Overheard, out and about, Mrs. Grundy sees all, tells all

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 14, 2012

Peeping through my Venetian blind, I caught a glimpse of Miss Cora, heading this way from Covington Hall with a pan of figs. We have been canning fig preserves this week. Don’t you love some on a hot, buttered biscuit?

Tomorrow, July 15th, is St. Swithin’s Day. The belief is that if rains fall on St. Swithin’s Day, there will be rainy weather for 40 more days; if not, there will be dry weather for 40 days. I hope it rains! There really was a St. Swithin. I have stood at his grave outside the doors to Wincester Cathedral in England.

The Portly Gentleman attended the annual meeting (called a reunion) of the Alabama Sons of Confederate Veterans June 8-10 at Guntersville State Park. I asked him to tell about his trip.

“Heading up 65 toward Birmingham, I passed some familiar landmarks – the little water wheel, the big wheel with a cut-out of the devil, warning motorists to go to church or he would get them, the large Confederate flag, Durbin’s market at Clanton, and the water tower that looks like a peach.

“Near Birmingham I took 459, then 431, passing through Attalla, Boaz and Albertville, on to Lake Guntersville, an area of North Alabama known as Sand Mountain, which in turn is known for its tomatoes.

“I had first heard of Sand Mountain from Ed Ables, a preacher-boy on my hall (we nicknamed our hall Casanova’s Corner) in the men’s dormitory at Howard College (now Samford University). He thought there was no place in the world like Sand Mountain; so do most folks from there.

“I found myself on a winding road with stone cliffs to my right and Lake Guntersville to my left. I soon came to the park entrance, a modern one made of stone.

“Lake Guntersville, known for its bass fishing, is the largest lake in Alabama, one of several created when the Tennessee Valley Authority built dams along the Tennessee River in the l930s.

“The park, located at the southern tip of the Tennessee River, features a golf course (take note, Frank Moore), cottages, chalets, a lodge, beach, lake, fishing, pool, hiking, picnicking, and camping. The lodge and entire park are large and impressive.

“The lodge itself, reopened in 1974, sits on Taylor Mountain, overlooking expansive Lake Guntersville, with a grand and splendid view of lake and mountains.

“The lodge is an extended A-frame with large lobbies, meeting rooms, a gift shop, more than 100 rooms, with accents of wood and stone, a stuffed peacock with a fanned tail, stuffed bobcat, fox, and turkey, a dining room, shingled roof, three terraces (one with a pool), plush lounge chairs, tables and paintings.

“My room was modern, airy, and comfortable with a private balcony with two chairs and a table between them. The colors of the room were those of autumn, and the style of furniture was mission. I enjoyed a vista of the lake and woods beyond, a sweeping and inspiring view. This was my first time at Lake Guntersville State Park, and I was impressed with its size and beauty. I didn’t know that Alabama had such mountainous views.

“After a walk-about to learn what-was-what, I took an early dinner in the Pinecrest Dining Room. My table for two was by a wall of glass and overlooked the lake and mountains. It turned out that I would eat each meal in the dining room at that same table.

“This first night I enjoyed the salad bar, soup, yeast rolls, a sirloin, rice pilaf, California veggies, pecan pie and coffee.

“The 18 tornadoes that swept across Sand Mountain in Alabama during April a year ago damaged this park, both its natural beauty and buildings. For example, from one of the terraces on the back of the lodge one can see clearings below in the camping area, caused by the tornadoes. The clearings are like scars on the landscape, but most of the downed woods have been removed.

“As I watched TV that first night, I came upon a channel called Calhoun Education TV, which was replaying the commencement exercises of the Calhoun Community College. Presiding was the president of the college, Dr. Marilyn Beck, formerly of Andalusia.

“In a telephone call that night to my friend, Dan Shehan, I learned that excerpts from his musical version of Little Women, written during America’s Bicentennial and presented in Andalusia, were now in two parts on YouTube.

“The next morning I ordered breakfast in the Pinecrest Dining Room.

“In a conversation with a Mr. George McKelvey from Pennsylvania, a descendant of General George Custer and a kinsman to the McKelveys in Montgomery. I asked him about Melissa McKelvey, the girl with blonde hair and blue eyes on whom I had a crush in the seventh grade. He said he didn’t know her but that the McKelveys were known for their blonde hair and blue eyes.

“At lunch – at the same table – I was eating a club sandwich when, lo and behold, here came into the Pinecrest none other than Sir Francis McGowin, the commander of the SCV ‘camp’ in Andalusia and the only other person from Andalusia to attend the state “reunion.”

“I invited him to sit with me, of course; and I learned that he had driven up that morning.

“Sir Francis and I registered after lunch. I think everybody at the convention both knew and liked Sir Francis.

“It wasn’t long before supper. Sir Francis and I – yes, at the same table as before – enjoyed the Friday-night, seafood buffet. After supper Sir Francis went on to the state commander’s reception, and I retired for the night.

“Saturday morning, Sir Francis and I, at THE table, partook of breakfast. A breakfast buffet is offered over the weekend.

“We both dressed up with our coats and ties and medals. That’s the ‘norm’ for a state reunion. One may buy a reunion medal to wear that features the state reunion date and location.

