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October Snapshots: Pumpkin Patch

Submit Your Images! January Theme: “Snow Day” Deadline for Jan: Nov 30

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.

Cooper Rainer enjoying her first trip to the pumpkin patch. SUBMITTED BY Faye Pike, Foley.

Renyn, Rylan and Rhys Watkins at Dreamfield Farms. SUBMITTED BY Rebekah Watkins, Eclectic.

Rachel and Lauren Parnell are the “cat burglar” duo at their pumpkin patch during Halloween.SUBMITTED BY Rachel Parnell, Millry.

Webb Cannon at Cornfield County Farms. SUBMITTED BY Laurie Blazer, Wetumpka.

Our sweet angel, Jessica, gained her wings May 7, 2018. SUBMITTED BY Kim Smith, Albertville.
Emerson Josey (6 months) at Old Farmer In The Dell Pumpkin Patch in Auburn. SUBMITTED BY Megan Josey, Montgomery.

Cooper Hayes (10 months) at 4-D Farm in Cullman County in 2014. SUBMITTED BY Debby Boyd, Addison.

How Social Security defines disability

By Kylle’ McKinney

Disability affects millions of Americans, in one form or another. Social Security is here to help you and your family, but there are strict criteria for meeting the definition of disability. The definition of disability under Social Security is also different than it is for other programs. We do not pay benefits for partial or short-term disability.

We consider you disabled under Social Security rules if:

  • You can’t do work that you did before;
  • We decide that you cannot adjust to other work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your disability has lasted or is expected to last for at least one year or to result in death.

This is a strict definition of disability.

Social Security is also required by law to review the current medical condition of all people receiving disability benefits to make sure they continue to have a qualifying disability. Generally, if someone’s health hasn’t improved, or if their disability still keeps them from working, they will continue to receive benefits.

To help us make our decision, we’ll first gather new information about a benefit recipient’s medical condition. We’ll ask their doctors, hospitals, and other medical sources for their medical records. We’ll ask them how their medical condition limits their activities, what their medical tests show, and what medical treatments they have been given. If we need more information, we’ll ask them to go for an examination or test for which we’ll pay.

Social Security is a support system for people who cannot work because of a disability. You can learn more about Social Security disability at and also by accessing our starter kits and checklists at

Kylle’ McKinney, SSA Public Affairs Specialist, can be reached by email at

Choctaw General Hospital offers innovative senior care

Choctaw General Hospital

By Dale Quinney

With 86 percent of Alabama’s rural hospitals having a net operating loss, new ideas and innovation in providing services must be developed.  The Choctaw General Hospital, located in Butler in Choctaw County, has a program for providing health and health-related services to seniors with special needs that could be an example for possible statewide implementation.

This Senior Care program involves bringing seniors experiencing difficulties in adjusting to life without a spouse or other challenges to a special unit three mornings a week.  They are given primary health care, an opportunity to socialize, a delicious and healthy lunch, counseling and other mental health care, social worker assistance and other services.  Transportation is provided by a hospital van dedicated to this program.

Area churches help identify those who need help. The hospital hosts a Pastor Education Luncheon each year where area ministers and hospital officials share information on health care and the health needs of the community and individuals.

While this excellent and innovative program is not entirely the same as adult day care, it could serve as an example of services that could be provided through the expansion of adult day care in Alabama, especially as a reimbursable Medicaid service.

Alabama’s rural hospitals need to develop new streams of revenue to bolster their serious financial crisis.  Alabama’s Medicaid program needs to find ways to cut costs.  Can Alabama’s Medicaid program seek a federal waiver to offer reimbursement for adult day care service to those who do not need full-time residency in a nursing facility?  This could possibly be a new revenue stream for rural hospitals and/or nursing facilities, especially those with large numbers of empty beds.  It could offer savings to the Alabama Medicaid program since day care would cost less than full-time residency in nursing facilities.  It could benefit seniors who want to remain at home as long as possible before being institutionalized.  It could offer peace of mind to those wanting to keep Mom or Dad at home, but are not able because of work demands.

