We left Tupelo this morning and headed for Alabama. As we entered the state, we found that Jill, our GPS voice guide, pronounces the name “Alabama” like a native. This is the same voice that said “petra-feed” for “pertrafied” and called Oklahoma City, “Okulahoma City.” The first time she pronounced “Alabama,” I could not believe what I had heard. I think somebody from Holly Pond hacked into the Garmin system and slipped one word in.
We drove across north Alabama; it never disappoints. Just over the state line was a dilapidated, old red store with “BAMA” written on the side. A large lot was covered with kudzu. I felt as if I were home. In Holly Pond, the bulletin board at the town building announced the “Cemetery Walk” for next week. Twinkle and Lust were running for office. A new motel in Centre, “The Crappie Capital of the World,” has three giant fish in front of it. And, Old Fart has opened a Trading Post.
I wondered if someone from the West, visiting the South for the first time, would find this sort of stuff and the surrounding scenery as different as Lee and I found much of the West. I wondered if the hills and trees and the lack of wide open spaces here make Westerners feel a bit claustrophobic.
We made our last stop at Ave Maria Grotto at the St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman. If you have never been it is worth the three hours it takes to get there. Brother Joseph Zoetl began constructing churches, cathedrals and other structures, mostly religious in nature, out of concrete and found materials in the late 1920’s. It grew into a large, folk art environment.
Today, a monk who worked with Brother Zoetl continues to add structures. This monk is now eighty but is training a younger replacement, so the environment continues to grow and develop. The smaller environment in back of the Adventist Church on the Rome Road has similarities with Ave Maria Grotto.
St. Bernard Abbey is a Benedictine monastery. It was founded in 1n 1891 to serve the needs of German Catholics in the Cullman area!? Ironically, Hank Williams, Jr. has, or had, a large farm at Cullman. I wonder if he was a regular at the monastery.
This visit is the third for Lee and me. If the Grotto followed the same policy as Paul McLeod at Graceland Too in Holly Springs, Mississippi, we would have had our photos taken in Brother Zoetl’s robes and could make any repeat visits for free. I reckon there are differences between Paul McLeod and Benedictine monks. (If you don’t know about Graceland Too, ask the Sproull’s or google Graceland Too.)