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Noccalula Falls

Noccalula Falls

We spend the Easter Triduum at Noccalula Falls Park and campground, a wonderful city park.  The campground is adjacent to the falls and has great hiking trails.  Aside from it being a beautiful spot, we’re here because of the St. James Church mass schedule, which is a short drive from the campsite.  We’re able to go to an evening Good Friday Mass on Friday night  (with one of the most inspiring homilies ever) and a Saturday Easter Vigil Mass which held us rapt, even though it lasted almost 3 hours the next day.  Both nights we ate at the Fish Market restaurant on the Coosa River beforehand, a smaller meal on Friday, of course ; ) which may have contributed a bit to our magnanimous mood.

Indian maiden, Noccalula, leaping to her death at Noccalula Falls

Indian maiden, Noccalula, leaping to her death at Noccalula Falls

Besides the hiking trails, there’s a city park next door to the campground, where we take a train ride and explore a historic village.

Noccalula Park historic buildings

Noccalula Park historic buildings

Easter Sunday starts with a call from Chris and Emily – a wonderful way to start the day.  But, the rest of the day looks like rain, so we decide to spend it driving towards our next destination.  We do a utilitarian stay at the Sweetwater Valley KOA, with a concrete slab so that Dick can check on our macerator , which has become slow and finicky on this trip.  All’s still well.

We make a minor effort to find a restaurant  for Easter dinner, then settle for a delicious “home-cooked” Stouffer’s lasagna.  And count our blessings.

Burritt Mansion

Burritt Mansion

Descending from Monte Sano State Park, we stop at Burritt on the Mountain, where we tour the mansion of Dr. Burritt, an inventive and unusual doctor of homeopathic medicine, who married a patient, 20 years his senior. She reportedly told him that if he married her, he’d never have to work again.  Ask for the audio guide at the entrance to the mansion, they’re not always offered, but they’re free and add a lot of history to the self-guided tour. There’s also a small folk park, with homes and buildings depicting farm life in rural Alabama in the 19th century.  It was simultaneously being used as children’s nursery rhyme adventure when we were there, which was a bit jarring in terms of time travel – and noise and activity level. But some, like this drowsy pig, seemed not to mind. I’m referring to the picture.IMG_1728

Our destination for the night is Lake Guntersville State Park.  We hadn’t realized it when we’d made reservations, but they were hit by a devastating tornado in 2011.  The whole campground was pretty much ripped apart. It’s really sad, but a miracle that no one was killed. We’re grateful to have a campsite, no matter what, and even more grateful when we hear we can get a ride up to the lodge and restaurant for dinner!

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The maintenance man, our driver, takes us on a tour of the hotel/cabin facilities after dinner.  Amazingly, we still have energy for our first and only fire on this trip when we get back.  No hot dogs or s’mores yet on this trip yet – another first.  Brrrrrrrr.

Huntsville, AL

We’ve stayed at Monte Sano State Park before.  We get the same site (I look up an older blog post where I was pretty intrigued with the peeper frogs here at our site, #19).  But it’s so coooold here (we’ve run our heater every night on this southern spring trip) we don’t get the big symphonic chorus again.

Alabama Constitution Village

Alabama Constitution Village

But we do have a really beautiful, almost warm day to tour the Alabama Constitution Village in downtown Huntsville the next day. It’s in a lovely area of historic homes, and the Navion slides nicely into a regular metered parking space right in front.  We’re glad of its nearness, as we slip back for additional coats and sweaters, and some cheese and crackers – which allows us to pay closer attention to the costumed interpreters. Everyone learns better when not hungry or cold.  Jaded living history museum visitors that we are, we enjoy it all and pick up a couple of new things.  We’ve never seen an “Ugly Jar” before – a jar/jug with an ugly face used to warn children, really anyone, that something bad was in there, like poison or alcohol. The other thing we’d never seen was a pair of andirons, shaped like snakes, which when a fire was lit in the fireplace would look really scary to children and keep them back from the fire, and being burned.

