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 email@example.comDue 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
“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
With hunting seasons in progress or starting soon, hundreds of thousands of sportsmen will take to the fields, forests and wetlands all across Alabama to pursue everything from doves to deer. Most of them will obey all the laws and participate in a tradition as old as mankind.
But not everyone judiciously obeys every game law. Some make honest mistakes, while others just don’t care or think the laws don’t apply to them. For those people, heed this warning: Someone highly trained and armed may be watching.
By the late 19th century, many conservationists became alarmed by disappearing wildlife populations. For instance, fewer than 500,000 whitetail deer roamed the entire United States around 1900. Few game laws existed in the nation. Where laws existed, states did little enforcement.
About 110 years ago, in November 1907, Rep. Henry Steagall of Dale County introduced legislation to create a professional conservation department named the Alabama Department of Game and Fisheries. In 1971, it was renamed the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“Steagall authored legislation to create a government agency with authority to protect the dwindling wildlife and fisheries resources of Alabama,” says Kevin Dodd, the executive director of the Alabama Conservation Enforcement Officers Association. “The timing of his actions might seem radical to us, as they occurred when much of the Alabama population lived in rural settings near poverty standards where any game, bird or fish was pursued mainly to supplement the table or family income.”
According to Dodd, who spent 32 years as a conservation enforcement officer and retired earlier this year as the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries chief of law enforcement, Steagall didn’t invent the idea of passing laws to protect wildlife. But he believed many previous laws failed because individual legislators could exempt their districts from the laws – or the local sheriff simply refused to enforce them.
“The legislation introduced by Steagall and supported by many others had been encouraged by outgoing Gov. William Jelks,” Dodd says. “By forming a new government agency to oversee the wise use of wildlife resources, the entire state would be affected rather than selected regions. The bill was a comprehensive package that addressed landowner rights and the use of public waters, established seasons and limits, defined game birds and animals, restricted several activities and mandated penalties for violations.”
The new governor, Braxton Comer, signed the bill into law and appointed Rep. John Wallace of Madison County to serve as the first Department of Game and Fisheries commissioner. Wallace promoted the concept of“conservation through education” to teach people about the laws and why they existed. He also appointed H.M. Henderson and W.F. Sirmon as the first conservation law enforcement officers, or game wardens. More appointments soon followed.
Wallace charged the wardens with enforcing all state game and fish laws. As incentive, the officers could keep a small portion of any fines collected from violators they caught.
“The logic of a state law enforcement officer, who answered to the commissioner rather than local voters, would prove to be the cornerstone that made the legislation successful,” Dodd says. “Turnover in warden ranks was frequent for the first few decades as the law and its enforcers were slow to gain public acceptance. Some of the 1908 convictions for violations of the new game law included a state senator, a sheriff and a county solicitor. Such prosecution would likely never have occurred when local sheriffs were solely responsible for enforcement.”
The new laws and the enforcement of them gradually became accepted as animal populations began to recover. During the Great Depression, the governor at the time decided to cut the game warden program to save money. Sportsmen across the state vociferously objected to that idea. The governor backed down and the game wardens stayed on the job.
“These citizens recognized that any progress gained over decades would be quickly lost if the enforcement arm of the game and fish program were diminished or removed, a fact that remains especially relevant today,” Dodd says. “The idea of a state law enforcement officer pledged to enforce laws protecting public wildlife resources was an idea born in North America and since copied around the world.”
Today, sportsmen contribute more than $2 billion annually to the Alabama economy and the populations of many game and fish species flourish. Twice as many whitetail deer live in Alabama now than existed in the entire nation a century ago. Sportsmen enjoy long seasons and liberal limits that allow everyone to participate in the great outdoors all year long if they wish.
However, new generations of highly trained professional “Wallace’s Wardens” are still watching. They continue to make sure everyone obeys the rules or suffers the consequences.
John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. He’s a professional freelance writer and photographer with more than 2,500 articles published in more than 150 different magazines. Contact him through Facebook.
Enjoying any of our reader-submitted pie recipes is as easy as, well, you know.
Pie occupies a prominent place in Southern food culture. Almost any occasion that brings people together probably has pie on the menu: family reunions, Sunday dinners and Fourth of July celebrations. What’s a Southern Thanksgiving without some kind of hearty pie? No matter what else you eat (or how much you eat), you know you’ve got to save room for at least a sliver of your grandma’s, mother’s, aunt’s (or uncle’s!) “insert family specialty here” pie.
And while apple pie is one of the quintessential symbols of America, perhaps pecan or peach should take that role for our region. Paying homage to and highlighting distinctly Southern ingredients, they both offer a slice of our area’s authentic, homey charm in every bite.
But that’s just an opinion. Perhaps you’d pick blueberry or buttermilk. Or maybe you prefer savory pies, stuffed with veggies, cheeses and even meat. Whatever slice selection sounds the most satisfying to you, you’ll probably find something similar among the bevy of reader-submitted recipes we got for this issue.
Cook of the Month:
Debbie Holder, Baldwin EMC
Debbie Holder grew up loving figs, thanks to the heavy harvest she helped her daddy bring in from an aunt’s fig trees each year. When she moved to Foley, Ala., in 2004, she ended up with a neighbor who has fig trees and who happens to be generous with them. “I would make fig preserves and muffins out of them,” Debbie said, “but I wanted to try something different, so I thought I’d put them in a pie.” The first time she made the pie, she didn’t have quite enough fruit, so she augmented her filling with pecans. “It turned out great. The two really go together,” she said. And since her favorite part of any pie is the crust, she made her new creation a double-crust pie.