The people of Choctaw County, located in the Black Warrior Electric Membership Corporation service area, lost their hospital in 1993 and were forced to struggle without a hospital for 17 years until the Rush Health Systems of Meridian, Mississippi, invested approximately $20 million in building an excellent 25-bed critical access hospital on the site of an abandoned Vanity Fair sewing plant. Rush specializes in rural hospitals and clinics, owning or managing several other rural hospitals or clinics in Mississippi along with rural health clinics in Gilbertown and Livingston in Alabama.  Rush has plans for expanding its role in the provision of rural health care in Alabama.

Dale Quinney is the founder of Operation Save Rural Alabama,, and a past director of the Alabama Rural Health Association

Old Claiborne Pilgrimage offers history lesson on southwest Alabama

Monroe County’s Old Claiborne Pilgrimage, set for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 13 and 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 14, will provide a rare glimpse into the settlement of this Alabama ghost town, and of Monroe County.

Pioneers, planters and paddlewheelers created Claiborne on the Alabama River, a gateway to the old Southwest in the early 1800s, before Alabama was a state, says Gail Deas of Monroeville, who is spearheading the pilgrimage. But as quickly as Claiborne’s fortunes and population had risen, Yellow Fever, the Civil War and the effects of Reconstruction hastened its demise.

To help illustrate this forgotten town’s importance, the pilgrimage will feature docent tours of four rarely seen, private antebellum plantation homes; early churches; and sites of historic significance in southwest Alabama, along the Alabama River in Monroe County and in neighboring Clarke County.

Historian Tom McGehee will entertain with stories, scandals and legends of life along the river at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the courtroom of the Old Courthouse Museum in Monroeville, followed by a wine and cheese reception on the courthouse lawn.

Ticket information and sales are available through the Old Courthouse Museum in Monroeville at 251-575-7433. For more information, visit

The pilgrimage is presented by the Monroe County Museum Endowment, to generate financial support for maintenance of the historic Old Courthouse Museum in Monroeville, and by the Perdue Hill-Claiborne Foundation, Inc., which works to support and maintain sites of historic significance in Perdue Hill and the Claiborne area.

Alabama History Oct. 5, 1956

Oct. 5, 1956 — Birmingham native Charles A. Boswell shot an 81 at Highland Park Golf Course in Birmingham–a world record for a blind golfer. Permanently blinded by a tank explosion in Germany during World War II, Boswell became an international golfing icon and committed advocate for the blind. Throughout his career, he won a remarkable 16 national championships and 11 international championships. He served as the president of the United States Blind Golfers Association from 1956 to 1976 and founded the Charley Boswell Celebrity Golf Classic to raise funds for Birmingham’s Eye Foundation Hospital. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1972 and the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1983.

Alabama has its place in the Trail of Tears

The documentary “The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Legacy” was filmed in several states, including Georgia and Tennessee. Photo by Rich-Heape Productions

By Pamela A. Keene

Imagine being forced to leave your homeland for an unknown place 900 miles away. That’s what happened 180 years ago when more than 17,000 Cherokee men, women and children living in the Southeast walked, rode boats, and boarded trains to their new home in Oklahoma.

Along the way, nearly 25 percent of the men, women and children died of disease, cold, hunger and hardship. The remaining Cherokee recreated the Cherokee Nation, which still thrives today as a sovereign nation with more than 330,000 citizens across the United States. It is based in Oklahoma.

Marker on Hwy. 72 near Bridgeport.

“For centuries the Cherokees lived on and hunted the lands in what is now Kentucky, parts of Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and North Carolina,” says Troy Wayne Poteete, executive director of the Oklahoma-based National Trail of Tears Association. “As the European settlers moved in, the Cherokees assimilated into the settlers’ way of life; their lands shrank, and they adapted to an agricultural lifestyle and left their hunting ways behind.”

