Only in Alabama: The Coondog Cemetery

Remember the scene in the movie Sweet Home Alabama where they sit in the coon dog graveyard and mourn the death of their dog and the loss of their relationship? Did you think that was just another made-up, stereotypical insult to Alabamians? Well, friends, I have news for you. It’s real. It exists. And I’ve been there. Twice.

My first adventure at the Coon Dog Cemetery was on Christmas Day, 2008. JD and I went to eat lunch with his grandparents, and we found ourselves driving them around northwest Alabama, visiting their favorite places. We saw where Grandad was born, the house Grandmom grew up in, the cemetery where Grandad’s sister was buried, and the schools they had attended. And then, without warning, it happened. I found myself (on Christmas Day, in a dress and high heels) stepping out of the car and into the Coon Dog Cemetery.

We read the grave markers, and JD’s grandparents knew stories about some of the dogs. Grandad told us about family gatherings at the Cemetery when he was younger – where the men would “sand the creek” to catch fish and the women would bring large “wash pots” to cook them in. Apparently, in this family, the Coon Dog Cemetery was a sacred spot. As if to prove it, JD took me to see the tree where he and his cousins had carved their initials when they were kids.

Y’all, I’m not making this up.

When my parents, Piper, and I went to the Rattlesnake Saloon a few weeks ago, we realized that we were only a few miles from the Cemetery. How could we go home without stopping by and paying our respects? How could I let my parents miss out on this unique spot of Alabama history? How could I not introduce Piper to a place so dear to her family?

So, I found myself once again stepping out of the car (this time in jeans and Toms, thankfully) and into the Cemetery. I didn’t have JD’s grandparents with me to tell the stories, but I was fortunate enough to find a brochure. Let me share a few of the more interesting quotes and excerpts with you.

“In a small, grassy clearing, deep in the rich, thick wilderness of Freedom Hills, Key Underwood sadly buried his faithful coon dog, Troop. They had hunted together for more than 15 years. They had been close friends.”

Good old Troop’s grave is surrounded with flowers and other tokens of remembrance. He was the first dog buried at this site, and the most beloved.

” ‘When I buried Troop, I had no intention of establishing a coon dog cemetery,’ said Underwood. ‘I merely wanted to do something special for a special coon dog.’ “

More than 200 coon dogs from all over the United States are buried in the Cemetery now, and there are strict requirements to qualify for burial. The dog must be an authentic coon-hound with witnesses to verify its lineage and an inspection by a local coon hunter’s organization.

“A spokesman for the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunter’s Association summed it up this way: ‘A dog can’t run no deer, possum — nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog.'”

Key Underwood, Troop’s owner and the Cemetery’s founder, when asked about allowing other breeds to be buried there, responded: “‘You must not know much about coon hunters and their dogs, if you think we would contaminate this burial place with poodles and lap dogs.'”

The graves of these authentic coon hounds are well-marked. Some with homemade markers:

And some with fancy headstones:

If you think you’re up for a visit to the Coon Dog Cemetery, might I recommend going on Labor Day? Every year the Tennessee Valley Coon Hunter’s Association hosts a Labor Day celebration honoring the deceased dogs. You can celebrate by listening to music, eating barbecue, dancing, and witnessing the legendary ‘liar’s contest.”  You might even see JD’s grandmom and grandad there — they’re regulars!

Coondog Cemetery on Facebook


High Noon at the Rattlesnake Saloon

My parents like to go on road trips. As I’m writing this, they are on the back roads somewhere between Birmingham and Nashville checking out the fall scenery and discovering hole-in-the wall restaurants and shops. Last Saturday, however, they didn’t have anything planned, and invited me and Piper to ride along and explore with them.

Our destination: The Rattlesnake Saloon.

The Rattlesnake Saloon is a restaurant and bar built in the mouth of a cave. It’s located near Tuscumbia, Alabama, very close to where JD’s grandparents grew up. His Grandmom told me that before they had electricity, her mother would send her down to the springs near the cave to store their milk in the cool water. When JD’s dad was a teenager, the University of Alabama sent a research team to excavate the cave and recover Indian artifacts. Well, the Indians have been gone a long time, and electricity eventually came to the area. What’s left is a good burger joint and a fun afternoon!

When you pull into the parking lot, you might wonder if you’re in the right place. All you can see are horse stables and pastures. But if you wait in the parking lot for a minute, the “Saloon Taxi” truck will pull up and drive you down to the cave.

