Mississippi’s Alley-Gator Family
Hi! I am Alex Alley-Gator. Well, actually my full, name is Alexander the Alley-Gator. My parents named me after Alexander the Great who changed the course of history as one of the world’s greatest military generals. That’s a big name to live up to, and over time Alexander got shortened to Alex, so to my friends and family – and now to you – I’m known as Alex Alley-Gator.
Even though alligators are native to rural areas of Mississippi, my family has been long-time residents of downtown Hattiesburg. Growing up, my parents would read me the story of the city mouse and the country mouse (By the way, city mice and country mice are both delicious!), and remind me that wherever I lived they expected great things from me, just like Alexander the Great. So, I have a lot to live up to.
You may ask, why did my family choose to live in the alleys? Aren’t alleys dark and lonely, full of scuttering mice and strange noises? Well, where we live in downtown Hattiesburg, alleys aren’t like those you might find in other cities.
Here the alleys here are bustling with laughter, singing, fun and families. They are bright spaces where friends gather, listen to music, enjoy a meal and even get engaged. Its why we love where we live and have spread out (you know, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews) all over downtown Hattiesburg. Wherever we go there is always something interesting to experience around the next corner!
Whether it’s a new exhibit at the Hattiesburg Pocket Museum, an interesting movie at the Pocket Theater, a pop-up concert or a new art installation to examine and explore, why would we live anywhere else?
I happen to love all types of music (some people say my snout looks like the noisy end of a trumpet), so you can always find me where a happy tune is being played. It may be a concert at the Saenger Theater or Town Square Park, or a pop-up concert in one of the restaurants just down the street. There is always music to fit anyone’s taste.
Well, enough about me. Let me introduce you to my family.
She loves flowers. Of course, with a name like hers, you have to know that her favorite flower is the most common of Asterids, the daisy. But mom loves all flowers including roses, lilies and, of course, magnolias. Her hobby is planting and tending to her flowers. You will see her handiwork down by the creek or in the little parks around downtown Hattiesburg. She also hides a few pretty flowers in the cracks of the alleys or up against buildings. Spring is the best time to see the fruits of her labor, but sometimes you can find her flowers into the early summer.
Even though she loves her gardening, Momma spends the majority of her time making sure my brother and I are staying on top of our studies. She makes sure we spend lots of time in The Library of Hattiesburg Petal and Forrest County. The beautiful library has books on every subject matter, and that was where I learned about the man I’m named for, Alexander the Great. I hope you will stop by the library while you are downtown.
Oh, and make sure you look up when you walk inside so you can see the mural entitled “The Spirit That Builds”. It was painted by Hattiesburg resident and world-renowned artist, William Baggett and portrays the history of the city. Even more incredible, it’s 35 feet in the air, and really cool to see.
Momma did not always live in downtown Hattiesburg. She was a “country” gator from the banks of Swan Lake near Hollandale, Mississippi. Momma met Dad when they were both attending the prestigious Alligator Mississippiensis Abnormal College. While there, Momma received a degree in horticulture, which she has certainly put to good use. Momma and Dad tell different stories about how they met and fell in love. I tend to believe Momma’s version. She said Dad was smitten with her the first time he laid eyes on her. Dad says it was the other way around, but either way they fell in love and decided to make their home in Hattiesburg after looking far and wide for the perfect place to raise a family.
Now let me tell you about my dad, Andrew.
Well known in downtown Hattiesburg, he is a very distinguished gator, and always sports his top hat and cane when he is walking about town. Of course, he usually has a cup of coffee in hand, and the local restauranteurs are glad to give him a refill when he passes by.
While at Alligator Mississippiensis Abnormal College, Dad received his certificate in Urban Planning, which serves him well as he spends his days making sure things run smoothly in the alleys of downtown. He has a keen sense of smell and can usually sense trouble before it starts. If any of the cats get a little too rowdy or if the mice are causing a stir, Andrew simply has to tap his cane a few times on the pavement and everyone straightens up quite quickly.
He is well respected by the many residents of the downtown alleys, and you will often see them seeking his advice and council when it comes to building codes, construction, paving and planning. Dad is diligent about checking records at both City Hall and the Forrest County Courthouse to make sure businesses can move forward and have the support they need to succeed.
While dad is all business during the day, when he gets home, he always takes time to help me and my brother with homework, coaching us in sports or just playing a quick game of checkers. Oh, and momma would want to make sure I told you that every Friday he comes home with a bouquet of flowers just for her. I would have to say that my dad, Andrew, is an all-around great gator.
Now, I don’t know what time of day it is while you are reading about my family, but for me it’s lunchtime, which brings me to my uncle, Alfredo.
