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Spooky Photos

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.
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.
Karen and Matt Williams dressed as Zombie Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy at Dragon Con 2012 in Atlanta. SUBMITTED BY Matt Williams, Montgomery.
Bennett Strickland is a four-year-old werewolf. SUBMITTED BY Donna Speeker, Hanceville.

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.

Social Security can help you get back to work

By Kylle’ McKinney

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. 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. 

• 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 expenses needed to reach your work goal. You can read more at

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

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.

This Day In History: October 8, 1896

George Washington Carver
Photo by Arthur Rothstein, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Botanist and inventor George Washington Carver arrived in Tuskegee to direct the agricultural school at the Tuskegee 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.

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.

Talladega Superspeedway celebrates 50 years:

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

By John N. Felsher

In a Dodge Charger Daytona on March 24, 1970, second-generation 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

Five decades ago, William “Big Bill” France looked for a new place where drivers could race. France, a former racer himself, helped found the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing in 1948 and created the Daytona International Speedway in Florida in 1959.

“Big Bill wanted something bigger, faster and wider than Daytona,” says Russell Branham, the Talladega Superspeedway public relations director. “He wanted to create the ‘palace of speed,’ where drivers could go faster than at Daytona and have more room to pass or maneuver.”

France enlisted the help of Bill Ward, an Anniston insurance man, to look for suitable land with enough acreage to build a racetrack close to a major highway. Ward found the deactivated Anniston Air Force Base between Anniston and Talladega.

“Bill Ward was very instrumental in bringing the racetrack here,” Branham says. “He believed it would be an incredible economic boost to this area and the entire state. He was right. Each year, our races bring in about $434 million to the state of Alabama.”

Richard Brickhouse, the 1969 Talladega Superspeedway winner, in the inaugural Talladega 500. ISC Images and Archives

Ground broke on the 2,000-acre site on May 23, 1968. The new 2.66-mile long Alabama International Motor Speedway included embankments rising five stories high at 33 degrees. In 1989, the name changed to the Talladega Superspeedway.

The first race, the “Bama 400 Grand Touring Race,” ran on Saturday, Sept. 13, 1969. Ken Rush drove his Camaro to victory. However, that race was only a warm-up for the first main event – the Talladega 500 scheduled to run the next day. 

“Leading up to the big race in 1969, most of the drivers felt like their tires would not last through the entire race,” Branham says. “Many big-name drivers pulled out of the race on Saturday because they didn’t think they could run at those speeds for 500 miles on those tires.”

France asked the drivers who raced on Saturday to compete again on Sunday and even offered them some extra incentive money. Only 12 drivers scheduled to race on Sunday competed, but the field included 24 drivers who raced that Saturday. Richard Brickhouse won that first Talladega 500 driving at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour.

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.”

A $50 million facelift

Also during the 50th anniversary celebration, fans will get their first look at the $50 million renovation and upgrade to the track facilities. Announced in July 2018, the project had two phases. Phase One included building a new tunnel to allow recreational vehicles better access to the track. The project finished in April 2019.

“The racetrack has had a glorious past, but the future is extremely bright with the transformation of our infield project,” Branham says. “What we’re getting ready to unveil will set the stage for the next 50 years. With the brand-new incredibly large vehicular tunnel in Turn 3, RVers can go in and out of the racetrack throughout the race weekend as they please. Previously, once people got into the track, they were locked in until after the race. We also added new RV spots on the iconic infield.”

Most race fans stay in the area five to six days, but others arrive in RVs as much as 10 days before race day to get a good spot in the infield. During a race weekend, the local population swells by about 180,000 to 200,000 people. In contrast, Montgomery had a population of about 200,000 in 2018.

Dale Earnhardt scores his 10th TSS victory, becoming the all-time winningest driver in the track’s history, doing it in dramatic fashion, coming from 18th to first in less than four laps to take the lead at the white flag. It is his final career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win. ISC Images and Archives

“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 brand-new Victory Lane so fans can watch the end of the race from the grandstands and come down to see the Victory Lane celebration.”

At 7 p.m. Oct. 11, fans can participate in the “Big One on the Boulevard.” This includes a Mardi Gras-style parade where drivers will throw out beads and other items. Fans can also compete against each other in fun contests while drivers announce the events. On Oct. 12, race fans can attend a concert featuring Riley Green. At 1 p.m. Oct. 13, the main event, the 500 begins. People who buy a ticket to the Sunday race can see the Saturday night concert for free.

“Big Bill France could have built this racetrack in many other places, but he chose to build it here in Alabama,” Branham says. “The Talladega Superspeedway has been a Crown Jewel for Alabama since 1969. No other racetrack provides the excitement and incredible finishes like Talladega where multiple cars running 200 miles per hour battle for the lead. We’re proud to have been a part of Alabama history for 50 years.”

For more visit or call 877-GO2-DEGA. For tickets, call 855-518-RACE.ν

The brand-new Talladega Celebration Plaza is part of the transformation – The Talladega Superspeedway Infield Project, presented by Graybar. Illustration provided by Talladega Superspeedway

Filling a need: Young man’s project connects students with volunteer opportunities

By Stephanie Snodgrass

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

They 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 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.

Sam LoDuca, center, with the Washington Youth Tour group at the Marine Corps Museum. Photos by Michael Cornelison

“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.

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

By Aaron Tanner

For more than three decades, the Sharp family has served top-notch food at its chain of Top O’ The River restaurants across eastern Alabama.

Top O’ The River first opened its doors in Anniston in 1982. The family later added locations in Gadsden in 1983 and Guntersville in 2002, along with a location on Pickwick Lake in Tennessee in 2012. Having multiple locations allows the Sharps to expand their brand while being close enough to their home to maintain day to day business operations. 

“We had family members that wanted to expand the business within controllable distance,” says Bill Sharp, who oversees operations at all locations. 

The star of the menu at Top O’ The River is the farm-raised catfish and fresh seafood.  Twice a week, seafood is brought in from the coast, while catfish comes from Mississippi weekly.

“We always strive to provide the best food quality and customer service possible, and to treat every customer likely are our only one.”

Before the main course, instead of hush puppies, each table gets a complimentary skillet of made-from-scratch cornbread that is mixed with jalapenos, corn, and scallions. The signature mustard greens often accompany the cornbread.

“We decided cornbread complements the coleslaw and greens more than the hushpuppies, so we include those with the entrees,” Sharp says.

In 2019, the Alabama Tourism Department named the Gadsden location’s catfish and mustard greens as one of the “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama.” (The Guntersville location also got a place on the list for the fried pickles.)

The most popular entree on the menu is the “riverboat special,” which includes a half pound of catfish, hushpuppies, a choice of baked potato or fries and an order of cornbread, coleslaw and pickled onions. Other seafood items include shrimp, shrimp scampi and crawfish. 

Erika Buckelew, left, and Are Caries, employees at Top O’ The River in Guntersville, prepare to serve of the restaurant’s most popular offerings. Photo by Allison Law

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 fried catfish and fries, the “Riverboat Special,” is one of the most popular items on the menu. Photo by Allison Law

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 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  

Is a heat pump right for my home?

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen

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

Q: 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 air-source 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 variety 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 insulation, 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.ν 

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency. For more information on heat pumps, please visit:

CWD not in Alabama yet, but state urges caution

Chronic 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.

“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

“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 People can also call Cook at 205-339-5716 or email

The mystery in Mamaw’s kitchen

Come 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?”


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.