It’s morning in Alabama. I’m driving. There is green everywhere. Live oaks that are old enough to predate the Stone Age. Tin sheds. Peanut fields with perfect rows that run for miles in straight lines.
American flags are hanging from most mailboxes, horse trailers, workshops, treehouses, and semi-truck garages.
There are plenty of curves ahead, winding through the landscape. They will take you past Faith Chapel Church, Providence Primitive Baptist Church, New Chapel Baptist, First Assembly of God, United Methodist Church. And a heap of other three-room meeting houses with well-kept cemeteries.
There’s the Perry Antique Store—which used to be a gas station one hundred years ago. It sits on approximately thirteen million acres of flat earth. Old men sit on its porch, chewing the fat. Watching traffic.
There are ancient mobile homes with brand new Fords parked out front. There are brand new mobile homes with ancient Fords.
I pass red-dirt-road offshoots that lead to God-Knows-Where. Horses in front yards. Cattle in backyards.
Weathered brick chimneys, standing in empty fields.
Telephone poles with fading signs that read: “Elect Twinkle for governor, for a brighter Alabama.”
I pass small towns, small communities. Brantley. Pine Level. Elba. Kinston is about as big as a minute, but they have a nice baseball field. Baseball is serious business in Kinston.
“Now entering Geneva County.”
I pass bumpy creek bridges—I have to slow down to drive across. There’s a crumbling red house—probably older than the late great Kathryn Tucker Windham.
Bass boats sit by the highway with for-sale signs. Farm-implement graveyards stretch clear to China.
I am getting close to home. The county in Northwest Florida that sits sandwiched between the Alabama line and the Choctawhatchee Bay.
There is a man, burning trash in his front lawn. There are manmade bass and bream ponds.
Dead corn fields. Overgrown yards with rusty swing sets and children’s playhouses, with wood rot.
Rusty mailboxes with flags up. Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church. Lowery Church of Christ. Grain silos.
Chicken farms. Cattle farms. Tree farms. Dirt farms.
The yellow line in the center of the highway turns solid. Then dotted again. Then solid.
Duke’s Meat House is doing good business today. I’ll bet old Duke can hickory-smoke the sin out of a shoulder.
Earlytown, Alabama, has seen a lot in its day. So has the abandoned Volkswagen in a hayfield. Round bales of hay. Tall longleaf pines. Tin roofs galore. Corroded fifth-wheels with DIRECTV satellite dishes on top.
The Geneva State Forest.
Farmhouses with grandkids, sitting on front swings, shirtless. A lonesome cow, standing by a mile marker. Sardis Cemetery is as small as it can be.
Hacoda, Alabama. Ponds. Live oaks. Camp Victory. An old, white millhouse with busted windows and mold growing on the siding.
A homemade sign in someone’s garden which reads: “Heart of Dixie.”
Entering Covington County. “Elect Blake Turman for Sheriff.” There’s a kudzu problem here in Covington. And a sunshine problem. There is a young family, walking the shoulder of the road, pushing a stroller. They wave. So do I.
That’s how we do, here.
And I still haven’t passed a single vehicle on this entire highway.
I’ve been away for twenty-one days. I’ve seen a lot of country. I’ve seen the mountains of Colorado, the desolate plains of Texas, the ghost towns of Missouri. I shook hands with editor of the Emporia Gazette at a dog park, I bought a cowboy hat in my father’s Kansas hometown, I met a beautiful cousin I never knew I had.
Then, I aimed our vehicle South, three days ago. Now I’m almost back to the part of the world that reared me. The place where the word “chair” has four syllables. The place where my memories are. Where family is.
Thank you, Heaven, for all you give me. For kindness, white flour, bloodhounds, and people who are brave enough to treat others how they themselves want to be treated. Thank you for my new cousin.
Thank you for Lower Alabama.
And thank you for bringing me home.