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Alabama, beloved

According to the calendar, you were my briefest home. Three years, June to June. When people asked, “Will you stay,” I made no vows, but I planted orange trees. I made no promises, but I set my table and said, “Come, rest” to the ones I loved. Trace the sun’s course across my heart, and see that my time with you was deep, though it was not long: you were the first place I thought I would stay for good.

For good. I could have stayed for the good of my students, generation after generation of kids from small churches, surprising poets and powerful singers, men and women with gentle spirits and strong loves. I could have stayed for the good my friends, my dear and laughing people, wise parents and clear-eyed neighbors. I could have stayed for the good of my parents, who are tired, and deserve the haven they would have had in that azalea city, on that backward and beautiful little street.

***

In the story of my life, I do not yet know what to call you: were you my rightful rest after noble labor? were you another future God would have honored? Or were you my isle of the lotos-eaters, my surprising testing ground?

How many rain showers did I enjoy and endure along your temperate coast? Perhaps that’s why I cried so much on the long road from there to here: a tear for each summer shower, each February deluge, each late-spring wash, each autumn tempest.

Oh, Alabama, beloved, I will miss your men in seersucker suits, your deep-south drawls, your thundering Baptist preachers and grand archbishops. I will miss walking to church on Sunday mornings, hearing the Methodist bells play hymns each afternoon.

I will miss a city of ancient trees and old money, where the talk after Christmas turns to society balls and parades. I will miss a city where some new flower — shocking winter camellias, shy violets and snowdrops, brief-but-bold azaleas and wisteria, honeysuckle and magnolias — blooms with each new moon.

I will miss little girls from down the street knocking on my kitchen door, hands full of gardenia blossoms they picked just for me. I will miss little boys and old men stopping me to say, “That’s a good clean hound you got there.” I will miss neighbors who presume and interfere and protect.

I will miss your bayous and bays, your legends of pirate treasure and your sad history of slaver ships. I will miss a history so dark and bright that it cannot be summarized, reconciled, explained away. Perhaps most of all, I will miss feeling myself at the end of all roads. I will mourn the peace of tracing highways, streets, and footpaths to the sea, where the tide washes them away with all other pretensions.

Neither my road nor my history ended with you, despite my Satsuma trees, despite those long and hopeful suppers. Joy has carried me away, but I will miss you, my sweet home.

Farewell, Alabama, beloved.

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