Alabama is hard, y’all.
It just is. It’s hard to be from here. It can be hard to live here. And sometimes — ok, a lot of the time — it’s hard to defend her.
These last few weeks have been especially trying for those of us who were born and bred here, who love our home state, and who desperately want to be able to puff our chests out with pride and say, Hell yes I’m from Alabama! And you can kiss my whole entire ass if you don’t like it!
Now y’all know that this isn’t a political blog, and I’m not a political writer. I ain’t taking a side, and I’m not passing any judgment. I’m not waving a flag, or a sign, or the Bible. Partly because my job prohibits it, and mostly because my Granny always said that it’s not polite to talk about money, politics, or religion, and I will follow that sound advice today.
But lately I’ve been down. Way down. What’s gotten to me is the blatant derision of every little thing remotely related to Alabama. For instance, I posted in a Facebook group the other day about The Poke Salat Festival in Arab, Ala. I meant it to be a funny hey look at this interesting thing post. The very first comment on the post, and I mean almost immediate, was “Too bad it’s in Alabama. I can’t spend money there anylonger. [sic]” On a poke salat post. By a person from Georgia. A fellow southerner.
As I’ve said before, those who live in glass houses should not throw dirt clods. And I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to pile on. I don’t want to perpetrate negativity, contempt, mockery, and scorn. I try to be more sunny side of the street and less turd in the punchbowl.
Tragedy (my husband who has a resting sad face compared to my constant mule-eating-briars Comedy grin) says that I’m optimistic to a fault. And I guess he’s right, because what I want us to do today, brothers and sisters, is to clear our minds of all the upset from the last few weeks (all y’all on whatever side of whatever issue has your drawers in a wad) and take a teeninecy minute to look at the good things, the things that inspire awe and marvel, the truly beautiful things about our motherland.
So lest we forget that sometime the glass of sweet tea (or gin) is half full, here are some things in no particular order about Alabama that are easy. Easy to love. Easy to enjoy. And easy to be proud of.
- The land. Alabama is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically diverse place. And if you play your cards right, you can watch the sun rise over the mountains and see it set on the Gulf of Mexico all in one day. In between enjoy waterfalls, lakes, and rivers, dense forests, and rolling farmland.
- The fauna. There is plenty of wildlife from noble deer to the lowly possum. If fishing is your thing, bring your bass boat and drown that worm right here. Birdwatcher? Bring the binoculars. You might see an eagle or an indigo bunting. Keep an eye out, though, for gators, bear, and rattlesnakes. They’re all here too.
- The Civil Rights Movement. From Rosa Parks taking a stand by taking her seat to the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery to the protests led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Alabama has been the site of many key moments in the Civil Rights movement. And now we have a designated National Monument to this pivotal time anchored by Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, the scene of a bombing that killed 4 little girls.
- Space. We helped send a man to the moon. Yep, they don’t call Huntsville The Rocket City for nothing. That’s where the Saturn V rockets that pushed Apollo 11 into space were built.
- SEC football.
- The food. The food is good. Real good. Barbecue, gumbo, seafood, meat-and-three, soul food, white tablecloth, dinner on the grounds, pie, ice cream, Maw Maw’s home cookin’. If you want it, you can find it in Alabama. And not just Southern fare. Taco trucks can be found within spitting distance of Vietnamese food or Korean food or Russian food or German food. And don’t even get me started on the joy that is a Chilton County peach and all the fresh produce that can be and is grown here.
- The stories. Alabama’s storytellers, wordsmiths, and truth sayers are among the best you’ll find anywhere. From Harper and Truman and Zora (who need no last names) to Fannie Flagg and Rick Bragg to Winston Groom and Daniel Wallace and Albert Murray the list goes on and on and on. And let’s don’t forget all the stories we heard from our parents and grandparent while we were shelling peas on the porch or sitting around the fireplace. Just because they’re not written down between the covers of a book doesn’t mean they’re not valuable.
- The music. From jazz at Tuxedo Junction to The Muscle Shoals sound from The Swampers, from Hank Sr.’s high lonesome to The Louvin Brothers Sand Mountain gospel/bluegrass. From W.C. Handy, the father of the blues, to the soul of the Commodores, Clarence Carter, Martha Reeves, and Percy Sledge. There’s country from Tammy Wynette, Vern Gosdin, and Alabama (the band) and gospel from the Blind Boys of Alabama. We can’t forget Emmylou and Jimmy Buffett. These people and so many more have picked, grinned, and sung their way into the ears and hearts of the world, many of them pioneering the very course of modern music.
- The art. Whether it’s the primitive art of Mose Tolliver or the quilts of Gee’s Bend, Frank Flemming’s sculptures or the multi-media creations of William Christenberry or the paintings of Thornton Dial, Alabama has got a mad creative streak. And those folks certainly aren’t the only ones who see things in a way that just has to come into creation.
- The original Mardi Gras. I’ll just leave that (and a virtual MoonPie) right here.
- Southern hospitality. People here still wave, and speak, and ask after your Mama and ‘em. And even though you might disagree on some things to the very core of your being, when there is a need, a tragedy, or a disaster, Alabama folks come together to lend a helping hand, extend a shoulder to cry on, cook a meal, take up a collection, and crank up the chainsaws.
You see, there’s plenty to be proud of if you take a little time to think about it. But I don’t want y’all to think I’m whistling past the graveyard. I’m really not. I know Alabama’s bad, dark history and challenges and straight-up shortcomings. I swear I do. And I know that every single other place you can name has its own bad, dark history, challenges, and shortcomings too. There is no Utopia out there where everybody loves everybody else and everybody agrees with everybody else and we all skip around under a rainbow holding hands, sniffing puppies and flowers, and singing Kumbaya. It doesn’t exist. Not in the South. Not anywhere. Even as optimistic as I am, I’m still realistic.
Someone recently said to me that one thing they liked about Alabama was it is place where you can still make a difference and affect positive change. And if you look around, there are people everywhere who are doing good work. Really important, good, hard work. Yes, there’s a lot to do. Yes, it’s an uphill battle. Yes, we all feel overwhelmed. But if you look around your own neighborhood, your own town, your own county, there are plenty of ways to do good things that might not otherwise happen without your efforts. Change starts small and takes time … lot’s of time. But if everyone does a little bit, much like a barn-raising, who knows what we can build.
Alabama is my home. I’ve got red clay running through my veins and Gulf sand in my soul, and I’m not going anywhere. Let’s don’t turn our backs on her. Let’s stay, and join together, and spend our money, and work hard to make Alabama the place we all know she can be — a place that we can be proud of, a place that we brag on, a place that’s easy.