Mobile, Alabama—a bed and breakfast. It’s early morning. I am not a morning person. On a good day, it takes me a full sixteen hours to wake up.
There are two girls at the breakfast table. They are from France. Sisters.
They are young. Talkative. They speak English, with accents. They are eating triple the food I eat.
This is their first visit to Alabama.
“We NEVER visit this Deep South before,” says the girl who wears a camellia in her hair. “There is so much beauty. But it is SO hot.”
Hot. It’s only eighty-six outside. I could wear a wool sweater and jump rope in the attic without breaking a sweat.
They tell me their mother passed away a month ago. The girls are taking this trip—which their mother always wanted to take.
They’re here to honor her memory.
They flew into New York City first. They rented a car and set off for the Yellowhammer State—home of Spanish moss, live oaks, boiled-peanut stands, cotton fields, and mosquitoes big enough to kill most medium-sized house cats.
Yesterday, they hired a guide to take them fishing in Mobile Bay. It was everything they’d hoped it would be.
“I catch my FIRST fish!” she says. “A beeg, beeg one! It was THIS beeg.”
She holds her hands out as far as she can.
“We even eat GRITS!” says her sister. “With cheese, they are so weird, these grits.”
If they were weird, they were instant, sister.
The girls traveled to Tuscumbia, Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Montgomery, Tuskeegee, Selma, and Mobile.
They got their first American sunburns, they drank Ko-Kolas from glass bottles. They ate tomato sandwiches.
They just left Birmingham recently, where they spent two days. They were nervous in the big city.
“Our friends in France warn us that Birmingham is dangerous city,” she says. “That we must be VERY careful, or we get shot.”
I inform her that her friends are exactly right. There is no telling what kind of hell lurks in the ghettos of Mountain Brook.
“We visit Sixteenth Street Baptist Church,” she says. “And we both cry. It was very moving.”
So far, the girls have done it all. They took a canoe tour on the Coosa. They had pictures made at the Hank Williams statue in Montgomery.
They sipped sweet tea with mint, and clipped fresh camellias for their hair. They’ve eaten oysters in Azalea City. They drank at the Flora-Bama.
After the week is over, they will be traveling to Tennessee, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
She goes on, “People always tell my mother, ‘You crazy. Why you wanna go to Alabama? Why not Grand Canyon, or Yellowstone, or Disney World?’
“My mother was beautiful, she was kind, and she was everything.”
They get quiet.
One sister says something in French. They laugh. Then, their faces become serious. The older sister touches her sister’s hand. I don’t speak French, but I understand that look.
“We don’t mean to talk about our mother so much. We are only missing her today.”
I know you are, darling. And I believe you always will.
Welcome to the South.
Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - August 6, 2017 12:20 pm
Yes, missing mamma. Do you ever stop missing her? Especially if you were close. Something pops in my mind and I think I’ve got to tell mamma. Well, I can’t call but perhaps I can tell her anyway. Lovely post, Sean!! I hope the girls know that their mamma is with them on their journey.
Catherine - August 6, 2017 12:31 pm
I miss my Mother every day too. So glad their French Mother knew there is amazing beauty in the South. You just need to embrace the heat and humidity.
Donna Holifield - August 6, 2017 12:33 pm
Marty from Alabama - August 6, 2017 12:49 pm
Another one for the books.
Laura Young - August 6, 2017 2:09 pm
It sounds like their Mother knew that real beauty isn’t always in big canyons or huge parks (though there is real beauty there too), but in wherever you are– if you look for it! What a delightful experience meeting them!
Cathi Russell - August 6, 2017 2:22 pm
The weepy glees! We take so much for granted here living in this slice of heaven, it is wonderful to hear it from two Southern “virgins”!
Sam Hunneman - August 6, 2017 3:41 pm
Sounds to me like mama watched GONE WITH THE WIND once upon a time, and how could Disneyworld possibly compete with a fresh-cut camellia for your hair and Ko-Kolas from glass bottles?
And now, I’m gonna go get a cool drink of water ’cause just thinking about wearing a wool sweater and jumping rope in the attic on an 86° day has given me a hot flash!
Bruce C - September 22, 2017 9:29 am
Putting on a wool sweater and jumping rope in the attic … being a Yankee who has spent time in a Mobile attic in March, the mental picture this conjures in August is just priceless. Such a way with words!
Sherrie - August 6, 2017 4:14 pm
Erika - August 6, 2017 6:19 pm
These young women are doing it right, bless their hearts. I wish they were coming to Kentucky; we’d show them a time.
Jack Quanstrum - August 6, 2017 6:37 pm
Wonderful story. Well written! Yes there is nothing like the Deep South. I love the heat. Keep them coming Sean!
