I make a bit of fun at my Southern family, but the truth is, I love the south. I love the BBQ and the small town atmosphere. I even like that there isn’t as much choice (I shop at Aldi, after all) in what you can buy. Too much choice can be paralyzing. Most of all, I love the geography. This is a love I rediscovered while visiting for my grandmothers funeral.
My brothers fall roughly into the medieval mindset. One for the church and one for trade. My oldest brother is a Catholic priest, the next is a bigwig for another large company. My twin has autism and does charity work. The two older brothers, the seconds girlfriend and I crammed into the priestmobile and sped our way down to Alabama. We are in Illinois and this is roughly a ten-hour drive, but the trip down took longer as we took a detour through every small town in southern Illinois.
We passed Super Jesus — In Effingham there is a giant Cross, billed as the worlds largest. Ever since a road trip with friends before college, it has been the Super Jesus cross. Each of these small towns has at least three elements as far as I can tell; a dairy queen, a post office and State Farm. I felt proud of my workplace, let me tell you. We are saturated.
Southern Illinois is where Geography starts. Illinois isn’t just flat, it allows potholes so that there’s something to break it up. But as we moved through Kentucky and Tennessee (and Nashville, where road planning goes to die) the hills and features really pick up. The corn winds down and things just get pretty.
I did some “moving” meditation in the car since it is difficult to ground yourself when you are going 70 mph. Just lightly enough to keep myself from throwing things at my brothers.
Northern Alabama is beautiful. It rests at the bare edges of the Appalachians, so the foothills abound, creating rolling roads and views totally outside of the midwest experience. We reached Cullman, the sundown town where my family is from. Sundown towns refer to areas where, let’s just say, if you ain’t white you should leave. I never realized just how anti-diverse of a place this is until I came home and noticed I hadn’t seen a single person of color on the trip. Cullman was founded by and for German immigrants, Catholics — who now mostly live on the outskirts as the Baptists moved in. An interesting start for a typical southern small city.
Cullman is both new and dilapidated, with shacks and suburban style houses in the same neighborhoods. But what Cullman really has, is interesting little places. We got to Alabama to find we had a day before the wake, two before the funeral. We decided to sightsee, showing my brothers girlfriend some of the sights around our ancestral home.
We went, basically, on the Southern Catholic Tour with my oldest brother. We went to the Ave Maria Grotto the work of a quiet monk with a passion for model making and miniatures. Brother Joseph created models of monasteries and churches, Roman buildings, mosques and Jerusalem to various degrees of accuracy. He worked strictly from pictures, having rarely left Alabama, which explains why some things are out of scale. It was created with leftover building materials and donated goods, from tile to cold cream jars. There is a Temple of Faeries with a dragon (chained, so it wouldn’t scare the children) and all this is built into the landscape of an old quarry.
We spent a long time speaking with the caretaker, an 85-year-old man brought in during the 70’s to fix a single piece, and hasn’t left since. A stonemason/concrete artist himself, he has created new pieced of a cathedral in Ireland and the old church in Mexico City. His wife cares for the grounds. He showed us his workshop and we saw what he was fixing (Tower of Pisa) and some of what he wanted to create next.
We ended at the gift shop where my brother bought me Trappist jam (blackberry, made by monks) and honey (made by bees, collected by monks).
We ate lunch with the rest of my family at a local restaurant, and then went to Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, a monastery/convent one town over. Another place with beautiful grounds, a castle for a gift shop, that looks a bit like a Spanish villa. I was not as impressed by the interior of the church though. Gilding is not my style, and you can really tell that this is when EWTN got its start.
I also got kicked out of the church for wearing too short of sleeves, my second brother was kicked out for wearing shorts. Color me not impressed with a formal church dress code. I suppose I know where I stand.
That night was the wake, and I spent most of it on twin-duty and entertaining my friend. I also talked a good bit with my cousins. We all went out for dinner at another local BBQ place (this is called a theme. Pulled pork is a theme and mainstay of any trip to Bama) and when we were on our way back to the hotel, Cousin Lee pulled up beside us and challenged the priest to a race, with the prize being his priest collar. My brother lost, and went to give it to him, but Lee refused. But “I’ll race you for your collar” in a southern accent has to be about the funniest thing ever.
The funeral itself was nice. I had grieved a long time ago for my grandmother, she was in that much decline. I was fine, but I made sure everything was easy for my mother, held her hand as she struggled not to cry. It was an interfaith funeral, my brother officiated, the Baptist provided the food and we had the reception at the Episcopal church. And so many flowers. Beautiful big ones from all over the community. My parents work, a homeless shelter, sent their own, white lilies understated in comparison to giant wreaths.
At the reception, we granddaughters went through the jewelry. I picked out a few pieces that fit my style, a necklace and several pins. Then, since The brother Father had to say Mass on Sunday, we ran out the door, picked up BBQ to bring home and started another 10 hour drive home.
I’m still sorting out my feelings about honoring with Hellenic intentions when the dead are so obviously not our own religion. I’m still not sure what I will do yet, but I’ve made some progress about what I will do.
So there’s my weekend trip. I came home, vegged and then did my recruitment stuff for my club. I am worn out, and I’m still working OT!