Far from home, an Alabama-born writer reflects on the roots and memories she holds dear.
By Beth Albright
I was lucky. I grew up in Alabama, where storytelling is a way of life. In the South, we are good at stories. We hold them close like fine diamonds, polish them up like precious silver, and we hand them down like priceless heirlooms to our young with the hope that they will tell our stories for us when we are gone, returned to the red clay of home.
I was born and raised in Alabama and I am in the middle of a lifelong love affair with Tuscaloosa, my hometown. I pine for the misty liquid creamsicle sunsets that sink into the inky Black Warrior River. The kudzu slips seductively over everything that stands still and summers are miserable if you measure them by the humidity. Step outside from the air-conditioning and you’ll feel like you’ve opened a dishwasher mid-cycle. But I miss it. You know you’re alive in the Deep South. It’s sensual. It breathes long, slow, deep breaths. You feel it.
Life is unique down South. I learned this lesson the hard way—by leaving. I have lived in New York City, Los Angeles, California, and nearly everywhere in between. And I stay in the perpetual state of homesick for Alabama.
The sense of peace I feel when I’m home is a treasure, an old relic of a life I lived here long ago. Like an antique typewriter—timeworn but so satisfying to the soul. I felt it just recently when I was home for a book signing. One night, gentle raindrops slapping against the aged windowpanes awakened me. I was soon tugged by memories of what Southern rain felt like, soft and fragrant. Before I knew it, I was standing on the back porch as the daybreak crept in, musty air mixed with damp cool. The rain seems softer here, the fragrance sweetened with the perfume of boxwoods, magnolias, fig trees, and the wet ground. I stood still on that old back porch and inhaled a South I miss every single day. It was a slow moment of Southern nature at its denouement, as if taking a bow at the end of an emotional play. I alone was the standing ovation.
I love the back roads, dirt roads, and highways down here, for each path is met at its edge with thick draperies of lush green forest and wild overgrowth tumbling down mountainsides to kiss the shoulders of endless stretches of blacktop or red dirt.
I love how a simple dusting of snow closes entire cities down, causing folks to race outside with all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. I love the historical homes whispering their stories to me when I drive by, and the ghosts of ancestors that still breathe in every tale we tell. I love the Saturdays in fall when football-crazed fans crowd the campus and for a moment we are all one—no matter our background—to root for our team.
But what I love most is that we are storytellers—all of us. We have built a culture on our stories, and I will write about this place and my people for as long as I am alive. Writing keeps me feeling like I’m home, because I am as long as I am telling my Southern stories. Proudly sharing my Southern roots and our way of life, I can be in this perfectly imperfect place—for, pressed within the pages I write, I am always home.
Read more of Beth’s take on gracious Southern living in the March/April 2017 issue of Southern Lady. Keep an eye out for it on newsstands, or subscribe today! For more about Beth, visit bethalbrightbooks.com.