School is officially out.
I mean it has been for a while, but if you haven’t noticed, I’ve been having trouble with the writing lately.
And yes, 8th grade is done and Ali is officially a high schooler now. Hey that’s cool.
Ali: I’m in high school. HIGH SCHOOL!!! I’m excited and scared and my whole life is completely changing but not really… it’s slightly traumatizing. But in a fun… way…?
(Also, since I got my blog printed into two shelves of books, she’s been devouring all of my old posts, and she now wants to take part in writing around here. So she’s edited this blog post and added in a few asides.)
Noah’s Alabama History year did not go nearly as neatly and chronologically as Ali’s Alabama History adventure four years ago, mostly thanks to COVID. Things weren’t open, things were so limited they weren’t worth going to, and I in general was lazier.
Instead, we tended to do his field trips in clumps – we went to Florence for three days and did a clump up there, including the going to the Jesse Owens Museum in Oakville on the way.(Note that although Noah comes up to Jesse’s shoulder, Jesse’s waist nearly comes up to Noah’s shoulder. The man had some incredibly intense legs.)
The main thing Noah learned was that he was not, in spite of his intense belief in himself, an Olympic-Ready Long Jumper…actually Noah probably thinks he totally made that 26′ 5 1/4″ marker. Because ten-year-old boys always believe in themselves.
We also visited The Helen Keller House (Ivy Green) in Tuscumbia,
Where Noah learned that Helen Keller’s handwriting at age 8 was neater than his at age 10.
We enjoyed our stop at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, which is not just about the band Alabama, despite housing their tour bus,
…And also all the things that were actually about music, leaving us shocked with how many incredible musicians came from our state.
I adore Florence, and it was a fun way to get our history in, especially since we took my mom along with us. So the next clump we took on was Mobile – a city I honestly have largely ignored nearly all my life (I’m sorry, Mobile, I was wrong).
This time we traveled with some friends and stayed in a lovely and historic hotel, the Battle House Renaissance, that added to the Alabama History ambiance.
Taking six kids with only two moms to the poshest hotel in town (on Marriott points – because I only travel on points) is not recommended if you don’t want to be remembered by ALL the staff. But the kids did great and had a fantastic time in our extraordinarily and blessedly mercifully massive rooms.
The hotel felt like a palace, including a crystal ballroom with massive murals of the history of Mobile,
and sculptured portraits of the four men who ruled over Mobile in its infancy as it rapidly changed hands: Louis XIV of France; George III of England; Ferdinand V of Spain and George Washington.
We did our best to instill in our children to act like quiet royalty while they were in our royal surroundings, insisting that they talk quietly in British accents,
And they did fairly well – until, while waiting interminably for their breakfast (miraculously quietly), Noah rolled his eyes heavenward long enough to take in the stained glass ceiling and spot… The Hand.
We all looked up.
Then we looked closer.
We were only left to ponder if The Hand belonged to an enemy of Louis, George, Ferdinand, or George Washington.
Downtown had a gorgeous New-Orleansesque architectural style, but seeing as how very insistent Mobile was about letting you know every half block on every plaque and in every museum and anywhere else they can fit it in that they had THE FIRST Mardi Gras celebration, I’m sure they’d say that ACTUALLY, New Orleans has a very Mobile-esque style.
The USS Alabama was our first stop,
Which is a very large and very easy-to-get-lost-in battleship,
Ali: I won, just so you know.
We traveled up at least 8 flights of steep stairs and I was hoping the entire time that there was some nice gangplank to get us back down. Nope. Just another eight flights of even steeper stairs.
Ali: That was a bad day to have my hair down.
We did enjoy the in/out board for all the ship’s officers, and felt like we needed something similar in our houses.
But more interesting than the battleship was the USS Drum that was on site as well, which is an incredibly claustrophobic submarine.
But it makes for awesome steampunk pictures.
It’s actually the only part of the battleship site I remember from when I was a kid because it’s just so impossible to imagine full-grown men LIVING in these holes.
The USS Drum, at 311 feet long, was nothing compared to the Hunley, the civil war submarine replica that they have below it – at 40 long, eight men would sit side by side and paddle it. PADDLE IT.
The crew drowned. Multiple times. On the last drowning, the submarine disappeared until 1995, when it was located off the coast of Charleston, South Carolina. The real Hunley is in a museum in South Carolina.
(I wish I could have gotten a better size comparison, but in the above picture, the USS Drum is behind the kids, looking like a huge ship but in actuality being a claustrophobic tube. The one in front of them is the Hunley.)
At the USS Alabama site, they also have a hangar full of jets and planes and helicopters and armed forces memorabilia and stories. It’s quite a site for history.
Our next Stop was the History Museum of Mobile. One of my favorite parts of Mobile is how the different museums all tied their pieces of history together.
The kids got to sit in another partial replica of the Hunley and see exactly how tight a fit rowing a submarine would have been – before they inevitably drowned in it.
They also featured our hotel as one of the points of history of Mobile, tying that back in as well.
Other points of interest in the museum included Goat Carts, which are the most bougie child travel arrangement ever,
A confederate ship’s toilet, where they got to pee on relaxing England countryside scenes but despite rumor to the contrary, NOT on Abraham Lincoln (thank goodness),
And a room full of massive, exquisite, incredibly detailed, handmade dollhouses by a man named Aaron Friedman, who, after retirement, was told by his wife that he needed a hobby. I’m pretty sure she never saw him again.
And oh – there was a hand….
After scurrying away from The Other Hand, we went outdoors to Fort Conde, also part of the museum and a beautiful addition to the downtown Mobile architecture.
After all that history, we decided the kids deserved the afternoon off, and took them to the rooftop pool – which was great and perfect until someone decided to break the Number One Rule of Swimming Pools and run on the pool deck,
creating a wound that created the need for a quick errand down the block to the local drug store for medical supplies, and the local Office Supply and Moon Pie Store for superglue.
We glued the child back together and called it a day.
Our last museum stop ended up being the kid’s absolute favorite – GulfQuest. It was so massive that I thought it was the cruise terminal when we drove into Mobile, but yet we had the place nearly to ourselves.
After the history museum of the day before that required a lot of reading, we had six very excited kids to get their hands thoroughly on the Hands-On Museum.
Ali: I think we managed to get everyone to touch every single button in that room. Multiple times.
The museum was about all things shipping, navigation, and nautical in general. The first thing they told us, though, was that Mobile was not JUST first at Mardi Gras. They were also first at Shipping Containers.
Don’t ever forget. Mobile is first.
As such, the multi-deck museum looked like a cargo ship full of shipping containers – and really was absolutely stunning.
I also enjoyed the further education in flaggery that I got in the bathroom – I feel all of these things sometimes. I just need the flags to let my family know.
The kid’s favorite game was the Great Gulf Challenge, where they had to make leadership decisions to balance the economy, the environment, and energy. They destroyed the planet multiple times.
But the epitome of the experience was the large 3D simulator where they actually got to steer various vessels in various weather situations through various bodies of water. Several scenarios included navigating straight through the Mobile Bay, where they got to see the now-familiar scenery and wave at ourselves as they went by.
GulfQuest was an absolutely incredible and would be worth the trip to Mobile on its own, but we found all of Mobile delightful, and are looking forward to visiting the city again soon.
I do apologize for my ignoring of you for so long, Mobile.