This past weekend, Clista and I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Helen Keller Festival in Tuscumbia, Alabama. One of the premier events on the last two days of the festival, is a book signing at Coldwater Books in downtown Tuscumbia. In 2011, I had attended the Coldwater event as an author, and sold quite a few copies of my first book Delta Days, Tales of the Mississippi Delta. I hoped to be there this year, but family obligations prevented it. While I could not be a participant, we were able to stop by and visit.
We spent Friday night in Decatur, Alabama, and in my never ending quest for good steakhouses, we dined at the JW Steakhouse in Priceville. It just wouldn’t be fair to JW’s to compare it to Doe’s or Ruth’s—different category all together. JW’s is a country steakhouse like the Hunter’s Pub outside of Columbus, Georgia, and though it falls far short of the Pub, it wasn’t the worst steak I’ve ever had by a long shot. We ordered rib eyes, and were disappointed that they were less than an inch thick; too thin to cook on a charcoal grill, but tastier than expected. At least they weren’t slathered with Worchester sauce.
On Saturday morning we had breakfast at a Waffle House, and then drove the forty miles to Tuscumbia. On the trip, we passed Pond Spring, the home of General Joseph Wheeler, near Courtland, Alabama. Joe Wheeler has always been one of my favorite figures. He was a Georgia born graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. When the War for Southern Independence started, he resigned his U.S. Commission and joined the Confederacy. He rose to the rank of Major General by age 27. He fought in all of the major campaigns in the west, and earned the nickname of “Fighting Joe.”
After the surrender, he bought some land in Alabama and began life as a cotton planter. He prospered, and by 1880, he had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, and served eight terms. When war with Spain was declared in 1898, he volunteered to serve and was appointed a Major General of Volunteers in the U.S. Army by President William McKinley. He commanded the cavalry division of the Army in the invasion of Cuba, and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s regiment of Rough Riders were under his command.
In his sixties and carrying a few extra pounds, he became seriously ill in Cuba, but when he heard the gunfire at the start of the Battle of San Juan Hill, he mounted his horse and rode to the front. It was said that during the heat of the battle he screamed to his men,
“Let’s go boys; we got those damn Yankees on the run again.”
When you’ve been in two armies in two different wars, it’s difficult to keep your enemies straight. Wheeler remained in the Army after the war ended, and was promoted to Brigadier General in the Regular U.S. Army. He served as a brigade commander under General Arthur MacArthur in the War in the Philippines, before finally retiring. He died in 1906, and is one of the few Confederate Officers buried in Arlington National cemetery. Quite a guy.
We did not stop at Pond Spring, I had already visited there on several occasions, and Clista had no interest what-so-ever. We pressed on to Tuscumbia, and arrived just before noon. Our first stop was Coldwater Books, and we took our time and visited with some of the authors. I was hoping to spend some time with Annie Cole, author of Murmuring Cove, which I have just read and enjoyed. Annie had been there earlier in the morning, and I just missed her.
I did have a moment with J.D. Manders, author of the children’s book, The Fairy Child. J.D. While deployed in the military, wrote the book for his children back home. The book has been a hit, and he is working on his second book, to be published later this year. I had a brief visit with Sandi Hendricks, the indefatigable events manager at Coldwater Books who has been instrumental in providing exposure to so many southern writers.
We were faced with a four to five hour drive back to Opelika, so we were forced to leave Tuscumbia after a quick tour around town. We had hoped to be able to visit the Fame Music Studios in Muscle Shoals while we were in the area, but time ran out, so we have an excuse to go back. Sandi sponsors another event at Christmas, and maybe we can go then.
Photos of Coldwater Books from their web site, http://www.coldwaterbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/store32.jpg