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Archive for the ‘Marie’s Musings’ Category

In January, three of my sisters and I traveled to Djibouti where our sister Lorraine and her husband John live. If you got past the title (What’s a Djibouti?) you know it is a place. The next question, “Where in the world is Djibouti?”

Djibouti is a tiny country of fewer than one million people in the horn of Africa. The horn is that part of East Africa that juts out into the Arabian Sea and looks like a rhinoceros horn. Djibouti is about the size of New Jersey in area and is sandwiched among Eritrea on the north, Ethiopia on the west, and Somalia on the south. To the east is the Gulf of Aden and to the northeast is the Red Sea. Across the Bal el Mandeb (Strait of Aden), Yemen, on the Arabian Peninsula, points right at Djibouti.

See the “horn” just south of Djibouti?

Why would anyone go to Djibouti? A good reason is to visit family, if you’re lucky enough to have relatives there. Another reason is that Djibouti is an amazing place. In 2004, I spent three weeks there and fell in love with the country. However, my first impression, coming from a land of green forests, was that Djibouti is drab, ugly. The landscape was predominately brown and black, very little color and almost no vegetation. After all, it’s a desert.

Not a good first impression, it it?

It didn’t take long, however, for the dust to clear from my eyes and I could see the beauty of the desert, the blue seas, the volcanoes, and the breathtaking mountains. I looked forward to another visit.

This is much better..

Back then, Lorraine had three boys in school and a baby daughter, so she didn’t work outside the home. Most days were centered around domestic life, which in Djibouti is an adventure in itself. I accompanied Lorraine to the market and we visited her friends. Somali ladies invited us to a dinner of ethnic food and an Ethiopian friend showed us how she made injera, flatbread baked on a griddle like a pancake. Days that John didn’t have to work, we went sightseeing.

This time, with the boys grown and out of the house and Sadie at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, we got out and mingled more with the populace. I learned to appreciate the people of Djibouti. Getting to know its people is the best way to explore a country. It’s not easy when you don’t understand the language and few people speak English. Fortunately, Lorraine is fluent in several languages, including two of Djibouti’s official languages, French and Somali. (The other two are Afar and Arabian.)

Modern Djibouti

Djibouti is as old as Africa, but in modern terms it’s a very young country, having gained independence in 1977. In the distant past, the area we call Djibouti was part of ancient empires and sultanates. In the 1800’s, Europeans invaded most of the Middle East and Africa and carved out colonies without regard to cultures or tribal territories. I suspect that most of the unrest in this part of the world today could have been avoided if the Europeans had respected these boundaries and not split up ethnic groups into different political entities. But they didn’t ask me.

Djibouti is fortunate to have peace among its peoples. The southern part of the country is mostly Somali and speaks that language. The northern part is Afar, and there are also many Ethiopians who call Djibouti home. Because of the troubles in the surrounding countries, Djibouti is a haven for refugees. The civil war in Yemen has driven thousands to tiny Djibouti. Many of these live in a refugee camp in the northern part of the country, but others have settled in the city.

In a country that is mostly desert, what do people do for a living? Djibouti has a port, which is the major employer. Landlocked Ethiopia depends on this port for most of its imports and exports.

The Port

The next largest source of jobs is the military. Not Djibouti’s, although they have one. France, Italy, China, Japan, and the US all have military bases. I have no pictures of these bases. We were cautioned not to try to photograph them. The Chinese have more than a military presence here. They built a railway from the Djibouti city to Addis Abba, Ethiopia. At their railway station, we asked at the gate if we could take pictures and the guard said no. I don’t understand the reason for this. Do they think that little old ladies from America are in cahoots with terrorists?

We had a little excitement when John took us around town and drove by the American Embassy. Nita took a picture of it. Why not? It’s our embassy. Before we’d circled half the block, we were surrounded by police cars! It was forbidden to photograph the embassy. One officer demanded our cameras and deleted the offending pictures from Nita’s. I hadn’t taken a picture, but I let him see my camera anyway. The last photo I’d taken was of a garbage truck. I’ll never forget the puzzled look on his face.

American Embassy in Djibouti.

We didn’t take this picture. I found it on the internet. Go Figure!

