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Alabama co-ops help restore power in hurricane-ravaged Florida

Crews from Central Alabama EC work to restore power to members of Clay EC in Florida
Cullman EC assists Clay EC in Keystone Heights, Fla.

Crews from 19 of Alabama’s rural electric cooperatives were sent to help five Florida electric cooperatives with power restoration in the wake of Hurricane Irma in September. More than 210 men joined forces with their fellow cooperatives in areas affected by the hurricane, which left more than 75 percent of Floridians without electricity.

Alabama’s crews are part of a nationwide effort by 5,000 electric cooperative workers  mobilized to restore power to an estimated 1 million cooperative members left in the dark as Hurricane Irma left a path of destruction through the Southeast.

Confronting the aftermath of high winds and heavy rain, mutual aid linemen from more than 25 states were at work at co-ops in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Peak outage estimates indicated there were 760,000 co-op outages in Florida, 535,000 in Georgia and 100,000 in South Carolina.

Black Warrior EMC helps Central Florida EC.

“Alabama’s cooperatives are always willing to help our fellow cooperatives when there is a need,” said Fred Braswell, president and CEO of the Alabama Rural Electric Association, which represents Alabama’s 22 electric cooperatives. AREA coordinated the statewide response to the massive power outage.

Alabama’s cooperatives were mobilized to assist Clay, Suwanee Valley, Central Florida, Tri-County and Okefenokee electric cooperatives. Cooperatives helping in the effort were Covington, Baldwin EMC, Marshall-DeKalb, Joe Wheeler EMC, Pioneer, South Alabama, Central Alabama, Cullman, Dixie, Cherokee, North Alabama, Black Warrior EMC, Coosa Valley, Sand Mountain, Wiregrass, Clarke-Washington EMC, Tombigbee, Pea River and Southern Pine.

Alabama’s 22 rural electric cooperatives deliver power to more than 1 million people, or a quarter of the state’s population, and they maintain more than 71,000 miles of power line.ν

Gardens: Fun fall fruits

A matter of minding your Ps and Ks

Left to right: Paw paw, persimmon, kiwi, pomegranate and kumquat.

Need a local source of fun, fresh fruit this fall and winter? It’s as easy as minding your Ps and Ks — as in persimmons, pomegranates, pawpaws, kiwifruit and kumquats.

These often lesser known, or a least lesser grown, fruits are now, or soon will be, in season, and they are all easy to grow additions to the home garden and landscape.

Many of us grew up eating (or at least attempting to eat) the fruit of the American persimmon, a native tree that produces golden-orange, muscadine-size fruits which, when they fully ripen in the fall, are morsels of sweetness (some say they taste like dates) enjoyed by humans and wildlife alike.

The problem with native persimmons is that unripe persimmons are high in the astringent, pucker-producing compound tannic acid. But ripe ones are soft, delicious and, according to folklore, predictors of winter weather. Slice their seeds in half and take a gander at the shape therein: a spoon shape indicates snow to shovel, a knife shape warns of cutting winter winds and a fork shape predicts a mild winter with good eating.

Though ripe American persimmons make fine eating whether consumed out-of-hand or in puddings, preserves and other dishes, their small size can make preparing them a bit of a bother. However, there are now a number of larger-fruited Asian (sometimes called oriental) persimmons available to us. These persimmons produce gorgeous orange to reddish, baseball-sized fruits that ripen more readily and reliably than their native cousins.

Another fruit that comes from our own native woods is the pawpaw, an understory tree that produces large greenish-black mango-like fruits with a custardy texture and sweet, sometimes nutty, tropical flavor. Pawpaws reportedly helped sustain the Lewis and Clark expeditioners in the early 1800s and these days they are used in puddings, ice creams and sorbets and to flavor breads, smoothies and even craft beer.

Pomegranates, which are not native to the Alabama but have been here so long many of us consider them ours, provide a whole different taste experience. These gorgeous shrubs to small trees produce a handsome leathery fruit filled with sweet-tart arils (the flesh covering the seed) that are delicious to munch on, sprinkle on salads and desserts, press for juice or cook down into a syrup.

