Navigate / search

Remembering ‘Cousin Kathryn’

By Harvey Hardy Jackson

Illustration by Dennis Auth

Has it really been that long ago?

June 2011.

Kathryn Tucker Windham died at home in her beloved Selma.

I can imagine the scene, imagine family and friends going to the back shed and removing the Rose Point crystal (service for 12, complete with water pitcher and butter dish) from the custom-built pine coffin where she kept it. And I can imagine her being laid to rest in that very coffin, wrapped in a Gees Bend quilt, according to her wishes.

We called ourselves “cousins,” Kathryn and I, though we were cousins only by marriage and even that was stretching it a bit.

However, we shared a love of history and appreciation of a good story, which bound us closer than kin.

I remembering visiting her one October day.

I arrived early. We talked a bit, snacked on graham crackers spread with pimento cheese, clarified family connections, and decried the loss of so many Selma landmarks.

Then we loaded up and headed into the Black Belt. “Into the Black Belt” – like we were going into some strange, exotic land from which we might never return. But with Cousin Kathryn we were safe. She knew where to go and who would be there.

Along the way she did what she did best – told stories that linked us to times past and resurrected people long gone from the earth.

When the day was done, I took her home.

Other visits followed.

More than once I took students down to see her. I let her set the agenda and it was always different. A trip to Old Cahaba where we picnicked on the site of Alabama’s first capital. A walking tour of Selma’s Live Oak Cemetery where she pointed out graves of little-known people who should be known better.

After she finished one of her stories a student asked, “Did that really happen”?

“Well,” she said, “If it did not happen that way, it should have.”

Those were good times.

There were not enough of them.

(For one student’s article on the outing go to ma/)

Despite frequent invitations, I never made it to her New Year’s Day blackeyed peas and cornbread lunch, when her doors were thrown open to anyone who wanted to make sure good luck would follow for another year.

Nor did I do with her so many other things I should have done.

Like take my children more often.

Our last communication was the graduation gift she sent my boy. A money clip. The sort a young gentleman should carry, for we all know that pulling out a billfold for minor transactions is, well, tacky.

When it arrived, I recalled a bit of poetry she loved, based on a verse by Jan Struther. Cousin Kathryn said she wanted it on her tombstone.

She was twice blessed. She was happy.
She knew it.

That was Cousin Kathryn.
She left out one thing.
We all were blessed by her being here. Now, I think I’ll have some graham crackers and pimento cheese.

Alabama Recipes | Potluck

Goodness at home

Styling/Photos by Brooke Echols

Tomato Pie is the ultimate potluck dish. For many of us in the South, tomatoes are in ample supply this month. With beautiful sliced tomatoes coupled with sliced red onions, all baked in a flaky pie shell, this tomato pie will turn a potluck meal into a party. Follow us at thebutteredhome. com for more recipes that celebrate good old Southern cooking.

Tomato Pie. Photo by The Buttered Home.

Tomato Pie

1 homemade pie shell ( for recipe)

4-6 ripe Roma tomatoes, sliced

1/4 cup sliced red onions

2/3 cup balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons dried basil

1 teaspoon pepper

1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake pie shell for 10 minutes. While cooking, marinate the tomatoes and onions in bal- samic vinegar in a large bowl. Drain. Reserve a few slices of tomatoes for garnish. Allow the crust to cool.

In another bowl, mix salt, pepper, basil, cheeses, mayo and sour cream.

In prepared pie crust, layer tomatoes and onion into a single layer. Top with cheese mixture. Spread evenly. Top with reserved slices of tomato for garnish. Bake the pie for 45 minutes until it becomes melted, bubbly and the crust is brown.

Allow the pie to sit and cool for 10 minutes before cutting. Enjoy!

When we planned this month’s recipe theme of “Potluck” back in 2019, we never anticipated that our readers wouldn’t actually be able to attend
a potluck event at their church, neighborhood meeting or family reunion. But here we are in 2020, with many of us confined to our homes, still cooking but unable to sit down and share our delicious favorites with others the way we’d like. But we still love to eat, and for many of us, that means “comfort” food like the homemade casseroles you’d find at many a potluck dinner in Alabama and across the South. So enjoy these reader-submitted casseroles we’re featuring on these pages, and just imagine yourself with your friends and family sharing a forkful together, a day we pray returns safely very soon.

– the Alabama Living staff

Ham, Cheese and Hash Brown Casserole

Ham, Cheese, and Hash Brown Casserole

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 bag shredded hashbrowns

2 cups ham, diced

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

1/2 cup onion, diced

1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup sour cream

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients completely. Place mixture in a greased 9×13-inch pan. Bake 35-45 minutes until hot and bubbly.

Glenda Weigel, Baldwin EMC

Cook of the Month

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Skillet Chicken and Green Bean Potluck

Skillet Chicken and Green Bean Potluck

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cubed

1 pound fresh green beans 1 10.5 ounce can cream of

mushroom soup 1 cup milk

1 1/2 cups fried onions

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon thyme

1 stick butter

Pinch cayenne pepper Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large skillet add olive oil and chicken; cook on medium heat. As you cook the chicken, season with salt, pepper, thyme, cayenne pepper and cook for 30 minutes. Add green beans and stick of butter. Cook for another 30 minutes. Stir in a can of cream of mushroom soup, milk and 1/2 cup of fried onions, blending everything together. Cover and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and top with the remainder of the fried onions.

