Small Town America is a special place. It's like nowhere else on Earth. I learned this lesson the hard way; by leaving. I have lived in New York City, Los Angeles California, and nearly everywhere in between. From both coasts, two of the Great Lakes, and the land locked midwest and even the deserts of Phoenix, I have called them all home over the last 25 years. And I stay in the perpetual suspended state of HOMESICK for Tuscaloosa. Why? Some of my friends from down South ask me this. They ask because they still live there. They don't know what they've got. I am in the middle of a life-long love affair with Tuscaloosa, Alabama. When I was 11 years old we moved to Oklahoma. And while I loved it there and made life long friends during my four years there, I was, even then, perpetually homesick, grieving away for my familiar surroundings of the misty liquid sunsets on the Warrior River and history of The University of Alabama campus. Lake Tuscaloosa and Lake Lurleen and the "spillway" were places for summer boat rides, and making out with my high school boyfriends. And Pure Process Ice Cream was where we took my Grandmother every Sunday after church and a big fried chicken dinner at her house. Orange Pineapple was my mother's favorite with real bits of oranges, but I have never again found it since the little old building on the riverbanks closed years ago.
The kudzu would creep and crawl over everything that stood still. Summers were miserable if you were measuring it by the humidity. Sticky skin and frizzy hair was the way I spent them. But I wouldn't trade them for anything. Slow and happy and sweaty. Red cheeks coming in from long bike rides on half paved roads, slamming screen doors and window unit air conditioners. Life was easier in a small town. All the neighbors watched out for each other and everyone's kids were like your own. And the road trips to Florida's gulf coast were just a way of life. All loaded up in the car, crammed into the backseat, thighs sticking to the thighs of my brother next to me, windows down, and brimming with anticipation. 1970s cars, and Seals and Crofts singing on the radio and my grandmother on my father's side saying from the front seat, "Now I know where I'm a gonna stop. They don't trade fair ever'where on this here road. I'm a not gonna pay $4.00 for no watermelon y'all!" And we would stop at all the same places every year and buy tomatoes and watermelon for the rental we'd stay in in Panama City. And come home red as beets and stinging with sunburns but proud to show off all the sun we got. Home grown tomatoes and home grown watermelon just taste better from a roadside stand than any store bought in California.
Tuscaloosa is special. It's unique in all the most perfect ways. I feel I am an authority on this because I have been able to compare it to, well, almost everywhere. And the feelings of a small town where everyone DOES actually know everybody AND their brother...and for me, their mothers and grandmothers before them, that's not a bad thing. I think it's a good thing. I love it when I go home, that's what I still call it when I go to Tuscaloosa. "When I go home," Because Tuscaloosa IS home. It always will be. So, when I go home and see people at the football games or in the Piggly Wiggly grocery store, they still say, "Well hey there little Beth," if they are my mother's or grandmother's old friends, that's what they still call me although I am an ample grown woman. I love that they still call me that. It reminds me that they have known me all of my life. That they have been family friends forever and if I ever needed anything I need only to call and they would be there. That's the way small town America is I think. But it's especially that way in Tuscaloosa. I love that everyone knows me or my Mother or Dad or my Grandfather or Grandmothers. It's a comfort. And I cherish it trying to keep their legacy from being tarnished in any way. When everybody knows you and yours from way back, it does sway you to live right! Wouldn't wanna make grandma turn over in her grave!
The Summers start in April in Tuscaloosa, and when I went to the Midwest and it was still snowing in April, I actually got angry! As if they just didn't understand the law there...Easter Sunday was all about the patent leather shoes and Dogwoods and Hydrangea blooming beside the screened in porch. SNOW! In SPRING?? Unheard of in my little town. We did have just enough Winter to make for a nice Christmas season too. Just a dusting of snow and Tuscaloosa would close for the day. See? Perfect!
I tried to find green tomatoes and okra at the grocery stores in California. Can You believe they asked me "WHY I would want unripe tomatoes??? And THEN told me they NEVER HEARD of Okra!! Good Lord!! So I found a restaurant that served Fried Green Tomatoes. It was a Southern themed place and the delicacy of fried green tomatoes was a novelty at best. Oh No! They came and I was mouth watering ready......flour. Yep. Thats no Fried Green Tomato!!! I said to the waiter, "Y'all might need to learn about CORNMEAL...wow! Homesick. Perpetually. I can still get a meal with a meat and four sides for around $5.00 at the CITY CAFE. And they have the BEST friend Green Tomatoes... outside of my sister-in law's.
In Tuscaloosa you can still sit out on a Summer's night and talk to your neighbors. And when someone " Has Passed" a line of traffic will form on your street of folks with covered dishes. You'll have more pound cake and potato salad than you'll know what to do with!
Tuscaloosa has it's own special brand of Small Town America. It is in the HEART OF DIXIE, being in Alabama. It is a classy place with mostly classy people. And Southern Hospitality seems to have gotten it's very definition from here. Every "Hey Y'all," and "fixin' to" is inside my spirit and when I am home it shines a little brighter. I fit there. We don't shake hands in the Deep South. We hug. For everything. Hello and goodbye. Happy or sad. It's just better that way. I am proud to show off Tuscaloosa to my Yankee in-laws, and anyone else I can convince to come for a visit. They always come away with the same response. Wow. Now this is classy. Everyone is friendly and says, "How you doin'?" The food is fantastic. The history is rich. The Bama Theater is one of the last of the old Movie Palaces and home to some of the best shows this side of Broadway! I was HOME this past Summer and so proud of MY Small town. It has grown and changed but never compromises who and what it is. Even the new architecture fits in and blends. The University is growing and changing. But still looks and feels grand and opulent. But thank heavens, Tuscaloosa is still a small town. When I come home it's like I never left. I am hugged and kissed and loved. I go out with my friends and see my Mother and eat like I have been starving in a desert. I have. For the SOUTH... and it's way. I love my small town. I love the slow way of life there. The closeness. The legacy I have. The friends that have known me forever and have my back no matter what. The sticky hot Summers and the burst of Spring with the pollen so thick you can write your name in it, and the promise of Summer peeking just around the corner. The sweet tea and the backyard gardens, and the Warrior River and the lakes and the CRIMSON TIDE. I will be perpetually homesick until I am finally home to stay. Because in Tuscaloosa, in my small town, that's where I am ALWAYS home.