"The gain in self-confidence of having accomplished a tiresome labour is immense."
– Arnold Bennett
Ok, let's chat about Alabama. First off, we stayed in Clanton, Alabama which, to the complete surprise of Steve and I, is both the pecan and peach capital of this country. Yeah, that's right. We are surprised too. Of course when you think of peaches you think about Georgia, but apparently Clanton produces more peaches. Who knew. We didn't get to sample any of Clanton's claim to fame because it's November and peaches are out of season. I did, however, have some absolutely delightful homemade peach/pecan ice cream and can attest that it was undoubtedly the best ice cream ever (except for the gelato we had in Italy, but that was 11 years ago so my memory could be foggy).
Our first stop was to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. The only thing I can say about this experience was "WOW". The Institute put together such an incredible exhibit about the fight for equality that the African American men and women endured during the 1950's and 1960's. The story of "separate but equal" is such a sad one for this country. But the strength and courage of those individuals who fought the battle for equality was so overwhelmingly powerful and beautiful that both Steve and I were little humbled by the strength of their conviction and their willingness to sacrifice all to right a terrible wrong. The museum begins with an exhibit of a number of "separate but equal" situations that occurred through the country. Then it moves into the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement and then includes exhibits on the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights (which Martin Luther King was involved in before he took his campaign national). I wish we had pictures to go along with this blog this week, but unfortunately we were not allowed to take any during our visit. Should you wish to see pictures of the exhibit, please visit Google Images and enter "Birmingham Civil Rights Institute". If you are ever in Birmingham, please take the time to visit this Institute as you will be very impressed and, like I said earlier, humbled.
Across the street from the BCRI are two other very important landmarks in the fight for civil rights in Birmingham. The first is the 16th Street Baptist Church which is Birmingham's most famous civil rights landmark. On a September Sunday morning in 1963, four African-American schoolgirls were in the basement of the church just prior to the Sunday service. A bomb set by Ku Klux Klansmen ripped throught he side of that church killing four girls between the ages of 11 and 14 years. The bombing was a turning point in the status of race rlations locally, nationally and internationally. The sanctuary of the church contains a beautiful stained glass window that was given to this church by the people of Wales following the bombing. Jesse, a very nice homeless man who lived in Birmingham during this time period, offered to give Steve and I a tour of this church and he shared with us his story of life during this time in history.
Then kitty-corner (or catty-corner, depending on where you're from) from the church and the BCRI was Kelly Ingram Park. This park served as a staging area for demontsrations in the early 1960's including those in which police dogs and fire hoses were turned on marchers. Images of those attacks haunted Birmingham in the decades that followed, but they were the same images that were instrumental in overturning legal segregation. Scultpures flanking the park's Freedom Walk vividly depict the events of the 1960's. It's definitely worth a visit as well. There are pictures from this park and the 16th Street Baptist Church in the gallery.
Steve and I also visited the McWane Science Center. We went there specifically for the model train show they were having but were pleasantly surprised by the content of the entire museum. Before I get to that though, let me talk trains. There were some absolutely spectacular exhibits on display and I was mesmerized by a couple of them. My favorite was an exhibit that contained a track that was about 200 feet long and had so much detail to it that it took forever just to walk around and look at it all. We talked to one of the guys that put it together and he said that it took his train club 12 years to finish it. I can believe it!!!! I loved the little billboards they had in this exhibit and you can see those in the gallery. There were little people all over this exhbit doing things like hanging laundry, fixing a car engine, sitting by a campfire, water skiing behind a boat, and even peeing in the woods. The exhibit also had little signs all over for the kids (like a little scavenger hunt) that had them looking for particular details of the display. It was an absolute hoot. I just love these things! Anyway, the rest of the museum was well done too. They had sections dedicated to the dinosaur fossils found in Alabama, the fish of Alabama, numerous science experiments on physics, weather, etc. We had a great time there and if you have kids are in Birmingham, take them to this museum!
Our last stop in the city of Birmingham was the Peanut Depot. This little shop is on historic Morris Avenue, which was a very bumpy cobblestone street that had buildings on it that were absolutely stunning from an architectural perspective. (If you are into architecture, let me know and we'll start including pictures of those buildings that we find to be particularly noteworthy). Anyway, we met the owner Lex and his sidekick Harrison and were given the entire story on roasting peanuts. Did you know that the peanuts you eat that are still in the shell are not from Georgia, but from Virginia? The Georgia peanut is very oily, because of the clay soil that they are grown in, and are used for things like peanut oil and peanut butter. The Virginia soil provides the peanuts that can be eaten as it comes out of the ground. And speaking of coming out of the ground, did you know that they are grown on a vine underground and are considered a vegetable? Yes, I was shocked too, but it's true. So here's the process those peanuts go through in order to make them the fun snack you get at the ballpark. First, the peanuts are boiled for 8 hours in very salty water. The salt permeates the shell and that's how the peanut gets its flavor while still in it's protective shell. After the boiling, they are put into a vacuum to completely remove all the water and then frozen overnight if not roasted immediately. If they are lucky enough to make it to the roaster that same day, they are cooked over a gas flame in those huge vats (see the gallery) for about 90 minutes. They are then cooled and packaged for selling. That's a lot of work for a peanut snack.