White Shoepeg Corn Casserole

3 11-ounce cans shoepeg corn, drained

1 to 1/2 pints whipping cream

2 tablespoons flour

1 stick butter, melted

Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Pour into a 9×13-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Jean Fontaine, Baldwin EMC

Gertrude’s Casserole

1 1/2 pounds hamburger meat

3 cups cooked macaroni

1 cup sour cream

1 cup whole kernel corn

1 small jar pimentos

1 small onion, chopped

1 can cream of mushroom soup

Ritz crackers, for topping Butter, for topping

Cook hamburger and onion together and drain well. Add all the other ingredients. Top with crushed Ritz crackers and dot with butter. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Sandra Largen, Central Alabama EC

Potluck Chicken and Dumplings

1 onion, chopped

2 large carrots, peeled and chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 tablespoon oregano

1 tablespoon thyme

2 10.5-ounce cans cream of chicken soup

2 cups chicken broth

4 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 16.3-ounce can refrigerated biscuits

Salt and pepper, to taste

In a slow cooker, add onions, celery, carrots, garlic, oregano and thyme. Add chicken breasts. Pour cans of cream of chicken and broth over the breasts. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours. Uncover, stir. Salt and pepper, to taste. Top mixture with canned biscuits. Cover and cook one more hour.

Kirk Vantrease, Cullman EC

Mama’s Cajun Pinto Beans & Rice

1 pound bag pinto beans, washed and soaked overnight

1 bell pepper

1 whole onion

1 pound ground beef, Chili powder, to taste Black pepper, dash

1 cup onion, chopped, Banana pepper, option

Cook pinto beans until almost done. Add bell pepper and whole onion last 30 minutes (then discard onion). Cook ground beef until brown, drain. Add chili powder, to taste, chopped onions, banana pepper (optional) and sauté. Add to beans. Cook rice in separate pan until done. Put rice on plate, pour beans over rice.

Mrs. Clarence M. Catt South Alabama EC

Themes and Deadlines:

September: *Bar foods | June 5 (*Taco bar, baked potato bar, etc.)

October: Traditional Southern Recipes | July 3

November: Pies | August 7

3 ways to submit:



Mail: Recipes, P.O. Box 244014, Montgomery, AL 36124

Please send us your original recipes (developed or adapted by you or family members.) Cook of the Month winners will receive $50, and may win “Cook of the Month” only once per calendar year.

Social Security protects your investment

We provide benefits to about one-fifth of the American population and help protect workers, children, people with disabilities, and the elderly. In 2020, we will pay about one trillion dollars in Social Security benefits to roughly 65 million people.

One of our most important responsibilities is to protect the hard-earned money you pay into Social Security, which is why we have zero tolerance for fraud. We take fraud claims seriously and investigate them thoroughly. We respond quickly and decisively to prevent and detect fraud. For example, we monitor transactions to detect actions that demonstrate an intent to defraud the American people. We will continue to innovate and develop anti-fraud initiatives because any level of fraud is unacceptable.

Recently, we launched a public service announcement as our latest effort to caution you about the ongoing nationwide telephone scam. The video features a message from our commissioner, Andrew Saul. Along with our Office of the Inspector General, we continue to receive reports about fraudulent phone calls, text messages, and emails from people who falsely claim that they are government employees. The scammers play on emotions like fear to convince people to provide personal information or money in cash, wire transfers, or gift cards. Fraudsters also email fake documents in attempts to get people to comply with their demands.

“I want every American to know that if a suspicious caller states there is a problem with their Social Security number or account, they should hang up and never give the caller money or personal information. People should then go online to report the scam call to Social Security,” said Commissioner Saul. You can report these scams at

Learn how to protect yourself and report any suspicious calls or emails right away. If you have already been a victim of one of these scams, please do not be embarrassed. Instead, report the scam at so we can stop these scammers and protect others. Please share our new Public Service Announcement video with your friends and family at

You can also share our publication, Social Security Protects Your Investment, at

For a change of pace, try these methods to catch crappie

Pat Trammell shows off a crappie he caught while fishing in Weiss Lake near Centre, Ala. Photo by John N. Felsher.

From muddy tidal rivers to deep, clear mountain lakes, anglers can find great crappie action in just about any freshwater system in Alabama.

Many crappie enthusiasts suspend live minnows under floats to fish around visible structure. Others troll or use spider rigs to work small jigs, sometimes tipped with a live bait. Spider rigging involves hanging several poles from holders in a formation that resembles a spider web. Anglers can vertically fish multiple baits in different colors or bait combinations at various depths simultaneously.

For decades, these proven techniques produced outstanding crappie catches, but anglers can also try many other ways to catch fish. Crappie frequently hit small lures, but such light temptations make casting difficult. Suspend a tiny fly or hair jig below a small clear plastic float. The float adds weight for better casting, but doesn’t spook the fish. Set the depth so the bait suspends just above the bottom or other cover.

Let the float sit for several seconds and then pull it just hard enough to make some surface commotion. The bait should rise in the water and then sink again. When fish want more subtle action, let the float sit longer so the hairs on the fly or jig twitch with the slightest water movements. A scented pellet adds more enticement.

Most people fish this temptation with an ultralight spinning rod. However, anglers can also fish bobber-fly rigs with poles as long as they can comfortably handle. With the long pole, use very short line, usually only two to five feet. Softly place the rig into tight sweet spots, like a shady pocket between two limbs on a fallen tree or an opening in a grass mat.

Anglers can also use long single poles and tiny flies to deploy baits without floats. Approach cover as quietly as possible. At extreme range, drop a tiny fly, hair jig or jig tipped with a soft-plastic trailer as close as possible to any vertical structure such as a dock piling, standing timber or stump. Use no additional weight.

“We single-pole jig around thick cover because we can get a bait all the way down better,” explains Gerald Overstreet Jr., a professional crappie angler and guide from Gainestown. “We can work a single bait through really thick stuff and also pull hooked fish out easier. The weight I use depends upon the current.”

Let the bait sink naturally without adding action. Many anglers fish this method with brightly-colored line to watch for any subtle movements that might indicate a strike. Crappie usually bite immediately as the bait sinks or not at all. If the bait hits bottom, jig it back up toward the surface and move it just a few inches to repeat the procedure.

Whenever possible, fish completely around an object or hit the cover from multiple directions. Fish might hold on one side or another. Perhaps some unseen underwater object creates the perfect ambush spot. On a cool morning, fish might prefer the sunny side. As the sun climbs higher, fish might move to the shady side. Whatever the reason, fish as many angles as possible around each object to determine patterns.

