At Home in Opelika

A month ago I rode with a colleague to the South East Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (SEUUMA) retreat at “The Mountain” in North Carolina. It was a long half-day drive with much pleasant conversation and a stop at a “Waffle House” for lunch. I had been curious about that chain since I got here, as I remembered hanging out at one with friends on the “Sojourn to the Past” trip ten years ago. When I looked it up online, I had found a very meat-laden lunch and dinner menu and had not returned. It happens that the breakfast menu option for hash browns with your choice of toppings suited me perfectly: I brought half of my “scattered, covered, & capped” hash browns home for supper.

As our talk turned to music, Mandy recommended a documentary to me that I had heard about several times before: Muscle Shoals. It is about a place in north-western Alabama famous for hosting many celebrity bands back in the day. As I enjoyed my leftover potatoes, cheese, & mushrooms, I sat back and cued it up on Netflix. I found myself surprised at the sense of familiarity I felt—with the music, certainly (“Brown Sugar” was recorded there, for example), but also with the place. I haven't visited that part of the state, but the landscape and culture in the film resonate with my experience here in the southeast corner. I feel the same kind of connection watching movies set in other places I've lived over the years: Wales, Normandy, Paris, Washington D.C.

When I decided to do this blog, I planned to reflect on things that are different from what I'm used to. Here are a few of them:

  • Ordering iced tea requires that you specify “sweetened or unsweetened.”
  • Most retail businesses have public restrooms—including thrift stores and supermarkets.
  • When I walk out the front door, squirrels and birds skitter for cover.
  • Children are raised to say “yes ma'am”; “no ma'am.”

  

I also want to share my appreciation for the opportunity to stretch my mind and heart, yet again, by making my home in a new place. I'm grateful for the chance to deconstruct the prejudice I had coming from somewhere else to live in the South. I've come to believe that the history of this region belongs to all Americans. It is certainly not what sit-coms of the 50s and 60s depicted. I find myself feeling offended by the mainstream contempt for Deep South culture and language. Late-night talk shows have been especially vicious recently about southerners, as though their regional accent denotes stupidity and wrongheadedness. I have found many who speak that way to be intelligent, kind, generous, responsible people, whose company I enjoy.

A few photo highlights below, from around town and from our road trips the past few months exploring the area. Still so much to see and learn!

This area features many public parks to walk in. This is at the Donald E. Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.

This area features many public parks to walk in. This is at the Donald E. Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.

Here I am at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham for the Women's March.

Here I am at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham for the Women's March.

There were several people there from the fellowship I serve, and other UUs also in yellow shirts from the congregations in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

There were several people there from the fellowship I serve, and other UUs also in yellow shirts from the congregations in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

She was part of the carpool caravan of Auburn University and Auburn UU Fellowship folks.

She was part of the carpool caravan of Auburn University and Auburn UU Fellowship folks.

Group photos and lines for the porta-potties after the rally in the park and a march around the downtown. Crowd estimate around 5000.

Group photos and lines for the porta-potties after the rally in the park and a march around the downtown. Crowd estimate around 5000.

Auburn Kroger's parking lot

Auburn Kroger's parking lot

River Street, Savannah Peace Pole

River Street, Savannah Peace Pole

Savannah is a very walkable city...

Savannah is a very walkable city...

Colonial Period cemetery near our VRBO apartment.

Colonial Period cemetery near our VRBO apartment.

The city is laid out with green spaces every few blocks. The park bench scene in Forrest Gump was filmed in one of them.

The city is laid out with green spaces every few blocks. The park bench scene in Forrest Gump was filmed in one of them.

Some of the squares feature special monuments.

Some of the squares feature special monuments.

A glimpse across the square of an installation called "Hot Pink" in the atrium lobby of the Jepson Center for the Arts, one of the Telfair Museums.

A glimpse across the square of an installation called "Hot Pink" in the atrium lobby of the Jepson Center for the Arts, one of the Telfair Museums.

An example of "tabby," concrete with shells mixed in—we saw it everywhere.

An example of "tabby," concrete with shells mixed in—we saw it everywhere.

Entrance to A-J's Dockside Restaurant on Tybee Island

Entrance to A-J's Dockside Restaurant on Tybee Island

I'm sure we'd have dined outdoors if it hadn't been raining.