3 cups peeled figs
1 cup chopped pecans
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4-1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Deep-dish pie crust
1 ready-to-bake pie crust (for top)
Combine figs, pecans, lemon juice, brown sugar and flour, refrigerate for 30 minutes. Bake deep-dish pie shell for 12 minutes or until just starting to brown. Pour fig mixture in pie shell and cover with pats of cold butter. Place ready-to-bake pie crust on top and crimp edges with fork. Trim excess pie dough around edges and place dough designs on top. Cut four diagonal slits in top crust. Beat egg, and using pastry brush, cover top of pie. Sprinkle granulated sugar on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. (If top is not golden brown, turn oven to broil for two minutes.)
2pie shells, unbaked
2 cups sugar
½ cup cocoa
½ cup self-rising flour
2 sticks margarine, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla flavoring
1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
Mix all ingredients and pour into unbaked pie shells. Bake at 325 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Opal Frost, Joe Wheeler EMC
Coconut Pineapple Pie
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup flaked coconut
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 9-inch deep-dish pie crust
½ stick butter, melted
In a bowl, combine sugar and flour. Add syrup, coconut, pineapple, eggs and vanilla and mix well. Pour into pastry shell. Drizzle with butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-55 minutes or until knife inserted into middle of pie comes out clean. Cover loosely with foil if the top browns too quickly. Cool on a wire rack and chill before cutting. Store in the refrigerator.
Trudy Nelson, Central Alabama EC
1 cup whole berry cranberry sauce
½cup brown sugar
Zest of one orange
13-ounce package orange gelatin
1cup heavy cream
19-inch, ready-made crumb crust
In a small saucepan, bring cranberry sauce, brown sugar and orange zest to a boil. Remove from heat; stir in gelatin until dissolved. Transfer to a large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 45 minutes or until partially set. In a small bowl, beat heavy cream until stiff peaks form. Fold the cream mixture into the gelatin mixture. Spread into pie crust. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Garnish with whipped topping. Serves 8.
Mary Donaldson, Covington EC
Chicken Salad Pie
1unbaked 9-inch pie shell
2/3 cup shredded cheese, divided
1cup sour cream
1½ cups chopped, cooked chicken
1small can crushed pineapple, drained
1cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans, divided
Prick the bottom and sides of pie shell several times with fork. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 15-16 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile, combine sour cream and mayonnaise in a bowl. Stir in the chicken, pineapple, 1 cup walnuts and celery. Pour into cooled crust. Top with remaining cheese and walnuts. Refrigerate for 1 hour or longer before cutting. Yields 6 servings.
Peggy Key, North Alabama EC
Butternut Squash Pie
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons softened butter
1½ cups cooked and mashed squash
1 unbaked pie shell
¾ cup shredded cheddar cheese
Combine eggs, sugar, salt, spices and milk. Add butter to squash and blend with other ingredients. Pour the filling into the pie shell. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake 30 to 40 minutes or until set. Add shredded cheese to hot pie.
Peggy Lunsford, Pea River EC
Farmhouse Peanut Butter Pie
2 9-inch graham cracker pie crusts
1 stick salted butter, room temperature
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1½ cups creamy peanut butter
3cups whipped topping
4cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
Combine all ingredients with mixer until smooth and creamy. Spread into pie crusts. Add chocolate topping. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
1cup milk chocolate chips
2/3cup of half and half
Combine chips and half and half in a microwavable bowl. Microwave for 5 minutes, pausing to stir often. When chips are melted and mixture is slightly thickened, spread on pies.
Dianne Herring, Wiregrass EC
Walnut Raisin Pie
1cup dark corn syrup
2tablespoons melted butter
1teaspoon vanilla extract
1teaspoon rum extract
1½ cups (6 ounces) walnuts
½ cup raisins
1unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie crust
Stir first six ingredients together thoroughly using a spoon. Mix in walnuts and raisins. Pour into pie crust. Bake on center rack of oven for 60-70 minutes. Cool for two hours. Store pie in the refrigerator. Top slices with whipped topping if desired.
Patricia Harrison, Pioneer EC
1cup white corn syrup
1cup light brown sugar
1stick melted butter
3whole eggs, slightly beaten
1heaping cup pecans
1unbaked 9-inch pie shell
Mix syrup, sugar, salt, butter and vanilla. Mix in eggs. Prick the pie shell with a fork, and pour mixture into pie shell. You can either sprinkle the pecans over the filling, or mix in with the other ingredients. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour. Check oven as it bakes.
Sherry Tew, Pea River EC
Blueberry Sour Cream Pie
3cups fresh blueberries (may use frozen but thawed)
2regular unbaked pie shells or 1 deep dish pie shell
1/3cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
½cup sour cream
1cup self-rising flour
½cup cold butter
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse blueberries and remove all stems. (Hint: If blueberries are not sweet enough, sprinkle with sugar and set aside.) Place berries in bottom of pie shells. Combine sugar, flour and salt. Add eggs and sour cream to flour mixture. Spoon over berries.
To make the crumble, combine sugar, flour and cold butter with fork or pastry cutter and sprinkle on top or over pie. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown for 50 minutes .
Donna Gilliam, Tombigbee EC
Recipe Themes and Deadlines:
Dec. Edible gifts October – 8
Jan. Crock Pot November – 8
Feb. Spicy foods – December 8
Please send us your original recipes, developed by you or family members, and not ones copied from a book or magazine. You may adapt a recipe from another source by changing as little as the amount of one ingredient. Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.
Mail: Recipes, P.O. Box 244014 Montgomery, AL 36124
Please include a phone number and co-op name with submissions!
Editor’s Note: Alabama Living’s recipes are submitted by our readers. They are not kitchen-tested by a professional cook or registered dietician. If you have special dietary needs, please check with your doctor or nutritionist before preparing any recipe. Alabama Living reserves the right to reprint recipes in our other publications.
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.
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 athttp://www.preserveala.org/cemeteryprogram.aspx and the