During summer heat, crappie often plunge into deep waters to find more comfortable temperatures. With electronics, look for deep brush piles, rocks, sunken logs or other cover that might hold fish. With good electronics, anglers can sometimes almost drop a spoon on a fish’s head or dangle it in front of the fish and watch it strike the lure.

Vertically drop a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce chrome jigging spoon next to humps, drop-off edges or other bottom cover. Small, heavy and compact, a spoon quickly sinks to the bottom even in the deepest waters. As it flutters down reflecting light, the spoon mimics a dying shad. Let a spoon flutter all the way to the bottom, but crappie don’t always hang near the bottom. They commonly suspend over deep cover. If nothing hits as it falls, jig the spoon up and down a few times off the bottom. If nothing bites there, turn the reel handle two or three cranks to fish a different depth. Keep testing depths to find the best level where fish want to suspend.

Don’t give up on the proven methods that put so many fish into boats over the years, but occasionally all anglers need to try something different. Who knows? They might just find a new favorite technique!

The kind of audit you actually want

By Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen


I need to reduce my energy costs and don’t know where to start. You often recommend a home energy audit. What will an audit tell me?


A home energy audit is the perfect place to start if you want to reduce your energy bills or make your home more comfortable. An audit can also help you decide whether to invest in a new energy source like a solar array, or a new heating and cooling system like a heat pump, or whether it’s time to upgrade your current system.

It’s possible to conduct your own energy audit using a website or app. Online and app audits are great tools you can use to learn about energy use and potential efficiency upgrades. A comprehensive, in-person energy audit provides much more information, but because most of us are staying at home and practicing social distancing, an online audit is currently the safest option.

Your electric cooperative might have some information about energy audits on their website. They might even have a tool to help you do your own energy audit. If not, there are other websites that will help you do your own energy audit. Just plug in “online energy audits” into a search engine.

Here are three sources of online information and online tools from sources that we trust:

  • The U.S. Department of Energy has a nice tutorial about DIY energy audits at home-energy-audits/do-it-your- self-home-energy-audits
  • The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has an online audit at ho-
  • ENERGY STAR provides a helpful tool, the Home Energy Yardstick. This tool helps you compare your energy use to similar homes, and provides guidance on how to reduce your energy use. index.cfm?fuseaction=home_ener- gy_yardstick.showgetstarted

When things are back to normal and it’s safe to have visitors in your home, there are typically two options for an in-home energy audit.

The least expensive is a home energy survey, sometimes referred to as a “walk-through” audit that is essentially a visual inspection. If you have modest goals about what you want to learn from an energy audit, and if you are fortunate enough to find an experienced and knowledgeable professional, this type of audit might meet your needs.

The second, more comprehensive energy audit requires more time and utilizes several diagnostic tools. The average cost for this type of audit is about $400. Check with your local electric cooperative to see if they offer energy audits or provide a discount or rebate.

A comprehensive energy audit will look at four main areas. The first is the envelope of your home, which includes

all the places where the exterior and in- terior meet––roof, walls, doors, windows and foundation. A critical tool for testing the envelope is a blower door test, which has a powerful fan that is mounted in an exterior door frame and used to de-pressurize the home. The auditor can then identify how well-sealed your home is and locate any air leaks. Some auditors will work with you to seal leaks and continue to take blower door readings as the home is tightened up. One advantage of this approach is avoiding excessive air sealing. It’s possible, in some homes, to tighten the home too much, so the energy auditor can determine when to stop sealing leaks so that a healthy supply of air infiltration is maintained.

Another tool auditors will use to look at your building envelope is a thermal imaging camera, which shows hot and cold spots that pinpoint exactly where insulation is needed on walls and ceilings. The camera works best when the exterior temperature is much colder or much warmer than the interior temperature.

The second focus of the audit is your home’s HVAC (furnace/AC unit) system and water heater to see how energy efficient they are and whether they should be

replaced. If your home has air ducts, the auditor can conduct a duct blaster test to see if your ducts are properly sealed. Ducts located in unheated areas are often a major source of energy loss.

The third area the auditor will review includes other energy end use, such as lighting, appliances and other “plugged-in” devices. The auditor may also suggest steps like energy efficient lighting or a smart thermostat.

The fourth area included in a comprehensive energy audit is health and safety. Does your home have the correct number and placement of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors? Should your basement be tested for radon emissions? Make sure you get answers to these questions.

Some audits include a sophisticated en- ergy analysis of your home using energy modeling software. These analyses can rank the different energy efficiency opportunities in your home from most-to least cost-effective. This will tell you how much you can save if you invest in all the cost-effective upgrades.

After the energy audit is complete, the auditor should sit down with you and explain the findings in detail. This conversation should include a discussion of ways to operate your home to achieve more energy savings and more comfort.

A home energy audit may seem like an unnecessary expense, but it truly can save you money in the long run because it helps to ensure every dollar you put into energy efficiency pays for itself.

This column was co-written by Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Effi- ciency. For more information on choosing windows, please visit: www.collabora-

Alabama People | Alabama’s top doctor

Dr. Scott Harris has become a household name to many Alabamians as he leads, along with the governor, the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Harris has served as the 12th state health officer since February 2018, having previously served as area health officer for seven north Alabama counties. A graduate of Harding University in Arkansas, he attended medical school at UAB, where he completed a fellowship in infectious diseases. He earned a master’s degree in public health from the UAB School of Public Health in 2017, with a concentration in health policy. He practiced infectious disease medicine at Decatur General Hospital and Parkway Medical Center and was medical director at the Decatur-Morgan Community Free Clinic, a non-profit clinic offering health and dental care to low-income uninsured residents. He has also been part of many international medical missions to Central America, South America and Africa. Dr. Harris was kind enough to answer a few questions from Alabama Living. – Lenore Vickrey

Photo by Sydney A. Foster, Governor’s Office

Tell us a little bit about your growing up years.

