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Excerpts of Alabama Travel Diary
State 48 - ALABAMA 08 MAY 00 - 12 MAY 00

 

Beetle Juice

We are ten minutes over the Mississippi/Alabama state line and are thrilled with the wonderful landscaping on the highway. Lots of state highway departments plant wildflowers on the sides of their roadways, which are always nice, but the wildflower selection Alabama chose is dazzling. Tiny flowers of brilliant yellow, deep purple, saturated reds, cobalt blue, bright orange, and pearly whites make the roadsides seem sprinkled with live, bouncing confetti that bobs in the breeze. We marvel at this happy greeting when suddenly a dark cloud appears, moving rapidly toward our windshield. It looks like a black storm cloud as it surrounds Ruby but then . . . plop-squirt, plop-squirt, plop-squirt . . . one after another bugs -- not raindrops -- hit the windshield splattering their bug juice all over. Ruby is drenched in a shower of dead bugs. Hundreds smack their little bodies against the windshield and explode, like thick, gooey raindrops. In three seconds the bug-shower is over. The black cloud has moved on. We have no idea where it came from, or where it's going in its determined path of tribal suicide.

Sweet Home Alabama

Our first day in a new state and I wake up feeling surprisingly at home. Unsually happy. Perhaps it's because we're situated on the edge of a pond and I grew up living on the edge of a pond. The scent of pond life is familiar, the sounds of ducks and birds are comforting. The fresh air surrounding a pond is different from regular fresh air. It smells like a meadow wet with dew, a condensed sweetness of moist, sweet air. What makes this even more special is that we are surrounded by the State Tree -- The Southern Longleaf Pine. I love these trees. Their needles are long and thick, like knitting needles. And so smooth, like on television shampoo commercials that show a magnified strand of perfect hair -- long, straight, strong. No split ends. Solid. That's how these 12-inch pine needles are. Smooth. Sturdy. The other thing that makes this campsite homey is our neighbors. We haven't met them yet, but I like 'em. I like 'em because they have big pots of red geraniums on their porch. And a bird house. So that I have a pond view on one side of the trailer, and while doing dishes on the other side of the trailer, I can look out my window at my neighbor's colorful patio garden. It brings me such delight.It truly feels like a home, and although we'll only be here for a week, I'm grateful for a week that feels like a home.

The Wiz. . .

Today we visit Tuskegee Institute, the famous 19th century college for African Americans. Although we're deeply impressed with the history and accomplisments of the institute, we're particularly enchanted with the George Washington Carver musuem. Carver was a professor here back in the early 1900s. They called him the "Wizard of Tuskegee." Oh, what an inspiring human being!. He was born a slave in Missouri at the end of the Civil War. As a baby he was stolen and, when he was near death someone found him and returned him to his owners, the Carvers. They didn't expect him to live, but the Carvers nursed him back to health. Although he recovered, he always remained a thin and weak little boy. So Mrs. Carver didn't have him doing field work. Instead he did housework . . .knitting, cleaning, gardening. He wanted to learn everything about growing vegetables and flowers. When a neighbor stopped and asked Carver how she could get flowers to grow like Mrs. Carver's, he replied, "Love Them." But more than gardening, George W. Carver had a thirst for knowledge. When he was 12 years old he heard that there was a school for black children in a town eight miles away, so he said goodbye to the Carvers and took the path to higher education. For the next 15 years, he pursued education, walking to the next town or the next state wherever there was a school that would accept him. He traveled to Kansas for high school and then went to Iowa for college. When he learned to read, the first book he wanted to read was the Bible. And he memorized all the scriptures that pertained to growing things. He became an award-winning artist, educator, scientist, agriculturist, botanist and inventor. He was a teacher at Iowa State College when Booker T. Washington offered him the job at Tuskegee Institute. "I cannot offer you money, position or fame," the founder wrote, ". . .in their place I offer you hard, hard work-- the task of bringing a people from degratation, poverty and waste to full manhood." Carver accepted the post immediately. It was a perfect fit for a man who liked to make things grow.

Carver tells story that while he was at Tuskegee Institute one particular morning he went for a walk to have a private talk with God.

"Mr. Creator," he began, "why did you make the universe?"

