The conversation when I meet someone new these days often sounds like this:
Them, “Wow, I bet it’s been hard to get used to this weather, moving here from Alabama!”
Me, “Oh no. I’m originally from the Midwest! I’m NOT from Alabama. I just lived there.”
As soon as I say it, I feel guilty. It’s like I’m talking about a dear friend behind her back. I’m really saying, “don’t associate me with Alabama!” But I say it because I have a lot of anger, albeit misdirected anger, towards Alabama.
Before moving to the Deep South, I had an idealized vision of what life there would be like. I was lured by the romanticism of southern hospitality. Having read countless books by southern authors, watched Steel Magnolias at least 1,000 times, and being a loyal subscriber to Southern Living, I was certain of the charm that awaited me in the small, southern town of Saraland, Alabama. Certainly I’d have quirky neighbors who wore funny hats and gardened. They’d smile and wave saying, “why don’t ya’ll come over for some supper!” After supper we’d sit on the the front porch, chatting with neighbors while swatting away the mosquitoes and drinking our sweet tea. We’d be accepted there, as all newcomers were in the southern novels I’d read. Sweet old women would take me under their wing, fussing over me and offering me their years worth of motherly advice.
But it wasn’t like that at all.
The day we moved in, we were robbed. Later that week, the Saraland police department refused to help me when I’d set off my own house alarm. Although my neighbors heard my alarm sounding, not one of them offered to help either. A month after moving to Alabama, Hurricane Katrina hit. Even after two and a half years of living there, I never felt as if we fit. We were always outsiders.
I often wonder if things would have started out differently in Alabama, if my experience there would have been different. Maybe I would have interacted with people differently, less suspiciously, without judgment. The robbery, although minor, was something that rattled me to the core. I still feel violated even after all this time, but it seems unfair to blame an entire state on the stupid act of one person. Hurricane Katrina did very little damage to my home, we only lost a few trees, but the sounds from that day will forever haunt me, as will the images from the media that we saw day after day after day.
I so badly wanted it to be different, I wanted us to be accepted. I wanted my idealized vision of southern hospitality to actually exist. Living there, I felt cheated.
It’s odd, though. Now when I think about Alabama, I feel a sense of nostalgia. Partly for what I idealized, but also partly for the all the good things. I miss the warmth in March, everyone’s accents, the beach, and the food. I miss that I didn’t take full advantage of all that Alabama had to offer while living there, but instead focused on my own anger. Being so eager to move and get far, far away, I feel like there is so much still left undone and unsaid.
Goodbye, Alabama. I think that I’ve made my peace with you. Although you weren’t what I expected you to be, you weren’t as bad as I’ve made you out to be, either. Starting today, whenever someone asks me about Alabama, I’ll claim you as my own. Proudly.