ROCKET CITY – A three day car trip to Montgomery (Alabama) to see Marvin’s family, soon morphed into a voyage of discovery and adventure to northern Alabama, utilizing military accommodation where possible. Although Alabama is Marvin’s “home state,” he grew up in the southern part and had not explored the northern (Tennessee Valley) area.
First stop was a visit to a long-time Air Force friend and his family who retired to beautiful Lake Wheeler, outside Athens (Alabama), close to Huntsville. Athens is a perfect small town – full of Southern grace, charm, beauty and very friendly locals.
Next stop—Huntsville, where German rocket scientists (including Wernher von Braun) after World War II led America’s team to the moon and beyond. An all-day visit to the US Space & Rocket Center there filled us with awe. It seemed that everyone around us was a rocket scientist and the area continues to be closely tied to the aerospace industry. Not surprisingly, Huntsville boasts a number of excellent German restaurants and we dined at one such establishment. Three nights at the US Army’s Redstone Arsenal IHG Army Hotel (now run by Holiday Inns) was an excellent choice—quite economical, very comfortable, and close to all the sights in Huntsville.
After Huntsville, we headed west to the Quad Cities (Tuscumbia, Sheffield, Muscle Shoals and Florence). The primary reason for our trip to northern Alabama was to visit Ivy Green, the birthplace and childhood home of Helen Keller in Tuscumbia. In preparation for this, before we left home, we watched two versions of the movie, The Miracle Worker—the original black and white version, and a more recent Disney color version. We borrowed both of these DVDs from our local library. The story is about the remarkable Annie Sullivan, the “miracle worker” teacher of the blind and deaf Helen Keller.
Because we arrived at the museum early in the morning, we enjoyed an extensive private tour of the home displays and grounds. It was incredibly inspirational because we who see and hear have not achieved all that the extraordinary Helen Keller did.
By chance, a day before we left home, we saw a documentary (on PBS) on Muscle Shoals’ extraordinary music and recording history. The “Shoals Area” is home to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, a showcase to the state’s influence on music by performers from Alabama such as Nat King Cole, Hank Williams, Lionel Richie and, of course, the group Alabama. This visit also led us to nearby FAME Studios, an inconspicuous building (still a working studio) where numerous “greats” such as the Rolling Stones, Little Richard, Cher and Aretha Franklin recorded multi-million selling gold record hits. Who knew? We didn’t!
Continuing our “music journey,” we stopped at the W.C. Handy Birthplace & Museum in Florence, where the Father of the Blues (W.C. Handy composed “St. Louis Blues” and inspired Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”) was born. How exciting to see his original trumpet there. All truly inspirational.
Another gem of the Quad Cities in Florence was the Rosenbaum House, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, with its most unusual architecture and furniture. This was certainly not a house built for comfort and when the Rosenbaums wanted to alter the plans, the architect refused!
Our last visit in the area was a little known, but extraordinary, “attraction.” Outside Florence, in the country near the Natchez Trace, is the Tom Hendrix Wall. This 35 year labor of love is actually a network of over nine million pounds of stones, hand laid into walls, over one mile long, built by Tom as a memorial to his great-great grandmother. An American Indian, she was forced by the US Army to move to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears (Indian Relocation Act of 1830) but escaped and made the 700+ mile journey (in five years) back to her Alabama home. This is what we find when “looking just around the corner”.
Our northern Alabama odyssey completed, we headed south to Montgomery for a family visit. Again, we “Traveled on less per day…the military way” by staying at the University Inn on Maxwell AFB for a couple of nights.
A huge change has come to Montgomery as the result of its new Hyundai factory and now there is a very large Korean community there with Korean restaurants and other businesses. We talked Marvin’s aunt (who had never tried Korean food) into going to a wonderful restaurant and we all loved it! A fitting end to our Alabama trip.
After being in the car all day, we returned home to Jacksonville. We enjoyed both a fascinating voyage of discovery and quality time with dear family and friends.
We have a Shutterfly slideshow for those who are interested in seeing our pictures. Many thanks for “coming along.”
Col. Marvin Feldman, USAF (ret)
and Carole Feldman
Reprint from Mar–Apr 2015 • Volume 45, No. 2