The rain drummed on the windshield as I steered my SUV onto U.S. 82 for the final leg of the trip.

I had vowed not to return to Alabama, to go home. I had cast it aside as racially ignorant, backward. There I was, though, with the windshield wipers turned on high, driving along a skinny stretch of highway as Simone and Nadia, 2 and 8 months, dozed in the back seat.

I was going home to Tuscaloosa, my mother’s hometown.

I reminisced as I drove the final leg of that journey. I passed a private school, where I had watched all of my girlfriends compete in a pageant.  There was the armory, where I had attended a dance, and the hill, where my high school sweetheart’s family lived.

I guess it’s not so bad, I thought.

I was more familiar with U.S. 82 than I wanted to admit. I had sat alongside Ken as he drove the two of us to University of Alabama football games, and I had slept in the backseat as my parents drove us to visit relatives. Ken had attended the university and told me about all his good times there. Mom didn’t think much of the city, except for the mud pies she made – and ate – while growing up.

I thought about all of this as I traveled down the highway that morning.

A canopy of trees hung over the slick asphalt road. The rain eased a bit, and country churches broke up the landscape along with barbecue joints and an occasional group of cows.

Maybe I could learn to like it, I told myself. After all, I met Ken here.

Ken had long accepted the state and all of her civil rights blemishes. I was determined to run from them, setting up temporary roots in Tennessee and Florida instead.

I couldn’t escape the tug of Alabama. Ken and I would visit family and friends. I would start thinking about a permanent stay the moment we stepped in the rental car. We would inventory all of the pluses — family and friends, more affordable homes, a slower pace. I would sum up all the negatives– small cities, less to do, a slower pace. Ken had no trouble going home, but I was happy to visit and quickly return to less conservative climes, where folks didn’t see the need to plaster the rear windows of their trucks with the Confederate flag. I managed to set aside those thoughts – the good and the bad. Maybe one day, I told myself, but not now.

One day came sooner than I thought. That was why I was on that stretch of 82, clutching the steering wheel, still afraid of two-lane highways. This time I had chosen to return instead of having the state thrust upon me. When I was a child, Dad was in the Air Force, which had decided where we lived every few years. This time I had signed off on all the details and orchestrated the moved. Still, a part of me wished it weren’t so. Maybe Ken had been kidding when he told me he had gotten a new job. Maybe Ken had been joking when he said he had started searching for our new home.

I knew that wasn’t true. The hurricanes of 2004 marked the beginning of the end of our stay in Florida. Hurricane insurance premiums increased exponentially. Our three-bedroom, two-bathroom stucco house became less and less affordable. By the time Hurricane Katrina ripped pieces of the roof off the Superdome, it was clear we had better find a new place to call home, a more affordable place to live. By then, we had had Simone and Alabama was again pulling on us. After Nadia was born, we had decided to pull up our stakes and head north to the Deep South. The move made sense in so many ways. The girls would be close to their grandparents. Ken could once again watch his beloved Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and I could research a book about my late mother, who had been born in Tuscaloosa some 60 years ago.

Maybe I didn’t give the state a chance, I said to myself.

The rain stopped and gave way to an overcast sky. At last, U.S. 82 became a four-lane highway and the flat earth turned hilly for a while. Simone and Nadia awakened just a few miles from our new home, and I wondered what they would think.

I called Ken, the man I had fallen in love with all those years earlier, for the final instructions. He had somehow gotten me to do something I had thought impossible.

“You’re close,” he said. “You’re almost here.”

He was wrong. I was almost home.

7 thoughts to “Going Home

  • Tanya B.

    I’ve never been to Alabama. Not even when I lived in Nashville.

  • taliba

    OMG I didn’t know you were from Alabama; so am I. My parents were born and raised there but I am the only one of my siblings born in Birmingham. My parents moved us to Ohio when I was two (I am close to the age your Mom would have been), and they were 18; so that we would not have to live the Jim Crow Southern life they had as youngsters. I regularly visited there (all my grandparents were still there), but always disliked it to the point of hating to say I was born there!

    It wasn’t the physical place I disliked but the spirit of the place. The physical space was beautiful; but stories of my maternal grandfather being killed by Bull Conner and his corrupt police; the ignorance, bias, and hatred I got a glimpse of when I was there for the summers; the stories of my father’s (white) grandfather; a judge who didn’t acknowledge my grandfather but gave him land when he died; and me seeing my strong, dignified grandmother give up her seat on the bus for a young white man (she had to make me sit in the back with her and I was confused and furious); made me hate the place! Add to that I watched my relatives from afar (in Ohio) go through the Civil Rights Era. My aunts actually attended that 16th St. Baptist church that was bombed in the 60s. Hated it!

    When I lived in Atlanta many years later I could barely bring myself to visit a (now somewhat different I admit) Birmingham. Although I am in Texas now, when I have a car trip (although mostly I fly), to Atlanta, Virginia, or Ohio to visit family; I can’t get through Mississippi (my great grandparents home) and Alabama fast enough. I hope one day one day I can forgive and enjoy the place as home, as you do. My ancestors would probably want me to find peace with it.

    • Honeysmoke

      I certainly understand your feelings. Really, I do. It’s a process, and some days are better than others.

  • Blanc2

    Very nice post. I am familiar with the conundrum of going “back home” when “back home” means a place with both good and bad points, the latter often involving ugly racist and other redneck elements.

    Your post, however evoked a memory of two songs:

    The first is by Mike Cooley of the Drive By Truckers, an Alabama-based rock band.

    A version by Mike solo:

    The original

    And of course the great “Deacon Blues” by Steely Dan

    “They call Alabama the Crimson Tide; call me Deacon Blues”

  • Jenn o.

    Totally have been reading this blog for almost a year now… and I love it, but now I love it SO MUCH MORE! I am also from Alabama. Also had the same thoughts. And also thought I’d never be headed back home, but here I sit, getting my Masters in Birmingham and hitting 82 every other weekend to see my nephews and family!

    Awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

    • taliba

      OMG! OK, you guys are scaring me. Don’t tell me that after being raised in Ohio, living in Atlanta, Virginia, and now Texas; where I obtained my PhD: Don’t tell me I’m going to somehow meet my Karma by ending up in Birmingham! I have been thinking of leaving Texas for years; but Birmingham (where I do have extended family)? Just can’t consider it – Say it ain’t so :-).

      P. S. I, also, love this blog!

      • Honeysmoke

        Thanks for the compliment. You can live where ever you like. 🙂

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