In the mouth of the cave, there are tables and a stage. In the Saloon building, there is a kitchen, a bar, and more tables. I was a little worried about taking my toddler to a saloon; but they don’t serve alcohol until 5pm, and the lunch crowd is full of families with children and church groups of senior adults.

We had read in the newspaper (and heard from several friends) that the Rattlesnake Saloon’s burgers had won a “Best in the State” award last year. I ordered the Rustler Burger, and it definitely lived up to its reputation. Fried cheesecake is also on the menu, and I wish we had left room to try it!

My girl had a great time, too. She danced and sang on the stage, ate french fries, and talked to the horses. She got VERY dirty, but that was just part of the fun.

I’m already looking forward to our next trip to the Rattlesnake Saloon, and I think you should check it out, too.

Rattlesnake Saloon Website

Rattlesnake Saloon on Facebook

Seven Years: The Highlight Reel

Last week JD and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been married forever, and then sometimes it’s hard to believe that seven years have passed.

JD and I met at church, and knew each other for a few years before we started dating. We dated for two-and-a-half years, during which time I started college, JD graduated from college, I transferred to a different college, JD got a job at his home church, and we learned how to date long-distance.

JD asked me to marry him on either my 21st birthday or his 25th birthday. (His birthday is the day after mine, and it was close to midnight, so we’re just not sure!) After a seven month engagement, we were married on October 8, 2005.

When we got married, I moved to Albertville. Four months later, we moved to Dothan. Three years later, we moved to Macon, GA. After a sixth-month stay in Macon, we moved to Huntsville. Two years after that, we moved to Decatur.

Seven years. Five houses and one loft apartment. Six moves. Needless to say, I’m tired of moving!

In 2006, I graduated from UAB with a degree in secondary education and history. In 2008, JD graduated from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a Masters in Divinity.

We’ve had: One cat. Two dogs. Five cars. Six computers. Five iPods. Five iPhones.

We’ve been to five youth camps, six D-Now weekends, two conferences, and two mission trips. (And those are just the ones we’ve gone on together since we’ve been married!)

We’ve traveled to Jamaica, Seattle, and Athens, Greece (not to mention most of the southeast.)

The greatest adventure of our marriage, however, began in the summer of 2010 when we found out we were going to be parents.

Piper was born on January 25, 2011. She’s definitely the greatest blessing we’ve received in our marriage, and we don’t know how we ever managed without her.

So, seven years after saying, “I do,” I’m still counting my blessings. I’m thankful for every funny story, every inside joke, and every minute I’ve spent with my husband and daughter. Life is good and (most importantly) God is good.

Picker’s Paradise

It’s no secret that I love to shop. I like to browse; I like to buy; I like to know what’s for sale and what’s on sale. And this, my friends, is one of my favorite places to shop. I know what you’re thinking. A flea mall? But trust me, this place is a hidden treasure. Located in Leeds, Alabama (just outside of Birmingham), Bama Flea Mall is a maze of booths full of antiques, furniture, china, toys, collectibles, and treasures waiting to be dusted off and taken home. If you’re in Birmingham and have a few hours to kill, this place is well worth your time! I try to go as often as I can, and I always find unique pieces that I love!

Several weeks ago I talked JD, Piper, my parents, and my sister, Ellen, into spending an afternoon at the flea mall with me. Ellen was excited and JD wasn’t, but you wouldn’t know it from this picture!

Have I mentioned that I love this place? It’s just packed full of amazing things!

Some booths have better stuff than others, and this is one of the best. I love everything in this booth and would buy it all if I could! But this time I was looking for something specific — a coat rack for my foyer — and couldn’t be distracted by all the pretties in this booth.

A coat rack I needed and a coat rack I found! Actually, JD found this one. Maybe I was distracted by all the pretties! (Dad may look tired sitting here, but that’s because we had run a 5K earlier that morning. And don’t be fooled — looking at his mouth I can tell he was still talking!)

I love my coat rack, but it wasn’t the only treasure I found that day.

Check out my vintage Fiesta circle pitcher! We have Fiesta dishes, and I’ve been looking for a circle pitcher for years. They’re usually between $30 and $50 and not in a color that I like. This one, though, matches my dishes and the color of my kitchen, is in perfect condition, and only cost me $12! Score!

I LOVE Heritage candles, and this is one of my favorite scents. I think this is my fourth Lemongrass Sage candle, but this one cost less than I usually pay. Thanks, Bama Flea Mall!

