Place Diner was, but when he described the pink VW bug, the response was always, “I know exactly where you’re talking about.” Wright had it repainted and put on a permanent slab and says customers love it. And Mike Brakefield of Covington EC sent in a photo (above) of two young relatives who couldn’t resist a picture with the landmark! The randomly drawn correct guess winner is Sara Deese of Wiregrass EC.

Enjoy tasty treats and support worthy causes The third annual Taste of Chilton County will feature a variety of tasty foods (last year, more than 20 vendors participated), with a “taster’s choice” ballot for ticketholders to vote for their favorite vendors’ foods in sweet, savory and overall categories. The event will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 14 at the Chilton County Senior Connection, Plaza Shopping Center in Clanton. It’s hosted by the Rotary Club of Chilton County and Chilton County Senior Connection. Proceeds will support local charities that serve children. For tickets or more information, call Gordon Swenson at 205-907-4219 or the Senior Connection at 205-755-8227. OCTOBER 2019 11

Talladega Superspeedway celebrates


Fans can meet legendary drivers and see iconic cars Oct. 11-13 12 OCTOBER 2019

In a Dodge Charger Daytona on March 24, 1970, secondgeneration NASCAR star Buddy Baker laid down a lap at 200.447 mph at the year-old Talladega Superspeedway. The speed, the first to top the 200-mph barrier, set a stock car record that would last for over a decade. ISC IMAGES AND ARCHIVES

By John N. Felsher


ive decades ago, William “Big Bill” France Ground broke on the 2,000-acre site on May looked for a new place where drivers could 23, 1968. The new 2.66-mile long Alabama Inrace. France, a former racer himself, helped ternational Motor Speedway included embankfound the National Association for Stock Car ments rising five stories high at 33 degrees. In Auto Racing in 1948 and created the Daytona In1989, the name changed to the Talladega Superternational Speedway in Florida in 1959. speedway. “Big Bill wanted something bigger, faster and The first race, the “Bama 400 Grand Touring wider than Daytona,” says Russell Branham, the Race,” ran on Saturday, Sept. 13, 1969. Ken Rush Talladega Superspeedway public relations direcdrove his Camaro to victory. However, that race tor. “He wanted to create the ‘palace of speed,’ was only a warm-up for the first main event – the where drivers could go faster than at Daytona Talladega 500 scheduled to run the next day. and have more room to pass or maneuver.” “Leading up to the big race in 1969, most of the France enlisted the help of Bill Ward, an Andrivers felt like their tires would not last through niston insurance man, to look for suitable land the entire race,” Branham says. “Many big-name with enough acreage to build a racetrack close drivers pulled out of the race on Saturday beto a major highway. Ward found the deactivated cause they didn’t think they could run at those Anniston Air Force Base between Anniston and Richard Brickhouse, the 1969 speeds for 500 miles on those tires.” Talladega Superspeedway winner, in Talladega. France asked the drivers who raced on Satur“Bill Ward was very instrumental in bringing the inaugural Talladega 500. day to compete again on Sunday and even offered ISC IMAGES AND ARCHIVES the racetrack here,” Branham says. “He believed them some extra incentive money. Only 12 drivit would be an incredible economic boost to this area and the entire ers scheduled to race on Sunday competed, but the field included 24 state. He was right. Each year, our races bring in about $434 million drivers who raced that Saturday. Richard Brickhouse won that first to the state of Alabama.” Talladega 500 driving at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour. Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019 13

The Talladega Superspeedway saw many other great events and records set during the past five decades. In 1970, Buddy Baker became the first driver in NASCAR history to exceed 200 mph. In 1987, Bill Elliott, a NASCAR Hall of Famer, set a speed record when he drove 212.809 mph in a 1987 Ford Thunderbird. People can see Elliott’s record-breaking Thunderbird when the Talladega Superspeedway celebrates its 50th anniversary on Oct. 11-13. That weekend, fans can see several other iconic cars and meet some legendary drivers. “We’re going to bring back some historic cars that have made their mark here over time,” Branham says. “Dale Earnhardt won 10 times at Talladega. We’ll have one of his cars here. Will also have cars from David Pearson, Richard Petty and others. Some Hall of Fame drivers like Bobby and Donnie Allison and other great racers will be here to meet their fans.”

population of about 200,000 in 2018. “Twice a year, we become one of the largest cities in Alabama,” Branham quips. “During a race weekend, about 73 percent of our fans come from outside of Alabama.” Phase 2 of the project includes the Talladega Garage Experience. This will allow fans to see the drivers and their teams working in 22 garages as they prepare cars for the next race. It also includes a 35,000-square-foot Open Air Club with a giant video screen, kids’ zones, concessions and other new amenities. “The centerpiece of our new project is the Talladega Garage Experience,” Branham says. “This will give fans a ‘locker room’ experience where they can get up close and personal with the drivers and teams working on their cars just a few feet away. Drivers and team members might walk over to the fans and sign autographs. We will also have a brandnew Victory Lane so fans can watch the end A $50 million facelift of the race from the grandstands and come Also during the 50th anniversary celebradown to see the Victory Lane celebration.” tion, fans will get their first look at the $50 Dale Earnhardt scores his 10th TSS victory, At 7 p.m. Oct. 11, fans can participate in million renovation and upgrade to the track becoming the all-time winningest driver the “Big One on the Boulevard.” This includes facilities. Announced in July 2018, the project in the track’s history, doing it in dramatic a Mardi Gras-style parade where drivers will had two phases. Phase One included building fashion, coming from 18th to first in less throw out beads and other items. Fans can a new tunnel to allow recreational vehicles than four laps to take the lead at the white also compete against each other in fun contests while drivers announce the events. On better access to the track. The project finished flag. It is his final career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. Oct. 12, race fans can attend a concert featurin April 2019. ISC IMAGES AND ARCHIVES ing Riley Green. At 1 p.m. Oct. 13, the main “The racetrack has had a glorious past, but event, the 500 begins. People who buy a ticket to the future is extremely bright with the transformation of our infield project,” Branham says. “What we’re getting ready to unveil the Sunday race can see the Saturday night concert for free. will set the stage for the next 50 years. With the brand-new incred“Big Bill France could have built this racetrack in many other ibly large vehicular tunnel in Turn 3, RVers can go in and out of the places, but he chose to build it here in Alabama,” Branham says. racetrack throughout the race weekend as they please. Previously, “The Talladega Superspeedway has been a Crown Jewel for Alabama since 1969. No other racetrack provides the excitement and once people got into the track, they were locked in until after the incredible finishes like Talladega where multiple cars running 200 race. We also added new RV spots on the iconic infield.” miles per hour battle for the lead. We’re proud to have been a part Most race fans stay in the area five to six days, but others arrive of Alabama history for 50 years.” in RVs as much as 10 days before race day to get a good spot in For more visit or call the infield. During a race weekend, the local population swells by 877-GO2-DEGA. For tickets, call 855-518-RACE. about 180,000 to 200,000 people. In contrast, Montgomery had a The brand-new Talladega Celebration Plaza is part of the transformation – The Talladega Superspeedway Infield Project, presented by Graybar. ILLUSTRATION PROVIDED BY TALLADEGA SUPERSPEEDWAY

14  OCTOBER 2019

Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019  15

Filling a need Sam LoDuca on the roof of the Newseum while on Washington Youth Tour.

