I’m down one child this weekend, so today, the 9-year old and I took a day trip.
(Although it seems as if the other’s weekend will be cut short – a rafting trip to North Carolina where, this weekend, the highs are in the 60’s, it’s raining, and the water temp is 38 degrees. I think they’re coming back a day early….)
I had a sketch of a plan. It involved first making our way down to a spot a couple of hours south of here and then working our way back up. I had hoped the “working our way back up” would be more nature-y than it turned out – I threw bathing suits, towels and extra clothes in the back of the car – but the weather was sketchy here as well, so there was no hiking or spur-of-the-moment swimming.
What there was:
McClelland’s Critters, which is around Troy which is, in turn, south of Montgomery. I stumbled upon this place last night and did some research, not wanting to give any support to a facility that mistreats or exploits wild animals. It seemed okay on paper (or on screen), and while it’s certainly not lush, the animals do seem well taken care of and are certainly loved. I’m still not totally sold on the concept, but I’ve never been totally sold on the concept of zoos anyway. Those Twilight Zone/Planet of the Apes ghosts are always afoot, it seems.
The most interesting part of the place had nothing to do with exotic animals, but with the blasted mountain goats. You know those videos featuring goats sounding like people that are floating around? And how you’re sort of convinced they’re fake? Well, they might be, or might not…because today, I heard a bunch of goats out and out saying “BAAA!” in croaky old man voices, repeatedly. It was hysterical.
We caught the tail end of a tour, but later, after we’d wandered about by ourselves a bit, Michael said, “I’m going to ask to hold a snake” – and just at that moment, the owner strode up to us, an armful of peacock feathers, saying, “Would you like to hold a snake?”
There was a large reticulated python in one corner of a cage, a white bunny in the other. I said to the owner, “So the python will be eating the rabbit?” He said, “He’s had four already today. It’ll be his fifth.”
Come on, Rocky…EAT!
I had checked Roadside America, and was prepared to go where it led, but the rooster made of car bumpers was in the opposite direction of home, and since it was indeed looking rainy by that time and Blue Springs State Park, which had been sketched into the plan and also in that direction, was being crossed off the plan…we slowly headed back north.
As we approached Montgomery, I sighed asked, “Do you want to go to the zoo again?” Because it was only the two of us, we had a membership discount, and I’m with Mr. Nature, so of course the answer was yes.
We stopped for lunch for him at Chick-fil-a, unfortunately without the time to spend at one of the several Korean restaurants nearby (there’s a Hyundai plant in Montgomery, one which I intend to tour once a spot opens up…), and then headed back up to the zoo. A soft rain was falling, and it was late afternoon, so this means we almost had the place to ourselves. There wasn’t anything new to see (we’d been there before a couple of months ago), but we did a get closer look at the anteaters, several of the birds, and we toured the quirky adjacent natural history museum.
As we headed out, I started explaining to Michael about Hank Williams, and who he was and where and how he died, and that his grave was on the way home, so let’s stop.
Audrey and Hank’s grave certainly dominates the scene, but not in a tacky way.
But I have to say what interested me most was something I hadn’t noticed on my last visit here, which was probably 16 years ago. When I got home, this led me (naturally) on a most fascinating rabbit hole. Directly next to the Williams plot:
They are the neat, beautifully kept graves of French and British military men from World War II, mostly airmen, who died while training in the United States:
Beginning in 1941, thousands of RAF crew members were trained at Maxwell and Gunter Fields, as well as at auxiliary airfields in the area. The dangers of learning to fly combat aircraft were such that some did not survive. One example comes from the book “Montgomery Aviation” by Billy J. Singleton (Arcadia Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7385-5259-0), page 49: “Cross-country flights at night could prove to be challenging and occasionally dangerous. In May 1942, a flight of 35 aircraft flown by United Kingdom students departed Gunter Field on a navigation training flight to Crestview and Mobile. Returning from Mobile on the last leg of the flight, the formation encountered heavy haze and rain showers. Twelve of the training aircraft crashed, resulting in the loss of seven pilots.”
The plaque and the cross are part the memorial. Each grave has a headstone with the information on the individual and some additional words. One example reads: “If I should die — some corner of a foreign field is a piece forever England”
There are numerous cemeteries throughout the USA containing the graves of Allied air force and naval airmen who died whilst undertaking flying training during W.W.2. The RAF graves in the Montgomery Annexe commemorate the RAF airmen who died whilst undertaking Basic or Advanced training as part of the Arnold Scheme. RAF Arnold Scheme airmen who lost there lives during Primary training are buried in Commonwealth War Graves in communities close to their training base. There are are similar CWGC plots in towns close to where the six RAF British Flying Training Schools were located and others where Royal Navy and RAF pilots were trained as part of the Towers Scheme.
During W.W.2 the U.S.A. hosted and sponsored the flying training of many Allies – British, French, Dutch, Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian and other Latin-American nations. Concise details and graduate numbers can be found in “The Army Air Forces in World War II – Volume VI”, (Craven and Cate). These programs must have involved some fatal accidents and those airmen may also be be buried far from their homes and family.
During W.W.1, particularly the winter months of 1917 Canadian airmen where trained for the Royal Flying Corps at locations in Texas and I believe some of these men perished and are buried in the USA.
The Cemetery at Montgomery, Alabama has another annexe containing the graves and the names of French personnel who died in the USA whilst undertaking aircrew training.
There’s a book about the project, here: The Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South, and the Allies’ Daring Plan.
On the way back, we stopped at Peach Park in Clanton, Alabama Peach Central. Several years ago, when he was still in school, Joseph’s class took a field trip down that way. The focus was some water education facility, followed by a visit to Peach Park. His description of the peach visit was subdued and uninterested, and I remember mildly castigating him because this place certainly sounded like an Interactive Fruit Wonderland and surely he had not taken advantage of the opportunity to really appreciate it. I probably said, “as usual,” too.
Well, after today’s 5-minute stop at the rather poorly kept and messy outdoor cafe (didn’t eat), foodstuffs with the ominous label indicated that what was within had been “packaged for” this facility and a few creaky swings…
…I hope he’ll accept my belated apology….