Arab was not a large city. I don’t believe it is now either. But at the time of my childhood, we boasted a population of approximately 8,000 people. As it turns out, 2005 estimates place it around 7,500. So it seems we might have been a bit ambitious some two decades ago.
But I gotta say that I love it when people ask me where I’m from. “Arab,” I say. Of course I pronounce it appropriately. Not like (?er?b) as in “Arab Muslim.” Most of us were Baptist or Methodist. But (a rab) as in “a rab-id coon bit my dog and now I have to shoot ‘im.” There’s always an odd silence that follows. Once I savor that moment, I continue. “It’s a little town just south of Huntsville.” At this, I almost always get one of two responses.
Some just shake their heads. But most – and I do mean most – will say, “Oh, sure. I know Arab.” How so many people have come to be connected to Arab is beyond me. Sometimes they have relatives there. Sometimes they recall having sold such-and-such to so-and-so (who is usually related to someone in the first group). Regardless, it’s one of those freaky rules of nature, like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Almost anyone can be traced back to Arab in six steps or less.
Don’t get me wrong. Arab is not without its famous events and people. For starters, there’s the annual Poke Salat Festival. But perhaps even more noteworthy is the fact that the short list of hometown successes (according to Wikipedia) includes actress Monica Potter (Along Came a Spider et al). I should note that I find no other evidence of this anywhere online. But regardless, she joins my friend Jill King (Country singer and songwriter) as the only two mentions.
I am predictably NOT on the list. Apparently they don’t consider winning the University of North Alabama “Ugly Walk” Competition worthy of recognition. Well, I’m not bitter. But I would also like to point out that I was the star of the brief-but-popular morning radio segment “Breakfast with Brandon” on AM 1380 – WRAB (Your Friend and Neighbor). That listening audience spanned from Joppa to Scant City. So it was a pretty big deal.
Regarding the name, (and this could just be the product of myth – but one which also eventually found its way to Wikipedia) I’ve always understood it to have come from little more than a clerical error. The city’s founder was also it’s first postmaster, Stephen Tuttle Thompson. His son’s name was Arad. Yes, that’s A-R-A-D. When the city decided to incorporate in 1882, three options were given for the name: Ink, Bird, and Arad. Apparantly, we went with Arad, but a tragic typo in the process of incorporation deemed us forever . . . Arab.
I’m glad they went with Arad. If one of the other names had been chosen and misspelled, I might have ended up being from Jnk. I can only guess how we would have pronounced that one. Or we might have been known as Bord, which was what most of us were anyway growing up in that town.
Make no mistake. Arab is, and forever will be, at the very top of my list of favorite places to grow up – and that’s not just because it’s the only place I grew up. I love that city. Ask any one of those
8,000 7.500 people, and they’ll have their own stories, their own history, their own notable people, places, and things.
Got a good Arab story? Click “Read More” and post it below. My friend Jackie works for Otelco, so I know they have internet now.