On Wednesday of last week, we had a tornado. Well, we didn't actually have a tornado but they were all around us. A huge and terrible storm system came across the entire South which forced Steve and I to spend the morning in the tornado shelter at the campground. We were sitting in our trailer, planning to head to Montgomery, when the announcement came over the loudspeaker telling us to seek shelter immediately. HOLY COW! So we head to the laundry room (dirty laundry in tow) and shower facility which would be our safe haven should we experience a tornado. Steve and I were pretty sure we were going to be okay until a woman carrying a dog that looked just like Toto came into the shelter. Yikes, is that a bad omen or what?????? Anyway, after a few hours, the storm passed and we were able to go back to our trailer. We suffered no damage at all but apparently just north of us there was a decent amount of damage. Thank you Lord for sparing us because as you know, tornados tend to target trailers for some unknown reason.
Speaking of Montgomery, let me just say that this is an absolutely adorable town that is rich with history and architectural charm. Steve and I spent the day there walking around the downtown area. There were times on our walk that I could swear we were back in the 1950's with the way the streets looked and the mom and pop storefronts that lined them. Absolutely charming. While in Montgomery, we visited the Rosa Parks Museum and learned more about the Montgomery Bus Boycott that she started. Honestly, this woman was one seriously courageous individual. She was 42 at the time of her refusal to give up her seat. She was jailed and prosecuted for her "crime" but that one act sparked a protest that brought the city of Montgomery to its knees. Again, I was humbled by the power of conviction of one person and how much can change because of it.
After that, Steve and I stopped at a little park and ate our lunch under the the Hank Williams monument. We then visited a museum dedicated to his life and work. And when I say work, it was a huge body of songs produced in a very short career. Hank Williams was 29 years old when he died of heart failure, yet he left behind a library of work that is just amazing. The museum was a bit of a disappointment so I do not recommend spending the $8.00 per person if you are in Montgomery. But I did enjoy learning about him and his incredible talent that is still impacting country music to this day. Lastly, Steve and I visited the Baptist church that Martin Luther King served for the six years he was in Montgomery. We also saw the house that he lived in while he was in the city.
Our last adventure while in Alabama was to visit Talladega. As diehard Nascar fans, we couldn't go to Alabama without seeing the king of race tracks. It was a very interesting tour and I wish now that we would have spent the $195 for the four lap drive-along they offered. It would have been great to get up to 175 mph and hit those turns that are banked at 33 degrees each. We did, however, visit the winner's circle and had our picture taken. We visited the Motor Sports Hall of Fame which is located on the track property. This museum was dedicated to all motor sports, not just Nascar or stock car racing, and was pretty interesting. But the best museum of the day was the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum that we stopped at on our way back to Clanton. This museum is home to the world's biggest and best motorcycle collection with some 1200 vintage and modern motorcycles. They also had a collection of open-wheel Grand Prix race cars and Lotuses (is that how you make a Lotus plural?). Steve was in his glory! The cool part for me was that while we were there, they were having an event for the local BMW and Porsche club in which the club members were allowed to race their cars on the world-class, 2.3 mile road course that was right behind the museum. It was a blast watching these people drive like crazy around this track. This track is home to the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama and apparently also has a racing school. COOL!
This was all we were able to accomplish while we were in Alabama, well with the tornado and all . . .
We are currently in Byram, Mississippi and will be here until Monday of next week. We are going to visit Vicksburg to learn about the horrible battle that took place there during the Civil War. We also plan to attend Hal & Mal's Big A** Turkey Bash for Thanksgiving. They are serving turducken (a chicken inside of a duck inside of a turkey) and the bands featured for this bash are the Kudzu Kings, Bailey and the Squids and some other great sounding groups. I can't wait to report back on this experience!
So that's it for this week. Again, sorry for the lateness of this post but school is KILLING ME! Both Steve and I hope that you all will be spending some quality time with your families this holiday weekend. We are all so blessed in this country and have so much to be thankful for. Take a moment during this holiday to count those blessings and thank God for them!
Ok peeps, later!!!!!