By the 1790s, Revolutionary American leadership negotiated treaties with the Cherokees, each time taking more land for the white settlers. Some Cherokees voluntarily left their land to move west. Talk of relocation began and by 1830, the U.S. government had passed the Indian Removal Act. Over several years, the Supreme Court heard two cases about the removal.

Some Cherokees willingly moved west, but about 75 percent remained, split between moving to preserve their nation’s identity or remaining on their native homeland.

By this time, Cherokees living in northern Alabama had become part of the sovereign Cherokee Nation, which was then headquartered in New Echota, Ga. By 1835, a splinter group of Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota that, although signed by a minority of Cherokee leadership, forced the Cherokees to give up their native lands and move to 160,000 acres in Oklahoma.

Three years later the federal government began the forced removal of the Cherokees on what has now become known as the Trail of Tears. Many Cherokees were rounded up and imprisoned in forts and camps before they began the grueling journey westward to Oklahoma. Many lives were lost, but the Cherokee nation survived.

As Cherokees across the country commemorate the 180th Trail of Tears, Poteete makes it clear why it should be remembered.

“We participate in the commemoration of that sad episode because it affords us the opportunity to honor the resilience, the tenacity, and the perseverance of that generation who refused to be defeated,” Poteete says. “We certainly don’t do it because we wish to somehow appropriate their victimization to ourselves. We personally didn’t endure the Trail of Tears and no one alive today had anything to do with that tragedy.”

Cherokee John Benge led a group of American Indians out of Fort Payne in 1838 to begin their nearly 800-mile trip to Indian territory in what is now Oklahoma.

Alabama’s connections

Many sites in Alabama factored into the removal on the Trail of Tears. The Cherokees were rounded up and detained in places like Fort Payne, or across the state lines at Chattanooga. Five known routes crossed north Alabama and took the Cherokee from their homeland on foot, by boat and train through towns like Guntersville, Tuscumbia, Decatur, Huntsville and Waterloo.

Several of these towns have historic markers, memorials, visitor and interpretive centers, monuments and remnants of witness buildings, which existed when the Trail of Tears took place. State and federal parks help preserve the history.

Shannon Keith is president of the Alabama chapter of the Trail of Tears Association and a member of the Trail of Tears National Board of Directors. “Alabama factored significantly in the lives of the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears,” she says.

“And our state has been very supportive of our work to commemorate this part of our history. In fact, our annual meeting of the Trail of Tears National Association is taking place in Decatur in October. It is an official event of Alabama’ s bicentennial and the National Park Service celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the National Trails System. It will be a chance to again draw attention to the Trail of Tears and the tribes that were removed.”

Commemoration events

Alabamians have recognized the story of the Trail of Tears with several events:

  • 23rd Annual Trail of Tears National Annual Conference and Symposium (, will be Oct. 26-28 in various locations in Decatur. Several events in this conference are open to the public, including guided walking tours of Decatur and significant sites related to the Trail of Tears on Friday, Oct. 26, and a concert by playwright and country-Western singer-songwriter and member of the Cherokee Nation Becky Hobbs on Saturday, Oct. 27. There will be workshops about genealogy and Cherokee history, and the group will also tour the Tuscumbia Landing preservation project
  • The Trail of Tears Commemorative Motorcycle Ride gives participants a chance to see the Trail of Tears, to learn about its history and legacy and to travel across the state on one of the same routes that the Cherokees walked toward their new homeland. It routinely attracts upwards of 15,000 motorcyclists. This year’s 25th anniversary one-day event was Sept. 15; it began in Bridgeport and ended in Waterloo.
  • Oka Kapassa, The Return to Cold Water Festival, took place in September in Tuscumbia’s Spring Park. A gathering of representatives of Native American Tribes, the festival celebrates the kindness shown to them by the citizens of Tuscumbia during the Indian Removal.