Djibouti has another, very ancient industry, probably the only natural resource—salt. Lac Assal, the salt lake, is some 500 feet below sea level, the lowest point in Africa. The lake was formed by volcanic eruptions which cut off its outlet to the sea. The salinity is ten times that of the ocean and the salt is up to 200 feet deep. For centuries, the Afar people have mined this salt and exported it by caravans.

In 2004, when we visited Lac Assal, we innocently began to harvest salt. Several Afar men approached us. We didn’t speak Afar, but they spoke enough French for Lorraine to figure out why they were upset. They had the concession on the salt and wanted us to pay for what we were taking. Their price was negligible, so to keep the peace, we paid. Today, the Chinese have an arrangement with the Djibouti government to mine and export salt. For my part, I’d rather see the profit go to the Afars.

Chinese salt works

I’ve been amazed at the number of people who live in the desert. In the middle of nowhere, you’ll come across a herd of goats, and camels have free range. What do these animals eat? Thorn trees and other desert flora. Little else grows here.

Camel eating leaves of a thorn tree,

Stay tuned. In the following weeks, I’ll chronicle our adventures and misadventures in this fascinating country.

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Time was, the Christmas season began after Thanksgiving. Macy’s Parade signaled the beginning. The next day, Christmas decorations went up, people began to shop and send out cards, and I would start making fruitcake. We had a festive month, full of good cheer, leading to the most magical day of the year. Those were the good old days.

At some point came Christmas in July. At least it didn’t detract from the true season. Then, almost unnoticed, an insidious malady began to invade our lives. Stores started to put out Christmas items before Thanksgiving. Black Friday became a day, not just to shop, but to storm retail outlets like hordes of anarchists. (Does “Black” refer to bruises?)

In recent years, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to get into the Christmas spirit. Is it stress—gifts to buy and wrap, plans to make, goodies to bake, the flurry of so much to do? Or is it the darkness of days growing ever shorter? But it’s always been that way. What changed?

Year after year, the commercial Christmas season inches up the calendar. Stores began to put out their tinsel in mid-November, then earlier, and earlier. Unsold Halloween candy is whisked off the shelves, to be replaced with Christmas stuff overnight.

When I give magazine subscriptions as Christmas gifts, come February, I get notices that it’s time to renew. Really? Two months after I bought them? The notices stop for a while, then pick up again in early fall, week after week, bugging me to renew NOW.

Last year before Thanksgiving, employees at Walmart were wearing Santa caps and reindeer antlers! “Bah! Humbug!” I said to one.

“I agree,” he said. “But they make us wear them.”

This year came the coup d’état. BEFORE Halloween, red and green shared store shelves with orange and black. I beat a hasty retreat, preferring to do without than be accosted by a too-early Christmas.

I spent Thanksgiving in Arkansas. That morning, my mother and I watched the Macy’s Parade on TV, the first time I’d seen it in years. Back in the day, the floats, balloons, and marching bands were the focus of the broadcast, with announcers quietly telling the audience what we were watching. This time, celebrities hogged the camera, gossiping with each other, occasionally referring to the floats and balloons in the background. What a disappointment!

I got home in time for Hanukkah and lit candles every night, which was comforting, but the Christmas spirit continued to elude me. My Christmas cards stayed in the attic. I put up no decorations, baked no fruitcake. The magazines sent threatening notices. December crept by. I was turning into Scrooge.

Was I to be visited by three spirits? As if in answer, a distant memory from elementary school crept into my conscious mind. I had been cast as Tiny Tim in our Christmas play because I was the smallest child in the class. I tucked my hair up under my cap, leaned on a crutch, and delivered my one line, “God bless us, every one!”

Well, Christmas was coming whether I wanted it to or not. I half-heartedly began to make preparations.

With the Winter Solstice, I had an epiphany. The pressure to begin the Christmas season earlier and earlier each year had the effect of shutting down my enjoyment. I resisted getting the spirit too early. Once past Thanksgiving, my suppressed enthusiasm remained bottled up. Do the retailers realize what they do to people when they try to cram Christmas down our throats in October?

