Tears and Laughter: Get your heart in Alabama, or get out

Most everybody I know lives in Alabama. My family has been here for over 200 years and I’ve made it about 30 miles from where they first settled. Knowing I can go stand on land they once stood on holds meaning to me. They never had to have any great achievements or walk any particular line. All they had to do was be, and I love them. That’s the same way I feel about Alabama. I felt it last week after receiving a message from a producer with The Daily Show saying they are working on a couple of pieces here and asking if I had time to chat about Alabama – “in general.”

I have time. And all I know is Alabama, but The Daily Show portrayed Jeff Sessions as a barefooted lumberjack-looking character. Their features about Alabama might be funny, but would no doubt have a demeaning slant.

We keep family with us here long after they are gone. We name our babies after them and pass down their pocket knives. We restore their old houses so we can still sit on their porches. We pick flowers from bushes they planted and put them in vases as centerpieces on our tables. We weave their memories into this life as if we expect them to show up for Sunday dinner. And in ways, they do when scattered family gathers. They return in mannerisms and expressions, in gestures and tones…just as Alabama culture mirrors and reflect some of what it has always been.

Not too far past the “coon meat for sale” sign in Uriah, there is a man that sits in an easy-chair on the side of Highway 21 in Atmore. The chair is in line with a row of small mobile homes. There is no porch. The chair is out in the weather with the mailboxes and his yellow dog – a friendly cur and bulldog mix, who according to his master “has never caused any trouble.”

The chair, not unlike the dog, looks like someone might have thrown it out before Will Amos claimed it. But it stays there now, and if it is daytime, and it’s not raining, he is usually in it, with his yellow dog nearby. He has lived in Atmore all of his life. He can no longer hear well, and a stroke has left his right arm useless, but he stood the afternoon I stopped to meet him. He stepped toward me and extended his left hand with a smile as I introduced myself.

Driving to Florida, you won’t notice him. Not unless you happen to glance over and see him. I don’t know if he is waiting on someone, or just sifting through his memories as the cars go by.

There is a sad layer of Alabama. It’s the only layer some see. Poor has been popular for so long that there are people who live their whole lives without ever having any expectations. When life is a struggle, just having a good day is good enough. And a good day can be as simple as retelling stories about the way days were once spent when the fish wouldn’t bite.

The rest of us rednecks are protective of these people. Because some of us were raised right, and the rest of us know we aren’t too many generations or paychecks away from poor. We tend to count our blessings. We don’t all wear camouflage on Saturday nights, and while we might be better off for it if we would, we don’t all go out dancing in work boots either. But from the most northern point, where the Alabama line kisses Tennessee, all the way down below the salt line to the Mobile Bay, and along every street and gravel road in between…we agree on one thing. Get your heart in Alabama, or get your question-asking ass out.

Amanda Walker is a columnist with The West Alabama Watchman, Al.com, The Thomasville Times, and The Wilcox Progressive Era. For more information, visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist.