The Southern Book Tour, Part 2: Alabama the Beautiful

Alabama, I owe you an apology; I’d honestly forgotten how beautiful you are.

I’d had Mississippi on my mind for so long, the flat landscape, the delta, and the so much that had happened there that I’d managed to steel myself toward, returning. I was so well prepared for all of that.

But, oh! Alabama! The mountains! The color! The winding roads!

I was lost and not lost both, when I hit the city. Had found a Hampton Inn in Mountain Brook (“Mountain Brook!” I’d thought. “I forgot about lovely Mountain Brook–sure, I’ll stay there!”) and took an exit that led me onto Highland Avenue, and then missed some turns but it didn’t matter because there I was in my old neighborhood–gasp!–oh! So beautiful! THAT building is new–geez, it’s HUGE! There’s the Western Supermarket–the Western, I used to walk to it! And the bookstore? Now a gym. And the apartment, our first apartment…there it was, and I had my hand over my mouth the whole time I was driving, other hand gripping the wheel way too tightly, laughing out loud, crying too, not quite believing so much was exactly the same, exactly, and I would have stopped to take a picture but there were cars behind me and there was no way to stop, and I didn’t need a picture anyway because I already have that picture at home in a photo album, been in that album more than twenty years and there would not be one thing different in the photo, not one, it’s the same exactly. And up the hill and up, and around more twists and turns, all through Highland Avenue, over into Mountain Brook, you can’t read a roadside ANYwhere in Mountain Brook, we used to drive all through here, we dreamed about where we might move next, how much would it cost to live here, doesn’t this whole place look like the swiss alps, honestly, if people knew Alabama looked like this, everyone would be here, everyone would, Alabama must not want people to know how beautiful Alabama is, we could stay here forever, couldn’t we?

And on and on. Time dissipated completely, a false and flimsy veil, I was as much in the past as I was in the present, as much in a dream as I was in reality–I realized and remembered how many dreams I’ve had all these years of driving up and down the sides of that mountain, why were we always driving all those neighborhoods? Just because we could, maybe, and because we were always saying, “We could live here, can you imagine living here, look how hard it would be to drive in the winter when it’s icy, is this too far from school, could you still ride your bike, what could we plant in the yard, would we have a yard, look at the view…” The world so literally lay at our fingertips. All that talking about all the things we could do. So many things we did do. So many things we didn’t–and that was okay, because it was part of the decisions we made, part of the life we hammered out piece by piece.

I was as unprepared for encountering all those happy, beautiful memories as I had been prepared for the bad ones earlier, in Mississippi. It was a complete and utter shock to my system.

It was getting late, it was getting dark, I was tired, I really was lost now and couldn’t find my way back to the hotel, my blood sugar was crashing, I wasn’t laughing anymore and was trying not to cry. I summoned up everything I had in me, everything, to figure my way carefully and safely back to the hotel, called the desk clerk (who agreed it was impossible to read a roadsign in the city–they’re all carved wood signs, small and square, not a one of the more ubiquitous and practical reflective green and white ones), got some food, got to the hotel at last, got more food, got unloaded, got to my room, and, now found, lost it entirely.

Oh, Alabama. You really were, and you really are, so beautiful. You seem, yourself, young and full of promise. You seem, yourself, undiscovered.

I wanted to be there a week, two weeks, a month, I knew I could live there again–in a second, if circumstances somehow made it so–but I only had one day, and when I drove out of the city the next day, still thought all the way through driving north, all the way through every part of beautiful Alabama that she is a wonder, she is. All of what she is.

Beautiful, beautiful Alabama.
 

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