“The residents of Tuscumbia were the documented only people who offered assistance back then to the Native Americans on the Trail of Tears,” says Terry McGee, chairman of the Oka Kapassa Festival. “They brought food, blankets and other supplies to make sure they were well taken care of.” This year’s festival featured a school day with hands-on activities for students. Saturday offered a showcase of native music and dance, native craft artisans, storytelling and Chickasaw, Choctaw and Cherokee foods. (256) 383-0783 or visit


Places to visit in Alabama to learn more about the Trail of Tears.

A sampling of historic sites around the state that are open to the public

Decatur: Numerous historical markers dot the landscape of Decatur and mark significant events of the Trail of Tears. Located on the Tennessee River, Decatur factored heavily in the Trail of Tears. This is where many Cherokees transitioned from boat to train to journey farther west. Rhodes Ferry Park includes a wayside exhibit that tells the story of this part of the Trail of Tears. (256) 341-4930 or visit


Willstown Mission Cemetery, Fort Payne: The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions agreed to open a mission and school in Willstown in 1823. Only a few of the graves there have been identified. Two historical markers tell the story of the school, the cemetery and the importance to the Cherokee. (256) 845-6888 or

Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Waterloo Landing

Waterloo Landing: At the end of a 230-mile evacuation walk over land through North Alabama, Cherokees were transferred to the steamboat Smelter to follow a water trail to their new homeland. (256) 764-3237.

Tuscumbia Landing, Sheffield: Archeological digs since 2007 have revealed a railroad bed and other remnants of the Trail of Tears, the Civil War and bomb factories used in World War I. The site is being commercially developed with the intent of preserving history and protecting the environment. Plans are to open a Native American Visitors’ Center there in the next several years. The site is fenced, so direct access is not permitted. However, visitors can view the location. (256) 383-0250 or visit

Fort Payne Cabin: The cabin, once owned by Cherokee John Huss, was overtaken by the military that were stationed at Fort Payne to oversee the forced removal of the Cherokees in the mid-1830s. Only a chimney, the foundation and a stacked stone wall mark the site today. (256) 845-6888 or visit

At 70, Alabama Living still connecting to readers

By Allison Law

Alabama Living magazine turned 70 this year, and we think it’s better than ever.

The Alabama Rural Electric Association of Cooperatives (AREA), which publishes Alabama Living, was formed in 1947, and immediately jumped into the communications realm and began publishing the Alabama Rural Electric News in 1948 as a broadsheet-sized newspaper. Leaders undoubtedly saw a need for a publication that would communicate the cooperative message to rural electric co-op members across the state.

It’s hard to imagine in our current 24/7 news cycle world, but for many readers, the Rural Electric News was likely one of the few sources of information tailored especially for them. Those editions followed the news coming out of Washington and Montgomery that would have an impact on the rural Alabama home- and landowner, including news about the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), created by the federal government to help farmers and other rural folks receive electricity.

For the first few decades, the pages of the Alabama Rural Electric News reflected the agricultural roots of the rural electrification movement. After all, rural electric cooperatives were formed to bring electricity to the farms and rural areas that investor-owned utilities didn’t find profitable to serve. The pages were filled with stories about homesteaders who used electricity to modernize their farms; as late as the 1970s, most co-op editions featured stories about satisfied members who’d built new homes that were all-electric.

As electricity became less of a novelty in the rural areas, there was less need for us to explain how essential and convenient it was. So we broadened our focus to better reflect the more modern lifestyles of our largely rural and small-town readership.

Changing, but remaining the same

The look and style of the publication has evolved over the years; in 1968, the name changed to AREA Magazine, with a more modern magazine-style format that included more feature stories. The magazine became Alabama Living in 1989, to make the magazine feel more local and personal to readers.

Some longtime readers will remember  the late Darryl Gates, who was the editor of Alabama Living for almost 30 years before he retired in May 2012 and brought the magazine into the modern era. In his final column for the magazine, he said, “Alabama Living is not only the voice of the 22 electric cooperatives in the state, but it serves as a mirror that reflects the faces of more than 1 million electric co-op members. You folks are the backbone of our great state.”

