Saturday, August 29, 2015

Mentone Revisited

        Next to Gulf Shores, the former resort town of Mentone is my favorite place to visit in Alabama. So when my high school buddy Annette Vining came down from Chicago for our 50th (ouch!) high school reunion, it was a no-brainer to take her there.
This is all that remains of the Mentone Springs Hotel.
Mentone began its existence as a health spa with mineral springs on Lookout Mountain. The Great Depression ended the initial glory days of the community. It rebounded, however, and continues as a fun place to explore bed and breakfast inns, shops, cafes, and natural wonders such as DeSoto Falls and the nearby Little River Falls. While it snoozes during the week, it comes alive on weekends. During the summer, there’s a farmer’s market under tents on Saturday mornings, where you can buy locally-made jams, jellies, bread and sweet treats.
Annette and I had a wonderfully lazy day eating at the Wildflower Cafe, shopping in the Log Cabin Village and taking pictures from an overlook on the brow of the mountain. We capped off our adventure by driving down U.S. 11 part of the way home, winding past verdant pastures with horses and cows grazing lazily in the afternoon sun. We went through Fort Payne, where we visited the Alabama Fan Club store, took pictures of the statues of the band members on a corner of Main Street, and noted with surprise the signs proclaiming that the infamous Trail of Tears went through that area. I had no idea.
At the Spinning Wheel, a Log Cabin Village shop in Mentone, I couldn’t resist a cloth apron emblazoned with cowboy boots, spurs, hats and words like, “rodeo,” “giddyup” and “ride ’em cowgirl.” The purple ruffled hemline only added to the appeal, purple being my favorite color. The apron has nothing to do with the store’s name, which comes from the fact that owner Mildred Lowry spins yarn from her own sheep, alpaca, llama and angora goats. She and daughter Wendy weave and crochet vests, shawls and other clothing accessories, and sell some of the yarn in small batches.
Jeff Rymer makes doors, too.
In the same village, I bought some homemade lemongrass soap at Daisy May’s, owned by Steve & Ashley Sisco. ( Its lemony smell wafts up every time I open my bathroom dresser. I need to finish off the olive oil soap I bought in Greece, though, before actually using it.
We stopped by Jeff Rymer’s shop, Southern Style Log Furniture (, because I wanted to see the beds he fashions out of cedar and pine. His one-of-a-kind headboards had enticed me last year when I saw them. He gets his lumber from Georgia, but when I asked whether he could use the two cedar trees from my front yard, he offered to cut them down himself. “You just have to be willing to wait for them to dry,” he said. I’ll need to sell the
manufactured log bed I own, but that’s what eBay is for.
Tony Goggians
Our lunch at the Wildflower Cafe ( was a sensory experience for the ears as well as the taste buds. We ate the Brunch Sampler of quiche, tomato pie, a fruit cup and a strawberry crepe. We added a side of sweet potato biscuits. While we munched on these mouthwatering treats, Tony Goggians (sic) entertained us with voice and guitar numbers that spanned several genres. “Brown-Eyed Girl,” “Walk The Line,” “Wooly Bully,” and “Kingston Town” were all part of his repertoire. Cafe owner Laura Catherine Moon, who goes by “Moon,” joined him on “Baby Face” for a couple celebrating their 63rd wedding anniversary. Moon, who came to Mentone from Birmingham via California, has owned the Cafe for eight years, and features live music every weekend.
It was sad to view the ruins of the old Mentone Springs Hotel. A fixture in the town since 1884, the massive structure burned down in 2014. Although I never stayed there, I had been inside the historic structure a couple of times. I first saw its charred remains in July of 2014, when my grandson and I took Highway 11 from Chattanooga to Mentone before getting on I-59 South to Ashville.
        All-in-all, it was a great way to spend the day with a good friend.