Want to see the other treasures I’ve found on previous trips to the Flea Mall?

I wanted a table or desk for my foyer, and I found this beauty at the Flea Mall last spring. I wish I had a before picture, because it was blue (and not a cute blue.) A coat of paint and little accessorizing, and I love it.

(Disclaimer: The walls in our living room are green, but not THAT green! Please excuse my lack of photography skills.)

One of my first purchases at the Flea Mall was this set of wooden window inserts. I glued some fabric behind them and hung them on our bedroom wall. (And again, the colors aren’t that bright, I promise!)

While shopping with my friend Chrystal I found this cute little suitcase that matches our bedroom perfectly. How could I resist? I lined it with some fabric and now we use it as additional storage on our bathroom counter.

So, do you think you’re up for a trip to the Bama Flea Mall? Here are my tips for a good shopping experience:

1) Know what you’re looking for. Sometimes I go with specific things in mind (like a coat rack), but I always have a list of things I’d like to find (like Fiestaware, old books, etc.)

2) Take your time. This isn’t a store to run in and out of; it’s a store to soak in and savor. Set aside a few hours, wear comfortable shoes, and enjoy the experience.

3) Imagine the possibilities. Like that desk but hate the color? Take it home and paint it! Keep an open mind and think of different ways you can use the treasures you find to make them work in your home.

4) Take a friend with you. I often enjoy shopping alone, but this is a fun store to share with a friend or family member. Try on the funny hats! Sit in the silly chairs! Have fun!

I hope you’ll take time to visit Bama Flea Mall sometime soon. I know I can’t wait to go back!

A Long Day at the World’s Longest Yard Sale

Last Friday, my sister, Ellen, and I decided to get up very early and shop the World’s Longest Yard Sale. The “WLYS” stretches from Gadsden, AL to somewhere in Michigan. Can you even imagine how many miles of tables, tents, and camp chairs that is? Or how many cubic tons of junk were sitting there, ready and waiting for the right picker? I get excited just thinking about it!

Ellen and I decided to start in Mentone, AL. Fueled by biscuits and cherry coke, we braved the early morning traffic and arrived on the yard sale route around 8:30. Waiting there for us was a wonderland of junk!

We quickly learned to focus on spots where multiple vendors were set up together. If we just saw a few tables in someone’s yard, we kept driving. Especially if those tables looked to be full of clothes. To each his own, but we just weren’t interested in yard sale clothes. We were looking for treasures. Like this beauty:

What is it? Well, I’m not really sure. It looks like a good place to hang your hunting jacket. Then again, the spade shape might make it a charming addition to your game room. But seriously, what room wouldn’t benefit from deer hoof art that is functional as well as decorative?

And what classy Southern lady doesn’t need a fur stole? I’m not exactly sure what animals these were, but Ellen wore them well.

Or maybe you prefer your animals alive? These turkeys and guineas are just the thing. And no, they’re not noisy at all! Too bad these guys were sold already (at 9 am). I guess the early bird gets the worm, and the early shopper gets the bird!

Along with unique finds, we met some unique people. Some were pickin’ and grinnin’; some were selling treasures; and some were on the hunt like us. More than once we were called “young-uns,” which made us smile. We happened to meet the most unique people of the day, however, when we followed this sign:

What?! There was no way we were skipping this one! After a prompt U-turn and a short drive onto the property, we found a HUGE castle still under construction.

And guess what? It’s for sale! For the low price of $4.9 million, this castle could be yours! I bet it would qualify for the biggest sale in World’s Longest Yard Sale history! You can check out the real estate listing here; and make sure to scroll to the bottom of the page and read the story of the castle. It’s quite amusing enlightening.

After that medieval adventure, we needed a bathroom break.

Just kidding!

We were still hunting treasures and finding some great (and only slightly creepy) things.

(Don’t you love that the turtle on the right is wearing a watch? I bet he’s running late. Hey-oh!)

Our last real stop of the day was in Chattanooga, where we contemplated hang gliding. Can you imagine just running and jumping off this cliff?

Okay, so maybe we didn’t really consider hang gliding. But that was because of the expense, not because we were scared! (Or so we told ourselves.)

While we had a busy, adventurous day, we didn’t buy that much. We both found some old piano sheet music. Ellen got a glass bottle and a light fixture, and I got a few mounted butterflies in frames. But you better believe we’ll be going back next year (if for no other reason than to see the crazy things some people try to sell!)