"Little Man," the Creator responded, "do not ask such big questions for your little brain. Ask a smaller question, please.

"Mr. Creator," Carver retried, "why did you make man?"

"Little Man," the Creator responded, "Again, you ask too large a question for your tiny brain. Please ask a smaller question."

"Mr. Creator," Carver offered, "why did you make the peanut?"

"Ah, that's better!" The Creator replied. "Grab some peanuts. I'll show you . .."

And Carver went on to develop three hundred uses for peanuts -- and not just the nuts. Every piece of the peanut from the shell, to the skin, to the oil was used. Carver believed in using everything. Waste nothing. According to Carver, even weeds and waste can have a commercial use. For example, he made synthetic rubber from goldenrod, made paper "as fine as linen" from peanut skins, and made synthetic marble from sawdust. But Carver never patented any of his inventions, believing knowledge should be free. In fact, money meant nothing to him. He never even cashed his paychecks. When someone finally convinced him to deposit his checks in a bank, the bank failed and he lost all his money. When he found his money was lost he simply said:

"I guess that's what happens when you hoard."

I love that quote. I never liked to save money. Never liked having a savings account. It always seemed a burden rather than a comfort. (Am I making my money "work" for me as they say. Am I investing it properly?) Never like the whole concept of saving/investing. But in today's society I always feel guilty and ashamed at not being a saver. Society says "Smart People Save." But whenever I earned enough money to accumulate a savings I would take a trip and spend it all. Like this trip, for instantce. And I always felt guilty and irresponsible afterward. Because if the adage "Smart People Save," is true, and I don't save, then I must be stupid. But, if I simply replace the word "saving" with "hoarding" why, then I feel like a saint instead of spendthrift."

Water Closet

In Europe they call bathrooms "Water Closets" or "WC's." Well, after two years on the road, our bathroom is truly a water closet, for the bathtub is now used as storage. For the past several months, I've stopped taking showers in my own tub. Now I must don a bright flowered sundress (my makeshift nightgown) and walk over to the campground showers, carrying my little Bath-Case of toiletries. It doesn't usually bother me to have to get dressed in order to take a shower, and then come back to the trailer and get dressed again. But today, I just wish I could roll out of bed and into my own shower -- without having to wait 20 minutes to heat the trailer's hot water tank. But that will come in due time I suppose, when I'm back in a permanent house and wishing I was back on the road. This morning as I lie in bed dreading the long walk to the campground showers I wonder why "Mr. Creator" didn't make the human body self-cleaning. Every other aspect of our bodies are perfect, why couldn't we self-clean while we sleep? Perhaps a type of fluid could come out of our pores and gently cleanse our skin in a sweet perfume scent. So much time is wasted on personal hygiene. Thus begins my descent into "Trailer Trash"?

Purple paisley

We're packing up Harvey and Ruby, getting everything road-ready as we make our way to the next state, Georgia, and our final campground on this trip. Poor Ken. As usual he does all the hard, sweaty work, and the nasty, smelly jobs, while I remain in the kitchen packing things in cupboards, cushioning jars with potholders and dishtowels, and making sure everything in the refrigerator is tightly packed and "cushioned" with heads of lettuce, apples or whatever might keep glass items from flying off shelves or smashing into walls. It's an easy job compared to Ken's. As the final details are buttoned down, Ken comes inside the trailer, perspiration dripping from his brow. "I gotta get a shower before we leave," he exasperates. When he returns, all clean and shiny, he rifles through the trailer searching frantically for something. "I can't find my special driving shirt," he complains. "Have you seen it?" (in all these months of traveling with him I never noticed him wearing any special driving shirt when we haul Harvey.) "What?" You've got a special shirt to wear? How come I never noticed your wearing the same shirt all the time?" He looks at me dumbfounded. "Yes." He says impatiently. "It's the shirt that I can drip tea on. The shirt that I can drop sandwiches on. The shirt that I can stain without worry." I try to recall which magical shirt of his this might be. "Is it the Great Wall of China tee shirt?" I ask innocently. "No." He replies slightly annoyed at my lack of perception. "It's the purple paisley shirt. I can drop a whole pot of spaghetti on it, and the stains won't show. Where is it?" It's in the laundry, waiting to be washed from the previous interstate driving stains.

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