Today, the magazine continues to be the voice of our electric cooperatives, with a monthly circulation of about 420,000 copies.

For decades, the magazine has shared the news and photos following natural disasters and chronicled the co-ops’ power restoration efforts in the wake of destructive hurricanes and tornadoes. Your co-op and its sister co-ops across the state and region participate in mutual aid, and we’ll continue to share those powerful stories.

The magazine today is politically neutral, but we do encourage our readers to stay current on the issues that affect them, and to make their rural voices heard by voting and by keeping in touch with their elected representatives. We write about topics that have a political focus, such as the push by some cooperatives for government grants to help provide high-speed broadband in unserved areas.

While we’ve abandoned the “homemakers page” of decades ago that featured clothing patterns and extolled the virtues of frost-free refrigerators, we’ve kept and enhanced the reader-submitted recipes and photos, which remain our most popular feature.

And month after month, we try to include a mix of story types: personality profiles, stories that highlight Alabama-based businesses and/or industries, features on food and cooking (which often tie in to the recipes) and monthly columns on gardening and the outdoors.

We try to provide you with stories about history, travel, home and garden and features that reflect the rural and small-town life of much of our readership. We publish a monthly feature called Worth the Drive, about a restaurant and its owner(s) in geographically diverse areas of the state. We try to cultivate stories that have a connection to a community, or feature a cultural or regional tradition. We regularly feature articles about safety and energy efficiency. And we try to provide some humor as well, with a monthly column from Alabama author Hardy Jackson.

Connections and technology

From its very first issue, each edition featured news written or selected specifically for each rural electric cooperative that was a member of AREA. We continue that tradition today – each issue of your Alabama Living contains several pages of local-focused content, in addition to the stories, columns and features of a statewide interest.

“I think people enjoy reading the magazine because its feature stories on people, places and events, the photography and even the recipes remind us of why living in rural Alabama is special to so many people,” says Brian Lacy, manager of communications and external affairs at Cullman Electric Cooperative. “We try to add to that feeling in our local pages with feature stories and other lifestyle content that is unique to our communities.

“But we also use that space to share important messages about the cooperative – events, programs and services, energy saving tips and other information that can help our members control their energy usage and save money on their power bill.”

The magazine has changed and adapted to emerging technology. Pages are designed, produced and transmitted electronically to Freeport Press, our printer in Ohio (the complexity of printing 22 different editions, with backup equipment,  makes it currently beyond the capabilities of printers in Alabama); gone are the days of manual, physical paste-up of pages.

And we’ve embraced the Internet. Our website,, has an archive of each month’s stories and videos, as well as recipe archives and a continuously updated events listing. Readers can also communicate with us through the site and submit recipes, events and participate in our monthly and annual photo contests.

Our social media channels continue to flourish. We have a robust audience on Facebook, with more than 9,000 page likes, as well as a presence on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter.

Today, the magazine’s challenge is to continue to be the primary source of information for the consumer-members of our electric cooperatives, while making the most of the newest technologies to communicate in ways that are relevant to future generations, says Lenore Vickrey, editor of Alabama Living.

“We want the children and grandchildren of today’s co-op consumer-members to be as loyal to Alabama Living as their grandparents are and were,” Vickrey says.


Worth the Drive: Sage

The Meza Mixer, a sample of appetizers.

Authenticity adds flavor at Fairhope’s Sage restaurant

Story and photos by Emmett Burnett

Restaurateurs Nader and Maritza Salibi take pride in hometown menus. His home is Beirut, the one in Lebanon. Hers is Cuenca, the one in Ecuador. Their restaurant is Sage Lebanese Cuisine and Cafe, the one in Fairhope.

