My travels have taken me all over the United States, all over the world. I remembered it when I moved to Starkville, Mississippi for three years as a student at Mississippi State University. In the summer of 2001, I worked in Washington, D.C. for a U.S. Senator, and it was there that I thought about it. In 1994, I went on a Bahamian cruise with a group from my high school, and I remember wanting so bad to return to it.
I have visited over thirty states. I have been to the top of the Sears Tower and sat in the stands at a baseball game at Fenway Park. I have strolled over the mossy stones of the Great Wall of China. I have walked through the beautiful prairie of a sheep farm in Australia. In all of these faraway places, I still knew where home was.
My home’s in Alabama.
This weekend, I went back to my hometown of Jasper. I had to attend a funeral that Sunday. A good man died. I saw a lot of people that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I visited some old friends, caught up. I sat on the back patio with a childhood friend and let the March sun warm my face. We were men now, and time had gotten away from us. No doubt it was good to see him again. That conversation reminded me where home was.
A few months ago, I drove down to Camden, Alabama, down a road of blacktop where my parents lived for four years. As I was driving toward their old house, a song came on the radio. It was Miranda Lambert’s The House that Built Me. I hadn’t even made it to the house before tears began to fall. There was something about that song and how that forgotten highway opened and stretched out, how all the many times, so very long ago, that I drove down that road to see my mother and daddy. I remember our colossal fights, our colossal make-ups, in that house. Although I didn’t grow up there, it was definitely a house that built me.
When I pulled up to the front drive, I parked my truck and started walking along the fence that lined the road. It was an especially pretty day. The wind was cool and soothing. I wanted to walk inside, but the gate was locked. My parents didn’t live there anymore. For a while, I leaned up against that fence and thought about my dad as the cars passed by behind me. That fence couldn’t separate me from the memories. I thought more about that song, played it over in my head, as the wind blew. Such a powerful song. “I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, this brokenness inside me might start healin.’ Out here, it’s like I’m someone else. I thought that maybe I could find myself…” I kept thinking I might see him walk out on that porch, just one more time. But I will never see him again. At least, not in this life.
Yes, it reminded me where home once was.
Every few days, I drive down the winding, car-battered County Highway 45 toward Pleasant Ridge plantation just south of Marion. It’s quiet there, now that dad is gone. The other day, I remembered as I pulled into that drive that it was just me and my mom now. But there is a peace that I feel as I circle around to the back of the house, park my car underneath the pecan trees, walk up the ramp and open that screened-in door. “Mooooooom!” I call.
She’s usually in the kitchen, piddling.
I won’t forget where home is.
Yesterday, I went to see my family at my grandmother’s house in Centreville, Alabama. I took a walk down the driveway with my cousin whom I haven’t seen in a very long time. She’s doing well. We reminisced for a while about the peace we feel at that house. It’s always been a place of cleansing in our lives. It reminded me of the many days I spent in that long, unending front yard, tossing the football to my cousins, running free without a care in the world. It was a place that I felt welcome, loved.
While I’ve never lived there, I still consider it home.
My journeys have taken me all over this great state. Some might say that my life has been a bit nomadic. But I have only left Alabama for a brief while. I always come back. I always stay in my home. Whether it’s Selma or Marion or Jasper or Birmingham or Tuscaloosa, I know where home is.
My home’s in Alabama.
I think everyone that lives has an inborn desire to feel at home. I feel it here in Alabama. I know that my family is here, that love is here. I believe that’s what makes it home. You are probably reading this right now and thinking about your friends and your family. You wonder why fate decided to keep you here, why you don’t want to leave.
You begin to realize that there is something different about this state and its people. No, I’m not ashamed to take pride in Alabama, but sometimes, I have to be reminded. The throaty voice of Alabama’s Randy Owen spoke to me the other day as I was driving down another quiet stretch of blacktop. He sang:
“I’ll speak my Southern English, as natural as I please. I’m in the Heart of Dixie—Dixie’s in the heart of me.”
Every time I hear that song, I am reminded of how great our state is, how beautiful. I think about all of the many people who can proudly say their home’s in Alabama. I think about the things that define us, explain who we are. Call us peculiar, call us Bible-beaters, call us crazy for loving our football teams. Call us scalawags and hypocrites. Call us what you want to.
We’re not perfect, but yes, Randy, I’m proud to say that my home’s in Alabama.
No matter where I lay my head.