Melodie - August 6, 2017 6:49 pm
Yes, welcome to the South, but missing one’s mother is the same in any place, or country. My mama was my everything. When she passed away, it was the first time in my life, I was unable to share my sadness with her. Funny, it’s in my plans to ‘visit’ her tomorrow, and take her some new flowers. I love her and miss her so much. It’s been 9 yrs., this month.
LeeAnne Fontana Montes - September 22, 2017 2:09 pm
“When she passed away, it was the first time in my life, I was unable to share my sadness with her.”
Your words have brought me to tears and convey a feeling I have struggled to name all these years I have been without my Grammie.
That is so true and it is still so difficult not having her around to help make me feel better.
It is nice to know that someone else gets it.
Jeannie - August 6, 2017 8:45 pm
I am so glad that they were able to meet you! You are the epitomy of the Real South. Thankful that they get to know that REAL part.
Sherrie - August 6, 2017 11:22 pm
That’s a good point, Jeannie!
Maxine - August 6, 2017 8:45 pm
A refreshing visit with loving daughters on a mission for their mother. In 12 days it will be 16 years since I lost mine and I still want to tell her about the beautiful purple flowers a friend has growing in the yard.
Debby Haddock - August 6, 2017 10:55 pm
You always touch my heart. Thank you. I wasn’t born in the South, but my momma was, and I got here just as fast as I could!
Darlene Rhodus - August 7, 2017 12:36 pm
The word picture you have painted makes me feel like I am at the Whistle Stop in Fried Green Tomatoes. Lovely story. Thank you.
Mike - August 7, 2017 4:58 pm
Not a complete trip without Texas.
Drucie Brown - August 8, 2017 5:21 pm
Beautiful story. I’m glad the girls gave Alabama a chance.
Kathy Burgess - August 9, 2017 8:24 pm
I am 67…my mama died in 2004 She was 73…still a beautiful lady. But the ravages of lung Cancer had taken its toll. She smoked from the time she was 14 until a few weeks before she died. I didn’t really love her until I had my own children. I was blessed to be able to take care of her at home before she passed and now I miss her every day. Love you Mama.
Mary Anne - August 9, 2017 10:30 pm
We all miss our Mama, if she’s no longer with us. We all wish we could call her and tell her (fill in the blank). But if we are lucky, we still sense her spirit at the most inopportune moments. Our mamas live on in our hearts. God Bless those sisters for taking that trip to honor their Mother. Thank you, Sean, for sharing their story with us.
Lucretia - August 18, 2017 2:02 pm
Yes, welcome to the South where family is forever……
Kim Washington - September 22, 2017 11:05 am
Mother’s are God’s gift to us. We love them, learn from them, rebel against them, later sound like them, run to them, hug them, if we are lucky we grow old with them and then we learn how to truly let them go. We are our mothers and fathers and I am so proud to have been honored that God gave me to mine. Yes missing them a part of loving them and thanking them for all their love.
Judy Gaile - September 22, 2017 1:47 pm
I’m thinking “why would a lady from France want to visit Alabama?!” Gone With the Wind would make sense, but that was Georgia wasn’t it? It does sound like they hit a lot of the high points – hope they saw Vulcan in Birmingham. (BIrmingham is as dangerous as any big city if you get in the wrong part of townI I think that was a valid warning but it is a warning for anyplace!!) I know grits with cheese is popular now – but I never ate them that way growing up. They were mainly to hold the gravy together on a fork. And of course, there was no such thing as instant grits back then. Grits were “gravy glue”, and we had gravy most days. Bacon gravy was good – sausage gravy was good (not with the mashed up sausage in it – but made from the sausage drippings). Biscuits can hold gravy together very well too. When I moved to Illinois in 1973 I couldn’t buy grits up here. All the stores have them now. All the stores have Dale’s steak sauce now too. I used to stock up when I went home. The only things I can’t buy up here now are good corn meal, Southern Seasoning (which I order online) and Whole Milk Buttermilk. Not even the health food stores have Whole Milk Buttermilk. Nobody up here even knows that skim milk Buttermilk is a whole different thing.
Margaret - September 22, 2017 2:16 pm
When we came home from Alabama after Mama’s funeral, there was a surprise lily (spider lily) by my garage door. I knew then that she and Daddy were together again. The plant that I did not put there blooms this time every year. Miss you Mama.
unkle - September 23, 2017 4:03 pm
Loss is a universal language uttered from our hearts and understood by all. I have a treasure . It is a picture of mom sitting on her back porch. I still remember word for word the last conversation with mom before she died . It was silly and fun and as it turned out the last one.