You know how you see something every day and really don’t pay attention? You drive blissfully by, say, a fast-food restaurant multiple times in the course of a week and it just sort of fades into the background and you couldn’t describe it to anybody beyond “It’s a building and it has a door and some windows and … ” That’s the relationship between me and the Wendy’s restaurant in Muscle Shoals, Ala. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been in it (maybe a couple of times?) but it’s been a fixture on the daily commute and a navigational placeholder for years. You know — “Turn at the Wendy’s,” “go a couple of blocks pass the Wendy’s,” “it’s in that block behind the Wendy’s,” etc. And then the other day somebody said something about the new Wendy’s and I had no idea what she meant. “The new Wendy’s? In Muscle Shoals?? What are you talking about??? I pass by there every day and I haven’t noticed anything,” I (luckily) said silently in my head because I’ve learned through bitter experience to keep comments that make me look stupid to myself. Turns out that the old Wendy’s had been closed — which I vaguely was aware of — and then demolished and then this new Wendy’s rose from the ruins, in all its sleek and modern glory. Turns out it’s all part of a Pan to Modernize. Old-fashioned down-home folksy is out. (Tell that to the folks who gather around Jack’s fireplaces for their morning biscuits.) Minimal urban is in. Even Wendy herself got a style update. All I know is that this does NOT look like a Wendy’s to me. Sushi? Thai? Chinese? But not hamburgers. On the other hand, I obviously am not a reliable observer since I didn’t notice when it was nothing but an empty lot and some construction equipment, so what do I know?.
Downtown Decatur, Alabama, is one of those wonderful historic neighborhoods that doesn’t get as much attention as it should. It sort of loses out against such publicity stars as Natchez, Mississippi, for instance. And I’m one of the worst offenders. For folks in northwest Alabama/northeast Mississippi, Decatur is “on the way” when driving east to Huntsville. Usually I’m on a schedule as I roll by the edge of downtown and I glance out the window and think, “That is so pretty. Sometime I really should come here and explore.” Because otherwise I’d miss gems such as this cottage tucked away on a quiet side street. Couldn’t you just open the gate and walk up the steps and go sit a spell on the porch? I really had to restrain myself to keep from trying out that rocking chair. There are two adjacent historic districts in downtown Decatur — Old Decatur and New Albany — where you can park your car and enjoy an afternoon of wandering through neighborhoods of cozy Craftsman cottages and stately Victorian homes. And with spring in glorious bloom right now, it’s the perfect time: Peaceful and quiet and breathtakingly lovely. There are plenty of spots nearby for shopping and eating, too, with no drive-thru lanes or mega-parking lots required. Not that there is anything wrong with drive-thru lanes and mega-parking lots. But sometimes a shady porch and the sweet smell of camellias is all you need. At http://www.decaturcvb.org/, print out self-guided walking tours and get details on the upcoming Mayfest.
Sometimes it’s fun to play tourist in your own town. My town is Florence, Alabama, and the other day I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment (stupid high cholesterol) and instead of eavesdropping on overhearing conversations in the waiting room — “And then the nurse told me I should have taken two tablets instead and I told her, ‘Honey, I can barely swallow one!'” — I decided to wander around the block. I’d never walked here before and I was tickled to find the Cedar Nest, http://www.cedarnest.net/, a tourist apartment I’d heard about but never really knew where it was. This one-bedroom apartment is just a block away from all the action of historic and hoppin’ downtown Florence. It’s like a bed-and-breakfast without the breakfast part, although you could walk to several downtown coffee shops and bring back breakfast to eat on the treehouse balconies. Across the street, I found this beautifully stately house surrounded by an intricate — and slightly menacing? — iron fence. This house makes me think of a graceful and gracious older aunt who remembers her days as a young belle of the ball before her fiance was killed in the war and she spent the rest of her life gently fading away. Or maybe I should stop reading so many Victorian novels. Anyway, I believe that this mansard roof means the house dates from around 1860-1885. Aren’t you impressed that I know that? Thank you, Mr. Google!
I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a Sunshine on My Shoulder cupcake right about now. Either that or a Strawbaby Blush or Southern Belle. These yummy confections were at The Clay Cup Cafe on the square in Murfreesboro, Tennessee — my husband’s hometown and the place where we met at college and almost 30 years later got married. (Aw … I know. It’s sweet, isn’t it?) We were there for a couple days this past week while my husband went to a journalism workshop on creating new newsrooms. While he was pondering the fate of newspapers, I got to wander around town — one of my favorite pastimes. Murfreesboro is a wonderful town for walking, and in the morning I took my cupcake (it’s a great breakfast food) and cappuccino and strolled the historic-preservation districts. I always am in awe of the Boro’s dedication and commitment to historic authenticity — and I always find something new. For instance, I’d never before noticed this playhouse. I spied the 5-foot-high creation in the backyard of a stately Victorian and was immediately charmed. Isn’t it delightful? I would have loved to have crawled in there with my cupcake (OK, by this time in the walk I was on my second — I couldn’t lie to you!) and coffee and spent the rest of the day. But then my husband would have been left with a roomful of truth-seeking journalists, and I couldn’t do that to him.
My husband pointed out, rightfully so, that when I talked about the Frank Lloyd Wright book in yesterday’s post I forgot to mention one of the main reasons my book club read it in the first place: There’s a Wright house in northwest Alabama. In fact, there’s only one Wright-designed house in Alabama, and it’s the only Wright house in the Southeast that’s open to the public. But even with that pedigree, it’s sort of a hidden treasure — a little gem of a place that delights and entrances everybody who comes to visit. The Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama, sits on a bluff of the Tennessee River. It was built in 1939 for Frank (who worked in the family movie-theater business and also was a college professor) and his wife, Mildred (a model from New York City) Rosenbaum. Wright never visited the house, but he also designed an addition in 1948 when the family had grown to four sons. I love going through this house. It seems to have gently sprung out of its two-acre site, and inside every single inch of space is functional and efficient. And the main building-material of cypress wood smells so good! If you’re ever anywhere near Florence, it’s worth a trip. Learn more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosenbaum_House and http://www.wrightinalabama.com/.
You must put “Loving Frank,” by Nancy Horan, on your must-read list. It’s the story of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney and their clandestine and infamous love affair. The pair fell in love after Cheney and her husband commissioned a house from Wright. Both Cheney and Wright left their spouses and children for the other, but Cheney — an intelligent, educated and talented woman — suffered the most. She lost her children, was the subject of scorn and scandal and could barely support herself as a single woman. This is billed as an historic novel, but don’t let that put you off. Usually I’m irritated by authors who try to retell actual facts with their own creative spin, but it works here because of Horan’s extensive research and obsession with the truth. Horan lets Cheney’s voice — one that history and public relations seem to have silenced — come through strongly and authentically. This isn’t what Horan thinks happened, but what, as we come to know Cheney, must surely have happened. It’s a compelling love story, an intriguing look behind the historic facts and a damning treatise on the restrictions and injustices that hampered American women just 100 years ago.
Just a note here: In the interest of honesty, I did read this book. For one of my book-club meetings. Which I missed. Because I thought the meeting was on Tuesday night when it actually was on Wednesday night. But when I showed a night late at the house of my friend who was hosting the meeting, she graciously poured me a glass of wine anyway and we sat and talked about everybody who had been there the night before. In a good way, of course.