We got a combination ticket to the Depot Museum, where we tour briefly – they’re closing in half an hour, then sit in their scenic parking lot to use internet and plan the next few days, before heading back to our non-tech campsite.

Depot Museum

Depot Museum

Rattlesnake Saloon, AL

Rattlesnake Saloon, AL

We stay here longer than expected.  It’s a really nice local park and campground,  it’s raining and Dick has some programming to do.  There are pretty walks along the Tennessee River, with a beautiful marina (and restaurant that will open soon after we leave) and things to see nearby.  Plus, we meet a local couple who give us restaurant recommendations!  I remember the three  restaurants with three R’s:  Ricatoni’s Italian Grill, Rattlesnake Saloon, and Rosie’s.  (We remember the couple who recommend these because they said they sold their last motorhome to Denzel Washington, their previous one to the Backstreet Boys.)  So, our first night in town we go to Ricatoni’s and have an absolutely outstanding shrimp dish. We think that if this in any indication of the local restaurants, we need to stay longer.  The next day, after touring the Helen Keller site (written about in previous post), we go to a Palm Sunday Mass, where the priest interrupts the Palm Sunday reading underway and insists on reading the Good Friday reading in our booklet.  Afterwards, we decide we should head to the Rattlesnake Saloon, about a 20 minute drive into the hills from Tuscumbia.  It’s definitely an experience!  We park in a big upper parking lot (RV’s can stay here with hook-ups, but we’re glad we’re not – it’s raining, muddy and crowded) and climb into the back of a pick-up truck for a steep, scary, careening ride down a narrow dirt (muddy!) road to a restaurant/bar/music venue in a cave below.

The next night we head back to Ricatoni’s – but their power’s been off for the two hours previous to opening.  The dinner still is great, but not quite as fabulous as the first time, for obvious reasons.

We do Rosie’s the 3rd night (so-so), and don’t need to stay here any longer.  We’re out of restaurants, it’s stopped raining for a bit – we’re off!

Out my "bedroom window"

Out my “bedroom window” McFarland campsite

Cottage next door to Main House

Cottage next door to Main House, where Helen was born

This is truly an inspiring visit for me.  When I was a little girl, my parents gave me a set of biographies.  The first biography I ever read was Helen Keller’s.  I can remember being enthralled by the story of this other  little girl, who had lost her sight and hearing at 19 months, and lived in a world of darkness.  Then a teacher, Annie Sullivan, came along and turned this little girl’s comfortable world upside-down and led her, kicking and screaming, towards the light of learning and understanding. Helen Keller would go on to graduate cum laude from Radcliffe,  contribute to many causes and be recognized as a brilliant pioneer.  But I always think of the pump, and the cold water pouring over her hand, and the letters for water being spelled on her palm, until – the miracle happens.  Water is a thing, it can be named and spelled.  What a torrent of words follows!  It’s a total thrill to stand next to the pump and think about that.

The Pump at Helen Keller's Birthplace,  "Water"

The Pump at Helen Keller’s Birthplace, “Water”

Tantrum Dining Room

Tantrum Dining Room

I also love seeing the dining room, which I remember more from the movie/play, The Miracle Worker,  than the book. The battle happened in this room.  It looks to me like all the napkins are folded neatly. : )

Other fun things to see here?  The key that Helen used to lock Annie in her bedroom and then hid –   and much more – in the “museum room” of the Main House.

Sheriff Buford Pusser's Home and Museum

Sheriff Buford Pusser’s Home and Museum

I’ve tried to talk Dick into visiting this site on several previous trips, but this time we’re staying close by, at Pickwick Landing State Park- so it’s now or never.  I have to admit being silly about it.  I say the name, Buford Pusser, and I usually wind up giggling hysterically.  I feel guilty about that – I know he was one tough, stick-wielding sheriff who took on the Dixie Mafia and the state-line mob,  that there’s a movie, Walking Tall, based on his life (and many not-so-accurate sequels). I know he’s someone to take seriously.