I needed a visit from the Spirit of Christmas Present. It came in the form of my Christmas cactus. Eleven months of the year, this plant fades into the background. All summer, it sits quietly outside in the shade, getting water when it rains, demanding nothing. All it asks of me is to bring it indoors when frost threatens. Suddenly, it burst into bloom!

The days grew longer and brighter. I came out of my hole. I made lists and went shopping. The Christmas displays no longer offended me. I renewed magazine subscriptions. Baking fruitcake for friends and relatives and cookies for my grandchildren further bolstered my mood. I started wearing my poinsettia earrings and tacky shirts decorated with bells and holly, and listening to holiday music. I put up a tree.

What about the Spirit of Christmas Future? I’ve made an early New Year’s resolution. Next year I won’t let the humbugs spoil Christmas for me. I’ll stroll through unseasonably decorated stores with an air of detachment. The day after Thanksgiving—you won’t find me at the mall!—I’ll be in my kitchen baking fruitcake.

In the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, every one!”

(If you want my fruitcake recipe, you’ll find it here.)

Merry Christmas!

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On my way to Arkansas for Thanksgiving, I drove through Albany, Georgia, which lay in the path Hurricane Michael had taken only a few weeks before. Although Albany is a hundred miles inland, I saw fallen trees, blue tarps on roofs, and mobile homes that had been destroyed. This is pecan country, and many orchards had lost trees, especially the more mature ones.

When I reached my brother’s home in Alabama, I told him what I’d observed. A pecan farmer himself, he was aware of the destruction. He said that some orchards were so badly damaged, they would not be replanted. Pecan trees take years to mature enough to be productive. Many of the farmers are up in age and have no heirs who are interested in farming.

I thought of the orange groves in Florida. At one time, Highway 27, which takes you through the middle of the peninsula, was a picturesque drive through mile after mile of orange groves. Then came the freeze of 1988 which brought arctic air down into tropical South Florida. Orange trees can’t take such temperatures. All that was left were hills covered with brown stumps. Most groves were not replanted. The scenic countryside was carved up into housing developments, acre after acre of concrete block, cookie cutter homes. I’m sure this brought instant wealth to the former grove owners, but the beautiful scenery had been spoiled. If the orange trees had been replanted, they would have been producing for many years by now.

Chipola River Park, November 2017

After Thanksgiving, I took a more southerly route home, following Route 20 through the forests of Florida’s panhandle. My first clue that I was approaching Michael’s wake was road crews cutting up and removing tree trunks alongside the road. Then I entered Bay County, which had been hit directly by the Category 4 storm.

I had seen pictures of Michael’s destruction: debris everywhere, houses leveled, people left homeless and destitute, but I didn’t take the coastal route to witness this for myself. For one thing, I was anxious to get home. For another, curiosity seekers only get in the way of recovery efforts. Twenty or so miles inland, there was more than enough for me to see.

Picnic area

 

 

Hurricanes being circular, their winds can come from any direction depending on where you are in relation to the eye. The west side of the storm is the worst. Winds up to 155 mph had slammed into the woodlands from the north, laying trees down in a southerly direction. Entire stands of forest were leveled, trees broken off or uprooted. I can only imagine the condition of the highway immediately after the storm. Weeks later it was still lined with piles of wood and branches, twisted pieces of metal roofing, mangled insulation, and other barely recognizable wreckage. How much time and effort went into clearing the roadway so help could come to survivors?

It was like this everywhere.

Some houses were damaged beyond hope. Many were roofed with blue tarps. A few homeowners had brought in sheds to use as temporary residences. Too many people had been displaced. They had nowhere else to go.

New home for Hurricane Michael victims.

As I approached the Chipola River, the destruction became personal. On the bank is a wayside park with a boat ramp. Whenever I travel this route, I stop to use the restroom and stretch my legs. I’ve walked along the river bank, taking pictures of flowers. In the wetland between the river and the picnic grounds, were ancient trees that I’ve photographed. The park is a friendly place where other travelers stop to rest and fishermen launch their boats. The last time I was there, a family with young children parked next to me after they pulled their boat out of the water.