Young man’s project connects students with volunteer opportunities

By Stephanie Snodgrass


hey say that necessity is the mother of invention. For Brewton’s Samuel “Sam” LoDuca, that was exactly the case when it came to creating “VoluNeed,” a texting service designed to fulfill a student’s graduation requirement for volunteer service hours. Organized last August, the service is celebrating its first full year connecting local high school students with volunteer opportunities in Escambia County. Its motto: Bringing the hands of the volunteer to the heart of the need. It works like this: a non-profit or community organization, such as Habitat for Humanity or a local church, sends Sam the information about their upcoming event – date, time, location, need, etc. Then Sam, through the service, texts the information to the nearly 200 students currently enrolled in the program. If a student’s schedule matches the need, they arrive to earn the volunteer hours.

How it began

Students who participate in organizations such as the National Honor Society (NHS) and the Student Government Associations (SGAs) are required to have a certain number of volunteer hours to earn distinction at graduation. Colleges and universities also

16 OCTOBER 2019

put special emphasis on community service when applying for scholarship opportunities. The senior at T.R. Miller High School said when he began his search for volunteer opportunities, he noticed a “disconnect” between students and non-profit organizations. “It was really during my sophomore year when I noticed the disconnect,” Sam says. “I was trying to get volunteer hours for (NHS), and I realized I didn’t know where to go. “I got to asking, ‘Where can I go? What can I do?’ Knock on the door, I guess, and ask if they need help?” he said of his mission to local service hours. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m sure others are in my same situation.’ So, I talked with mom and said let’s do something about it. I decided we could be the middleman and connect people using technology.” And he was right. “I knew that nonprofits needed help to fill their ranks when conducting an event,” he says. “There was no influx of people, so I saw an opportunity to fix that. We weren’t sure how to implement it. We thought maybe a website or social media, but we ended up doing it as a text service.

“Teenagers aren’t on Facebook all that much, but everyone – and I mean everyone – checks their text messages,” he says. The family found “Send Text,” a service that operates similar to the “Remind” system used by schools. Once established, Sam began handing out business cards with the sign-up information. “The cards are just an easy way to let people know the opportunity is there,” he says. Sam says there is a small financial obligation for the service, which is covered by his family. “I don’t remember the dollar amount,” he says. “That’s help from Mom.”

How it works

Sam says there is a sign-up for different participating nonprofits. In Brewton, those groups include Habitat for Humanity; Drexel & Honeybee, a Brewton no-pay restaurant; Brewton Reborn, a local beautification and quality of life effort; Brewton’s First United Methodist Church’s Backpack Buddies program, which provides school children with nutritious snacks; Paws Crossed, an animal rescue mission; and more. Other city and community organizations, as well as the Brewton City School System, also participate. “(One) recent call for action was the Burnt Corn Creek Run,” he said of the TRM Cross Country team’s annual fundraiser. “The school has a paper that is signed by event staff to log the hours for each student. So, it really is a win-win for everyone involved. The non-profit or event has staff to work and the student gets their needed hours. “Our non-profits love it,” he said. “We also just started an Instagram page.” Students can visit or text 57838 to participate.

Where it goes from here

Sam is working to expand the service to all Escambia County students and beyond. He was recently asked by Coastal Alabama Community College – which has campuses in Brewton, Bay Minette and Monroeville – to begin working with its Ambassador Program to provide college-age students with community volunteer opportunities. That project is in the beginning stages and should launch soon. A very active student, Sam spent the summer traveling – first to the University of Alabama’s Boys State event, then to the U.S. Naval Academy Summer Seminar and as a delegate representing Southern Pine Electric Cooperative on the Washington D.C. Youth Tour, sponsored by the Alabama Rural Electric Association. At every stop along the way, he shared the program and its mission. “When I went to Boys State, I talked to a lot of people to get the idea out there,” Sam said of his mission. “I don’t want it to be a Brewton thing. I want it to go everywhere. Students everywhere have the same need, as do non-profits and organizations. “We talked about using a different code for different areas, so people could easily see the information specific to their hometown,” he says. “We haven’t gotten all the details worked out, but it is something that I can see developing in the future. “Community is very important to me,” he says. “Being active and helping others is something that I have always loved to do. This project is just a continuation of that.” Sam is the son of Brewton pediatrician Dr. Paul LoDuca and his wife, Summer. After graduation, he plans to enter the U.S. Air Force.

Sam LoDuca, center, with the Washington Youth Tour group at the Marine Corps Museum. PHOTOS BY MICHAEL CORNELISON

Alabama Living OCTOBER 2019  17

Music for the ages Alabama woman puts her lullabies into a new speaker for young listeners By Alec Harvey


or more than 30 years, Mae Robertson has been singing lullabies – not just an occasional “Rock-A-Bye Baby” to her children, but an array of lullabies recorded as albums. “It started in 1986 after my daughter was born, and a friend overheard me singing ‘The Water is Wide’ to her as a lullaby,” says Robertson, who has been singing since her college days. “He said, ‘That’s a really weird song to sing as a lullaby,’ and I said, ‘It’s perfect. You have to find interesting songs that you enjoy singing that are peaceful and calm.’” And that’s exactly what Robertson ended up doing, recording five albums in her “lullaby and lovesongs” series that included such songs as “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Hush, Little Baby,” “What a Wonderful World” and “All the Pretty Little Horses.” That first lullaby album, released on cassette, was “All Through the Night” in 1994. Cut to 2017, with Robertson, now a grandmother, putting together “All That Matters,” the latest lullaby album. “I thought I was done, and then I had grandbabies, and I discovered I was singing a whole different group of songs to them,” says Robertson, who lives in Birmingham. “I wasn’t singing the same songs to them that I sang to their father.” But she was singing, and it was while singing to her first grand-

child that an idea occurred to Robertson. As owner of the children’s store Cottontails in New York and Connecticut in the ’80s, she was no stranger to entrepreneurship. “My first grandson, Johnny, is 5 now, and I would sing songs to him every night, and I wanted him to have my music when I wasn’t there,” Robertson says. “I bought an iPod and a speaker, but it was very cumbersome. It just wasn’t working. It just sat on the shelf in his nursery.” A granddaughter, Frankie, was born next, and early on, she was in a California hospital for about three weeks. “My son brought the whole get-up I had set up for Johnny to the hospital, and the nurses would come in and say, ‘This is so peaceful.’ The nurses kept saying they wished they had something like that they could put in all the hospital rooms. As I sat there holding Frankie, I thought, how hard would it be to invent a little speaker that comes preloaded with songs. Well, I learned how hard it could be.”

