Sweet Home

“We came to Alabama on our way Florida,” she said. “I wasn’t gonna do it, I was scared, but my kids were like, ‘Come on, Mom, we wanna see where you grew up.’”

She is on a road trip right now. She has covered a lot of miles in the family minivan. She wears a scarf over her bald head. And she’s excited.

She’s moving back home.

“I’ve been away for thirty years,” she says. “I don’t call it ‘home’ anymore, and I’ve even lost my Alabama accent.”

She drives the van with her two teenage girls in back. Ahead of them, her husband drives a moving truck. They crossed the Alabama state line a few minutes ago.

Her husband called her cellphone just to say, “Welcome home, darlin’.”

In the last week, they’ve passed the whole world at eye-level. The plains of Texas, the hills of Oklahoma, the greenery of Arkansas, the Mississippi Delta. They’re ending with the Yellowhammer State.

They’ve taken their time, hitting all stops along the way, doing roadside tourist things. They had family pictures beside a sixty-six-foot tall neon soda bottle.

They visited the Arkansas birthplace of Walmart.

They met an Ozark couple who dresses possums in Biblical costumes for riveting reenactments of the Last Supper.

They took kayak rides on the Pascagoula. They ate ice cream in hotel rooms. They splashed in hotel pools.

She’s still recovering from chemo, but she is all smiles.

After a three-decade absence, she stepped foot in this state for the first time a few months ago. That’s what started it all.

“We came to Alabama on our way to Florida,” she said. “I wasn’t gonna do it, I was scared, but my kids were like, ‘Come on, Mom, we wanna see where you grew up.’”

Growing up. Yeah, about that. She had a bad childhood. Her mother and father died in a car accident when she was a teenager. She fell into small-town oblivion, and after that and never found her rhythm.

It’s the same old story. Another high-school grad from a small town shakes the dust off her boots and says goodbye to beauty-parlor gossip, two-room churches, and Friday-night football.

She ditched her accent. She worked at pronouncing words the Western way. She acted different, too. And she forced herself to forget a traumatic childhood.

And that was that.

But on that trip to Florida, they passed the Alabama state sign in a rental car, and something happened. She made her husband pull over.

She stepped out of the car lost the words.

“Welcome home, darlin’,” she remembers her husband said.

“Welcome home, Mom,” said her daughters.

Maybe you saw even her. She was the one standing before the sign, arms around her children. It was only a highway sign, but memories came back like gnats.

There was the time she and her father made a rope swing by the creek. The times she played in her grandfather’s barn. The one-story farmhouse her mother lived in. Her school. The well-kept residential streets.

A gas station. A bar. The railroad tracks, where she kissed her first boy. The funeral home—where a fourteen-year-old version of herself cried over two caskets.

Everything.

“I never expected to start bawling at the state sign,” she said.

But she did. And she got her picture made in front of it.

In the photo is a woman who still waits for her hair to grow back. And even though the woman’s eyes are swollen and pink, she smiles.

Sure, California is where she became herself. It’s where she met a husband. It’s where she found a nice job, a nice home with a backyard swing set, and a minivan.

But she is no Californian. No way, nohow. She’s here. She’s this. She’s a survivor. If you look at her you’ll see that. You’ll see a woman who is not just in remission, but alive. Inside and out.

“It’s weird,” she said. “I think the cancer is what actually saved me, if that makes any sense.”

It doesn’t. But it doesn’t have to. Because this is a state that doesn’t care. The swelling green hills and tall trees. The big skies. She is on land that generations of her ancestors once worked. And she ought to be proud. Because in a few hours, she’ll be back for good.

And in a few hours, so will her accent.

Welcome home, darling.

18 comments

  1. Marie - June 25, 2018 7:13 am

    ❤️👏🏻

    Reply
  2. Gary - June 25, 2018 9:31 am

    “….memories came back like gnats.” Love it! And I’ve been gone since 1967. I’ve still got my Alabama accent, by the grace of God.

    Reply
  3. Nancy - June 25, 2018 9:49 am

    You do it every time – make me cry and make me smile in the few minutes it takes to read your blog. God created you for this purpose – to touch people’s hearts and let them feel what you see. Thank you Sean!

    Reply
    • Deborah - June 25, 2018 1:53 pm

      Amen to that!

      Reply
  4. Beth Andrews - June 25, 2018 10:58 am

    We came back to our home state of Alabama 3 years ago, after being in Florida for 20 years. Last month, we moved all the way back home – back to Dothan – back with family and a way of life we didn’t realize we missed so badly. Home is a beautiful word.

    Reply
  5. Michael Guilday - June 25, 2018 11:42 am

    You should take a marketing job with the Alabama Tourism Board. I mean that in a nice way. What a beautiful way to share the beautiful State of Alabama and it’s people.

    Reply
  6. Marty from Alabama - June 25, 2018 12:28 pm

    Funny isn’t it? Not funny as in a joke, but you know what I mean. You have a change in your life and suddenly you have gone to another place to begin a new life. Fun at all turns and working at a good job that has chances to advance. After a while, it gets old and things change at this new place. Yep, the road back home is still there and the people that love you are waiting. You can go back home.
    Thank you again for keeping us grounded in our home values.

    Reply
  7. Edna B. - June 25, 2018 2:05 pm

    Thanks for my morning “feel good.” Every time I go through the town I grew up in, something draws me to it. A feeling of belonging, if you know what I mean. The cemeteries there are full of my ancestors. It’s good to be able to go back home when you need to. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  8. Pat - June 25, 2018 4:14 pm

    Welcome home, darling!

    Reply
  9. joyce luker - June 25, 2018 5:17 pm

    Love this one!!

    Reply
  10. Jack Darnell - June 25, 2018 7:32 pm

    Nice!

    Reply
  11. Pamela McEachern - June 25, 2018 10:55 pm

    I have to borrow from Dorothy…there’s no place like home, it will always be Sweet Home Alabama for me.
    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  12. Judge Dan Michael - June 25, 2018 11:46 pm

    Amen.

    Reply
  13. Carol Dolan-Groebe - June 27, 2018 7:43 pm

    Shouldn’t that have been – Darlin’

    Reply
  14. Sandy G, Alaska via Alabama - June 28, 2018 2:47 am

    Love this!! I wear my southern accent like a badge of honor – no matter the place or the audience. Cheers to coming home, girl!!

    Reply
  15. Debbie Chapman - August 22, 2018 9:56 am

    I lived in Florida for 25 years. I always was longing for my home. Finally about 17 years ago, I was “back home again in Indiana”. I finally found peace. Actually, I wouldn’t leave the state for years after I moved back!
    Peaceful yours, from the great state of Indiana,
    Debbie

    Reply
  16. Mary - August 22, 2018 10:29 am

    Oh how I miss my homeplace! Louisiana holds so many memories. I can never go home but a piece of my heart is still there in the bayous and the cypress trees. I’m so glad this woman got to go home.

    Reply
  17. Unkel Kenny - August 23, 2018 3:18 am

    it took me moving to California many years ago to learn about accents. at work i called a company to order parts. a nice lady ansered the phone and told me that voice sounded like home folk . i said do you mean my southern accent? “She told me that I did not have an accent. She told me to remember this always – Yankees and foreigners have accents , you my boy have a Southern Drawl ” that was 1980 , I have never forgot that call. It made my day . Homesick in a foreign country, 20 years old .Returned home a year later. NOTHING EVERY LOOKED AS GOOD AS THE WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA SIGHN ……IN MY REAR VIEW MIRROR FROM THE ALABAMA SIDE . uk

    Reply

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