I’m sorry for all the awful things I’ve been saying about you, Alabama. It’s really not your fault. Some of the people inhabiting you are short-sighted, apathetic, and all-out racist, but you’ve done nothing to me. When I’m asked about you, I pretend you’re an old boyfriend and proclaim that I couldn’t wait to get away from you.
But, you aren’t an old boyfriend, and you didn’t break my heart.
It’s only been six years, but I can admit that I made mistakes. A careless chain of them. You remind me of the people, places, and other experiences that broke my heart. That’s not fair to you though, is it? You’ve always welcomed me with open arms, and some of the most beautiful scenery I could hope to see. Minnesota has absolutely gorgeous and awe-inspiring falls, but you have cerulean skies during the day and open, black pools comprised of stars and galaxies at night. Seriously, I haven’t seen such a clear sky in a long time and I always forget how much I took it for granted for almost 22 years.
Am I wearing rose-colored glasses? Probably and possibly, but I’m attempting optimism for a change. My feelings about you are complicated, to say the least. After all, you shaped me in so many ways and I never thanked you properly.
I grew up in a Rockwellesque town where Main Street is literally the main street lined with shops, the courthouse, the library, churches, and homes. It’s not as glorious as it sounds since most of the shops have been boarded up for years, but I like to think someday that will change. Someday the conditions will adjust in the right direction and the street will be teaming with people, cars, and other activity.
For about half the time I lived there, we lived outside of town in a rural area or what some may call “country,” “boondocks,” or “middle of nowhere.” The black pavement handed off to the soft, red dirt roads that connected each trailer in the park. My brother, our friends, and I would explore the wooded area surrounding the park where we would find shacks overgrown with kudzu and bushes filled with blackberries. I wouldn’t buy those berries until I was an adult, actually, because they were ubiquitous.
My mother lives in a similar area now, making it all her own. Every time I visit her it’s a welcome retreat from my suburban neighborhood. Instead of being surrounded by fences and streets, Mom’s property stretches for acres where she, along with my stepfather, grow vegetables and tend to the chickens. Other than the occasional crowing, the land is silent and still.
I forgot how open you could be. If there’s traffic, people often wonder aloud what could possibly be happening in such a small town. Here, it’s a common occurrence.
But, you aren’t perfect and it isn’t so bad here. I’m not a huge fan of your politics or economy, and there are many things I enjoy about living in the north. The snow ranges from irritating to dangerous at times, but nothing beats the feeling of the first snowfall. A white Christmas is as magical as I always imagined.
The more I visit you to see my loved ones, the more I miss you and recall how I once loved you. Some days I visualize myself in a small house with the wraparound porch I always wanted overlooking the forest. If only I could write outside most of the year while sipping tea. Side note: it’s blasphemous, but it would be plain, unsweetened tea. Heaven knows how much sugar we dumped into the pitcher, but I’m older now and diabetes is real.
My “Southern” card has been revoked a few times, but what do you think, Alabama? Does a penchant for whiskey (which I like) or guns (which I’ve shot) make you a part of a place? Perhaps a state of mind? I admit that at times I miss how simple things used to be. My college town – my first real chance at being on my own – was larger than my hometown, but the feelings were the same. A major highway runs through it, but you could still experience downtown like many other towns throughout the state. Downtown consisted of a square instead of a main street populated by antique dealers, boutique restaurants, and the yearly arts and food festival.
Someday, Alabama, I will see you more often or even permanently. For now, I’ll enjoy my dual citizenship, but I promise I won’t denounce you with the kind of venom I did previously. There can be much internal conflict between a person’s place of origin and their perception. The proverbial grass that is greener on the other side.
But, Alabama, you are home, and you always will be.