I was born and raised in Talladega and graduated from Talladega High School. My parents still live in Talladega, where my father was a pharmacist and operated his own drug store for over 50 years before finally retiring. My mother is also retired now but was a registered nurse who worked for a time, among other jobs, at our county health department.

Is being a doctor what you always wanted to do, and why?

I had an uncle in Talladega who was a family physician and even as a young person, I wanted to go into medicine. I really enjoy being able to help others who are in need, and medicine allows an opportunity to connect with people in a way that is different from many other professions. Issues of health and safety are among the most important that people
can face, and it is a privilege to be able to help those who are seeking it.

What led you to pursue a fellowship in infectious diseases?

The specialty of infectious diseases (ID) is fascinating to me. ID appeals to me because of the variety of illnesses and disease processes that are involved, and because infections can occur in anyone at any time. ID is not a specialty that is focused on a single organ system or a single type of patient, and there are many other non-infectious illnesses that can
masquerade as infections, so there are always interesting puzzles to solve while you are trying to help those who are sick.

What caused you to pursue a career in public helath service, rather than private practice?

My career in ID had a lot of overlap with the work of public health. Much of my practice involved caring for patients with HIV, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as vaccine preventable illnesses and disease outbreaks. Over my years in private practice, I had many opportunities to work closely with public health officials and always appreciated the work done on behalf of underserved groups and those without other access to medical care. While living in Decatur, I was part of a group that helped to establish a free medical clinic for low-income people, and I served as the volunteer medical director there for about 13 years. Public health is simply a good fit with my training but also with the issues that I care about.

Did you receive training in handling a pandemic? Did you ever expect to be on the front lines of dealing with a pandemic?

Public health has spent a great deal of time creating pandemic plans that include a number of other state agencies, health care facilities and community partners. These plans were put together initially after the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 and have been updated regularly. We have frequent tabletop practice events and occasionally have real world practice exercises that involve hospitals, nursing homes, first responders and others.

Still, this type of practice does not fully prepare us for the event we are experiencing now. None of us could have ever predicted the current outbreak, which has infected over 1 million people in our country alone and killed more Americans in the past two months than who died over the entire course of the Vietnam War. I certainly did not expect to be here in this position for this event, but fortunately have been able to work with true professionals in the Department of Public Health, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, the Alabama National Guard, and many others who have been trained and prepared for this response.

Your job must be extremely stressful. How do you unwind at night?

My wife and I like to cook together and we are always looking for an interesting recipe to try. We grow vegetables and herbs on our property and try to use fresh ingredients whenever we can. We also enjoy spending time reading books or working together on jigsaw puzzles, and we make time on most days for walks around the neighborhood or to our nearby park, just for exercise and to spend time together.

Doing our part

Alabamians continue to step up to help their neighbors and others as we all navigate this time of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic. We hope you are inspired by the stories on these pages. Please let us hear your own stories of hope by emailing us at

Arab church ‘Glory Train’ cheers members

Members of the Union Hill FCM Church participate in a weekly “Glory Train” parade to surprise fellow members.

Members of a church in Arab have taken to the streets in their northeast Alabama town to bring joy and smiles to their members who are elderly or shut-in. Kristi Walker, a member of Union Hill FCM Church and Arab Electric Cooperative, organized a “Glory Train” of vehicles to drive through neighborhoods to boost morale.

“The Lord put it on my heart to go around to the houses of the elderly, shut-ins and widows of our church and show them we love them,” she says. “We wanted them to know they are not forgotten during this lonely time, since they have not been able to leave their houses due to COVID-19.”

Since April 22, Walker says 25 to 30 cars have participated in the weekly parades with 100 people participating, honking horns and driving by the homes of more than 70 church members and hundreds more in between. “As we approached the houses, we would call them and ask them to step onto their porches where we would surprise them with cars decorated with balloons and signs of encouragement, with families cheering and waving.

“We have been able to uplift and inspire hundreds of people in the community,” she says. “We have gotten the biggest blessings from each and every neighborhood we have been able to parade through.”

Alabama company pivots to making high-demand face masks

By Lenore Vickrey

Workers at HomTex in Cullman have been making millions of cotton face masks. The company will add production of surgical face masks this month.

A Cullman manufacturer of bed sheets has converted its plant to make one of the most in-demand products in the United States: cotton face masks. HomTex has been churning out face masks for national companies and individuals for the past several weeks.

“By June 1, we will have received orders for and/or shipped a couple million face masks,” says President and CFO Jeremy Wootten. “The customers range from national companies to individuals. We have sold a significant amount of product to businesses in Cullman and the surrounding area as well as to companies all around the Southeast. We have sold to companies and hospitals in New York. Many of the Alabama state agencies have purchased masks.”

The success of the cotton masks led HomTex to expand its operations to produce hospital-approved surgical masks. With the

help of a $1.5 million loan from the City of Cullman Economic Development Agency, the company expects to begin making the surgical masks this month. “Our goal is to begin production of the three-ply pleated surgical face mask in June and reach full production by the end of July,” Wootten says. “We have compiled an experienced sales force to offer the product to the health care industry, the federal and state governments and to retail.”

The $5 million venture expects to add 120 jobs with the capacity to make 350 million masks a year.

The company moved its corporate office and sewing plant to the city of Cullman in 2018 but continues to operate a plant/warehouse in Vinemont served by Cullman EC. The Wootten family are longtime members of the cooperative.

The cotton masks are sold under the DreamFit brand and may be found at

New zoo opens – and you can virtually visit

Hillary Cole pets the zoo’s giraffe. Guests will be invited to feed the giraffe when it reopens.
Photo by Michelle Rushing

By Marilyn Jones

It’s 11 a.m. and I’m at Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Well, actually I’m virtually at the zoo. Like many attractions closed because of COVID-19, the zoo is bringing the animals to the public by way of live presentations and prerecorded videos of zookeepers interacting with animals.

This day two chinchillas — Dusty and Moonlite — are playfully moving around a table as zookeeper Hannah Friess talks about the little fur balls. She describes their diet and habits, and says the rodents are endangered in the wild because of excessive trapping.