Filling a need

Like her children’s store, the Lullabuddy was born out of necessity. “I think I’ve pretty much been the kind of person who said, ‘This is what I want to do, and I’m going to figure out how to do

The Lullabuddy comes pre-loaded with 33 songs and about two hours of music.

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Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019 19

Mae Robertson came up with the idea for the Lullabuddy as she sang lullabies to her grandchildren – Johnny, Frankie and 9-month-old twins Lyla and Lucas.

it,’” she says. “At the time I came up with Cottontails, there was not a baby store in Westchester, and every mother I met was getting on a train and going into the city to shop. … As for the Lullabuddy, music is available everywhere, but it’s not easy to make a playlist for your child and play it. It’s complicated. I thought I could make it really simple, and that’s totally where the idea came from.” The idea took some time – about 2 ½ years – to become a reality, as Robertson and her partners tested various speakers and then remastered 33 songs specifically for the new product. The Lullabuddy is a small Bluetooth speaker pre-loaded with songs from Robertson’s lullaby albums, including the singer’s take on songs from Mary Chapin Carpenter, James Taylor and Tom Waits. It’s available on Amazon and the website for $60 (as well as at A’mano and Once Upon a Time in Birmingham), The speaker can shuffle songs or play them in order, or it can be used as a speaker for anything people want to play on it. “I find it hard to explain what it is,” says Robertson, whose voice has been described as “luminous” by The New York Times. “But the minute you turn it on and hear it, everyone says, ‘Oh, I get it.’ It’s unlike anything already out there, and that has been a real challenge for me. My favorite description of it is when someone called it a 21st-century music box.” Performing isn’t foreign for Robertson. It’s in her blood. The daughter of Virginia Samford Donovan – the namesake of Bir20 OCTOBER 2019

mingham’s Virginia Samford Theatre – she has recorded 10 albums, including the lullaby series. Her great-nephew, Iain Armitage, is the star of TV’s “Young Sheldon” and “Big Little Lies.” Already, Lullabuddy has earned awards from the likes of the National Parenting Center and the National Parenting Products Award, and there are rave reviews from customers on Amazon, too. “We received this speaker as a baby-shower gift, and it is one of my favorite things we received,” one buyer says. “We play it for her each naptime and at night. I really love the timer feature that makes it shut off after a certain amount of time – perfect for her to drift off to sleep to.” Robertson and her husband, Webb, attended a toy and gift trade show in New York in August, and they hope that, along with mentions in the likes of People magazine, will pay off. “I’m super proud of how people are reacting to it and the awards it is winning,” she says. “I’m so excited to get it into retail stores across the country.” In the end, Robertson’s goal with Lullabuddy was simple. “The main goal of Lullabuddy was to make it really easy to play some sweet music for your baby,” she says. “Music you can play without giving up your phone or making a playlist or even having internet. Music you can take with you in the car or on a walk or on a trip. Music that will calm them and that parents actually enjoy as well.”

Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019  21

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Alabama Living

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| Alabama People |

Robert McCammon

Alabama’s own ‘Great American Read’ Robert McCammon is the only living Alabama author to have a book named to PBS’ “The Great American Read” list of 100 beloved 100 books. (Harper Lee, who died in 2016, topped the list with To Kill a Mockingbird). McCammon’s apocalyptic novel Swan Song, co-winner (with Stephen King) of the 1987 Bram Stoker Award, was #94 on the list. It is one of 23 novels the Birmingham native has written since graduating in 1974 from the University of Alabama, where he was editor of The Crimson White. Many are bestsellers, including his 1978 breakout novel, Baal, Boy’s Life and Gone South. Although he enjoys a loyal international fan base, he still lives in Birmingham. We talked with him as he was wrapping up his latest book in the popular Matthew Corbett historical fiction series. – Lenore Vickrey When did you first begin writing? I remember writing a story about an invasion of giant grasshoppers and reading that to other kids in my first grade, so I guess I would’ve been six. When I was a freshman at Banks High School in Roebuck they had a writing contest that I won with a story about a dying soldier in Vietnam. The prize was $10, but the real prize was that a teacher—one of the contest judges—had written on my paper the question, “A freshman wrote this?” that I suppose was directed to the other judges. That, unfortunately, was the first and last year they had the contest. You’ve talked publicly about the lack of encouragement for your writing that you received at the Birmingham Post-Herald, where you worked on the copy desk. Was there any professor at UA who did see writing talent in you, and encouraged you to pursue that? Yes, there was, though I’ve forgotten his name. He was a creative writing teacher, and he seemed to like my work, but it became weird because whenever any of the other students read his or her work this professor would look at me and say something like, “What do you think about that story?” So it became a bit uncomfortable for me, being expected to give my opinion on everyone else’s efforts! What’s your typical pattern for writing these days? Do you have a secluded place in your home where you do your research and writing? Late night, starting around ten or so and going until I’ve figured I’ve done enough, which can go on all night. The night belongs to me. I’ve always been a night person and remain so. Many years ago—many years!—I had to write down all my questions about a subject and trek to the library, but of course now with the internet that’s not necessary. But I’ll tell you that I could never write the Matthew Corbett series (set in the 1700s) without the internet of the 21st century...there are just too many things that demand research. If I had to go to the library to look up everything, each book would take years to write!

sic video ever made by a fulltime writer who is not also a working musician. The reaction has been exactly what I hoped...that it was just “fun,” and we really had a great time doing it. (Watch the video at I read that your next project was The King of Shadows, in the Matthew Corbett series, followed by a book of short stories. Is that still on track? Yes, still on track. I’m hoping to finish The King of Shadows next month and then I’ll be doing a book of Matthew Corbett short stories before I do the final book in the series. After that I have a couple of other projects in mind that I’m looking forward to. Several years ago I was planning to retire when I got to “my age,” but now... no way. As time goes on, what book or books of yours do fans seem to appreciate the most? Swan Song, Boy’s Life and the Matthew Corbett series. Of course, sometimes I get comments from people who’ve just read my first few books and love those. Sometimes it hits you out of the blue that a reader says a book you wrote 30 years ago has had a profound and positive influence on either them or a loved one. The Wolf ’s Hour has a pretty large following too, and I’m always getting requests to do a sequel to that, which is why I did the semi-sequel The Hunter From The Woods a few years back. But people want more. Which is good for me! What books would we find on your nightstand? You would find a mix of history, books on music and books on board games (which I collect, and I have thousands of them) and also a few of my also-vast collection of science fiction magazines like Analog, Fantastic, Worlds Of If, and Amazing, which introduced me to reading as a kid and I now have every one of the issues that (no joke) my grandmother threw away! Now if only I could afford to get back all the Batman comic books of the 1950s and 1960s that she tossed out! McCammon holds a copy of his newest book, Cardinal Black; the back cover features a photo of him in early 1700s period attire. PHOTO BY MICHAEL MIXON