Alfredo Alley-Gator is a chef extraordinaire! Before moving to Hattiesburg, he lived in New Orleans for many years and was trained by the best of the best alligator chefs on Creole and Cajun cuisine. Along the way, he also learned about traditional French and Italian dishes. That’s why I always like eating at Uncle Alfredo’s. Whatever he cooks is going to be delicious!
In addition to working in several famous New Orleans restaurants, Uncle Alfredo went to culinary school to make sure he was the best alligator chef. He practiced and practiced his knife skills so that he was known for his ability to julienne and brunoise with great speed. He also spent hours kneading dough and rolling out French loafs and making the best beignets (which are my favorite).
Now, any self-respecting New Orleans chef knows how to make the perfect roux. And, Uncle Alfredo is no exception. He cooks gumbo for us a lot and my favorite kind is his chicken gumbo. Of course, he also makes jambalaya with fish, shrimp and some andouille or boudin. Every once in a while, he makes us a delicious turtle soup, but one item that never shows up on his menu is alligator.
Alfredo loves to share his kitchen knowledge with his children and his nephews. He always stresses the importance of safety when preparing and cooking meats and vegetables and the necessity of keeping clean and sanitary surfaces in the kitchen.
To the delight of diners, Alfredo serves as a guest chef in several downtown restaurants where he takes their normal menu items like pastas, hamburgers, pizzas, salads, fried chicken and barbecue and puts his Louisiana spin on them.
All this talk of food makes me think of one particular alligator in my family.
Or “Ann the Annihilator”, as my brother, cousins and I like to call her. Ann is my dad’s sister so I can’t let him or Momma hear me if I call her, “Ann the Annihilator”. My dad says his sister has great drive and gumption, and my Momma just nods in agreement. I don’t know what drive or gumption means, but if it includes attacking a plate of fried chicken like it’s her last meal, then I agree.
Ann likes to eat, and by eat – I mean annihilate everything in her reach. She likes food of every type. She likes spicy food, bland food, high-calorie food and low-calorie food, breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner. She doesn’t discriminate when it comes to food. If it can be nibbled, gnawed, or swallowed whole, Ann will take down anything in her path. She is certainly Chef Alfredo’s best and most appreciative customer. As a matter of fact, I’ve never found anything she won’t eat.
When she isn’t eating, which isn’t very often, Ann works in the basement of a downtown bank. Yes, I know what you’re thinking…..she looks perfect for an office job. And you’re right she is. She attacks her work much like she attacks her food – with wild abandon. I hear she goes through paperwork at a record speed. Her co-workers can’t keep up, and I’ve been told they give her plenty of space to complete her assignments.
While Ann is ALL business, I have a cousin who is about anything, but business.
Ace is one cool dude! Now, that’s not how Momma or Dad would describe him, but that’s what I think of him.
Ace Alley is the son of Chef Alfredo, which makes him my first cousin. Ace does everything at his own pace – slow! He never gets excited about anything. He walks slow. He talks slow. He eats slow. And he drinks slow.
Momma and Dad think Ace lives in his own world. Uncle Alfredo says Ace is a creative genius, who moves to the beat of his own drummer. I read in the dictionary that creative geniuses, ‘have mastered the ability to combine their divergent and convergent thinking skills to continually produce innovative and novel ideas’. Well, that describes my cousin Ace perfectly.
Ace loves working with his hands, and he has a good eye for design and detail. Ace can make anything – it just takes him a while to get it done – remember what I said about him being slow. But then, when you least expect it, BAM, Ace shows up with the most creative, incredible piece of art anyone has ever seen, and he made it with his own two hands.
Take my word for it, Ace’s works of art will be admired by people of Hattiesburg for years to come. He will be compared to artists like Picasso, da Vinci and Michelangelo, and I am proud to be his cousin.
When Ace isn’t working in his workshop, he hangs out with his friends at one of the ultra-cool watering holes in downtown cheering on his favorite pro-football team every Sunday.
And speaking of cheering on, I want to introduce you to my brother.
Archie is an over-achiever – a “real doer” as my dad says.
When I go to the library, which I talked about before, I like to look up words in the dictionary. That way I can better understand big words my Momma and Dad use when they talk to each other and don’t think I am listening. I looked up the word ‘achiever’. It means: someone who achieves success especially through effort: a successful person. Well, that describes my older brother Archie perfectly.
Everything Archie attempts he does well. “He is an excellent student and a sweet boy,” my Momma says. “He is well mannered,” my aunt Ann says. “He is a quick learner,” Chef Alfredo says. “He is going places,” my dad says.