Kumquats, another nonnative plant that’s been grown in the South for generations, are citrus shrubs that produce small (about the size of a shooter-type marble) orange-colored fruits. They are delicious simply peeled and popped into your mouth, but also are fabulous candied or used in jellies. While they are more common in the Gulf Coast area of Alabama, cold-hardy cultivars can be grown as far north as Huntsville if they are shielded from winter winds and cold by planting them in pots or on a protected southern wall.

And then there is the kiwifruit, another import that grows well in much of Alabama, especially in the central part of the state. This woody vine, which has variegated foliage that starts out green and develops attractive mottled white spots and sometimes a pink tip as it matures, produces egg-sized fuzzy fruits with greenish-yellow flesh that tastes somewhere between berries and bananas.

The thing about all of these plants is that, while you’re waiting for them to produce fruit (and for some that may take up to six years), they can be attractive flowering additions to the landscape in areas of full to partial sun. And this fall and on into early winter are great times to plant them. Make sure you choose a variety or cultivar that is best suited for your area of the state and keep in mind that for some, such as pawpaws and persimmons, you may need to purchase two plants to ensure cross pollination for proper fruit production.

To learn more about these Ps and Ks, check with your local experts, including the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Master Gardener groups, plant nurseries and fellow gardeners. And keep your eyes peeled for educational events, such as an oriental persimmon tour that will be held Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. at Petals from the Past nursery in Jemison, that feature these and other fun fruit options.

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

Alabama Bookshelf

In this periodic feature, we highlight books either about Alabama people or events or written by Alabama authors. Summaries are not reviews or endorsements. We also occasionally highlight book-related events. Email submissions to bookshelf@alabamaliving.coop Due to the volume of submissions, we are unable to feature all the books we receive.


Game of My Life: Alabama Crimson Tide, by Tommy Hicks, Sports Publishing, $24.99 (sports). Longtime sportswriter Hicks has updated his memorable stories of Alabama football, from Harry Gilmer and his play in the 1946 Rose Bowl to Mark Ingram becoming the Tide’s first Heisman Trophy winner in 2009. Several former players share their memories of the Tide’s most memorable games.


Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman, by Harold H. Brown and Marsha S. Bordner, University of Alabama Press, $29.95 (memoir). Brown rose from the despair of racial segregation to become a noted military aviator and educator. Col. Brown fought as a combat pilot with the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II; after the war, he joined the Strategic Air Command before earning his Ph.D. and serving as an administrator at what is now Columbus State Community College.


North Alabama Beer: An Intoxicating History, by Sarah Belanger and Kamara Bowling Davis, Arcadia Publishing, $21.99 (local history). The authors trace the history of beer in north Alabama from the early saloon days before Prohibition to the craft beer explosion that’s occurred just in the last decade. The book features many historical and current photos that help tell the story.


Earline’s Pink Party: The Social Rituals and Domestic Relics of a Southern Woman, by Elizabeth Findley Shores, University of Alabama Press, $29.95 (Southern culture/memoir). The author sifts through her family’s scattered artifacts to understand her grandmother’s life in relation to the troubled racial history of Tuscaloosa. The book is an analysis of the life of a small-city matron in the Deep South that offers a new way of thinking about white racial attitudes.


The Grumpy Gardener: An A to Z Guide from the Country’s Most Irritable Green Thumb, by Steve Bender, Time Inc., $25.99 (gardening/humor). Gardeners everywhere have turned to Bender, Southern Living’s senior garden editor, for his keen knowledge and gardening know-how delivered with equal doses of sarcasm and humor for nearly 35 years. The book also features his rules for gardening, Q&As and his favorite reader responses.


The Best of Alabama Living: Favorite Recipes from Alabama’s Largest Lifestyle Magazine, published by the Alabama Rural Electric Association, $19.95. Alabama Living’s most popular feature is its recipes, and last year we collected some of the best ones from the last few years and published our own spiral-bound cookbook. The book includes a forward from Patricia “Sister Schubert” Barnes, profiles of some of the featured cooks and beautiful photography. Order your copy online at alabamaliving.coop, or send a check to Alabama Living Cookbook, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124.

