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  Field Notes From
ZipUSA: 35160



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ZipUSA: 35160 On AssignmentArrows

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From Author

Margaret G. Zackowitz



ZipUSA: 35160 On Assignment

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From Photographer

David McLain



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top) and Anne McLain


 

ZipUSA: 35160

Field Notes From Author
Margaret G. Zackowitz

Best Worst Quirkiest
    There aren't many places to stay in Talladega. There's a chain motel in the parking lot of the town Wal-Mart, and then there's Jim and JoAnne Pemberton's gorgeous old house on North Street, which they run as a bed and breakfast. Because the Alabama Institute For Deaf and Blind is nearby, they often host deaf guests. To help these guests feel welcome, JoAnne has taught her pug dog, Miss Scarlett, to respond to American Sign Language. And not just "sit" or "stay." My favorite command is when JoAnne passes her hand in front of her face in the sign for "pretty lady," and Scarlett leans back to strike a supermodel's pose on the sofa cushions.

    I had to learn to keep my mouth shut. This is difficult for me. Even though I was born in Virginia, it never occurred to me that every time I'd say anything in Alabama, my (lack of) accent would brand me as a Yankee. "You're not from around here, are you?" I must have heard it 50 times. In downtown Talladega, at a store that sells pretty much only overalls, bedding plants, and Coke in glass bottles, I induced hilarity among all within earshot simply by pronouncing the "r" in collard. "There ain't no "r" in collard, girl!" I would have begged to differ, but I likely would have been told there ain't no "r" in differ either.

    It's probably best to avoid foods advertised by hand-lettered signs posted in gas station windows. But in Talladega I succumbed to the boiled peanut. You should too.
    The lady behind the counter will laugh when she learns you've never eaten one before. "You want the spicy or the regular?" she'll ask. (Spicy.) She'll lift the lid of the Crock-Pot and you'll see peanuts in their shells, aswim in a smelly, mysterious, steaming black broth. She may ladle an extra few into the Styrofoam cup she hands you. Then she'll tuck the overflowing cup, lidless, into a paper bag, and outfit you with a wad of napkins. She will say, "Enjoy."
    The paper bag, and your car's upholstery, will already be blooming with peanut juice by the time you work up the courage to taste the things. Crack into the wet, papery shells with your fingers and pop the still-warm peanuts out. They're approximately the texture of baked beans—mushy and spicy and so salty that your tongue will swell and the insides of your cheeks will draw together in sudden dehydration. Before you know it, you'll have figured out where Southern drawls come from: gas station Crock-Pots.


   


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