Chipola River, November 2017

This time I hardly recognized the place. The formerly shady picnic grounds were buried beneath a tangle of ruined trees. The driveway and parking lot had been cleared enough for me to drive in, with caution, but I was the only visitor. The river was high, several feet above the boat ramp, and fishermen couldn’t put in, if indeed they had time to spare from repairing their homes. I couldn’t stroll along the river bank. Instead, I picked my way through the park, mourning the lost trees.

Boat ramp November 2018.

Millions of acres of forest in the Florida Panhandle were seriously damaged by Michael. The economic loss in timber alone is estimated at over a billion dollars. This doesn’t include the loss of jobs, property, and other considerations. Some stands were owned by individuals who were counting on the sale of their timber for retirement. What will they do now?

 

My Garden Club collects loose change at every meeting which we donate to Penny Pines, a project of National Garden Clubs and other organizations. Every $68 we collect is used to replant an area of National Forest that has been destroyed by fire, disease, or other catastrophe. It looks like we have our work cut out for us.

Several miles down the road, I crossed the Apalachicola River into Bristol. Along the way I’d seen signs telling survivors where they could obtain hurricane relief. When I saw crowds in the town’s parking lots, I thought at first that was what they were doing, but as I drove along, it became apparent something else was happening. Families lined the street as though waiting for a parade. A Christmas parade?

Two thoughts crossed my mind. I was glad to get through town before the street was closed. More important, I was touched to see these folks celebrating despite all they had suffered in the past two months. The human spirit is indomitable. Maybe I should have stayed to watch the parade.

Resurrection Fern survives–a sign of hope?

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Many years ago, when my oldest son moved to Raleigh, I began making frequent trips north to visit his family. On my first sojourn, somewhere in South Carolina, I noticed an expanse of roses to my left. It must be a plant nursery, I thought.

Then he relocated to West Virginia and my daughter moved to Virginia. Although I vary my itinerary, I often travel on US 301, which takes me to Orangeburg, SC, where the roses bloom. From there I can take 601 north to Virginia, or branch off onto another highway to other destinations.

I passed by those roses few times before I realized it was not a nursery but a garden, so I stopped to check it out. To my surprise, it was open to the public, with no gates and no admission fee. I pulled into the parking lot and crossed the street to smell the roses.

But there was much more. Wandering about, I found more parkland with ponds, shady acres with azaleas, and a boardwalk through wetlands by the Edisto River.

I had discovered Edisto Memorial Gardens in Orangeburg, SC.

My research tells me that this beautiful garden was once a dump. In the 1920’s, it was converted to a park, with azaleas, and later, roses.

When traveling, I’m always on the lookout for good, safe places to stop and stretch my legs. This has become one of my favorites. I rarely travel through South Carolina without stopping to smell the roses. Last year, this is where I went to watch my first Solar Eclipse, from the Rose Garden, of course.

As you turn off 301, at the entrance is the Veterans Memorial Park, honoring local veterans from every war since the American Revolution. Then you pass a beautiful fountain, also dedicated to veterans.

Veteran’s Fountain

I usually park in the shaded parking lot up on the hill and visit the Sensory Garden first. Then I walk through the log cabin which was the original park office. A few years ago I was dismayed to see the rustic building being replaced by a new one. I later learned that the original had caught fire and burned. I’m sure the people of Orangeburg were as devastated by this loss as I was, so they rebuilt it.

Restoration of Original Park Office

From there I descend to the shaded area with banks of azaleas. I haven’t visited when they’re in bloom. Beautiful in any season, they must put on quite a show in early spring.

The Rose Garden is the largest and most impressive I’ve ever seen. The city hosts a Festival of Roses in early May. The roses are at their best in spring and early summer, but something is blooming throughout the year. I can’t resist going from bed to bed, enjoying the scents, and taking more pictures than I can ever use.

Sculpture by Zan Wells

In the Rose Garden, a bronze child hands a flower to a lady. By one of the ponds, three bronze children fish and feed the ducks.

A half mile long boardwalk follows the Edisto River through the Horne Wetlands Park. Shady and peaceful, I’ve never encountered a mosquito problem there. The river is swift and dark. I’ve read that it’s the longest blackwater river in the world. Blackwater rivers flow through forested swamps or wetlands. The water is clear, but the color of tea, stained with tannins from decaying vegetation. These rivers have a certain charm and can be quite lovely.

