Fooling Folks into the Black Belt
We had a bus load of tourists from Grand Rapids, Michigan to come visit last week. They had no intention of doing so. When Spectrum Tours tried to interest them in coming to Alabama, nobody wanted to come. It’s hard for us to live here to believe that everybody doesn’t know how wonderful Alabama is. We know that the slogan “Alabama has it All” really is true.
We have mountains and rivers, seashore, urban area and wonderful rural vistas. We also have the nicest and friendliest people anywhere. It is hard for us to imagine that other people don’t know this. They only know what they saw on television 50 years ago or else saw some redneck movie and thought that was us. The only way we could bring them to Alabama was to fool them into it with a Mystery Tour. Now they are glad they came. They had a wonderful time. They started out in Birmingham where they spent the night and visited the Civil Rights Museum. Then they traveled through Selma and walked across the famous Edmund Pettus Bridge that is the landmark of the Voting Rights Movement. Most of the time, that’s about as far as visitors make it into Rural Southwest Alabama. We are just beginning to get the word out on all the authentic experiences that we have to offer here.
We met them at Alberta and took them to Gees Bend to meet the world famous Gees Bend Quilters. One of the strengths of our area is the wonderful stories that we have collected about ourselves, our characters and our legends. On the way to Gees bend we shared a lot of the stories about the area. When we got to Gees Bend, the Quilters were on hand to tell their own stories. They have fascinating true tales to share. They lived a life of hardship and deprivation. Even their quilters’ art came out of necessity. Their mothers made quilts so that they’d have something to sleep under. They used what they had from clothes that were wearing out to make the quilts. Sometimes they didn’t have time to make the intricate patterns usually associated with the quilters’ art. They instead created abstract patterns based loosely on the Housetop quilt design. Each quilter would do her own variations on the theme. Many of the visitors on the tour were interested in quilting and some made their own quilts. They were delighted with their mystery lo9cations.
The Quilters sang as well as told their stories. They always do a concert when they tour the famous museums where their quilts are show as great art. They have intricate harmonies and interweave musical counterpoints. Most importantly, their songs come from the heart. As all good southern women do, they served refreshments to their guests. Mary Ann Pettway, the manager of the Quilt Collective had made a pound cake. It was a hot day. So there was iced punch as well.
After visiting the Quilters, we loaded the tour bus on the ferry to go to Camden. Even on a hot afternoon, there was a cool breeze blowing over the ferry. When we docked on the Camden side, we went to Black Belt Treasures. The visitors were amazed at the scope of arts. Books and food offered there.
The last stop on the Mystery Tour in Rural Southwest Alabama was Gaines Ridge Supper Club. They enjoyed a typical southern summer buffet. There was fried chicken, ham with Jezebel sauce, field peas, creamed corn, string beans, fried squash with onions, homemade rolls, cornbread muffins, and peach cobbler for dessert. One of the surprises of the tour for us with them, was that they would hardly touch the sweet tea. They had water instead. We wondered what was wrong with them. It had to be a cultural thing. After all, sweet tea is the table wine of the South. Several of the foods were unfamiliar to their palates. One man pointed to the bowl of squash and onions. He said “I never had that before, but it was delicious”.
After dinner, the owner of Gaines Ridge, Betty Kennedy shared some of her quilts and stories with the guests. Her quilts were of a different style form those at Gees Bend. If we had planned a tour especially for these guests, I don’t think they could have enjoyed it any more. We didn’t know that they were interested in quilts. That was just a bonus. We do know that we in Rural Southwest Alabama know the secrets to entertaining well:
- Just be who you are and celebrate that
- Serve plenty of good food
- Tell interesting and funny stories about the area
- Have fun yourself with the people who came
from Linda Vice