Tell us about the online video you star in, “My Creations.” A friend of mine is a film director. I told him what I wanted to do and that I had the song—or the “rap”, if you please—and we went from there. I do believe it’s the first mu24 OCTOBER 2019

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| Gardens |


A new Alabama-grown fruit for fall


all fruit season is here, a time to enjoy locally grown apples, pumpkins, pears and many other Autumn-ripening favorites, including a newcomer to the fall lineup — Alabama-grown kiwifruit. These darling egg-shaped super-fruits, which are packed with exquisite flavor and exceptional nutrition, are native to China where they have been revered and cultivated for centuries. Kiwifruit gained its current name and an international fan base after growers in New Zealand successfully commercialized and marketed the crop. Large-scale production soon expanded to other countries, including Chile, Italy and the U.S., primarily in California, which established a thriving kiwifruit industry in the 1980s. About that same time, Auburn University horticulture professor and small fruit expert Billy Dozier saw potential for this semi-tropical fruit here in Alabama. Working with Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station researchers across the state to

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at

26 OCTOBER 2019

The brown marmorated stink bug, an introduced and invasive pest, is one of the primary pest challenges for Alabama kiwifruit growers and for kiwifruit production worldwide.

evaluate kiwifruit varieties and their cultivation requirements in our southeastern growing conditions, Dozier soon identified one the biggest challenges for kiwifruit production in Alabama: our winter. Or, rather, our lack of winter. According to Matthew Price, director of the Chilton Research and Extension Center in Clanton, which has been the hub of Auburn’s kiwifruit research all these years, kiwifruit are much like apples and peaches. To properly set fruit, they must be exposed to temperatures below 45 degrees for a specific number of hours each year, which can be a challenge here in mild-wintered Alabama. Dozier and his team addressed that issue as they developed new varieties of kiwifruit designed to thrive in Alabama. To date, Auburn has released five patented cultivars including one of the fuzzy-coated, greenfleshed, sweet/tart-tasting kiwifruit that we’ve all grown to love, as well as several smooth-skinned, yellow-fleshed, tropically flavored (think pineapple/mango) golden kiwifruit cultivars, which possess an extra special quality. “Golden kiwifruit require 750-850 chilling hours, depending upon the variety, whereas most green kiwifruit varieties require over 1,000,” Price explained. It took some three decades, but in 2014 Dozier’s vision truly took root. That’s when Clint Wall, one of Dozier’s former students, and his wife Jenny began planting AU Golden Sunshine kiwifruit at Alabama’s first commercial-scale kiwifruit operation, Southeast Kiwi Farming Cooperative in Reeltown. The orchard now is home to more than 40,000 vines which are already producing enough fruit to supply select grocery store chains in Alabama and beyond, a market that holds great promise for further expansion. Kiwifruit is also a promising crop for gardeners who want to harvest some of

When brown marmorated stink bugs feed around the stem of kiwifruit, they cause significant damage that can reduce yields and lower fruit quality.

their own fall gold and green, though the growing the fruit does require a degree of effort — and at least two plants. Why two? Because kiwifruit are dioecious (male and female flowers are produced on separate plants), so at least one plant of both genders (or up to four females for each male) are needed for pollination. “On top of that, care must be taken to ensure that the vines bloom within the same time period,” Price says. “If they don’t, there will be no pollination, which means no kiwifruit.” Kiwifruit have a lot to offer, but they also expect a lot from their growers. They need well-drained soils, trellises to support their heavy vines, significant amounts of water and fertilizer and extra protection from spring freezes and a variety of pests. “Kiwifruit is a labor-intensive crop,” Price admits, “but for a home gardener with just a few vines, it is very doable.” Plus, he says, “Kiwifruit are packed with so much flavor and nutrition, it’s worth the time and effort to grow your own.” Now is a prime time to find locally harvested kiwifruit at area grocers and farmers markets, and also to see the kiwifruit plantings at the Chilton REC, which welcomes visitors and is open most weekdays. (Call ahead at 205-646-3610 to check hours or schedule an appointment.) In addition, information on growing kiwifruit is available through local Alabama Cooperative Extension System offices, from Petals from the Past nursery in Jemison (205-646-0069) and from other reputable kiwifruit plant suppliers.

OCTOBER TIPS  Cut and preserve herbs for use during the winter.

 Save seed from flowers, vegetables and herbs.

 Plant shrubs, trees and perennials.  Plant lettuces, spinach, turnips, radishes, onions and garlic.

 Test soil and add amendments as needed.

 Prepare garden tools, equipment and supplies for winter storage.

Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019  27

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October | Around Alabama


Loachapoka, Pioneer Day. Weaving and clothmaking demonstrations, mules grinding cane, musical entertainment with dulcimers, banjos and guitars, Native American dancing, fireplace and outdoor cooking and more.

Photo courtesy of Coastal Alabama Business Chamber.


The annual National Shrimp Festival started in 1971 as a way to draw tourists back to the beach after Labor Day.


month, Verbena, Penton Farms Pumpkin Patch. 1 to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Cow train, corn wagon, cannon rides, pumpkin bowling, snack shack, corn maze, human hamster wheel and other fun for all ages. or 205-3511480


Cullman, Oktoberfest. Celebrate German heritage, Southern style. Authentic German food, costumes, and music, multiple stage events, a biergarten, a bratwurst eating contest and more. Free, in the downtown entertainment district.


Montgomery, “Woofstock – Peace, Love and Pets,” on the green at Providence Presbyterian Church, 2130 Bell Road. 10 a.m. This community festival will feature adoptable pets, a petting zoo, inflatables, arts and crafts vendors, games for kids and grown-ups, face painting and a used book sale. Ordained members of the church will offer a blessing of the animals for any pet (all are welcome). Free; concessions available.


Falkville, The annual Massey School and Community Reunion, 1 to 5 p.m., Massey Volunteer Fire Department at 386 Evergreen Road,

Falkville, AL 35622. Reunion is open to anyone with an interest in the Massey community; light refreshments provided. franvrowe@ or 256-476-0950.


Wetumpka, AL200: Making Alabama Exhibit. Learn about the state’s history at this exhibit in the Kelly Fitzpatrick Memorial Gallery, 408 S. Main St., 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.


Gulf Shores, 48th annual National Shrimp Festival, Gulf Shores Main Public Beach. 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Free. Lots of food (and shrimp prepared just about any way imaginable), children’s activity village, live music on two stages, fine arts and arts and crafts for sale, sand sculpture contest and more. 251968-7200 or


Auburn, Bones and Boos at the Donald E. Davis Arboretum, 12 to 4 p.m. This one-day outdoor exhibit of animal skeletons is co-sponsored by the AU Museum of Natural History and College of Veterinary Medicine. Guests will see some of nature’s most interesting animals from a whole new perspective – rhinoceros legs, whale ribs, tigers

and bears and more. There will also be a silent auction, food trucks, raffle prizes, fun children’s games and more. $10 per person ages 12 and up, $5 ages 6-11, under 6 free. 334-8445770.