Edisto River

Nearby is a butterfly garden and open lawns with ponds, one of which sports a fountain. There always seem to be ducks and other bird species which change with the seasons. You’ll find turtles in the waters.

Making Memories by Zan Wells

Depending on how much time I have, I may not walk the entire park, which is about 175 acres. Near the Original Park Office, there is a small Meditation Garden and the Angel Garden, a shrine to deceased children. Beyond that is a sunny area with a fountain, the Centennial Park.

Angel Garden

Although I seldom leave the Sunshine State in winter, I visited Raleigh one December, stopping by the Gardens, of course. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, the city offers an impressive display of Christmas lights, the Children’s Garden Christmas. I managed to be in Orangeburg after dark on that trip to enjoy the sight. Thousands of lights line the street through the park, with Santa and his elves, a train, a Nativity Scene, and many other things to delight children. The child in me was enchanted.

I stopped again this summer, as usual. This time, I walked by a date palm I hadn’t noticed before. What caught my eye was the ripe dates, so ripe they were falling from the tree. Apparently other people don’t know they’re edible. They’re delicious. I picked a bowlful to take with me.

Date Palm

Unfortunately, the boardwalk was closed and parts of lower areas were flooded. Mother Nature, usually kind to the Gardens, does not always spare them. Floods, frosts, and hurricanes have taken their toll in recent years. As a gardener, I also see signs of neglect. The Sensory Garden, designed for the blind, has a farm bell and water features for sound. Unfortunately, many of the scented plants have died and not been replaced. I have resisted the urge to pull weeds, as this is not my garden. Or is it? Would anyone object if I claimed temporary ownership when I stop to visit?

When Hurricane Florence threatened the Carolinas in September, I prayed that the Gardens would be protected. I watched the storm track veer a little farther north, where Florence spent most of her fury on other communities. And, I fear, on other gardens.

Then in October, Michael threw a left hook to the same battered states. He spawned three tornadoes in Orangeburg County, but they seem to have spared the Gardens. I can’t wait to get back to see for myself how well the Gardens weathered the storms.

My garden club is planning a city park on not quite so grand a scale. I’m taking lessons on the prospects and pitfalls of a public garden and Edisto has taught me much. Someday our local park may be a haven for weary travelers. I doubt we’ll have roses, at least not as many as Edisto has, but we’ll offer other pleasures to delight the senses.

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Three times within one week I heard this phrase, or a version of it. That was over a year ago. Since then, this message keeps parting the clouds of gloom and doom that hang over us these days. I can no longer ignore it.

The first time I heard it was in an interview with Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh, who made the first solo airplane flight from New York to Paris in 1927. A day or two after this interview, scientists announced the discovery of seven earth-like planets around a star only 40 light years away. Then at a solar energy meeting, the sentiment was repeated: this is a good time to be alive.

My father was a baby at the time of Lindbergh’s flight, but he didn’t escape the hero worship given to “Lucky Lindy.” To hear Dad talk, you’d think he personally witnessed the historic flight. His grandfather, my Grandad, was so inspired that when he sold a few building lots on the edge of his farm, he named the lane that led to them Lindberg Street.

Lindbergh’s plane

Charles Lindbergh’s flight was an attempt to claim the Orteig Prize. In 1919, Raymond Orteig offered a prize of $25,000 to the first person to make a successful solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Several aviators died in the attempt and Charles’ struggle to get financial backing was almost as difficult as the flight itself. In a world on the edge of economic collapse, teetering between two destructive world wars, Lindbergh’s flight was a bright spot in people’s lives.

Seventy five years later, Erik Lindbergh retraced his grandfather’s route, but in a modern plane with all the bells and whistles the Spirit of St. Louis lacked. He was also involved with the Ansari X Prize that awarded $10 million to the first non-governmental outfit to develop a manned, reusable spacecraft. In his interview, Erik discussed breakthrough technology in aviation, including electric and ecologically sustainable airplanes. He said it’s a good time to be alive. I was inspired.

The scientists discussing new exoplanets weren’t talking about manned flights to them, not anytime soon, but about the advances in telescopes and other technology that will lead to more exciting discoveries in the near future. They said it’s a good time to be alive.