Every day at 11 a.m. on the zoo’s Facebook page, more animals are presented. Bruce Quillis (porcupine), Kevin Bacon (wild hog) and Benjamin (miniature donkey) tour the zoo and meet other animals. One video shows Benjamin meeting giraffes. Another video shows Bruce Quillis exploring the zoo.

At 11 a.m. on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, the zoo presents “Live with Surprise.” On Tuesday’s prerecorded “Walks with Bruce Quillis,” a baby African crested porcupine explores the zoo grounds and visits other exhibits. Thursday belongs to Kevin Bacon as a zoo-keeper demonstrates training zoo animals in a prerecorded video.

On Saturday at 10:30 a.m., it’s “Guess that Diet.” In the live presentation, the zookeeper puts together a meal for an unnamed animal. Viewers are encouraged to submit their guesses and then watch the animal enjoy its meal after the reveal.

The live and prerecorded videos offer guests a look at the new zoo that officially opened March 11. The zoo has been in the works since Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in 2005.

Zoo Director Joel Hamilton says what makes the facility so special is the zoo offers guests the opportunity to learn about conservation and the world through a variety of different programs.

“In addition to the usual keeper presentations, we provide guests

with opportunities to get up close to select species through our animal encounters,” he says. “Whether the encounter is with a sloth, tamandua, kangaroo or lemur, the goal is to create connections and provide informative, conservation education opportunities. We have a feeding station at the giraffe exhibit too.”

The zoo is impressive, given that Gulf Shores’ population is about 10,000 and neighboring Orange Beach is only about 6,000. There are 300 animals in the zoo including carnivores, ungulates (large animals with hooves), primates, small mammals, birds and reptiles.

The zoo is the first American zoo to be built from the ground up in more than 20 years, according to Hamilton. The 25-acre facility (compared to the previous seven-acre zoo) is located at 20499 Oak Road East and far enough inland to be safe from hurricanes.

Hamilton says the hub of the zoo is a carousel with paths leading away from it. He adds that you can cross a boardwalk to Bayer Butterfly House and then onward to see Africa. “Other pathways lead to the Americas or between our two ponds where islands house lemurs and spider monkeys.”

Above all else, the new zoo provides a much more spacious, protected and enriching environment for the animals, which is evident when watching Bruce Quillis walking along pathways and visiting animals.

The zoo also offers a Soaring Eagle Zipline and a fine dining restaurant — the Safari Club. The restaurant reopened on May 11.

For more information:

To watch videos and live presentations starring zoo

Safari Club restaurant:

The zoo website:

Auburn nursing grad’s stint on Navy ship puts her on front lines

By Jack West

Megan Arnett was sent to New York City less than a year after becoming a nurse.

While millions of Alabamians were riding out the Coronavirus storm in their homes with their loved ones, one Auburn graduate was fighting the virus while onboard a floating hospital nearly 1,000 miles away from the Plains.

Ensign Megan Arnett was sent to New York City, the American epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, less than a year after becoming a nurse.

Arnett, who is from Madison, graduated from Auburn in August 2019 and specializes in pediatric nursing. However, after graduation, Arnett joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned to the USNS Comfort, the hospital ship that was recently stationed in New York Harbor to help the city’s belea- guered healthcare infrastructure.

Arnett said she had been in Norfolk, Virginia, the Comfort’s homeport, for a few months before being deployed to New York.

“As soon as there was talk in the media about the governor calling for us, needing us to be up here, I knew to go ahead and start getting my bags packed,” she says.

Kaley Arnett, Megan’s younger sister, said that packing is not her older sibling’s strong suit.

“She called us kind of freaking out because she doesn’t know how to pack a bag well,” Kaley says. “My dad’s our expert packer.”

So, roughly a week before Megan was set to be deployed aboard the Comfort, Kaley and her parents went to see Megan in Norfolk. “We went to Norfolk to help her pack up and visit with her because we didn’t know how long she was going to be gone,” Kaley says.

The uncertainty and emotional instability that can accompany a military deployment is not something new for the Arnett family. Megan and Kaley’s dad, Adam Arnett, is a retired Marine Corps officer. Megan said that connection was really helpful for her while she was in New York.

“My dad understands what it’s like to be in a deployed status away from home,” she says. “I call my parents every night and vent about my day which I think is what really helps me the most.”

Given the situation in New York and the conditions that Arnett has worked under, venting to friends and family seemed understandable. While Arnett lived aboard the Comfort, she actually worked on the pier that connected the ship to the city. Her job was to help transfer patients from ambulances to the ship while simultaneously acquiring their medical history.

“Once we find out an ambulance is here, we have to put on all PPE — gown, mask, gloves, face shield, everything — pretty quickly,” she says. “The nurses down here — there’s five of us — we’re in charge of going through the paperwork, finding the patient’s COVID status and any of their past medical history. We then bring those patients up to the ship.”

Like most nurses, Arnett works 12-hour shifts. Unlike most nurses, Arnett’s patients come from one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country.

“We’ve seen people from all walks of life,” she says. “Everybody speaks a different language which is cool because we have so many people on this ship that are from all over the place and translate for us.”

Kaley said that while she worried about her sister’s safety, she also knows that these experiences were what drove her to become a Navy nurse in the first place.

“I was scared for her because obviously this COVID-19 situation is really intense and she was going to be dealing with all of these patients,” Kaley says. “But she joined the Navy to explore the world and push herself outside of her comfort zone, so I was mainly just excited for her.”

The Comfort left New York Harbor in late April, and Arnett was in self-quarantine because of her direct exposure to the virus. Her family was expected to visit her when it was safe to do so. Kaley said that while there’s a lot of emotion around getting to see her sister again, that might manifest itself in surprising ways.

“I’ll definitely hug her,” she says. “I would cry, but now I know she’s safe.”

Megan said that she hopes once all of this is over, people will become more aware of their own vulnerabilities.