It would be easy to be jealous of Archie, but I’m just trying to learn from him and be more like him every day. Just last week Archie bought a skateboard with money he earned by doing chores around our alley, and already he is riding that thing like he was selected for the Extreme Alligator Games.
Now, every day after we finish our school work, Archie can be seen whizzing through the downtown streets and alleys weaving around storm drains performing kickflips, grabs, slides and grinds. He sometimes forgets to wear his helmet, which really upsets Momma. Other than that, he’s a real pro. Momma wants to make sure that skateboarding is a hobby and not a career for Archie so she is always reminding him that skateboarding follows schoolwork.
I agree with my dad, Archie sure is going places, and I bet he gets there on his skateboard.
Now that I’ve introduced you to my big brother, I guess it’s time to introduce you to my baby sister.
Welcome to the world baby sister, Amaryllis!
Yes, I agree, that’s a big name for such a little girl. Momma chose it because it means “new, freshness”, and it is the name of a flower whose natural habitat is South Africa. We all know how much Momma loves flowers and wants to travel to South Africa, so Amaryllis it is.
Momma has always wanted a little girl gator, which I guess I understand since she has put up with me and my brother and male cousins all these years. I don’t mind having a baby sister. There are all kinds of things I can teach her like where to hide, where to play, where to swim and what to do to stay out of trouble. I am sure there are things she will teach me too, but I can’t imagine what those things will be.
My favorite thing about her so far is the fact that Uncle Alfredo made a fantastic strawberry cake when Amaryllis was hatched. I had no idea how much I liked strawberry cake. Of course, I did have to wrestle the last piece of cake away from Aunt Ann, but I’m not going to feel guilty about it. I’m still a growing alligator after all.
Taking care of two growing boys and a new hatchling is a lot of work, so my mom reached out to our family for help. That’s where my Aunt Albi stepped in.
Aunt Albi is amazing. Not only is she a huge help to Momma and our entire family, but she is amazing because she is a real rarity. Albi is an albino alligator.
Momma and Dad told me that before Albi was hatched, she inherited a gene that made her skin color white or translucent, which was another word I had to look up in the dictionary. Along with the white skin color, her eyes also have a lightly-pink tinge to them rather than the black and yellow eyes that I have.
Albi carries her umbrella with her whenever she goes outside because the sun can cause damage to her skin if she is exposed for long periods of time. Some albino alligators are blind when they are hatched, but Albi is not. Her eyes are sensitive to the sun though so Dad is ordering her some sun shades that will help her see better when we are out and about in the daylight.
I think Albi is beautiful. I will say that other alligators will look twice at her and some will stare, but that’s just because she doesn’t look like everyone else. Albi has gotten used to the stares and she walks with her head held high because she has embraced her differences. She is special, and she makes our family complete…..well, almost.
What can I say about Ab? Well…he is the fun uncle!
Everybody needs a fun uncle. Dad would say that while he was the responsible and smart son, his brother Ab was the exact opposite. I guess that’s what makes him so much fun.
Currently Ab has taken up yoga for exercise. He says it’s good for his mind, body and spirit. Personally, I just think Ab likes to roll around on the floor. He does make me laugh while I watch him trying to manipulate his arms, legs, tail and head in weird poses named “Downward Dog”, “Locust Pose”, “Bridge” and “Plank”. He certainly doesn’t make Yoga look very graceful.
When we are together as a family, my brother, cousins and I can always talk Ab into taking us off on an adventure. My parents always trust Ab to bring us back safely, but if they knew where we went, they might be concerned. One time while we were at Town Square Park for a family picnic, we convinced Ab to take us down for a tour of Gordon’s Creek. Ab wanted to give us all a ride and an elevated view of what was happening around us so we jumped on his back and away we went. Everything was going fine until a big egret swooped down to try to grab me. Luckily, he missed, and we all scampered off of Ab’s back and into the water where we swam back to safety.
None of us told our parents what happened, but Ab was certainly more careful with us after that.
Some of the other alley residents say there is just something a bit “off” about Ab. Ab’s response to that is, “Well if they consider themselves to be the standard for normal then I don’t want any part of it.” I agree with Ab, I think he is perfect just like he is.
SEE YOU LATER ALLEY-GATOR
The best journey always takes us home!
Alex Alley-Gator has tired of his everyday surroundings and has convinced himself that great adventure awaits him outside of his home of downtown Hattiesburg, MS. As he visits each of his family members to share the news of his journey and to bid them farewell, they gift him with items to make his travels easier. Just before stepping outside the city limits, he looks at each item again and flips open the compass his brother gave him. At every point, North, South, East and West the compass says HOME. Alex turns around and steps back toward downtown realizing his best adventures start and end at home!