I like to say I was born in the horse and buggy age and grew up in the space age. When I was a small child, my grandfather worked the farm with draft horses and I attended a one room schoolhouse. I remember when Grandpa bought his first tractor, a Massey Harris.

Massey Harris

I also remember when Sputnik was launched. Sputnik was Earth’s first artificial satellite, launched by the USSR in 1957. The reason I recall this historic event is because the adults in my life talked about it. They didn’t know what it meant. Was it a spy satellite? Could it drop bombs on us? I sensed their anxiety. It was a blow to the American ego that the Russians beat us into space. Sputnik launched the Space Race, and that shaped my childhood. The importance of science education was recognized and the US poured money into public schools.

Sputnik

The Russians also sent the first man into space, Yuri Gagarin, on April 12, 1961. Then a few weeks later, on May 5th, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. The Mercury Astronauts were my heroes. I followed their feats on radio and collected newspaper clippings.

I took a small transistor radio to school one day when a launch was scheduled. It was during social studies class. I tried to hide the radio and turned it on at low volume, but when the teacher noticed, instead of reprimanding me, he asked me to turn it up so everyone could hear.

In 1961, President Kennedy proposed landing a man on the moon by 1970, a tall order for a country just a few years from the horse and buggy age. If you go to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, look at those early space capsules. They are little more than oversize tin cans.

Can you imagine flying to the moon in this?

 

Then on July 20, 1969, I was glued to the TV to watch Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon. Months later, I shared the anxiety of our entire country when the Apollo 13 crew was not expected to make it back to Earth alive, but they did. Space Shuttle Columbia was launched the day I went into labor with my daughter. The midwife said I should name her Columbia, but I had another name picked out.

Last summer I had a conversation with a music student who was entering graduate school. His dream was to become a composer. I asked if he could make a living at that. Yes, and he told me about all the opportunities open to him, including writing for the movies. “For a composer,” he said, “it’s the best time to be alive.”

On my “To Read” list is Peter Brannen’s The Ends of the World. I heard him interviewed on the radio. The book is about the five major extinction events Earth has weathered in the past and how we may be facing a sixth. Who can find optimism in such gloom and doom? One statement he made stuck with me: “It’s an interesting time to be alive.” While Science may not have all the answers, new discoveries help us better understand our word and ourselves. He was optimistic that the more we learn, the more opportunity we’ll have to do the right thing.

When I heard a version of the message again within the past week, I failed to note the source, but it pops up so often, I can’t ignore it. If you listen to the news, it seems like we’re on the eve of destruction, but this is not necessarily so.

Trying to improve my health, I watch self-improvement webinars. These gurus acknowledge the ills that beset us: disease, poverty, hate, injustice, yet a common theme keeps coming through: we hold the keys to our own destiny. The darkness that threatens to overwhelm us is only the death throes of the old order. The seeds of a better future are quietly sprouting. We are nearing the dawn of a new age of compassion, cooperation, and love.

It’s a great time to be alive.

 

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You’d be surprised what interesting bits of history you stumble across when you’re trying to avoid the interstates. On one of my trips to Arkansas, traveling on US 84 in rural southwestern Alabama, I crested a hill and encountered a picturesque group of white clapboard buildings.

Masonic Lodge 3

The largest had a historical marker in front. I’d been driving for a while and it was time to stretch my legs, so I slowed down and looked for a good place to pull over. A couple of cars were parked across the road from the building and a small group of people were checking it out—fellow tourists. I parked beside them.

Masonic Lodge 2

I had come across the little town of Purdue Hill. The two story building that caught my eye was the Masonic Lodge, the “oldest building in Monroe County.” It was built in 1824 in nearby Claiborne and moved here sixty years later. Like many buildings in small communities at the time, it served more than one purpose. It was once the Monroe County Courthouse and also used as a town hall, school, and a Baptist Church. The Masons met on the second floor until 1919. Famous people connected with the building were William Barret Travis and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Masonic Lodge sign

Purdue Hill is located at the junction of US 84 and County Road 1. It boasts of a gas station and a post office, but it seems to have always been a modest community. According to the 1880 Census, it had a population of 110. Ten years later the number had risen to 282. That was the last census recorded. It probably has fewer people now.