Worth the Drive: The Bright Star

The Bright Star continues to shine in Bessemer

Jimmy Koikos believes in downtown Bessemer so much that he insists his family heirloom of a restaurant, The Bright Star, stay in this town sandwiched between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, continuing to beckon the 3,500 patrons that visit each week.

To walk through downtown Bessemer in 2017 is to take a walk through a faded Pleasantville, filled with the occasional bicyclist and city bus. Old neon block-letter signs for jewelers and furniture stores anchor streets filled with empty storefronts, many of which left in a mass exodus in the 1980s.

But build a star, and they will come — in droves — for lunch.

“There are a few empty spaces,” said longtime owner Koikos, “but we feel real good about the future of Bessemer. If you moved it, it wouldn’t be the same.”

The Bright Star claims it is “America’s oldest family owned experience,” dating back to 1907. Back then, the chicken noodle soup cost a nickel at this meat-and-three, and 110 years later, regulars drive 40 miles to eat here every day. Fresh fish including snapper, delivered twice a week from Panama City, and aged steaks made the menu famous. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner and closes an hour in the afternoon to shift to heavier dinner fare.

Fresh fish and aged steaks are trademarks at The Bright Star. Photo by Lenore Vickrey

The establishment’s bestselling dishes are the snapper and the Greek-style beef tenderloin, which won the honor of “best steak” in the state from the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association in 2012.

For lunch, diners’ top requests include the Fried Snapper Almondine and Fried Snapper Throats.

Lemon icebox pie, strawberry shortcake and bread pudding top reviews and palettes for dessert.

Nick Saban has a sweet spot for the pies, as he wrote in a framed letter on one of the many walls of newspaper clips, photos and celebrities singing The Bright Star’s praises. Sandra Bullock takes her father, Jimmy, here. There’s a special Alabama football room dedicated to Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, and in sincere sportsmanship, an Auburn table sits under a photo of a grinning Cam Newton.

Koikos is a diehard Alabama football fan, from his crimson tie to his red plaid button-down shirt, embellished with a small elephant.

The decor, mostly green and brass with dark wood booths and marble tabletops, could pass for a dining car in an old train. Guests of honor, including Bullock, are honored with nameplates.

Wall-size murals from the main dining room, formerly layered with sticky, brown muck from decades of cigarette smoke and grease, are clearing to their early 1900s glory. A European artist traveling through Alabama offered to paint the Mediterranean scenes in exchange for food and board. It’s taken three years for the renovation.

In further respect to The Bright Star’s storied past, its sign that has hung outside on 19th Street North since 1947 is also being refurbished.

The Bright Star owner Jimmy Koikos and his second cousin, Andreas Anastassakis, who oversees daily operations at the restaurant. Both men place a top priority on customer service, which has no doubt been a key to the restaurant’s longevity. Photo by Jennifer Crossley Howard

“This is a museum with food,” one new guest observed to Koikos.

He has been prepping his family’s legacy with Andreas Anastassakis, who oversees daily operation and occasionally cooks. Anastassakis came from Toronto seven years ago to run the place. They are second cousins and connected though their familial Greek Orthodox faith. Years ago, Anastassakis baptized Koikos’ sister’s daughter’s son.

“We are blessed to have someone in the family take over The Bright Star,” Koikos says.

“It’s really a dream come true at the end of the day,” Anastassakis says.

As in any sustaining business, food is far from the only ingredient to longevity.

Koikos and Anastassakis prize customer service in combining their Greek heritage with a bit of southern hospitality.

“We try to touch each table,” Anastassakis says. “That’s not something you see at most restaurants.”

Koikos also believes in investing in his restaurant. The Bright Star saw a $350,000 kitchen expansion in 2012 and remodeling and periodical restoration to original tiles and ceilings.

This year, Anastassakis added catering to the menu.

“I wanted to leave my footprint,” he says. “I also wanted to take the opportunity and expand on it as well.”

Ductless heat pumps

Heat and cool your home without blowing your budget

Q: My husband and I are tired of paying such high electric bills during the winter. We think our winter bills are high because of our baseboard heaters, and our summer bills are high because of our window AC units. Our neighbor just installed a ductless heat pump system in their home. Do you think that would work for us?