“I think what people should really take into account is that you’re not invincible,” she says. “You’re not. Nobody is. Nobody is just straight up protected from any of this. So, it’s better to follow the guidelines because they are there for a reason: to help you.”

Jack West is a senior at Auburn University and editor-in-chief of the Auburn Plainsman.

You can still shop fresh and local – and safely

A vendor at the EastChase Farmers’ Market wears a mask and gloves to hand an arrangement of sunflowers to a patron. Photo by Carter Photography + Design.

Back in March, as the coronavirus inspired record numbers of people to plant their own fruits and vegetables, many Alabama produce farmers were wondering if they could safely get their fruits and vegetables to us.

They could, but it wasn’t easy.

Because farmers markets, U-pick operations, roadside stands and other direct-to-consumer farm product sales outlets offer exceptional access
to fresh, nutritious food — some of which has been in short supply at grocery stores — they are “essential” services under COVID-19 protocols. But they must be run safely, which is a priority for the organizations involved in overseeing those protocols, including the Alabama Farmers Market Authority, the division of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries that connects consumers to Alabama’s locally grown and made products.

According to FMA director Don Wambles, this year’s COVID-19 restrictions went into place just as many early spring crops, including beloved fresh strawberries, were ready to harvest and just as market season was cranking up. So Wambles and his staff, working with other federal and state agencies and organizations, developed safety guidelines for farmers and markets.

Those guidelines included such instruc- tions as providing extra space between each vendor (6 to 10 feet or more), limit- ing the number of shoppers allowed in the market area at a time and providing hand sanitizers and hand-washing stations for both vendors and customers. The guidelines also required vendors to wear protective gear, such as gloves and masks, and encouraged vendors to staff each booth with two people — one to handle product, the other to handle money. In addition, sam- pling and handling of produce by customers was restricted (customers could only point to items for vendors to bag).

Market managers quickly developed other ways to serve consumers by implementing innovative strategies such as offering pre-orders for vendors’ products, aggregating products from several vendors into CSA-like “market boxes” and establishing drive-through pickup systems.

The process worked well early in the season when only a few vendors were at a market and product was limited, but Wambles said the situation became more complicated in April as the amount of produce and farmers increased. That’s when everyone in the local food chain, from growers to eaters to market managers, adapted in the moment, often tweaking their strategies from week to week.

In addition to farmers market vendors, those farmers and ranchers who typically sold directly to restaurants and schools, which were closed by the state order, also had to find new ways to move their products. Many adapted by selling directly to consumers from their farms, through partnerships with restaurants and local grocers, by providing home delivery services and other strategies.

Though farmers and market managers have already faced lots of sleepless nights and unexpected challenges, they remain optimistic and passionately committed to their work, and consumer response has been exceptional. Many market vendors are experiencing the best sales of their careers, and more and more consumers are discovering the flavor, health and community-building advantages of buying local.

It’s hard to predict what this summer will bring — except that all these folks will do their best to provide fresh local products. But we can help by supporting local farmers and markets. Learn more about the sources of farm products near you and how each operates by contacting the FMA (, Sweet Grown Alabama (, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System ( and your local farmers and farmers markets.

Here are a few other tips to follow at a farmers market:

• Limit the number of people in your shopping party and, for now, don’t take dogs (except service animals) to the market.

• Get in and out as quickly as possible so others can also shop safely.

• Use hand washing and sanitizing stations as you enter and leave the mar- ket.

• Follow all rules posted on each market’s grounds.

• Prepay if possible or set up a mobile payment app in advance of shopping. If you’re paying in cash, bring small bills.

If you’re a senior or high-risk for COVID-19 exposure, get a friend or fam- ily member to do your shopping. (If you have Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers, Wambles said your designated shopper can use them to buy your order.)

Be nice, patient, flexible and safe!

June Tips

  • Plant tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and sweet potatoes.
  • Sow seeds for field peas, beans, squash, corn, melons and pumpkins.
  • Irrigate as needed with special attention to new plantings and container plants.
  • Watch for insect and disease problemsand treat as needed.
  • Freshen water in birdbaths andornamental ponds to reduce mosquitopopulations.
  • Celebrate National Garden Week (June7-13) and National Pollinator Week (June 22-28).

Alabama towns claim a part of Hank Williams’ legacy

Story and photos by Emmett Burnett

Hank Williams Sr. Boyhood Home and Museum, 127 Rose St., Georgiana, Ala.

Approaching Georgiana on I-65 North is an overpass bridge sign with a message: “Lost Highway.” The words pay homage to a local boy who made good – Hiram Williams. He changed his name to Hank and became “The Shakespeare of Country Music.”

Many towns claim Hank Williams and have a story to tell. Ready to visit some of the places country music’s superstar called home? Let’s ride.

We start where Hank did, in tiny Mount Olive. The third child of Jessie Lillybelle “Lillie” and Elonzo Huble Williams was born on Sept. 17, 1923 in a log house no longer with us. He was born with spina bifida, rendering constant back pain that in later life triggered a drugs and alcohol dependence.

But at Mount Olive West Baptist Church, a love for gospel music was nurtured. Years later Hank wrote and recorded gospel songs inspired by his church, such as “I Saw the Light” – inscribed on his tombstone.

The family moved to Greenville and later, a few miles south to Garland. Mom Lillie opened boarding houses and took side jobs to support her family. Hank’s father was mostly absent from the boy’s life due to a brain aneurysm and eight years of hospitalization in Alexandria, La.

In 1934 the mom relocated her family to Georgiana. Their first house and everything they owned burned in a fire. Their second residence was 127 Rose St., today the Hank Williams Sr. Boyhood Home and Museum.

“Hank’s mother ran boarding houses and this was one of her first,” says Leona Simmons, the home’s tour guide of 26 years, as we walk through halls chock-full of Williams’ memorabilia including a guitar he and Elvis Presley played.

