For years I've mourned leaving Alabama and never returning there to live. Which is what I foolishly thought I would be doing when I first left the Shoals more than twenty years ago.
I've returned to visit a few times, and it's been grand, yet I thought that some day I would return, to live. Shortly after my divorce I returned, spending time with my friend, Debby, and exploring employment opportunities, full-well thinking that perhaps I would return, alone, on my own recognizance. But I didn't return. Rather, I fell in love with a man from Utah, which is where we've stayed. I've learned to love the red rock desert of Utah, while still pining the lush green and fervent blue.
We've traveled to Eastern Tennessee, Eastern North Carolina, Washington DC and surrounding areas. And they've fed my soul, warmed my heart with southern-ness. But . . .
This winter I told Scott I needed to return to Northwestern Alabama, to the area that shaped my adultness, and played a generous role in defining my children. And I wanted him to learn about this part of me, the me that loves bluegrass music, pecan pie, southern authors, magnolias, and green.
He agreed, and off we went, on May 7, for a ten day excursion down memory lane. This post isn't a travelogue. Rather, it's a "fair'thee well."
We drove from Tennessee to Mississippi back into Tennessee and dropped down into Florence, Alabama. When I saw the "Welcome to Florence," sign I had a little tightness in my chest, tears formed in my eyes, and I had to take some deep breaths. But then all was fine. We drove straight to my first house there, a hundred year old home, gorgeous, with the family who bought it from us still living there. I took pictures. We drove down to the Tennessee River, where my young family would walk the trail, wander the woods, splash in the water. And the trail was overgrown and inaccessible. We drove to Florence, and I couldn't remember where my house was, they all looked the same. We left the neighborhood, I remembered the house number, and we returned. That house was not my house! It did not look at all like any place I had lived. I didn't take pictures.
As we drove away, got on the highway loop that goes across the Tennessee River, my heart was light, my load was lifted. I was no longer in mourning, no longer yearning to return to where I had returned. We spent the day with friends (2 of the 5 we wanted to visit), with them sharing their story, the entire time knowing I was but a visitor.
Does time really heal? Is home where your love is, where your family resides? My roots in Alabama were just setting when we left, and they were pulled up on leaving. Most of my friends have left the area - going to their families, and I realized the time spent in Alabama was magical, but that magic was my making. And I can make magic anywhere, as long as those I love are near me. I will always hold this area close to my heart - it is here where I began to learn - began - and the path this set me on brought me here, where I am now.
I am a product of my environment/s. I love scents and colors and sounds. The fireflies were just joining us, and I am so grateful for all I was able to see, and not. Because what I saw was that I am home, really really home. My love, my children, my parents, my siblings, friends, work, future. I am happy, I am at peace, I am in love with my life here. Nothing is missing - except a few fireflies. This in no way means I'm finished with the south, no way.
Time marches on, and I didn't think I lived in the past, until that chapter in my book finished as we drove away from Florence, Alabama, looking forward -