“Sir Francis and I attended SCV business meetings in the Grand Ballroom of the lodge until 3 p.m. We also had a lunch buffet therein, featuring barbecue, fruit, and some of the best potato salad I’ve ever eaten.

“Sir Francis and I sat at the table with three others from the Southeast Brigade, our area of the Alabama SCV, the next rung up the ladder from a local camp. The three were Joe Clark, elected commander of our brigade for the third time (two-year terms); Daniel Larson, who played an extra in the movies, Gods and Generals and Gettysburg; and Mack Lott, elected lieutenant commander for our brigade; all from Coffee County.

“The camps (local groups) in our brigade are those in Dothan, Troy, Eufaula, Enterprise and Andalusia, which is the largest camp in the brigade.

“The agenda for the day included singing “Dixie,” led by Cecil Fayard, a past chaplain, on ‘the big screen;’ greetings and introductions, during which one person spoke of the setting as the ‘most beautiful view in Alabama’; reports; speeches by candidates for national offices; and election of state and brigade officers. Gary Carlyle of Pisgah was elected state commander and gave a rousing speech.

“During a break I bought two books from the state chaplain, Dr. Charles Baker, who sells books about the Old South, The Coming of the Glory and Truths of History. I also ran into Donald Kennedy, the featured speaker, who, with his twin brother, Ronald, wrote The South Was Right.

“Next I attended a memorial service in which Dr. Baker spoke. A bell was rung for each member of the Alabama SCV who had died since the last reunion.

“I like Dr. Baker; he looks like the Old South.

“Others I ran into were Mike Williams, whom I taught in the eighth grade, his last year at the Andalusia High School; Philip Davis of Montgomery; and Leonard Wilson, past commander of the Alabama SCV for four years.

“Mike attended A.H.S. for four years, but transferred to Straughn after the eighth grade, finishing there in 1974.

“That night I sat with Sir Francis and Joe Clark in the Grand Ballroom for the awards banquet, speaker, and ball.

“Donald Kennedy, author of The South Was Right, spoke on nullification, the action of a state to prevent the operation and enforcement of a law of the Federal government within the state’s territory. (This attitude led to a fight over who would have the final say-so, the federal government or the states. This fight led to the War Between the States.)

“Every man at my table was a Marine. Each talked enthusiastically of his exploits. I kept quiet. After a pause, they all looked at me and waited. Meekly I said, ‘I was a snowflake in a play once.’

“Sunday morning I took my last breakfast at ‘my’ table, before checking out. It was my sixth time at the same table. The dining room was filled with a group, participating in Upward Bound. I looked for Sir Francis; then, assumed he had already started for home.”

Thank you, Portly Gentleman; I’ll look forward to what happened later that Sunday at Gorham’s Bluff and what Ann Cushing has to do with the story and the surprise guests.

The celebration of the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens, greatest of English novelists, continues. There are quite a few people in Covington County who would have made pronounced characters in his novels.

The celebration of the 100th birthday of the movie cowboy, Roy Rogers, born Nov. 5, continues.

The celebration of the 200th anniversary of the War of l8l2 continues.

Again, I ask that each citizen of Andalusia join the Covington Historical Society and pay its annual dues of $25 so as to help preserve the history of our county, whether you attend meetings or not. Mail to CHS, P.O. Box 1582, Andalusia, AL 36420.

To commemorate the Sesquicentennial of the War Between the States, let us return to this week 150 years ago.

Confederate Gen. John Morgan continued to make successful raids against the Federals in Kentucky. President Lincoln promoted Gen. Henry Halleck to general-in-chief. Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest defeated Federal troops at Murfreesboro, Tenn. Lincoln asked Congress to compensate any state that abolished slavery. Some 20 border states refused. Congress created West Virginia out of a section of Virginia that had seceded from Virginia (to me this seems as though the Federal government were approving secession). Union Gen. John Pope threatened civilians in the Shenandoah Valley to cooperate with Northern troops or else.

Remember to buy the four Sesquicentennial stamps and the one of Mark Twain.

Congratulations to Roger Powell for identifying the mysterian, Miss Bobbie McCommons. The new mysterian is a couple from Valdosta, Ga., doing missionary work.

Recent birthdays are those of George M. Cohan, songwriter who composed “Over There” and “ You’re a Grand, Ol’ Flag”; Nathaniel Hawthorne, American novelist of The Scarlet Letter; Stephen Collins Foster, American songwriter of “Beautiful Dreamer”; Calvin Coolidge, 30th president of the U.S.; Phineas Taylor Barnum, American circus king; John Paul Jones, American naval hero; James Whistler, American painter; John Quincy Adams, 6th president of the U.S. (his dad was John Adams, 2nd president of the U.S.; they beat the Bushes to this father-son distinction); Julius Caesar, Roman dictator (for whom this month is named); and Henry David Thoreau, American author of Walden.

William Jennings Bryan, once a candidate for president, made his “Cross of Gold” speech July 9.

The Panama Canal opened July 12.

Now, gentle reader, allow me to encourage each of us to be in his place of worship this weekend, Lord willing.

Fare thee well.