By: Jerry Barksdale

We were off on another “man trip,” this time to the Hall of Heroes Museum in Talladega, Alabama. As usual, women weren’t allowed. No ma’am! This was a serious trip. They would have hampered important discussions about—well, women – juicy gossip about women and male health problems. Anyway, we didn’t have time to stop for pedicures, shoe shopping, and other such foolishness.

Mike Criscillas, a/k/a “Big Mike,” Army Command Sergeant Major, Ret., was at the wheel of his wife Shirley’s luxurious Infiniti SUV. It’s loaded with high-tech gadgets ranging from butt warmer to navigation apps. It could use a simple Boy Scout compass mounted on the dash since Mike tends to get lost. On a previous man trip, he got lost before we left the Veterans Museum parking lot.

Ewell Smith, retired ASU Business Manager, served as our official reporter on Alabama politicians that have recently been indicted. Bill Ward, retired mathematician and college professor, was self-appointed “joke cracker.” Retired Athens cop and president of the Alabama Veterans Museum, Jerry Crabtree, was back seat driver and color commentator. I rode shotgun. All of us are volunteers at the Alabama Veterans Museum.

Earlier, Jimmy Williams and Joe Powers with the recently organized Hall of Heroes visited us in Athens seeking advice. We accommodated them. They reciprocated and invited us to visit them. It was an entertaining 2 ½-hour trip on back roads through historic Somerville, along low mountains, past green pastures, corn fields and lovely chicken houses. We drove to Attala, then south on Alabama 77 to Talladega.

Crabtree, a retired National Guard Sergeant, who made many convoy trips from Athens to Ft. McClellan, almost grew misty eyed with nostalgia when he pointed and said, “This is where our convoy always stopped, and we got out and peed.” Very touching. “In somebody’s yard?” asked Ward. Phew wee! They must have contaminated every well within a half mile. A historical marker – or warning sign – might be appropriate.

Someone mentioned that Madonna had finally carried out her threat and departed America. She moved to Portugal. How much more bad news can we endure? We are already in a trade war, opioids are killing our citizens, and Russians are telling us how to vote. I still have hope. We’re a resilient people. We survived Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and I pray we will survive Madonna leaving our fruited plains.

Finally, good news. “Talladega is just ahead,” someone said.

Talladega (pop. 15, 451) sits on the edge of 392,000 acres of Talladega National Forest. Looming in the distance was Cheaha Mountain, the highest point in Alabama. The city is known today for Talladega Superspeedway and the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind (AIDB). Athens history buffs may be interested to know that Rep. Thomas H. Hobbs introduced the first legislation in 1858 to establish a school for the blind. Hobbs’ Co. F, 9th Ala., was the first to depart Athens to fight in the Civil War. He died following the Battle of Gaines Mill, June, 1862. His parents who lived on N. Marion Street (it still stands in front of present City Hall) fled to Talladega for safety when Yankees occupied Athens in 1862.

We arrived at Hall of Heroes on the east side of the courthouse square. Jimmy Williams, wearing short pants and a wide smile, greeted us. The museum is housed in the Wood-Weaver Building (c. 1870, listed on the National Registry of Historical Places) where shoes were sold for nearly 150 years. Uniforms of local servicemen are displayed in the windows, along with a Red Goose shoe sign. Admission is free. The museum is neat and clean.

Ms. Aimee Gable, friendly Museum Manager, along with Ms. Keela Brown, Museum President, greeted us; they treated us like we were somebody. I love Southern hospitality. Photos of local heroes line both walls and mannequins displayed a variety of uniforms. My attention was drawn to a display of U.S.S. Talladega, a naval transport named for Talladega County. It landed Marines on Iwo Jima during WWII, included four of the Mt. Suribachi flag raisers.

The Weaver family donated the building to the museum; a city councilman did the plumbing and the Mayor did the flooring -- all for free. The backroom, dedicated to policeman, firemen, first responders, and scouting, is filled with artifacts and uniforms.

Following lunch at Tina’s Home Cookin’, a block off the square, we toured the “Silk Stocking” historical district, 113 acres of stately old homes listed on the National Register of Historical Places. Located nearby is the Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind. I was told they manufacture all of the neck ties for our military.

On the return trip home, while Crabtree was yacking on the phone doing a car trade and not performing his backseat driving duties, Big Mike shot past the turnoff. “Hey Mike, you lost again?” asked Ward.

I began feeling warm, then perspiring for no apparent reason. Heart attack! Oh, no! Worse still, I may have contracted a case of TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrone) from association with my liberal friends. Big Mike was smiling. He had dialed up my seat warmer to broil. Scared me half to death!

It was a fun trip, and I heard a lot of half-truths and gossip which I can’t report. I can say that there is no sin in Athens -- until after the sun goes down. Seriously, it was a great man trip. There is a lot to see in Talladega. Drive down, visit the Hall of Heroes, hike the endless trails in the Talladega National Forest, and visit the nearby International Motor Sport Hall of Fame. Take your camera and stop at the historic intersection of U.S. 431 and Ala. 278 and see where the Athens National Guardsmen peed. One day you can tell your children that you saw it -- and have a photo to prove it. And be sure to tell the folks at the Hall of Heroes that you are from Athens. Remind them about our man trip. They may tell you to get out of town. But, I bet they’ll treat you like you’re somebody.
By: Jerry Barksdale

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