Now entering Alabama. I am riding behind a log truck. It’s your all-American log truck, stacked with pines that wobble with each bump in the road.
On the truck bumper is an “I-heart-Alabama” sticker.
We’ve crossed the state line into the Yellowhammer State. So far, I’ve driven past nineteen Pentecostal churches, eight Methodist chapels, and I’ve lost count of the the Baptist meeting houses.
We stop at lunch joint. I park next to an old pickup truck. It is a Ford F-100. Lawrence County tags, mud on the fenders. There is a black Lab in the front seat. My father had a truck just like this.
The restaurant is busy, George Strait is singing overhead.
My waitress is originally from Chelsea, Alabama, and she sounds like it. She brings us extra cornbread just because that’s what people from Chelsea are like.
I pay my tab. There’s a gift shop near the register.
A pair of baby-sized cowboy boots catches my eye. I almost buy them for my infant niece, but my wife talks me out of it because my niece will only outgrow them in seven days or less.
So, I buy a University of Alabama jumpsuit instead.
We are back on the road. The countryside looks good today. We see big golden fields of dead grass, mobile homes with chimneys poking from the tops, billowing smoke. And cattle.
Farm equipment dealers on every corner, used RV lots, discount fireworks stands, and a hundred thousand barns that hold the history of the world within them.
I pass shotgun houses with the eighteen wheelers parked in the driveways. Many have freezers on porches, with loveseats beside the screen doors.
In the distance, I see a pile of burning trash behind a two-story house. It’s tended by a man in overalls, stabbing the fire with a rake. He throws a mattress atop the inferno. The thing catches fire and turns into a giant hellish marshmallow.
I wave at him. He tips his hat to me.
You don’t see giant hellish marshmallows in just any old state.
Horse trailers parked beside barbecue joints. High-school football banners flying above nail salons. Bass boats for sale in the hardware store parking lot.
A chiropractic office with a trampoline in the front yard. A Land Rover parked outside the Piggly Wiggly.
And towns. Small ones. Cute downtowns with brick buildings, old street lamps, charming antique stores, corner banks, bells in the church steeples, courthouses with actual steps, railroads with caution lights.
On the edge of town: used tire dealerships, abandoned service stations, feed-and-seed stores.
I see elderly folks sitting on porches, and dogs wandering the shoulders. I see a man riding an ATV through a drive-thru liquor store.
Chicken houses, Pontiacs on blocks, brick one-stories with blue tarps on the roofs.
Flatbed utility trailers for sale, man made ponds for catching bass, American flags every few feet, a Dollar General with a full parking lot.
I count five vapor cigarette outlets, four ALFA Insurance agencies, three Holiness churches, a few boarded-up restaurants, and one taco stand in a repurposed camper trailer.
Arby’s, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Hardee’s, Taco Bell, Dollar Tree, Cato, Factory Connection, Burke’s Clothing Outlet, and a Chinese Restaurant with a marquee that reads, “Jesus Saves.”
Waffle Houses galore.
The hills. Lord, at the hills in this country. Big sweeping ones that are so gentle they almost sound like Glen Campbell.
And the trees. Have mercy. Longleaf pines, shortleaf pines, loblolly pines, white oaks, overcup oaks, cow oaks, willow oaks, black walnuts, cottonwoods, magnolias, sweet gums, black willows, and shagbarks.
The log truck is still bouncing ahead of me, littering the highway with slabs of bark.
Sometimes, I don’t know who I am, and I don’t know where I belong. I’ve gone through much of life wondering what I was supposed to be, and why it took me so long to become it. I’ve wondered a lot of things.
But nevermind all that. Because here in this place, I feel familiarity. And love. I was not born here, but it adopted me long ago.
For that, I will always be grateful. Not only to the people who gave me a second chance, but the family that claimed a reject.
And the friends that called me brother. And the highways, the hills, the dirt roads, the unincorporated communities, the Massey Ferguson dealers, the rural Baptist churches, and the diesel engines that haul yellow pine.
I love log trucks.
But most of all, I heart Alabama.