Friday, August 21, 2015

High School Reunions

Cheryl Deroy Lee, Vic Kelley & Elaine 
       High school reunions are great levelers. Folks who wouldn't give you the time of day as teenagers grab you in a big bear hug, like a long-lost friend. The cliques and popularity contests disappear, and it doesn't matter who was a cheerleader or who played football. As alumni, you’re all on the same playing field.
My 50th took place in Birmingham the weekend of August 14-15. My Beach-Boys-and- Beatles-buddy Annette Vining Greaves flew down from Chicago, and we rented a room at the headquarters hotel so we wouldn't have to drive the 45 miles back and forth to my house.
Kathy Bailey Dobson &
Annette Vinning Greaves
  Of the 700 or so who graduated from Woodlawn High School in January and May of 1965,  about 140 attended, plus 100 or so guests. Many folks were quite recognizable, many weren't. While most of us were skinny back then, we aren’t anymore. Lots of the men have receding hairlines and paunch bellies. Most of the women have gray or white hair, while a few are still clinging to that bottle of Miss Clairol. But everyone was beautiful.
Coy Lowery Hughey, Sandra Moreland Barfield,
Kay Merrill Miller & Jenny Adams Atkinson
  Several elementary schools fed into Woodlawn during the 1960s. I went to Kennedy with folks like Vic Kelly, Coy Lowery Hughey, Jerry Dean, Sandra Moreland Barfield, Kay Merrill Miller, Virginia Strock Moseley, Patsy Swafford Rhoades, Carmen Coulombe Allcorn, and Jenny Adams Atkinson, who couldn’t have gained more than five pounds since our grammar school days. I grew up on the same street with James "Booty" Graves, who says he got his nickname from an early love of wearing cowboy boots. 
James & Linda Graves
While a handful were already grandparents by our 25th reunion, many are now great-grandparents. Several are widowed. I have heard of folks hooking up with old boyfriends or making new ones at reunions, but the only guy I talked to who was single lost his wife last September and is engaged already. "I can't be alone for 15 minutes," he admitted, which seems to be more true of widowers than widows.
"Where did the 50 years go?" was a phrase heard often, but the most common conversation opener was, “Do you remember…?” Jim Nix, head of the reunion committee, insists we had a long conversation in my Volkswagen one night in 1966, but I can’t recall it. I don't think I had my VW until 1968, my senior year of college. This has been a running conversation between Jim and me at every reunion we've attended and in emails, too. He admits he was bummed out that whole year over a breakup with his girlfriend, so his memory may be cloudy. "If it wasn't you, then who did I talk with for hours in a VW that night?" he asked recently. We still laugh about that.
Sharon Blice Mikula & Elaine
The highlight was the tour of our alma mater on Saturday. The WPA mural in the auditorium has been restored,  the boys and girls gyms are gone, and there is a new addition. The outside of the addition blends so well architecturally that you can't tell it from the original.
Along the hallways, fellow classmates were commenting on who taught in which classroom and where the boys' and girls' advisors offices were. Their memories are much better than mine, because I couldn't recall anything but the main entrance, the auditorium and the old stadium, which is also gone. I had many classes under that stadium, such as speech with Rose B. Johnson and history with Tall Paul Caudle.
During the Saturday night dinner, a video I took at the 25th reunion played in one of the rooms. Being a reporter, I interviewed folks up close and personal, asking each one to identify himself and tell where he lived and what he was doing. Several of those folks have died since then, making the interviews bittersweet. I wish I had done something similar at our 50th, because who knows who will be gone by the time the 55th rolls around.

Annette & Elaine at WHS
Meanwhile, I'm thankful for the renewal of old acquaintances and the forging of new friendships. Several of us vowed to keep in touch, and I believe we will, starting with a get-together at a local restaurant Saturday night. There should be folks there who weren't at the "formal" 50th reunion. I can't wait!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

How I've Spent My Summer Vacation

        This has been a busy summer, and it’s not over yet.
It began with Vacation Bible School (VBS) the first week of June. My oldest grand was with me four of those five days, and the youngest for three. That was a hard week, because I had never taught VBS. I didn’t like VBS when I was a kid, because it always fell the week after school let out. I hated having to get up early for another week. My recent experience showed me two things: VBS still isn’t for me, but I like working with sixth-graders. 
As VBS ended, Daughter No. 2 and her husband joined us between closing on the house they sold and the one they were buying. The household was topsy-turvy during that week, but we did manage a trip to Spring Valley Water Park in Blountsville with the grands.
The third week of June I was supposed to be at a friend’s bay house in Elberta, near Gulf Shores, with both daughters and their families. Something came up, and Daughter No. 2 didn’t get to go, so I had to return early with Daughter No. 1. All was not lost, however, because we visited Bamahenge, dinosaurs and the Lady in the Lake at Barber’s Marina. I’ll save the details for another blog.
My brother, Gene, Aunt Lera & Me
During the middle of July, I flew to California to visit my brother and his family. I hadn’t seen them in almost three years. While there, my brother and I drove down to Sun City, near Menifee, to visit our dad’s last remaining sibling. Aunt Lera is 79, and I hadn’t seen her in nine years. She suffered a stroke a few years ago that rendered her left arm useless. She still has her wits about her, though.
Two days after returning from L.A., I did a site visit of three hotels that are under consideration as the host for the National Federation of Press Women’s 2017 communications conference in Birmingham. My conference co-director and I spent a night at the Sheraton downtown. After taking her back to Leeds, I came home, washed clothes and re-packed, then spent the next night with Daughter No. 2 and the grands before heading to Troy. That’s where I picked up my college roomy and BFF. We went to Tallahassee to visit mutual chums from college.
When I got home, I was bushed, to say the least. Now I’m trying to clear my slate so the grands can spend a few days with me before school starts. “Clearing my slate” is a euphemism for catching up on all the stuff that needs attending to, such as answering emails, writing this blog, spending an hour on the phone with Apple tech support, setting up doctor, veterinary and farrier appointments and planning a trip to Chattanooga with the grands for later this week. Whew!
        Like I said, it has been a busy summer, but it has given me much fodder for future blogs. Stay tuned.