But regardless of who is where, the food is amazing here. It is also surprising. “People visit not knowing what to expect,” says Nader, as we sip homemade lemonade over a plate of freshly baked baklava. “Customers don’t expect the flavors. They are surprised how familiar entries taste different.”

He explains that food varies between countries, regions, even cities. For example, fried chicken is common in the south. But South Alabama’s differs from South Carolina’s. The same holds true for Mediterranean – Lebanese.

“Everything here is as authentic as possible,” Nader adds. “Many recipes are based on mother and grandmother’s recipes back when I was growing up in Beirut.”

Kebab varieties of grilled prime beef, marinated chicken breasts, and spiced ground beef are examples of the aforementioned “unexpected flavors.” Other favorites include grilled savory lamb chops, beef over hummus with pita bread, and the Mousaka Plate – eggplant, yellow rice and house salad.

Sage offers 11 sandwiches including the Shawarma Mix – mammoth portions of beef and/or marinated chicken wrapped in pita bread – or the Kafta Burger – ground beef, caramelized onions, brioche and Swiss cheese.

Everything is cooked on site. Everything is oven/stovetop fresh. The only thing missing is a microwave oven.

An international love story

Sage Lebanese Cuisine and Cafe owners Maritza and Nader Salibi sample homemade lemonade and fresh baklava at their Fairhope cafe

The Salibis readily admit that Lebanese cooking in small-town, south Alabama is unique, just as unique as the couple’s story, a 3,000-mile journey spanning three countries and ending in Fairhope.

About 20 years ago, Nader at age 17 left Beirut for New York City to study business courses at Brooklyn College. While in the Big Apple he met another college student and future wife, Maritza Astudillo. Short version: They fell in love, married and moved to Ecuador to work in Maritza’s family’s business. But not for long.

“I wanted to be in business for myself. I wanted to open a restaurant,” Nader recalls. “But I did not want to return to New York. It’s crazy up there.” A friend told him about a really cool town in America.

The couple knew nothing about Alabama and neither had ever heard of Fairhope. But both agreed to research the restaurant-business venture, cautiously and slowly for 3 to 6 months. It sounded good – in theory.

In the spring of 2015, Nader left Ecuador for the “Heart of Dixie’s” Eastern Shore. He visited Fairhope, loved it, and leased a building – his first day in town.

“I called my wife and said, ‘I think we’re opening a restaurant, uh, actually, I’ve signed a lease.” And he laughs, “Her version of the story is a lot more dramatic. She expresses her feelings more.” She did.

“I was in shock,” Maritza laughs, recalling the South Alabama-Ecuador telephone conversation. She hung up the phone and Googled “Fairhope.”

“Nader said I could stay home for six months to a year as he rebuilt and prepared the vacant building for business.” But she answered, “No. My place is with you.”

And so it began. Maritza packed her bags and with three young children boarded a plane for a cross-world flight to the town she only knew from Google Maps. “We worked hard for months, refurbishing, repairing, remodeling. We did everything,” she says. “It was hard work.”

Sage opened in August 2015. It still is hard work but a labor of love. “You always have opening day jitters,” says Nader, recalling the first day of business. “But my mindset has always been about work. I have the skills to do this and so does Maritza. I believe in working hard and doing your job well. People want good products, quality, and service.”

He continues, “We serve the very best. Much of our ingredients and foods are imported. New Zealand grass fed beef isn’t easy to obtain when you’re a small town restaurant, but we get it.”

Hometown support

Customers agree. “Nader and Maritza are my friends who cook great,” says Dick Bacon of nearby Barnwell. “You come here once and you know them.”

When asked to name her favorite dish, weekly patron Mary Reiser of Daphne pondered, “I can’t. Everything is good. I order something different every week. Once you smell the aroma from the sidewalk, you’re hooked.”

As for Fairhope, “We loved it,” says Maritza. “It has excellent schools for our children, safe streets, and genuinely friendly people who have been so supportive.” Many locals refer to Maritza as ‘Sage’ –“because ‘Maritza’ is often difficult to remember,” she smiles.