A: Mini-split ductless heat pumps are becoming more popular for good reason. They can heat efficiently even when winter temperatures drop below the freezing point, and they are an economical and energy efficient replacement for window AC units.

This graphic displays a typical ductless heat pump setup. Collaborative Efficiency

Ductless heat pumps are often installed as the primary heating source and paired with a backup system that kicks in when outside temperatures are extremely cold.Baseboard heaters are an electric resistance system, and use much more energy than a heat pump, which is just moving heat in or out of the home. If you make this change, you should reduce your heating costs considerably. Heat pumps work harder as the outside air temperature drops, but combining the heat pump with a backup heating system solves that problem. 

The exterior compressor can be set on a foundation or mounted on the wall.
Photo by Scott Gibson

 

I recently spoke with Joe Hull, an Energy Services Advisor with Midstate Electric Cooperative in Oregon. Members there have found that ductless systems with a backup heating system can work effectively to as low as -28 Fahrenheit.

Ductless heat pump systems could be an ideal solution if your home doesn’t have a duct system. If your existing ductwork is in poor condition, installing a ductless heat pump may be more practical or less expensive than repairing, sealing and insulating ducts.

A ductless heat pump has two main components: the outdoor compressor and the indoor air handler. Coolant and electrical lines run through a conduit from the compressor outside the home through the wall to the inside air handler(s).

Ductless heat pumps can be configured in different ways. A common approach that could deliver the most value is to provide heating and cooling to one large zone in the home by using a single compressor and a single air handler. Or you could use one compressor to power as many as four inside air handlers, each with its own thermostat. A home could even have more than one outside compressor.

A large or small blower can be installed depending on the size of the room.
NW Energy Efficiency Alliance

Scott Mayfield, an expert from Kootenai Electric Cooperative in Idaho, said installing a ductless system in his home had benefits beyond cost savings. “With baseboard heaters, the heat used to rise along the walls, but with the new ductless system, it flows throughout the rooms evenly. It would have been worth switching to ductless for the comfort alone.”

In some parts of the country, ductless mini-splits are becoming more popular in new home construction as well. In fact, a friend of mine in Hood River, Oregon had a ductless system installed in her new home.

Ductless heat pumps are often a great solution, but as you explore this option it would be wise to consider:

  • What are the other investments you could make to reduce your energy costs or improve comfort? Is the ductless heat pump the best option? A thorough energy audit of your home will help answer these questions.
  • Are rebates offered by your electric co-op?
  • What is the best size and efficiency level for a ductless heat pump in your situation?
  • Are there contractors in your area with experience installing ductless heat pumps?

Contact your local electric co-op for a list of recommended contractors, and visit www.energystar.gov for tips on hiring contractors.ν

Still chasing the bobwhite

James H. “Goat” Hollis and Tommy Russell after a successful hunt.

“Goat” Hollis began hunting the bobwhite 77 years ago, and hasn’t stopped since

Seventy-seven years ago, 9-year-old James H. Hollis held his 20-gauge Sears and Roebuck single-barrel shotgun close to his chest as he inched past the English pointer locked up on point, just behind a covey of wild bobwhites. As the young hunter passed the dog, an eruption of bobwhites filled the sky in front of him.

Briefly startled, but recovering quickly, young Hollis swung the barrel toward his target and pulled the trigger. A direct hit tumbled the bird as feathers floated down on a gentle breeze. “Goat” Hollis, as he is known locally, had just bagged his first bobwhite and sealed his fate as a quail hunter for life. 

Today, at 86, he is still chasing the bobwhite across the hills and hollows of Crenshaw County.

Hollis enjoys telling new acquaintances how he got his nickname, “Goat.”

“When I was 6 years old, my uncle bought me a billy goat and a little red wagon with a harness so I could hitch my goat to the wagon. I would ride my wagon, pulled by my goat, all over Brantley. People would meet me on the sidewalk and say ‘Hello, Goat.’ This continued for some time until I got rid of my goat and people kept saying ‘Hello, Goat.’ All that time I thought they were telling the goat hello, but it was really me they were talking to,” Hollis laughs.