Dothan, Fall Farm Day at Landmark Park. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Enjoy the sights and sounds of an 1890s farmstead while volunteers demonstrate sugar cane grinding and syrup making, peanut picking, stacking and digging, an antique tractor pull and parade and more. $8 adults, $6 seniors and military, $4 children. Concessions available.


Evergreen, 17th annual Conecuh Sausage Festival, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Arts and crafts vendors, food vendors, a car show, live entertainment and a children’s area. Free. Middleton Airfield on Highway 84. In connection with the festival, a Professional Cowboy Association (PCA) sanctioned rodeo will be Oct. 17-19; gates open at 6 p.m. each night. Armbands $10 adults and $5 for kids, or $20 for a three-day pass. And on Friday and Saturday, the Southeast Regional Fly-in and Air Show (SERFI) will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; armbands $5 per day, kids 12 and under free.

To place an event, e-mail or visit You can also mail to Events Calendar, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124; Each submission must include a contact name and phone number. Deadline is two months prior to issue date. We regret that we cannot publish every event due to space limitations.

Alabama Living

Athens, Athens Storytelling Festival in the Courthouse Square. Event kicks off Tuesday evening with a local tellers competition; the winner will take the stage on Thursday night. The event’s featured storytellers, Donald Davis, Bil Lepp, Josh Goforth and Kevin Kling, will perform WednesdaySaturday. Pre-register and find ticket info at AthensStorytellingFestival. com.


Enterprise, Spooky in the Park. 5 p.m., Johnny Henderson Park. Costume contests for kids and dogs, multiple games and activities set up for all to enjoy, and a DJ spinning Halloween hits. Take a hayride around the park, past the graveyard and through the haunted tunnel. Food and other goodies for sale as a fundraiser for the EHS Interact Club. Zombie 5K Fun Run begins at 9:15 p.m. 334-348-2682.



Dixonville, fourth annual LaRae Harvest Festival and Dixonville 200, a cultural heritage celebration of this Escambia County community. Special guest will be area native William Lee Golden of the Oak Ridge Boys. Agricultural displays and booths by FFA chapters, vendors with Alabama-made products, artisans, a 5K race and fun run and good Southern food. Local singers and musicians and a performance by Bo Bice, an Alabama native and “American Idol” runner-up. 464 Highway 41 South. Search “LaRae” on Facebook.


Gulf Shores, Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo’s Animal Art Safari 2019. 7 to 10 p.m. Patrons can purchase original works of art created by the zoo animal residents. Live music, silent and live auctions, food and entertainment. 20499 Oak Road East, Gulf Shores, AL 36542.

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OCTOBER 2019 29


| Worth the drive |

Boaters on Lake Guntersville have a special entrance at Top O’ The River in Guntersville.


Catfish, seafood top the menu at Top O’ The River By Aaron Tanner


or more than three decades, the Sharp family has served the coast, while catfish comes from Mississippi weekly. top-notch food at its chain of Top O’ The River restaurants Before the main course, instead of hush puppies, each table across eastern Alabama. gets a complimentary skillet of made-from-scratch cornbread Top O’ The River first opened its doors in Anniston in 1982. that is mixed with jalapenos, corn, and scallions. The signature The family later added locations in mustard greens often accompany the Gadsden in 1983 and Guntersville cornbread. in 2002, along with a location on “We always strive to provide the best “We decided cornbread complePickwick Lake in Tennessee in 2012. ments the coleslaw and greens more food quality and customer service Having multiple locations allows the than the hushpuppies, so we include possible, and to treat every customer those with the entrees,” Sharp says. Sharps to expand their brand while being close enough to their home to In 2019, the Alabama Tourism Delike they are our only one.” maintain day to day business operapartment named the Gadsden locations. tion’s catfish and mustard greens as “We had family members that wanted to expand the business one of the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.” (The Guntersville lowithin controllable distance,” says Bill Sharp, who oversees opercation also got a place on the list for the fried pickles.) ations at all locations. The most popular entree on the menu is the “riverboat special,” The star of the menu at Top O’ The River is the farm-raised catwhich includes a half pound of catfish, hushpuppies, a choice of fish and fresh seafood. Twice a week, seafood is brought in from baked potato or fries and an order of cornbread, coleslaw and

30 OCTOBER 2019

The fried catfish and fries, the “Riverboat Special,” is one of the most popular items on the menu. PHOTO BY ALLISON LAW

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OCTOBER 2019  31

pickled onions. Other seafood items include shrimp, shrimp scampi and crawfish. Those in the mood for something other than seafood or catfish can order prime cut steaks and chicken, while the hand-battered fried pickles and onion rings are favorite appetizers. All menu items are cooked to order; the batter used for the catfish, seafood and chicken is the same recipe used since opening day. Top O’ The River’s website bills itself as one of the Southeast’s largest catfish and seafood restaurants. Each location can seat up to 700 people along with banquet facilities that can seat up to 200 for private events. During busy nights, as many as 100 employees are on hand at the Guntersville location to ensure that the process of seating and serving customers runs as smoothly as possible. “To serve a large number of people in a short amount of time, every facet of our operation must be efficient,” says Chad Opdycke, general manager of the Guntersville location. With such a vast seating area, the Guntersville location can turn over groups of customers as many as five to seven times on weekend evenings. “We always pride ourselves in not letting the customer wait once they sit down,” Sharp says. Those eating at the Guntersville location can pass the time while waiting for a table admiring the large aquarium that displays different types of fish. For those who want to dine with a view, the Gadsden location overlooks Neely Henry Lake, while the Guntersville location has views of Lake Guntersville. “The main comments we get for the water views is that customers are willing to wait for a window seat,” Sharp says. The Guntersville and Gadsden locations also have a marina where those out on the water can arrive by boat and come inside the restaurant to dine. Despite having a large clientele of locals, some customers drive from as far as Birmingham and Huntsville to eat at one of their locations. “It is not only an honor but a little bit of added pressure to have customers drive from miles away to eat with us,” Opdycke says. “We always strive to provide the best food quality and customer service possible, and to treat every customer like they are our only one.” The consistency in food quality and customer service and having the same menu at all locations has changed little since Top O’ The River first opened. “Consistency sounds easy, but that can be the most difficult part of this business,” Sharp says. “Customers know what to Patrons enjoy a view of a beautiful sunset on Lake Guntersville at the Top O’ The River. PHOTO COURTESY TOP O’ THE RIVER

Erika Buckelew, left, and Bre Carnes, employees at Top O’ The River in Guntersville, prepare to serve some of the restaurant’s most popular offerings. PHOTO BY ALLISON LAW

expect when they arrive.” Despite the large staff, employees feel like a member of the family, which translates to the quality customer service that guarantees repeat business. “Treating our employees like family creates a fun and positive work environment, which helps with employee retention,” Opdycke says. “I feel like our employees extend this same treatment to our customers.”

