It’s raining in central Alabama. I am on my porch, barefoot, watching the rainfall, hypnotized by the sound.
Rain can do strange things to a man.
I come from a long line of rain-watchers, horse thieves, and used car salesmen. We are a barefoot people.
And although my wife keeps telling me to put on shoes because it’s so cold outside that ketchup takes a week just to come out of the bottle, I am a Florida man. Shoes are for going to town.
There is a specific cadence to Alabamian rain. The tone is wholly unlike the rain from my home state. This is the kind of thundershower you can only get in the foothills. There’s a different ring to it. It’s similar to the difference between a clarinet and a kazoo.
Birmingham is in the mountains. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. People from more precipitous states such as, say, Colorado, will outright laugh when you suggest that Birmingham has actual mountains.
“Those aren’t real mountains!” Colorado people will say while chewing their gluten-free granola. But don’t listen to these people. Their brains have been pickled by generations of Coors abuse.
This city definitely has mountains. They might not be the huge peaks of Wyoming, but they could inspire American hymns nonetheless.
Birmingham lives in the Jones Valley, flanked by parallel ridges which run northeast to southwest. These iron-ore hills are the tails of the mighty Appalachians. They are short. They are the Danny Devitos of the alpine world.
Still, to a guy from Florida, they are Mount Kilimanjaro.
I come from a long, flat, state, also known as the Tourism State. Our main crop each year is Midwesterners. There are no mountains in Florida. Even our singing is flat.
The highest point in the whole state is located in my home county. Britton Hill. Britton Hill’s summit is 345 feet above sea level, slightly higher than a residential water heater.
By contrast, the highest point in Birmingham is on the Red Mountain Ridge, clocking in at 1,025 feet. And I can tell you, after hiking Red Mountain yesterday, it’s a real mountain.
I took a short walk to the top, I wheezed until my face turned the color of an infected zit.
Red Mountain Park is 1,500 acres on the Red Mountain Ridge with miles of trails and a couple of arresting city overlooks.
The park was busy. I saw lots of people on the trails. Most were in superb physical shape, unlike yours truly. They wore activewear, they bicycled, and many were walking behind their well-groomed dogs, carrying tiny bags of poo.
When I reached the summit, I stood and gazed at Magic City’s skyline from a thousand feet. The view was astonishing. I was overcome with the fact that I am now living in an actual city.
I’ve never lived in an actual city before. Which is probably why every time I leave our house I feel like I’m on a minor expedition. I am constantly being reminded that I’m in an urban environment. I am incessantly doing battle against SUVs, always seeing something brand new, always feeling this new ache in my heart.
The ache must be homesickness.
Don’t get me wrong, I love it here. But the rain in central Alabama sounds different to my ears. Rainfall on the Gulf Coast has a unique lilt to it, like the voice of your mama. This mountain rain sounds wilder and… Just different.
All this makes me start to wonder. How will I fit in here? Will I make new friends? Or will I eat in the lunchroom alone? Will anyone invite me to play on their baseball team? How about birthday parties?
I’m a middle-aged man with a receding hairline. These things are harder to figure out as you sprint toward your golden years.
How will the big city change me? How will I adapt? I wonder what I will be like in two years. Five years. Fifteen years. Is this where I will grow old and eventually die? Will I be lucky enough to grow old?
Does anyone miss me back home? Is anyone thinking about me the way I’m thinking about them? Is Britton Hill still 345 feet tall? Am I a barefoot fool for wondering these things? Maybe.
Rain really does do strange things to a man.
Martha Black - March 16, 2022 6:29 am
Bless your heart, you are homesick. I hope you settle in and become complerely hsppy and satisfied in ypur new home. Keep talking to us, we’re lisrening & we care………
Martha Black - March 16, 2022 6:30 am
Bless your heart, you are homesick. I hope you settle in and become complerely happy and satisfied in ypur new home. Keep talking to us, we’re lisrening & we care………
Alta Lawn - October 30, 2022 2:55 pm
We lived in Birmingham for awhile. My husband always complained that when the sun came up in B’ham no matter what direction he drove the sun was always in his eyes! That wouldn’t happen anywhere else!
Ed (Bear) - March 16, 2022 6:43 am
I think that you’re just a little closer to Heaven Sean, where the rain comes from.
dsis3 - March 16, 2022 8:42 am
You are homesick for everything familiar and now I’m missing people and places I’ve left behind. 😪
lindawalco - March 16, 2022 10:44 pm
there is nothing wrong with going back, or aching for, home (our lives are full of – “what was I thinking” moments)
You are living amongst the 1% ….you will fit if you wish to conform….so either be you-completely- not caring if you fit – or go fluff up your dogs, get some poop bags and join a gym.
from my own experience- (I have lived in both places so this is not a guess) you are now living completely opposite from where you came. For me, Port St Joe and Cape San Blas is the big city life that tugs at the heart and the highest mountain over looks the Gulf of Mexico.