I'm sure we'd have dined outdoors if it hadn't been raining.

Stopped on the way home in Macon to visit the Tubman Museum.

Stopped on the way home in Macon to visit the Tubman Museum.

Souvenir from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike

Souvenir from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike

Part of a large mural

Part of a large mural

Late afternoon walk at Town Creek Park in Auburn

Late afternoon walk at Town Creek Park in Auburn

On a neighborhood walk in Opelika

On a neighborhood walk in Opelika

Dogwoods everywhere!

Dogwoods everywhere!

Chapel at Calloway Gardens

Chapel at Calloway Gardens

The region is known for its azaleas.

The region is known for its azaleas.

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Pond at the Arboretum

Pond at the Arboretum

Interior of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

Interior of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

For some reason, I find dogwoods highly photogenic.

For some reason, I find dogwoods highly photogenic.

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Here's one blooming in front of my apartment.

Here's one blooming in front of my apartment.

Annual event hosted by the International Women for Peace and Understanding, a multicultural interfaith group founded after 911 by members of AUUF and others. Members provided a variety of home-cooked traditional dishes.

Annual event hosted by the International Women for Peace and Understanding, a multicultural interfaith group founded after 911 by members of AUUF and others. Members provided a variety of home-cooked traditional dishes.

"Meditation Rock" at "The Mountain Retreat & Conference Center"—an ever-changing, always breathtaking view. The woods here are full of rhododendrons growing wild—none yet blooming.

"Meditation Rock" at "The Mountain Retreat & Conference Center"—an ever-changing, always breathtaking view. The woods here are full of rhododendrons growing wild—none yet blooming.

Back yard of the duplex very pleasant for Wayne's May visit

Back yard of the duplex very pleasant for Wayne's May visit

When the dogwoods finish blooming, there are plenty of other things to brighten the landscape.

When the dogwoods finish blooming, there are plenty of other things to brighten the landscape.

Gardenias sweeten the Fellowship's parking lot.

Gardenias sweeten the Fellowship's parking lot.

Calloway Gardens Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Trail

Calloway Gardens Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Trail

Parked near our VRBO apartment in Charleston

Parked near our VRBO apartment in Charleston

Visitors assist with ceremonial flag-raising at Fort Sumter, on a manmade island built on a sand bar in Charleston Harbor after the War of 1812. The ranger gave an inspiring homily lifting up American values and honoring the contributions of immigrants.

Visitors assist with ceremonial flag-raising at Fort Sumter, on a manmade island built on a sand bar in Charleston Harbor after the War of 1812. The ranger gave an inspiring homily lifting up American values and honoring the contributions of immigrants.

Eggplant fritters at "Five Loaves." 

Eggplant fritters at "Five Loaves." 

At the entrance to the grounds of Drayton Hall—we were told people sometimes don't know better than to have their children pose for photos next to an alligator. "They eat children!"

At the entrance to the grounds of Drayton Hall—we were told people sometimes don't know better than to have their children pose for photos next to an alligator. "They eat children!"

Fascinating tour of an old building being "stabilized" rather than restored: a different approach to historic preservation. The docent was excellent—a retired history teacher.

Fascinating tour of an old building being "stabilized" rather than restored: a different approach to historic preservation. The docent was excellent—a retired history teacher.

Ground level basement, which housed the kitchen and some of the enslaved laborers 

Ground level basement, which housed the kitchen and some of the enslaved laborers 

When we walked past it on the way back to our apartment, one of the kitties ran up to the window and greeted us. I think they must be lonesome when the cafe is closed.

When we walked past it on the way back to our apartment, one of the kitties ran up to the window and greeted us. I think they must be lonesome when the cafe is closed.

Trying out the "joggling board" in front of Hyman's Seafood

Trying out the "joggling board" in front of Hyman's Seafood

A moment of silence on the quiet street in front of Mother Emanuel AME Church 

A moment of silence on the quiet street in front of Mother Emanuel AME Church 

Who can say no to ice cream "created in fellowship"?

Who can say no to ice cream "created in fellowship"?

Outside kitchen entrance to AUUF—made me laugh aloud!

Outside kitchen entrance to AUUF—made me laugh aloud!

One magnolia blossom among many in my neighborhood

One magnolia blossom among many in my neighborhood

Opelika walk sunset

Opelika walk sunset