As for Sage the restaurant, find it on 319 Fairhope Avenue, the original spot Nader closed the deal on the day he came to town. It seats 55 and often.

“We came here with nothing, just our bags,” recalls the lady who took a leap of faith and landed in Baldwin County. “I was supposed to return to Ecuador from college and help our family’s business. But then I met Nader in New York. Things changed,” she smiles.

Maritza flips the restaurant’s front door sign from “closed” to “open,” welcoming 11:30 a.m. diners. Watching happy customers file in, she ponders, “Sometimes things you plan do not work out. But sometimes things you do not plan, do work out. It did for us.”

Sage advice from Sage the restaurant.

Sage Lebanese Cuisine and Café

319 Fairhope Ave., Fairhope, Ala.


Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 4:30 to 9 p.m., Monday-Friday;

11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday



Worth the Drive: Sage from AREA on Vimeo.

Alabama People: Eli Gold

Golden Voice

Eli Gold’s voice is one of the most recognizable on radio. He’s best known to Alabamians as the voice of the Alabama Crimson Tide, where he has called both football and basketball games since 1988. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., he knew he wanted to be a sports broadcaster at an early age, and got a job selling peanuts at Madison Square Garden so he could be around the great sportscasters of the day. He’s announced NASCAR races and games for the Arena Football League, the NFL and the UAB Blazers. He is the author of several books, including From Peanuts to the Pressbox. He and his wife Claudette live in Birmingham, and their daughter, Elise, is a UA graduate.  We caught up with Eli at the beginning of the 2018 football season.  – Lenore Vickrey

In 2009, you said that the Alabama broadcasting job is the best in the business. After 30 years, do you still feel that way?

Oh, gosh, yes. It’s a spectacular position. This is a job that brings with it a lot of responsibility and scrutiny. I cradle this job in my hands like a rare piece of crystal. I don’t want to drop it, I don’t want to mess with it or cause it any harm or disrepair. You want to work for a program where people care, and that’s certainly true of Alabama where the fans are as passionate as you’ll find anywhere.

Do you have the same spotter who helps you?

Yes, Butch Owens has been with me for 30-some-odd years. We use a system of hand signals. Brian Roberts also does that on some occasions, and we have Jimmy Bank, who worked in Major League Baseball for 30 years. This year we have an all-new crew with former quarterback John Parker Wilson as our color man, and sideline reporter Rashad Johnson, who played for Alabama and in the NFL. Chris Stewart, who had been our sideline reporter, has been promoted to host of the show in the broadcast booth.

What’s a typical game day like for you?

It’s the same format for away games and home games. The variable is the time of the game. If it’s an early game at 11, we get to the stadium by 7 and are on the air at 8. If it’s a night game at 8, we’re on the air at 5. We get to the stadium no later than 3 or 3:30. We’ll sleep in as a crew, have lunch somewhere, get a decent meal, because that has to last us until 2 the next morning! Then we all get our routines going. After about 40 minutes on the air, I go downstairs and Coach Saban and I tape our pregame show about two hours before kickoff. That’s his deal. All the other coaches did it on Friday, but Coach Saban says this is the most important interview of the week because it’s the one that immediately precedes the game. He wants to give listeners the latest information. In Tuscaloosa, we do this in his private dressing area. On the road, I always search for a (quiet) area to do the show, not within earshot of the players.

What’s Coach Saban like to work with?

He’s all about preparing for the football game. He never stops. With other coaches, you could sit down and shoot the breeze with them for 30 or 40 minutes. He’s none of that. Now that said, if I need to talk to him I have full access. He’s a wonderful guy, he and Miss Terry. There are things he does, things for others, that he doesn’t want people to know. He doesn’t like to talk about it because that’s not why he does it.

Photo by Robert Sutton

Do you know (Auburn announcer) Rod Bramlett?