Top O’ The River 7004 Val Monte Drive, Guntersville, Ala. 35976 (256) 582-4567 Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday; 4-10 p.m. Saturday; 12-8 p.m. Sunday 1606 Rainbow Drive, Gadsden, Ala. 35901 (256) 547-9817 (same hours as Guntersville location) 3330 McClellan Blvd., Anniston, Ala. 36201 (256) 238-0097 Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 5-10 p.m. Friday; 3-10 p.m. Saturday; 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Sunday

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  

Alabama Living

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| Alabama Recipes |

Iron-Clad After centuries in existence and even after taking a backseat to other kinds of pots and pans, cast iron has made a full comeback and firmly established its place in the collective “Southern cooking” consciousness.



ast-iron cookware was created several hundred years ago and got heavy use in the 1700s and 1800s. In the 20th century, pots and pans made from other materials like aluminum began to edge it out, pushing it to the dark confines of the back cabinets where unloved and unused kitchen tools languish. But it’s made its way back. Cast iron has enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years and is now the go-to cookware for many chefs and home cooks who put more modern pieces aside in favor of the tried-and-true staple. Need proof? Lodge, the largest U.S. manufacturer of cast iron, founded in 1896, says the last few years have brought some of the best sales in the company’s century-plus history. And there are new cast-iron makers like Smithey Ironware and Butter Pat Industries jumping into the market. Want evidence that its fanbase is still growing? There’s an entire magazine devoted to cast-iron cooking. So how has cast iron’s appeal endured and why is it now

34 OCTOBER 2019

thriving? There are multiple reasons. It’s almost indestructible; rust is its only true enemy. It’s naturally nonstick, so there are no health concerns about chemical coatings. It’s an excellent conductor of heat, and it heats evenly, making it highly versatile and good for all kinds of recipes, delivering good sears on meat, better browning on cornbread and extra crisping to the crust on fried chicken. While some of the newer, smaller cast iron companies charge a pretty penny for their pieces (and they’re worth it; there’s a lot of skill going into them), most cast iron is still very reasonably priced. And there’s another aspect that can’t be quantified but should not be overlooked. Because cast iron holds up so well, it’s often passed down through generations of family cooks, meaning nostalgia and fond memories add to its attractiveness. No matter what makes you reach for your cast-iron skillet, kettle or Dutch oven time and time again, we’ve got a nice batch of reader-submitted cast-iron recipes you can try out this fall.

Cook of the Month

Suzy Shepherd, Pioneer EC Suzy Shepherd felt the need to share her recipe for Cream Cheese Cornbread to encourage folks to use their cast iron skillets and branch out beyond basic cornbread. “I use my cast-iron skillet for so many things, but I never make any version of cornbread in anything else,” she says. “And this cornbread is a bit different and so delicious.” It’s a recipe she created on a whim, modifying other cream cheese cornbread recipes she’d seen by leaving the cream cheese in chunks. “That gives it such a great texture,” she says. She was thrilled to find out she is this issue’s Cook of the Month, but we don’t think she should have been too surprised. She entered the recipe in another contest years ago, and it took home first prize.

Iron Skillet Peach Pie 6 large peaches, peeled and sliced 1¼ cup sugar ½ teaspoon lemon zest 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice ½ teaspoon vanilla flavoring ½ teaspoon almond flavoring 3 frozen regular Pet-Ritz pie shells ¾ cup butter ½ cup brown sugar Cinnamon, to taste

Cream Cheese Cornbread 1 ½ 1 1 2

cup self-rising flour cup cooking oil 8-ounce package cream cheese (keep cold) 14-ounce can cream corn whole eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add 2 tablespoons oil to a cast iron skillet and heat until hot on top of stove. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together except cream cheese (keep cold until ready to use.) Cut cold cream cheese into small squares and fold into mixture. Pour into hot skillet, turn off heat and leave on top of stove a few minutes, then place in hot oven and bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Great served with soups.

Broccoli and Kielbasa 1 link kielbasa, thinly sliced 5 cloves garlic, minced Large bunch broccoli (without stems), chopped 1 cup onions, red, white or shallots 1 teaspoon paprika Salt and pepper, to taste 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 6 tablespoons butter, olive oil or ghee, divided

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Place peaches in a large bowl. Add 1 cup sugar, zest, lemon juice and flavorings. Stir gently to combine. Melt ½ cup butter in iron skillet, add brown sugar and stir. Top mixture with one pie shell. Add half of the peach mixture and sprinkle with cinnamon. Top with second pie shell. Add remaining peaches and sprinkle with cinnamon. Make several slits in last pie shell and carefully top peaches. Pour remaining ¼ cup butter on pie shell, using a brush to distribute evenly. Sprinkle with ¼ cup sugar. Bake for 60 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté until caramelized; then add garlic and cook until soft. Add the red wine vinegar to the pan and mix with shallots and garlic. Add kielbasa and sauté until brown. Add the remaining butter, broccoli, paprika, salt and pepper and toss to mix all ingredients and coat the broccoli with butter and seasonings. Sauté the broccoli, add a splash of water and put a lid on the pan. Cook until the broccoli is soft, stirring occasionally. Top with fresh parsley and red pepper flakes if you like a little heat.

Wanda Stinson Pioneer EC

Jana Baron Baldwin EMC

Alabama Living

Cajun Shrimp (cover photo) 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided ½ onion, chopped (about 1 cup) 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 serrano peppers, chopped 2 stalks celery, chopped 1½ pounds shrimp, peeled and deveined 2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning Salt and pepper, to taste 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped In a large skillet, heat ½ tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onion, serrano pepper and celery until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Transfer vegetables to a bowl. Add remaining olive oil to the pan. Add shrimp in a single layer and season with salt, pepper and Cajun seasoning. Cook until no longer pink, 1-2 minutes per side. Add vegetables and lemon juice and toss until combined. Garnish with chopped parsley. Staff contribution

OCTOBER 2019 35

Chocolate Chip Blondie 1 cup butter or margarine, melted 1 cup white granulated sugar 1 cup light brown sugar 2 eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 3 cups all-purpose flour 1½ teaspoons baking soda ½ teaspoon salt 1 cup milk chocolate chips 1 cup pecans Cool Whip or ice cream for serving Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat iron skillet well with cooking spray. Mix melted butter with white and brown sugars. Add eggs and vanilla and mix together with butter and sugars. Then add flour, baking soda and salt. Fold in chocolate chips and pecans. Pour mixture into cast iron skillet and cook 35 to 40 mins. May serve warm with ice cream of choice or serve cool with Cool Whip. Michelle Rogers Franklin EC

Zucchini Cornbread 3 cups zucchini, grated ½ teaspoon salt 1⁄3 cup sugar 4 eggs, beaten 1 stick melted margarine ½ cup sour cream 1½ cups self-rising corn meal ½ cup self-rising flour ¼ cup buttermilk Mix all ingredients together, blending well. Bake at 350 degrees in a pre-heated, 8-inch cast iron skillet. Bake for 45-60 minutes.

