“the weather in NC makes me miss Alabama” This is a text I received Saturday morning. A deep text – at least in the lexicon of the 17-year-old boy. My 17-year-old boy, whose texts are usually short, direct and pockmarked by a reluctance to reveal too much. Here, though, in eight words – he spills volumes of our shared family history. Because I miss Alabama too.
We live in an emerald city, trapped happily between a very large lake and an even larger body of salt water. Geographically, we are about as far from Alabama as one can get while remaining in the continental United States. Politically and temperamentally, we live even farther away. But we love Alabama. Twenty-odd years ago my in-laws retired to the granulated sugar beaches of Gulf Shores from their urbane life just outside New York City. And for a time every summer, we have sunk into Alabama’s arms. The air choked with lazy heat. Thunderstorms building angrily over the gulf. The rise and fall of the tides from Mobile Bay, filling and draining the Boggy Branch. Red clay soil. Straight dirt lanes lined with grand live oaks. The swish-swish-swish the straw of the sea grass makes in the late afternoon. Salt water as warm as a summer bath. The hurricane cycles: destruction, renewal, destruction. An occasional alligator. Fire ants. Sweet tea. Flip flops. Beach towels that never quite dry on the line. The mullet net. Crabbbing. Billy’s Seafood. The Floribama. The Galilean service Sunday mornings, sifting the sugar between our toes as we fling our voices out across the Gulf. Our annual food rituals: Granny’s table set with favorite family dishes and cooled with key lime pie. Ribs + reds. Po’ boys @ Behind the pines, Hazels all you can eat breakfast for Dad. Throwed rolls, sometimes. Lulu Buffet’s place (yes, THAT Buffett). Fried alligator. Deep fried sushi. The quiet of the boathouse and a book. Loopin’ Louie. The club all to ourselves.
These are summers past now, at least for our family. Last month, Mom and Dad shuttered Alabama and the lives we shared there to open up a new life up north, back in the heartland where they were born. “We wanted to make the decision before someone had to make it for us,” Mom wrote before she unplugged her computer for the trip ahead. A reasonable and healthy intention. For them. But we were selfishly disappointed. My husband was bitter even.
But when the text, “The weather in NC makes me miss Alabama,” pinged my iphone the other morning, I realized that the swish-swish-swish song of the Alabama coast continues to play clearly, even here in the air of an emerald city about a million miles away.