The Masonic Lodge is listed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage. I walked around the building and peeked in the windows, but it wasn’t open, so I couldn’t go inside.

This website has pictures of the interior as well as additional information on the Lodge and Purdue Hill:

https://www.ruralswalabama.org/attraction/masonic-lodge-3-at-perdue-hill-al-built-1824/

William B. Travis is famous for dying at the Alamo with Davy Crockett. He was born in South Carolina in 1809 and his family moved to Alabama when he was eight. As a young man, he “read law” under a Claiborne attorney and practiced law in the courtroom of the Lodge. He was also a Mason. He taught in a local school and married one of his students in 1828.

Wm Travis Home

Next to the Lodge is a tidy little cottage in which the young couple lived. The house was originally built in Claiborne in the early 1820’s and moved to Purdue Hill in the 1980’s. In 1831, for reasons lost to history, William Travis left his wife and children and moved to Texas. There he practiced law and became involved in politics and, ultimately, the rebellion against Mexico, which cost him his life.

Travis home

You can read more about William Travis and his house at:

http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/travishome.html

Travis home sign

Lafayette was the French hero of the Revolutionary War, who convinced France to ally with the United States against England. In the 1820’s, he returned to the US on a tour of all the states. On April 6, 1825, among much fanfare, he gave a speech to the people of Claiborne at the Lodge.

Old school 4

I wandered around the grounds and looked at the other buildings. One appeared to have once been a schoolhouse with two classrooms, but I have been unable to find any information about it. Down the road is a charming little church, Purdue Hill Union Church which was built before the 1880’s. I don’t have any photos of it, but the church and the old store sit in their original locations.

Old store 6

The. W. S. Moore Store was built around 1875 as a doctor’s office, and presumably his home. In the 1920’s, it was enlarged and became a general store.

Outhouse

Behind the store is this outhouse.

Inside outhouse

After spending a pleasant time photographing the buildings and reading the information on them, I got back on the road and headed west.

Just down the hill I spied another historical sign and stopped. This was the site of the Purdue Hill Industrial School, which educated African American children from 1918 until it was closed in 1964. All that remains is an open field and the sign, which says the school grew from a one room schoolhouse with 11 students to a 12 room institution with 250. students and 10 teachers. It probably served all the black children in the area before integration.

Site of African Am school

I continued my journey and crossed the Alabama River. I must have passed through Claiborne, which is on the map, but I don’t remember seeing a town. I wondered why the Lodge and the Travis house, two historically significant buildings, had been moved to Purdue Hill. And what about Claiborne itself? After researching it, I learned that Claiborne is a ghost town.

Ghost town? My kind of place! Ft. Claiborne was established in 1816 during the Creek War. Afterward, it grew into a bustling frontier community. It was situated on the Federal Road and was served by steamboats and a ferry on the Alabama River. When General Lafayette visited and gave his speech at the courthouse, the town had 2500 inhabitants. Later it doubled in size and became the first county seat of Monroe County. The county seat was moved to Monroeville in 1832. Later, outbreaks of yellow fever and cholera began the town’s demise. During the Civil War, it was occupied by Federal troops and looted. By 1872, population dwindled to 350. When bypassed by the railroad, its fate was sealed. The historical buildings were moved to Purdue Hill to preserve them.

According to my research, all that remains of Claiborne is one antebellum home built in 1835, three historical cemeteries, and historical markers. This summer, I plan to visit Purdue Hill again and locate Claiborne. Ghost towns can be fun.

 

 

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Here is a little window into the past, a window somewhat cracked and smudged and incomplete.

In August, 1946, about a month after burying his second wife, Grandad put an ad in the newspaper for a housekeeper. I don’t know the exact wording of the ad, but it must have gone something like this: “Housekeeper wanted, must not smoke or drink. Must be able to play piano.” Perhaps other qualifications included good looks and being able to drive a car.  A number of ladies answered the ad and Grandad saved their letters. Why? Did he regard them as love notes from admirers? Somehow these letters survived the years.