Chocolate Chip Blondie

Flat Iron Skillet Buttermilk Biscuits 2 cups White Lily self-rising flour 1 teaspoon sugar 1 stick cold butter (not margarine), grated or cut into small pieces 1 cup cold buttermilk Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously grease your flat iron skillet with butter flavored Crisco or lard. Place skillet in oven and heat approximately 12 minutes while mixing your biscuits. You will get a soft buttery texture on the inside and crisp bottom from the hot skillet. Mix flour and sugar. Use your fingers to work the butter into the flour. Don’t overmix. You want some butter pieces throughout your biscuit. With a wooden spoon, start in the center of mixing bowl gradually pouring in the buttermilk until the dough comes together from edges of bowl. The dough should be slightly sticky but well formed. Remove skillet from oven (be careful, it’s hot). Dump the dough onto a floured pastry board; knead gently 3 times. Press the dough to 1-inch thickness. Cut the dough with a biscuit cutter into 8 biscuits, placing each biscuit 1-inch apart on the hot skillet (hear the sizzle). Bake at 400 degrees 20-24 minutes until golden brown. Split and slather with tomato gravy or your favorite preserves. Jackie Skelton Vice Black Warrior EMC

Classic Chicken Pot Pie 2 refrigerated pie crusts, softened 1⁄3 cup butter (unsalted) 1⁄3 cup onion (finely chopped) 1⁄3 cup all-purpose flour ¼ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon pepper 1 14-ounce can chicken broth ½ cup milk 2½ cups shredded rotisserie chicken 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables, cooked as directed on package Place one pie crust into 10-inch cast iron skillet and reserve second crust to put on top of pie. Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a 2-quart saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Add onions and cook 2 minutes stirring frequently until tender. Stir in flour, salt and pepper until well blended. Gradually stir in broth and milk, cooking and stirring until bubbly and thickened. Stir in chicken and mixed vegetables. Remove from heat. Spoon into crust-lined, 10-inch cast iron skillet. Top with second crust; seal edge and flute. Cut slits in several places in top crust. Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until crust is golden brown. During the last 15 to 20 minutes of baking, cover the edge of the crust with foil to prevent excessive browning. Let rest 5 minutes before serving. Linda Jo Letson North Alabama EC

Patricia Barnes Sand Mountain EC 36 OCTOBER 2019

Seasoning refers to a layer of fat that’s baked onto the interior surface of cast-iron cookware and is what makes pieces non-stick. Most cast-iron pieces made today come already seasoned, but over time, they need to be re-seasoned to keep them in good working order.

New England Boiled Dinner 3 to 4 pounds corned beef brisket 8 small onions 8 medium carrots 4 potatoes, pared and halved or quartered 2 turnips cubed (optional) 1 medium green cabbage, cut into wedges Caraway seed Place brisket in large cast iron kettle. Cover with cold water. Cover tightly and simmer 3 1/2 hours or until tender. Skim fat from liquid. Add onions, carrots, potatoes and turnips. Sprinkle with caraway seed. Cover. Simmer 20 minutes. Remove meat to warm platter. Add cabbage to kettle; simmer uncovered 10 to 15 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender. Serves 8. Note: To carve meat, cut thin diagonal slices across the grain at a slanting angle.

How to:

Here’s how to do it:

1 2

Re-season your cast iron

Use a bit of fine steel wool and warm water to rub off any rust.

Dry it completely and spread a thin layer of vegetable oil or shortening around the inside with a paper towel.


Place it upside down in your oven and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. (Put a sheet pan covered in foil underneath it to catch grease drips.)


Let it cool to room temperature in the oven.

Janice Bracewell Covington EC



prize and title of of

Cook the Month

Themes and Deadlines: Jan: Soups and Stews | Oct. 11 Feb.: Pork | Nov. 8 March: Peanut Butter | Dec. 13 Please send us your original recipes (developed or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

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Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019 37

| Consumer Wise |

Is a heat pump right for my home? By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen


My cousin just installed a heat pump, so now she uses fan units placed on the walls instead of her baseboard heaters. My neighbors just got a heat pump too, but they replaced their furnace and air conditioner, so it blows through the old furnace vents. Could one of these options work for my home as well?


The short answer is yes. The two most common types of heat pumps, which you’ve just described, are often good options. It sounds like your cousin replaced her electric baseboard heaters with a ductless mini-split heat pump. This is a good solution because older baseboard heaters are typically inefficient. The mini-split system has a compressor outside that is connected with refrigerant lines to the blowers inside. A ductless system can serve up to four zones, so it can heat a small home or can be used in combination with another heating system in a larger home. The ductless mini-split system is a great option for a home that does not have a duct system, or if the existing duct system is inefficient or poorly designed. Your neighbors most likely replaced their central heating and air conditioning (HVAC) system with a central system airsource heat pump. This system’s compressor is also located outside, but in this case, it’s connected to the home’s duct system to distribute cold or warm air through the existing vents. The central system heat pump can be an efficient option if your existing duct system is in good shape. A less common type of heat pump is a ground-source, or geothermal, system that taps into heat that’s naturally underground year-round. Geothermal systems are typically an expensive investment, but they are quite efficient. Heat pumps are typically much more efficient than electric resistance systems and can be a solid solution in a wide vaPatrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. Write to energytips@collaborativeefficiency. com for more information.

38  OCTOBER 2019

A mini-split ductless heat pump can serve up to four rooms through fans installed in each room.

riety of circumstances. They can be the right choice in a manufactured home, a construction addition or as a replacement for a broken or inefficient HVAC system. They’re also becoming more popular for central heating in new construction. Here’s how heat pumps work: During winter, they pull warmth from the outside air into the home; during summer, the process is reversed and warmth from inside the home is exhausted outside. It may seem odd that warmth can be found in outdoor winter air, but heat pumps are amazing inventions. They’ve become much more efficient in recent years to the point that they can be effective year-round in most cold winter climates. The efficiency of a heat pump is measured in two ways: The HSPF (Heating Season Performance Factor) rating measures heating efficiency, and the SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating measures cooling efficiency. The minimum ratings for a heat pump are HSPF 8.2 and SEER 14. Heat pumps with the ENERGY STAR® rating are significantly more efficient than the minimum standard. Here’s how to know if you should consider a heat pump for your home: Want to save money? If you are currently heating your home with electric resistance or propane or heating oil, and you seal air leaks and install additional in-

sulation, installing an efficient heat pump could reduce your heating costs by up to 75%. And if you are currently cooling your home with an old A/C system or window A/C units, you could also cut your cooling costs. Want heating and cooling flexibility? A ductless mini-split heat pump can serve up to 4 individual zones or rooms, and each room’s temperature can be controlled separately. Want safer heat? Heat pumps eliminate the need to burn fuels inside your home and exhaust combustion gases. There’s no risk of carbon monoxide or gas leaks that can come from flaws in a system that runs on natural gas, propane, fuel oil or wood. Before you consider installing any new heating and cooling system for your home, I strongly suggest you conduct an energy audit. Your electric co-op may provide energy audits or be able to recommend a local professional. As with any major home improvements or installations, be sure to get a few quotes and references before committing or making any payments. This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on heat pumps, please visit: collaborativeefficiency. com/energytips