After killing that first bobwhite, Hollis says he got his first bird dog at age 10. “My first dog was an English pointer, but over the years I have had many different breeds. I’ve hunted with English pointers, English and Irish setters, and Brittany spaniels. The best birddog I ever had was a ‘drop,’ which is a cross between a pointer and setter. You don’t see many drops today, but they were fairly common when we had a lot of wild quail.”

Bobwhite quail were abundant through the 1950s and ’60s, but began a decline in the ’70s. By the 1980s, it was hardly worth a hunter’s trouble to hunt wild birds exclusively.

“My hunting buddy and birddog trainer, Tommy Russell of Luverne, Ala., and I stock our hunting land with flight-conditioned, pen-raised bobwhite today, but we both remember the good old days of wild quail hunting. Back when Tommy and I could hold out to walk all day, we found plenty of wild birds up until the early ’80s. Tommy is still just a youngster at 84 and can still outwalk me,” says Hollis with a grin.

Both Hollis and Russell agree that the major decline in wild quail populations was due to habitat change.

“Back when I started hunting quail there were a lot of small farms with corn and peanuts and a large family garden,” Hollis says. “This situation was ideal for quail. Also, people allowed their fence rows to grow up and they burned the woods off every year or two. Again, this created ideal habitat for quail. Also, predators were controlled better back then. The disappearance of these things worked to the detriment of the wild bobwhite. By the early ’80s we began to put out pen-raised birds. Today, that’s all we hunt because wild quail are just not there in huntable numbers.”

Hollis has spent most of his life in Brantley, except for the time he spent in the army during the latter months of the Korean War. He began working at Brantley Bank and Trust in 1956 and became president in 1975. He still puts in a full day’s work most days, unless Tommy Russell calls and suggests a quail hunting trip. When this happens, he often slips out the back door, loads the dogs and heads to the field.

Hollis and Russell like to tell first-time hunting guests about the five-star tailgate meal they have planned for them. They are quite surprised when their hosts break out the bologna, sardines, potted meat and Vienna sausage with vintage Pepsi Cola to wash it down.

Today, Hollis and his guests hunt from modified golf carts or utility vehicles. Rather than “walking the birds up,” they now use a flushing English cocker spaniel, Winnie, named after Hollis’ beloved mother and owned by Hollis’ grandson, Stuart Mash Jr.

While the years have slowed their pace a bit, “Goat” Hollis and Tommy Russell won’t let a few aches and pains associated with the senior years get in the way of a good quail hunt. When Winnie flushes a bobwhite, Hollis leads the bird with his old briar-scratched double barrel and fires. When the bobwhite falls, he once again becomes that excited 9-year-old boy of 77 years ago.ν

Ben Norman writes from Highland Home, Alabama.

Gone, but not forgotten

Ashleigh Staples of Birmingham looks over a grave at Auburn’s Pine Hill Cemetery.

Jordan Mahaffey doesn’t see dead people.

Instead, her vision when visiting a cemetery has more to do with survivors than deceased. That’s because Mahaffey, a history graduate from the University of West Alabama, is more apt to pay attention to what is on top of the grave than what’s in it.

“I see artifacts,” Mahaffey says, referring to headstones and grave markers. “They provide you with a history of the community and how individuals felt about that person.”

On this day, however, Mahaffey, along with a dozen or more volunteers and an archeological team from the University of Alabama, are helping reclaim an almost forgotten, overgrown and unmarked cemetery situated just outside the fenced-in Morning Star cemetery in rural Sumter County.

The overgrown field and woodlands are being cleared and the UA team plans to scan the area with ground-penetrating radar to locate graves. An earlier scan revealed up to 10 unmarked graves.

“I want to find my baby brother. He died when he was one year old. I remember coming here as a little girl with my mother to visit his grave,” says Ella Edwards. Her family moved to Michigan when she was a child; others in the community did basically the same, leaving the cemetery unattended for decades.

Across Alabama, numerous cemeteries – in many cases the only remainders of once thriving communities – are imperiled by abandonment, isolation, occasional vandalism and sometimes even good intentions, says Ted Urquhart, president of the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance.

The alliance, a non-profit, volunteer group, was organized to locate and register all cemeteries and encourage their preservation and maintenance. Similarly, the Alabama Historical Commission maintains a record of the state’s historical cemeteries.   