Yes, Rod and I are good friends, we talk a good bit. When he got the job, I was the first guy to call and congratulate him. His color man, Stan White, is my insurance man. Jim Fyffe (former AU announcer) and I were dear friends. We’d ride to the games together from Montgomery.

You’ve recounted your top 5 favorite calls for Your top call was the final play of the Georgia game for the national championship. That was fun to watch.

I had to eliminate some to get it down to five. I’ve heard from so many fans who agree wholeheartedly. Now will something like that happen this year? Who expected the end of the game against Georgia would be like that? That was remarkable.

You have part interest in Nino’s Restaurant in Pelham. What’s the best thing on the menu?

I personally love our seafood dishes, the Salmon Milano, the Seafood Primavera. Our pizza is to die for. Our calzones are wonderful. I like to go by and grab a chair and sit down with customers. I don’t get to go there as often this time of year because of football.

Celebrating garden myths and superstitions

By Katie Jackson

Whether you’re superstitious by nature or not, it’s hard to avoid this month’s focus on the otherworldly, and there’s no place better than the garden to focus our attention on myth and lore.

Considering how important plants and animals are to our very survival, it should come as no surprise that, over the eons of human existence, we’ve created an abundance of garden-related traditions and superstitions, many of which have become part of our vocabularies, if not our belief systems.

Knocking on or touching wood, which is supposed to help us avoid tempting fate by either warding off bad or encouraging good luck, is a case in point. The practice has been traced back to early Germanic pagans (however, many cultures and religions across the world and centuries share a similar practice), who believed that tapping or touching a tree summoned help from protective tree spirits.

Herbs, with their often aromatic and medicinal qualities, are perhaps the most superstition-laced plants. Take parsley for example. Because it can be difficult to grow from seed, gardeners of yore used to make three sowings — two for the devil and one for the gardener — and the ability to grow parsley from seed is supposed to be proof of a person’s honesty. However, bringing a parsley plant into a house is said to bring along bad luck, as does giving it away to someone, so if you want to share parsley with a friend, have them “steal” it from your yard.

While parsley may bring about some bad luck, other plants such as rosemary, ivy and snapdragons are thought to offer protection from evil spirits and curses, so they are welcome both indoors and planted near entryways to keep such problems at bay.

A superstition that I struggle with is the one that says we should never thank someone for a plant or cutting or the plant will fail to thrive or even die. It goes against my raising to not say “thank you,” but after I sent a thank you note for a lovely plant gift and then promptly killed the plant, I decided to be safe rather than sorry: These days I offer heartfelt thanks for the pot or the potting media rather than the plant, or simply say “I’ll really enjoy this.”

What we say to plants and other garden creatures is also considered important in garden lore. Cursing parsley or basil as you’re planting it is supposed to make it grow better. Peppers are said to be hotter and more prolific if you plant them when you’re angry. Talking to plants and bees is supposed to make both more productive, though bees reportedly prefer juicy gossip rather than polite conversation.

Want to protect your garden or home? Try some garden artifacts. St. Francis of Assisi and St. Fiacre statues are always nice, but so are garden gnomes, which protect gardens from pests and evil spirits. Gazing balls and windchimes ward off evil spirits, bottle trees repel and capture evil spirits and those gnarled and wizened green man faces channel ancient forest and nature spirits to watch over plants and homes.

The list of garden lore and superstitions could go on and on, including planting by the signs and other traditions still practiced today in every culture across the globe. To learn more about these intriguing and varied traditions and beliefs, a huge selection of books and articles can be found online and in bookstores and libraries, or ask your gardening friends about their practices and beliefs. Oh, and please share yours with me at!

Finally, if you want to spend time this month in a garden with otherworldly creatures, create your own superstition-influenced garden decorations or visit the Huntsville Botanical Garden’s Gardens of Myth exhibit, which features sculptures of mythical creatures — think fairies and dragons — created by artist Kendall R. Hart. (Learn more at or by calling 256-830-4447.)

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