Why on earth, you must be asking, would a degree-waving, orange-and-blue-wearing, War-Eagle-yelling Auburn fan deliberately CHOOSE to spend two whole days in Tuscaloosa, where the campus of arch-rival University of Alabama sits? Because I am enjoying my new role as a travel writer is only a minuscule part of the answer. After all, I could “travel write” anywhere. No, the big reason for me to spend time in “enemy territory” was to visit two great friends. One I’ve known practically all her life, and the other I first met when we began our missionary journey.
Beth Newman was a perky, cute, fun-loving, smart, talkative young girl in Hartselle, AL, who Steve and I taught in Sunday School. Her mother and I shared many conversations while our kids were growing up. Beth graduated a year ahead of my oldest daughter, and I lost touch with her UNTIL we reconnected via Facebook. Hurray for Facebook!! Beth was asking for prayer for her daughter Maggie who was undergoing very extensive and painful surgeries at Vanderbilt to correct severe scoliosis. Then, I watched via computer as Beth became Dr. Elizabeth Long, took on a very important job in special education with the Tuscaloosa City Schools, and moved with her husband and two daughters to Tuscaloosa. When Beth read that I was travel writing, she sent me a sweet invitation to let her show me her newly-adopted city. And, knowing of my Auburn loyalty, she even said we could steer clear of “Alabama stuff” if we needed to. Now, that, my friends, is a thoughtful person indeed!
So, last week, Beth met me at the Bama B & B where I would be spending the night and gave me her entire day off showing me many, many sights and treasures of Tuscaloosa, AL and its sister city, Northport. I will be sharing some gems we unearthed in the next several blogs. I will say, though, that crimson, houndstooth, elephants, and number 16s (to signify the most recent national championship of the football team) are EVERYWHERE. There was no avoiding them.
If you only get off the interstate and follow the beaten path to Bryant-Denny Stadium for football games, eat at chain restaurants, and stay in chain hotels, you will miss the sights we saw. I wanted to visit places that “the locals” know about, and Beth did a great job of sharing them with me.
My mind was spinning when our day ended, and I got back to my room. I have to admit that I was impressed with Tuscaloosa. Both the rebuilding after the 2011 tornado AND the massive infusion of revenue stemming from the success of the football program has produced a gleaming, pulsating, dynamic city that is growing, drawing new businesses by the dozens and showing no signs of slowing down. You have to admire the vision of the city leaders.
The next morning I woke up in my historic bedroom and had a delightful breakfast with the B & B hosts (much more about that later). Then, I headed to the Tuscaloosa Visitors Center for additional information, did a little more exploring, and met another great friend for a long lunch.
I met Evelyn Sexton near the end of our training weeks in Richmond, VA before moving to Ecuador. We bonded immediately. Both of us from Alabama, both mothers of three children, and both piano performance majors in our college years! Evelyn and her husband Jim had been serving as missionaries in South America since 1988. They were willing and capable of answering my many questions, and very importantly, they “spoke our heart language” because they knew exactly where we were coming from both geographically AND emotionally. When we arrived on the field, we were in Cuenca while they were eight hours through the Andes Mountains in Quito, but we still saw each other at meetings and conferences. Evelyn and I even got to play some two-piano selections together at one of our big meetings and had a ball sharing with each other in that way.
Evelyn and Jim retired from the International Mission Board last summer after serving for 26 1/2 years. They are some of my heroes and did some wonderful work in Paraguay, Ecuador and Chile. Their seven grandchildren are thrilled to have them closer, and so am I. Evelyn and I talked for 2 1/2 hours and just scratched the surface of catching up. I would gladly go back to Tuscaloosa to spend more time with her.
Come back Wednesday for shopping and dining suggestions in Tuscaloosa, and next Monday I’ll tell you all about the Bama B & B.