The goal is twofold: Honor the dead, and help maintain historic structures like headstones, tombstones and statuary, which, much like outdoor museums, tell the stories of communities and the people who inhabited them. 

“People do not think twice about the value of preserving historic structures, and it is time we need to begin to think about structures in historic cemeteries in the same light,” says Margo Stringfield, a University of West Florida archaeologist and anthropologist. “Markers and monuments, in addition to names and dates, reflect individual choice, changing fashions, access to and choice of materials, trade patterns and changing communities.”

Despite good intentions, sometimes the efforts of well-meaning volunteers and descendants result in damage to headstones and tombstones from machinery and chemicals and soaps intended to clean the stones, says Stringfield.

Stringfield suggests that anyone considering extensive work at a cemetery enlist help from the community and groups that might seem far removed from preservation, like bird watchers or garden clubs.  Such groups can offer help with beautification efforts, but also with publicity; if people understand that cemeteries can be things other than places to bury the dead, they’re more likely to help with their preservation.

Eric Sipes, senior archaeologist with AHC’s historic preservation division, says planning is essential before doing any preservation efforts in a cemetery. AHC offers sample plans.

“An overall plan should be developed that establishes goals, prioritizes activities, and develops an annual maintenance schedule,” Sipes says.

When it comes to intensive work, call in professionals, Sipes says. The Alliance tries to have representatives from each of Alabama’s 67 counties to assist, and the AHC is also a useful source for preservation efforts.

Cemetery preservationist Jordan Mahaffey and resident Ella Edwards try to size up overgrown acreage that may contain graves adjacent to Morning Star Cemetery in Sumter County.

Stories to tell

Alliance member Greg Jeane, a retired geography professor at Auburn and Samford universities, said cemeteries and graves have evolved over the years to reflect how societies view death and other cultural aspects. From simple stone-covered graves – a practice some believe was carried over from Ireland – to elaborate stone workmanship, cemeteries and graves have stories to tell about individuals and communities.

In recent decades, graves have come to directly reflect the individual’s life, whether it be removable symbols or airbrushed headstone.

“Whether it is marbles or a cowboy boot or a toy car, it is definitely linked to some passion of the deceased,” Jeane says. “That sentiment has evolved into modern grave marker art, so a tombstone might have an 18-wheeler carved into the stone, or an air-brushed picture of the deceased holding their cat.”

Ashleigh Staples, like Mahaffey, is among several in the younger generations that are drawn to the older cemeteries because of their historical value. The Birmingham resident attended an Alliance meeting in May to learn more about preservation.   

“As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and we often visited cemeteries where family members rested,” says Staples, 23. “My job requires that I travel throughout Alabama, so I’ve made a habit of stopping to appreciate the cemeteries and history along the way. Visiting cemeteries has become one of my favorite hobbies because every grave tells a story.”

Despite a degree in history and a background in archaeology, Mahaffey’s work at UWA is unrelated to her efforts involving primarily African-American cemeteries in Alabama’s Black Belt region, and specifically stamped lettered tombstones.   

“Because of the work I did as a student, I have become a cemetery person,” says Mahaffey, 26. “People will just call me because they have heard that I work to preserve and document cemeteries.”

Edwards says Mahaffey has been a tremendous help in aiding her efforts to at least locate and provide a marker of some type to each grave, even though they may not know who is buried there.

Her brother’s grave, however, may have already been found.

There beneath the tall grasses is a clump of irises rising out of the ground.

“We couldn’t afford to buy flowers for his grave, so we dug up flowers from the yard and planted them up here in this very area,” she says.


Do’s and don’ts of grave marker cleaning

• Do examine the stone before any cleaning. If there are cracks or decay, leave it alone because pressure could damage the stone.

• Do use soft brushes and tap water to clean stones. Some biological products are available that will not harm the stone.

• Do not use any acids, bleaches, household detergents or pressure washers to clean a stone.

• Do consult with a professional when considering any repairs to stones or statuary.

Sources: Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Cemetery Preservation Alliance.

For additional information contact the AHC at  http://www.preserveala.org/cemeteryprogram.aspx and the

ACPA – http://www.alabama-cemetery-preservation.com/register_why.php