Are you missed? Seriousl!? You know you are…I even bet there is a hairdresser next to Publix as well as all your friends missing you both horribly back home. You left a hole that can’t be filled.
Eventually, it will click and you will know…but there is no shame in the ache and even in eventually returning…we can’t change who we are especially when salt runs through our veins….
Nell Thomas - March 16, 2022 9:16 am
I have fond memories of B’ham. Going to visit relatives. I remember walking up a flight of steps to get to my granddad’s garden. Always looked forward to seeing the Ironman high up on the mountain.
Debbie - March 16, 2022 9:50 am
Everything is new and different. And you are homesick. The first year is the hardest. Try to explore places and groups of people. It will eventually help.
Connie - March 16, 2022 10:10 am
You are going to be okay. Moving is hard but 🎶sweet home Alabama🎶 will love you like no other.
Find yourselves a church, remembering that you drive to everywhere in the Ham, and you will find those people that are waiting for you to be on their team and those holding you a seat at their table! Life is good in Alabama!
Alabama loves you and Jamie, Thelma Lou & Otis too!
suzlcahill - March 16, 2022 10:35 am
You’re the type of man that fits in wherever you may live! Why? Because people can sense goodness, and know a good listener when they meet one. I can’t wait to read more stories about your new home and the people you meet, and the adventures you’ll have.
Tom Salter - March 16, 2022 10:58 am
Rain moving in from the gulf is great, but nothing smells better than mountain rain.
Rebecca Lee - March 16, 2022 11:25 am
The gift of writing is a surefire way to deal with homesickness. Keep exploring and keep going barefoot! Blame may never feel like “home” as you once knew, but you’ll learn to love it. Truly, as long as you have Jamie, you ARE home!
Dee - March 16, 2022 11:30 am
Ah, dear Sean, you carry your happiness with you; you’ll be just fine. I second finding a church where you can become a part of their community; it will change your life. God bless you on this new adventure. Oh and Tallahassee definitely has some hills but is it really in Florida?😉
Sherri Salvaggio Hill - March 16, 2022 11:43 am
Head over to the Vulcan Park and museum for awesome views from atop Vulcan, and a very informative museum. Also, the gift shop has great books of local interest!
By the way, you’ll be the class favorite in Birmingham.
Dawn Byrd - March 16, 2022 11:50 am
I’ve loved your writing for years, but your move to my hometown is giving me new delights! My homesickness is the reverse of yours; I’m a Birmingham native living on the Gulf Coast, missing Vulcan and the mountains. Please continue exploring your new home; you’re feeding my heart!
Candace - March 16, 2022 12:13 pm
We left Minnesota 40 years ago and I still miss it, I still cry when it is time to leave after visiting family there. I would move back tomorrow but I have many happy memories where I am now. Don’t let the piece of your heart you left behind speak louder than where you are now.
Judy wilson - March 16, 2022 12:28 pm
I do understand how you are feeling at this moment for I too grew up on the Miss. Gulf Coast. The smell of the salt water, especially early in the morning on the bayou, is forever imprinted in my nose. When we moved to Bham 40 years ago we realized that there wasn’t much flat land to be found. And the thunder during a rain storm would echo around these hills in a way I had never heard before. There is a closed in feeling to living among these Foothills of the Appl. I long. For moments of standing at the waters edge with my arms spread white and just breathe in the wide expanse of the Gulf and the sounds of its waters lapping lazily on the sand.
But we do like living in Irondale. I used to identify it as “the quiet side of town” but, alas, progress has found its way within 1/4 mile of our home as the mountain ridge is being flattened to make way for a new Publix’s.
Welcome to your new home Sean. You are going to find that , even here, you are well loved and appreciated. I hope to get a glimpse of your red hair soon. Be sure to check out the Botanical Gardens.
Jean - March 16, 2022 12:32 pm
First of all…congrats on your move to the big city. BHam is a big place and yes lots of big hills. Do they miss you back home? Of course they miss you! I am quite sure you miss them as well but it’s not a million miles away and you can visit. Enjoy your new home…its very nice.
Dee Jordan - March 16, 2022 12:37 pm
You’ll do fine. You’re too gregarious not to do fine. And I love this so much as you ponder your life. We’ve all been there and at 72, I still ponder mine. I recently made a move and bought a house at my age! Imagine that. (Imagine a loan company giving a 30-year fixed to someone my age!) But they did and here I am on a brand new chapter of my life too!