The family, visitors, and boarders enjoyed the home’s four fireplaces, running water, electricity, and an outdoor toilet. Regardless of the home’s amenities or lack thereof, Georgiana was a turning point.

“Hank received his first musical instrument, a harmonica, at about age 6,” the Georgiana house tour guide notes. “He performed in church. Mom played organ and dad played the juice harp.” Hank Williams also worked – a lot.

The Ga-Ana Theater in downtown Georgiana. At age 16, Hank Williams and the Drifting Cowboys performed here.

As a boy, he shined shoes, sold peanuts on the streets, and at age 8, received his first guitar, a gift from his mom, purchased from Sears and Roebuck.

He befriended a Georgiana street performer, Rufus “Teetot” Payne, who taught young Hank how to play guitar. “They held lessons under Hank’s house,” says Simmons, “because Payne, a black man, felt he would be in trouble if seen with a young white boy following him all over town.”

Looking back as an adult, Williams recalled Rufus Payne as “my only teacher.” By age 10 the youngster was singing and performing in local parties and winning talent contests. “He never had a little boy voice,” Simmons adds. “What you hear on his records is how he sounded as a teenager.”

The singer’s career advanced when the family moved to Montgomery in 1937. “They moved here for a better life and opportunities in a bigger city,” says Erica Parker, spokesperson for the Hank Williams Museum on 118 Commerce St. “He performed on the street in front of WSFA Radio.”

Station managers were so impressed, they brought the street singer in to perform and later to host his own radio program – for pay. Hank was now a professional singer, making enough money to form a backup band, the Drifting Cowboys. At the age of 16, he dropped out of Sidney Lanier High School.

“He was a genius in writing and recording music,” Simmons says. “Hank once told his band, ‘Boys I got a new song. Y’all ain’t going to have a problem with it. Now give me something.” And they did, often recording on the first try.

Williams was famous for saying, “If a song can’t be written in 20 minutes, it ain’t worth writing.”

An emerging country star

During World War II most of his band joined the military; Hank could not, due to health issues. For his contribution to the war effort, the singing songwriter took a job as a shipyard worker in Mobile. He also sang for U.S. soldiers.

At age 21 in 1944, the emerging star merged in marriage with Audrey Sheppard in an Andalusia ceremony at John G. Wright Sr.’s Automotive Garage. The couple’s relationship was best described as “turbulent.”

Before divorcing in 1952, they had one son, Randall Hank Williams Jr. Also in 1952, Hank Sr. married Billie Jean Jones. Between his two marriages, in a relationship with Bobbie Jett, a daughter was born, Jett Williams (Antha Belle Jett). The dad never met his daughter as she was born Jan. 6, 1953, five days after he died.

Concert tours expanded, including Greenville, Birmingham, and beyond. After being rejected once, Hank successfully auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry. His first appearance on Nashville’s iconic stage was June 11, 1949. He rceived 6 encores – a first for the Opry. He was 26 years old.

But back home he was still Hank. “We sensed his talent and abilities,” says a second cousin, Georgiana’s June S. Whittle. “But when he visited us, he was family.”

During Christmas week of 1952 Hank Williams visited the family for the holidays one last time. “We all attended church Sunday night,” Whittle recalls. “After the service Hank sang gospel songs for friends and church members.” With Christmas drawing to a close, he said goodbye.

Dec. 31, 1952: Driving to Canton, Ohio for a New Year’s Day concert, Williams sat in the back seat of his chauffeured, powder-blue Cadillac. He was very sick.

Hank Williams’ 1952 Cadillac, displayed at the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery. Williams died in this car

In predawn hours of Jan. 1, 1953, the driver stopped at Oak Hill, W.Va., to refuel. Hank’s driver, college student Charles Carr, assumed his passenger was asleep when he checked him at the gas station. But Williams was motionless in the back seat, unresponsive, and at the age of 29, dead.

Autopsy results confirmed a combination of medications and alcohol contributed to his demise.

Today the 1952 Cadillac is in Montgomery’s Hank Williams Museum. “People can’t believe this is the car he died in,” says museum director Beth Petty. “About 30,000 people a year visit to see it.”

Hank Williams’ funeral was held in Montgomery, with an estimated 25,000 mourners viewing the casket. It is the largest funeral in Alabama’s history. He is buried at Montgomery’s Oakwood Cemetery Annex.

Williams’ gravesite at Oakwood Cemetery Annex, Montgomery.

“People visit his grave daily from all over the world,” says Oakwood’s sexton, Phillip Taunton. “Many leave mementos like flowers, guitar pics, and bottles of beer.”

Williams is remembered as one of the greatest country music writers and singers of all time. During a five-year career he recorded 225 songs, of which 128 he wrote. Locally he is remembered annually in Georgiana’s Hank Williams Festival in June. This year’s festival has been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but organizers plan to be back in 2021.

“His lyrics relate to the people in our area,” says festival board member Judy Black. “People relate to him, even after all these years.” You never forget his voice, his words, and his music. You never forget Hank Williams.

Alabama joins coastal states to Embrace the Gulf 2020

By Colette Boehm

Fiddler crabs scurrying near the shoreline are a common sight on Gulf beaches.
Photo by Gina Bramble

Like many who live in coastal Alabama, Phillip Hinesley has a personal connection to the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, like many, he loves to fish, but his connection goes beyond the excitement of reeling in a catch from Alabama’s gulf waters.

After living on the Gulf Coast most of his life and sustaining an 18-year career with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Hinesley has a better appreciation than most for just how connected Alabama’s ecology, economy and culture are to these gulf waters. So this year, he is joining many throughout the Gulf Coast region to “Embrace the Gulf.”

Hinesley retired last year from ADCNR but these days, when he’s not enjoying a quiet morning casting a line from his family’s pier near Fort Morgan, Hinesley is still working with organizations like the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA). It’s a relationship he continues, he said, because he believes in the work.

The alliance is a regional partnership focused on sustaining and promoting the resources of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a non-profit led by a network of federal agencies, academic groups, businesses and other non-profits from the five U.S. gulf states.