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OCTOBER 2019 39

| Outdoors |

CWD not in Alabama yet, but state urges caution


hronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, affects the nervous system in members of the cervid or deer family, which includes whitetails, mule deer, elk, moose, caribou and other species. “The disease is caused by mutated forms of normal proteins called prions,” says Chris Cook, the Deer Program coordinator for the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division. “Prions are normally found throughout the body and don’t cause problems. When they mutate, though, they become infectious and cause normal prions to mutate. The infectious abnormal prions start accumulating in the brain, nervous system tissues and some lymph tissues. Concentrations of these prions in the brain create microscopic holes in the brain tissue, which lead to neurological problems and, ultimately, death.” CWD was first identified in captive mule deer in Colorado in 1967 and discovered in wild deer and elk in the 1980s. Since then, CWD has been identified in wild or captive cervids in 26 states, three Canadian provinces and other countries. Fortunately, that number does not include Alabama, at least not yet, but CWD has hit close to the Cotton State recently. John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.

40  OCTOBER 2019

“We’ve been sampling deer since 2002 and haven’t found any deer in Alabama that tested positive for CWD,” Cook says. “The closest confirmation we’ve seen to Alabama has been from Pontotoc County, Miss., and Hardeman County, Tenn. Both of those animals were found in 2018.” Infected animals may not show any signs of the very slowly progressing disease for a long time. The disease attacks the central nervous system, so deer don’t act like they should. As CWD progresses, signs of being infected become more obvious. “Once a deer is exposed to CWD, it could take months or even years for it to show any symptoms and die from the disease,” Cook says. “Many deer that have tested positive for CWD looked normal, but as the disease progresses, infected deer become less wary of people and just don’t act right because its central nervous system is not functioning properly. Deer will have difficulty standing and walking, may drool excessively, often drink and urinate constantly and become emaciated.” CWD has not been shown to pass from deer to humans or other animals outside the cervid family. However, some animals may serve as disease reservoirs and spread the prions across the landscape. For instance, if some types of scavengers eat sick deer, those animals aren’t likely to contract CWD, but they may shed those prions through their feces. Other deer could ingest those prions and become sick.

“There currently is no evidence of deer giving CWD to humans who consume venison or by any other way at this time,” Cook says. “Also at this time, there is nothing to indicate that CWD will cross over into a different species outside of the deer family. A sick deer can transmit the disease to other deer by exchanging saliva or other bodily fluids. The disease doesn’t break down very easily. As the prions accumulate in the environment, they can persist in the soil for years. Potentially, they could be taken up by plants growing in that soil and pass into deer. Once CWD gets established in a population, it stays there accumulating in the environment.” Many sportsmen like to visit other states or countries to hunt whitetails or deer species not found in Alabama. To keep Alabama free from CWD as long as possible, the state imposes strict laws on the importation of live deer and certain high-risk deer parts from other states and countries. Essentially, hunters cannot bring back anything containing brain or spinal cord materials, large bones or antlers in velvet. They can, however, bring deboned meat, clean hides, clean skull caps and antlers, and finished taxidermy works when they return to Alabama. For more on CWD and how to handle deer before bringing them back into the state, see deer-hunting-alabama/chronic-wasting-disease-what-you-should-know. “When possible, field dress and process the deer on the property where it was killed and leave all the waste parts where they originated,” Cook says. “Any people who see deer that aren’t acting right should contact their local Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division office. We want to get a sample for CWD testing from any sick deer. If we do find CWD in the state, that’s not the end of deer hunting in Alabama. We’ll just have to change some things on how we hunt and manage deer in the state to keep the disease as contained as possible.” To report a deer showing symptoms of possible CWD, see outdooralabama. com/wildlife-section. People can also call Cook at 205-339-5716 or email chris.


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The Moon Clock and resulting Moon Times were developed 36 years ago by Doug Hannon, one of America’s most trusted wildlife experts and a tireless inventor. The Moon Clock is produced by DataSport, Inc. of Atlanta, GA (, a company specializing in wildlife activity time prediction. Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019 41

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Alabama Living

OCTOBER 2019  43

44  OCTOBER 2019

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OCTOBER 2019  45

| Hardy Jackson's Alabama |

The mystery in Mamaw’s kitchen ome with me on a trip through Alabama and down memory lane. Over the river and through the woods, sorta. Actually the trip takes us along an interstate highway that is perpetually under construction (don’t tell me that government can’t create jobs), in and out of suburbs with glittering malls, into the Black Belt with dying little towns – Safford, Catherine, Lamison, Alberta – then out and into the Clarke County piney woods to where my Mama, Mamaw, once waited. In her kitchen. Mamaw’s kitchen was a tribute to the lingering power that the Great Depression held over those who lived through it. Don’t throw it away—“we might need it one day.” As a result, to navigate her kitchen you had to pick your way around things that were arranged and stored according to her own system. Especially when looking for something in a refrigerator. Mamaw had two refrigerators. (Like most things at her house, there was a history behind getting the second one, something about needing more freezer space, and this was the solution, which she justified by the fact that the newer one has an automatic icemaker.) It followed that when I went looking for something I either had to know into which refrigerator she put it, or go searching. Thus began the game of “guess what is in the butter tub.” (A variation of this is “guess what is in the whipped cream container,” though that one is never as exciting as the other.) You see, high on the list of the things Mamaw did not throw away were plastic containers. When a plastic container was emptied, she washed it out and saved it for the day when she has just enough of something left over to fit into it. This presented a problem when I went looking for butter, for the tub with “butter” written on it often contained anything but butter. So off I would go, opening containers marked butter but not containing any. Meanwhile Mamaw listened with ears

unimpaired by age as I opened and closed container after container until I reached the magic number at which her patience wore thin and she called out: “What are you looking for?” “Butter.” And in a voice edged with exasperation she replied, “It is in the ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter’ container in the other refrigerator back behind the jelly,” and of course there it was. (I decide not to point out the irony of butter being in a container identified as not being butter while the butter

containers contained everything but butter – as we say down in South Alabama, some swamps just don’t need draining.) So the butter was found. Also found leftovers sufficient to feed a small developing nation, leftovers I could proudly point out when and if anyone asks “what’s for supper?” But I won’t. That knowledge would only remind Mamaw of my search and how useless I am in her kitchen. I would not want to do that.

Illustration by Dennis Auth


Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist for Alabama Living. He can be reached at

46  OCTOBER 2019