This portrait of Grandad was sketched by an itinerant artist during the Depression.

Grandad was 72 and in good health. He still worked his farm and chopped his own wood. He lived to be 97. But based on housekeeping skills I observed when I knew him, the place was probably a mess by the time he placed the ad.

All the envelopes were addressed to Box R-112, Binghamton Press. Was that common practice then or was Grandad being cautious, afraid of gold diggers? He was not a wealthy man, but he lived in a beautiful Victorian house complete with a seldom used parlor that contained a piano and had gingerbread trim in the gables.

What amazes me is that respectable ladies would put themselves in possible harm’s way, willing to go unaccompanied to the home of a man they knew nothing about. In those days, most women were homemakers and had few marketable skills. Once widowed, unless their husbands left them a comfortable sum, they were dependent on the generosity of relatives. The women who answered the ad were in their 40’s and 50’s, not old enough to collect Social Security. A position as a housekeeper would keep starvation at bay.

(Mrs.) Vina Capron of Brooklyn, Pa. wrote, “Dear Sir: I saw your ad in tonight’s Press for a housekeeper and I am writing to apply for the position. I am a widow, 50 years old. Can play a piano and sing.” She gave the location of her home and her phone number.

Mrs. A. Smith “Saw your ad in last night’s Press. I am a widow, neat, nice looking, play the piano and am a good cook. If interested, I’m at 37 Warren St. up stair apartment. I neither smoke nor drink and can drive a car.”

Mable Walker of Endicott, NY wrote, “I do not drink nor smoke. I play piano some. I also play second for a violin. Would like to know more about the job.” She gave her contact information. “I am a middle aged lady… P.S. I have done housework all my life. You can come here, better phone first.” Did she audition for Grandad on the violin? He was musically inclined. I don’t know if he played piano, but he played the fiddle.

Frances Erekson said, “I do not chew, smoke or drink. But I can play piano. I have since I was four years old… I have a son 19 over sea and a daughter 25… I am looking for a place, either rooms or something similar to your add. I am white and American…49 years of age.” Whether a room was part of the deal or not, I don’t know. Some of these women lived near enough to commute to the job, if they had a car.

Mrs. Lena Fleming’s stationery had a bouquet of flowers in the upper left corner. She wrote, “I am a widow forty-two years of age and don’t smoke or drink as I don’t approve of it. Am a member of the M.E. Church. Am fairly good looking and have a nice personality. Cannot play the piano but would be willing to learn.”

Letter from Lena Fleming

Blanche Page “read your add. It attracted my attention. No smoking or drinking. Maybe no drinking on your part.” (She sounds a little suspicious.) “I used to play the Piano, but haven’t had much time for it lately.” She gave her address and phone number but “If by chance you would like to talk things over, I could meet you at the Y.W.C.A… Due to conditions I hardly know what I want to do myself. I am a widow. Have a home… Can you drive a car? Well, I can if it will go. My troubles are when it won’t go.”

A lady who didn’t give her name wrote, “Although I do not pay piano except some by ear, I do not smoke, drink or swear. Am a refined widow and can cook and keep house. If you are at all interested and care to make an appointment for an interview, you may reach me by phoning any day after 3 P.M. Simply ask for the lady who answered your ad. At that time we can exchange names etc.”

These women had nice, clear handwriting. Not so Mrs. Nellie Bailey. Hers was difficult to decipher. “I now endeavor to write to you to see if you have a lady yet as I wish to get a place like yours… I have cooked in hospitals and I played organ in my church so I can play piano. I want a pleasant home and I can give best of references. I am not to loving and I can cook and I like to dress and I don’t drink or smoke. Some prefer loving girls. And now days they like to have a good time. And some don’t no how to cook or bake. Parents don’t to live right of late years.” Nellie was willing to go to his house to meet him and asked, “Have you a car?”

Despite her poor handwriting and grammar, she got the job. How did Grandad make his decision? Did he turn down the other women or were they deterred by his messy house? Was Nellie more “loving” than she advertised? When and why did their arrangement end? Grandad had a third marriage that ended in divorce. Later, Nellie showed up again as his housekeeper. They made a cute couple, sitting on the porch or walking down the road holding hands.

 

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