Tourism to Alabama’s beaches is a vital component of the Embrace the Gulf 2020 campaign.
Photo by Colette Boehm

“GOMA started out as part of the U.S. Ocean Commission and we started gearing up in 2004,” he says. He is quick to point out the value of having GOMA relationships established across state lines and between agencies and industries when events like the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill happened in 2010. Ten years later, he feels the effort is “more important than ever” as the alliance celebrates a year-long campaign to Embrace the Gulf.

GOMA launched the Embrace the Gulf campaign in January as an effort to showcase the importance of the Gulf of Mexico and highlight five areas of influence: resilient coastal communities, prosperous industries, superior educational opportunities, thriv- ing tourism and healthy ecosystems. The campaign continues throughout 2020, with a 365-day online messaging campaign and events scheduled throughout the five coastal states.

“The whole idea of Em- brace the Gulf was to focus on the positive,” Hinesley says. “With what we’ve just been going through, it’s more important than ever to look for the positive.”

Indeed, just as the resilience of the Gulf of Mexico and all it touched was being tested 10 years ago following the oil spill, today, Alabama’s communities and economy are being tested through the COVID-19 crisis.

Some spring events have been canceled or rescheduled and Alabama and the other gulf states have seen tourism, retail, oil and gas and other industries suffer. But times like these bring the resilience of the region’s people and resources to the forefront. Coordinators like Hinesley and others from each of the gulf states continue to plan events, get the word out and, through their efforts, celebrate the gulf.

“The Gulf of Mexico is an astonishingly valuable natural resource,” says Laura Bowie, executive director of GOMA. “It supports 60 million people who live and work throughout the gulf coastal region and an even greater number of people who visit. As an organization, the alliance wants to ensure positive messages are shared about its wealth of resources and its importance to our economy and our culture.

Oil and natural gas wells account for 17 percent of U.S. crude oil production and 45 percent of U.S. refining capacity is located along the Gulf coast. Photo by Brandon Wilt.

“To put it simply,” she concluded, “we are investing our time and our resources to ‘do good things for the Gulf.’ We know healthy ecosystems are the foundation for healthy economies.”

Gulf state governors, mayors, agency directors and business leaders from all along the Gulf Coast have signed proclamations pledging their support for the 2020 campaign. The public is encouraged to get involved by engaging with the alliance (@GOMAlliance) on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where it is sharing daily gulf-related messages and images as well as promoting Embrace the Gulf happenings.

Events and activities associated with the campaign include efforts in restoring coastlines, rehabilitating wildlife, improving water quality and strengthening communities. Additional campaign elements include state-specific education and cleanup events as well as a regional Paddle the Gulf ecotourism opportunity.

Hinesley is the Alabama lead for Paddle the Gulf, a slate of paddling events taking place in every gulf state this summer and fall. “We want people to experience our waters,” he says, “and realize that our watersheds are directly connected to the gulf, and to how healthy it is. We want them to get out and enjoy, but also to learn more about things like invasive species and how litter becomes marine debris.” In addition to his Paddle the Gulf involvement, Hinesley is active on GOMA’s Education and Engagement

Team as well as its Business Advisory Council.
“It’s amazing what GOMA has been able to do,” Hinesley said.

“It’s come a long way since its inception and this Embrace the Gulf Campaign is an example of how regional collaboration can increase awareness of the ecological and economic value of the Gulf of Mexico.”

Today, GOMA represents more than a thousand people from across the region who work together on a daily basis to address what are considered priority regional issues. Those issues include conserving and restoring habitats, improving the health of wildlife and fisheries, enhancing coastal resilience, improving data access and baseline monitoring, increasing stewardship and improving water quality.

Gulf of Mexico facts

One core initiative of Embrace the Gulf is to share facts about the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf states are linked through industries like oil and gas, tourism, marine transportation and commercial and recreational fishing. The gulf ’s influence, however, goes far beyond its local connections, impacting the region and the entire country. Here are just a few facts that illustrate the gulf’s diversity, environmental and economic importance and wealth of recreational opportunities.

Many GOMA partners are hosting marine education programmingforyoungcitizen scientists throughout the year. Photo by Leslie Peart
  • The Gulf of Mexico region includes Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and the Gulf coast of Florida. These states combined share 1,631
    miles of coastline divided as follows: Alabama, 53 miles; Louisiana, 397 miles; Mississippi, 44 miles; Texas, 367 miles; and the Gulf Coast of Florida, 770 miles.
  • If the five Gulf states were a country, the economy would rank in the Top 10 worldwide with a GDP of over $2 trillion.
  • The Gulf of Mexico measures approximately 1,100 miles east to west and 800 miles north to south and it covers an overall area of 600,000 square miles.
  • The natural resources in the five Gulf States support the employment of more than eight million people.
  • The Gulf of Mexico generates 1.3 billion pounds of seafood per year, which is more annual production than the mid-Atlantic, Chesapeake and New England areas combined.
  • Each of the five gulf states has an artificial reef program to supplement natural underwater habitats. These reefs enhance fishery resources and fishing opportunities by creating habitat for fish and invertebrate species using man-made materials.
  • Industries in the Gulf of Mexico region have proudly built 70% of the U.S. Naval fleet of warships.
  • At its deepest point, the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is 2.7 miles underwater. Most of the Gulf, however, is much shallower. About 60 percent is less than 700 feet deep.
  • The Gulf of Mexico is the United States’ hottest vacation destination with an economic impact of $45 billion annually from tourism.
  • The gulf is home to six of the top 10 most productive shipping ports in the country.
  • The Gulf of Mexico provides 77 percent of the U.S. shrimp harvest.
  • There are 207 estuaries, 15.6 million acres of wetlands, eight national parks and 47 wildlife refuges within the Gulf ecosystem.
  • The Gulf of Mexico, with its warm waters and diverse habitats, is home to thousands of marine species. Scientists have documented 15,419 species living in the Gulf of Mexico.

Source: Gulf of Mexico Alliance