We here at Serpents of Bienville have a lot of different projects currently running. One project that we are particularly excited about is the Alabama Oddities pieces that Amanda is writing for our social media sites. She is doing daily updates, bringing you a new story every morning, of something strange and odd from our Southern home. Not everyone has social media, so we will be doing weekly rundown's of her stories, which we will be publishing every Sunday. We hope you guys enjoy, and remember to follow us on our social media sites to get daily Alabama Oddities stories. This weeks stories were based around the holiday of Christmas. Enjoy!
Sunday December 20th - The Fruitcake Lady
Do you remember “The Fruitcake Lady” from the Tonight Show with Jay Leno? If you don’t, go to YouTube right now. Marie Rudisill was invited on initially because of her book named Fruitcake. Jay Leno had her on as a guest on December 14th, 2000, teaching him and Mel Gibson how to make a fruitcake. She was actually the aunt of New Orleans born Truman Capote, and when he would visit her as a child at Christmastime in Monroeville, Alabama, they would bake fruitcakes and send them to people they liked, like the President of the United States, missionaries in Borneo, and the neighbor lady. So she taught Jay and Mel her fruitcake secrets, and in such a hilarious and quick-witted manner, as all wonderful old southern ladies do, that she was invited back in a regular segment known as “Ask the Fruitcake Lady.” She passed away on November 3rd, 2006, four days before the release of her last book, Ask the Fruitcake Lady: Everything You Would Already Know If You Had Any Sense.
Monday December 21st - Harper Lee's Christmas Gift
Harper Lee moved to New York to pursue a writing career, but spent most of her time behind a reservations desk for an airline company. She was good friends with Joy and Michael Brown, New Yorkers that took her in on Christmas when she couldn't afford to fly home and surround herself with family. Harper describes the couple as cool and optimistic, beautiful and loving. They would exchange silly gifts among themselves for the holidays, so when Harper received her gift from the couple, she was overwhelmed with emotion and determination. Knowing that their Monroeville native friend was a tremendous talent and had important things to say to the world, and realizing that they had more than enough living wage to spare, the Brown’s gave Harper a note. “You have one year off from your job t write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” The months following produced the most widely read literary work of all time, right behind the Bible. To Kill A Mockingbird was a necessary gift to the world, straight from Monroeville, Alabama, and a grand “Thank You” for one family’s incredible generosity.
Tuesday December 22nd - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Hugh Martin grew up in Birmingham, Alabama in a cottage built for his mother, Ellie, by Hugh Martin Sr. This home is now a historic site in South Birmingham, Hugh leaving such a deep mark on American film and songwriting history. His contribution to the holidays is none other than the longing and bittersweet ditty known as “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” The song was written in his childhood cottage, and while he loved the melody, he couldn't quite get the lyrics to fit, and he almost gave up on the song completely. When he finally found a place for the song in Meet Me In St. Louis in 1944, Judy Garland found the song so depressing that she refused to sing it without a rewrite. The original, darker version has been covered a few times over the years, but the rewritten, more uplifting version is the one we all know and love today, straight from the Heart of Dixie.
Wednesday December 23rd - Glen Miller's Legacy
Glenn Miller was one of the most famed Big Band musicians and composers in American history. With all of the success he worked for an a civilian, generating between $15,000 and $20,000 a week in his career, he decided to join the Navy. They told him they did not have a need for his service at the age of 38, but he wrote the US Army and persuaded them to put him in charge of a military band. His wish was granted and he was sent to Montgomery, Alabama for training, wife and newborn son in tow. They had even started the adoption process, and received a baby girl in December of 1944, but Glenn would never get the opportunity to meet her. He boarded a plane for France to head a large Army band for a Christmas performance for the troops overseas during World War II. The plane and those aboard disappeared over the English Channel and no evidence of the plane’s crash has ever been found. Friends and family never lost hope for their man’s return. On the 40th anniversary of Glenn Miller’s disappearance, the leader of the Maxwell Air University Band came up with the idea for a Christmas celebration in Glenn’s honor. From that year on, The Montgomery Civic Center has been filled with joyous carols and swinging anthems of the holiday season once a year in the name of Glenn Miller and his love for his music and his country.
Thursday December 24th - The Pearsons' Family Tradition
At the center of Autaugaville in 1930 sat a general store ran by the Pearsons. In the center of the store sat an artesian well, welcome for everyone of every race to drink from. The Pearsons cared very deeply for their community. When the boll weevil destroyed crops and the signs of the Great Depression were beating the town down ceaselessly, the Pearsons watched the amenities that would normally make the holiday season magical—fruits, nuts, candies, shiny trains, baby dolls, wooden pop gun—sit lonely on the shelves. That year, Edward Pearson promised his wife, Ercille, that whatever was let on the shelves at Christmas would be packaged up and given to local children who he knew would be going without. And that’s exactly what he did on December 26th, 1930. The giving season for the Pearsons was received with such gratitude and light that the family continued this tradition every single Christmas until Edward’s passing in 1961. The giving grew over the years to collecting donated toys and treats from all over the state of Alabama, and announcing his location in the weeks leading up to the holiday. The Pearson’s children still receive loving words of gratitude and fondness for the kindness of their family. Just another example of doing what you can with what you have.
Friday December 25th - Helen Keller
“I hear someone ask, 'What pleasure can Christmas hold for children who cannot see their gifts or the sparkling tree or the ruddy smile of Santa Clause?' The question would be answered if you had seen that Christmas of the blind children. The only real blind person at Christmas-time is he who has not Christmas in his heart. We sightless children have the best of eyes that day in our hearts and in our finger tips. We were glad from the child’s necessity of being happy. The blind who have outgrown the child’s perpetual joy can be children again on Christmas Day and celebrate in the midst of them who pipe and dance and sing a new song!” Helen Keller