The brochure we’d picked up tells us he was Sheriff of McNairy County, that he was shot eight times, knifed seven times, killed two people, that his wife was shot and killed in an assassination ambush when she went with him on a disturbance call,  and so much more.  But, frankly, we have no idea of what to expect when we pull up here.

What we get, after sitting on a couch for a video presentation on the TV in the living room,  is a personal tour, with a nice older woman who went to school with Buford.  We’re alone with her in the house, which is filled with original furnishings, photographs, newspaper articles and mementos, so we can ask any questions we can come up with, and she tells us all about what happened here from her local vantage point.   She shows us where Elvis came in through a side door and sat in a bedroom, not wanting to cause a commotion at Buford’s funeral, which was attended by many big country music stars.  She shows us the funeral guest book and Tami Wynette’s guitar flower arrangement.  She tells us that when Buford’s jaw was shot off in the incident that killed his wife,  he had to have 16 reconstructive surgeries and couldn’t eat solid food for three years – this for a man who stood 6’6″, and weighed 250 pounds.  She’s suspicious about the circumstances surrounding his death in a fiery car crash the day he announced, at a press conference in Memphis, that he had agreed to play himself in a new movie, “Buford” for $2 million.  We see the burned out wreck of his modified Corvette in the downstairs garage.

Later that evening, we want to stage a little Buford Pusser scene of our own.  We had a really beautiful, private campsite in Pickwick Landing State Park and we’re planning on having a big fire, champagne and anniversary gift exchange after a nice dinner at the park’s  restaurant overlooking the water.  The campsite is paid for, our Campsite Occupied sign is by our post, but we return to find somebody’s set up a pop-up camper and taken over our site. The campground host knocks on their door, but no one’s there.  So we have to find another site in the dark, which isn’t so easy because many of them aren’t level and we don’t want to have to put out blocks.  Plus, we’ve lost our lovely setting and our firewood.  Stick-wielding is out, but we do think about leaving them a note.  The next morning as we leave, we decide to just leave justice in the hands of the campground “sheriff”.

Shiloh and Corinth

Shiloh Battlefield

Shiloh Battlefield

We visit Shiloh National Military Park, while staying at nearby Pickwick Landing State Park.  I don’t want to blog about Civil War Sites anymore.  They’re too painful to contemplate, and I can’t do any of it justice.  There’s been enough written about each of them, eloquently, by historians and others.  I think I’ve written posts in years past, somewhere in the jumble of this blog, where the heartache was fresh and I felt like I was learning something new at each battlefield.  Now, it just feels so old and so sad.

So I’m happy to see a new story at the Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, a branch of the Shiloh National Military Park in Mississippi. Along with the wartime suffering and death endured here, an amazing community was born, the Corinth Contraband Camp.  When the Federal forces occupied Corinth after May of 1862, many enslaved African Americans (first called, incredibly, “contraband of war”)  fled plantations and farms and came to Corinth for protection behind Union lines.  Here, over 1000 African American children and adults  learned how to read!  They built homes, a church, school and hospital.   Freedmen started a progressive cooperative farm program and sold cotton and vegetables at a healthy profit. What started as a tent city grew into a thriving community.  It’s exciting to think about the new lives and identities that were started here.

One more happy note about the Shiloh battlefields. A few years back a pair of American Eagles, named Hiram and Julia after General Grant and his wife (I have to google it –  U.S. Grant’s first name was Hiram, but he evidently didn’t want to go to West Point with the initials H.U.G) started nesting in a tree in a very visible part of the park.  Since then, they’ve returned each year to raise a pair of young eaglets.  We saw the huge nest and lots of photographers.  I thank them for the posted pictures.

Dinner's on the way

Dinner’s on the way

Photographers at the Shiloh Battlefield Nest

Photographers at the Shiloh Battlefield Nest