Cynthia Garner - March 16, 2022 12:38 pm
Yes, it’s hard to believe there are mountains there. After living in Kentucky for years, I was riding with my father toward Birmingham when he mentioned that we were about out of the mountains–just as we approached the city. I laughed at him and told him, “Those aren’t mountains! Those are hills.” He didn’t say a word. I know I hurt his feelings.
Bonnie - March 16, 2022 12:43 pm
I agree Sean. There ARE different kinds of rain that produce a different sound, and to me, different emotions. The first real rain of the south caught me while I hiking the Smokey Mountains. I thought for sure that must be what Noah experienced. The drops were huge and the thunder loud. I was not afraid. I was under a covered picnic table. But I was in awe. It came up suddenly and was wild. I have to say, all I really had to compare it to was what I grew up with in Portland, Oregon. Oregon rain is more of a nuisance here, producing enough water to cause slick roads and thus accidents. It also lasts for days and days. I used to walk home from school in it Spring, Winter, and Fall. This type of rain is depressing. Then, I moved to Florida for some years. I love the sound of Florida rain. It drops hard and heavy. It can fill up the streets to overflowing in just a few hours. But usually, it just pours for a few minutes, and the sun comes back out. But it was soothing to me. There could be thunder, but it made me think of the power of the One who created it. I miss Florida.
Jan - March 16, 2022 12:45 pm
Except for a few years in Auburn and a year in Washington, D.C., I have spent my life in the Birmingham area. Like everywhere else, it has its flaws but all in all the suburbs of Birmingham were a good place to grow up and raise a family. You will learn your way around and love it here but of course no place can be the same as your home town. All slightly different but all lovable.
Paul McCutchen - March 16, 2022 1:07 pm
When I moved from Arkansas to Georgia my mind (like my Granddaddy used to say) jumped time. It will take time for it to get used to the rhythms of the new area and just like your truck, when it is firing on all cylinders in perfect time things will be getting better.
Sonya Tuttle - March 16, 2022 1:08 pm
If you climbed a mountain, and you investigated new barbecue, and shopped in Home Depot, you are doing well. New adventures in new places are what feeds our souls. Make new friends…but keep the old. These are silver, those are gold. You are not really homesick. Home is where you hang your hat, and being with your wife!! Excitement awaits as you continue exploring!
Shelton A. - March 16, 2022 1:09 pm
As you learn to do battle with SUVs and at least earn a draw, you will adapt to Birmingham. City life is different, that’s for sure. Within a ten minute drive of your new house, you have more choices of places to eat than you ever had before. You have movie theaters with ten or twelve screens instead of one. You have the Birmingham Barons to go watch for your baseball addiction. Michael Jordan did a stint with the Barons where he learned he couldn’t hit a curveball. The rain is different and because you are in the mountains, it will get colder in winter and you will see snow again, most likely. It’s different but you have the ability to make friends easily. Find a church that feels like home and you won’t just have friends, you’ll have a new group you call family. Blessings and peace.
Kate - March 16, 2022 1:10 pm
When I moved to Florida from Georgia, I cried a lot for the first 6 months. I was so miserable. I missed everything. Although I grew up in Florida, I had lived in Georgia for 40 years, all of my “adult” years. The misery gradually faded and although I still miss much about my home in Georgia, I have come to appreciate all that is around me. It just takes time. And the rain here is different from the Georgia rain I remember. My heart does hurt for you Sean, moving after living in a place for a lifetime is not easy. It is obvious you so love Jamie.
dale - March 16, 2022 1:13 pm
Awesome article. Being a licensed ‘poo’ carrier and a native Coloradan I have become assimilated to the new way of life living here. In my golden years I have broken my golden handcuffs and purchased a property in the panhandle of Florida and moving there next month. Life changes to having neighbors living next door to me that can hear me flagellate; knowing what direction I face without my mountains; fear of hurricanes and wild pigs; poor internet and cell phone service; and breathing the ocean air. I have yet to experience the onslaught of bugs and critters that frequently stop by and visit. I am excited to grow tomatoes that come out of the grown and not in a pot of store bought materials.
Johnnie Blackburn - March 16, 2022 1:35 pm
If it helps your homesickness, Oak Mountain Park has a beach. 🙂
bubbastubbs - March 16, 2022 1:37 pm
We ALL miss you, Sean! And you and Jamie are ALWAYS welcomed back “home”!
Bobby Hamil - March 16, 2022 2:06 pm
We moved around often when I worked for the FBI. One of our many realtors gave us a little framed picture of a house that said–“Home is where the FBI sends you.” Wishing you all the best in your new home my friend.
Glenda Williams - March 16, 2022 2:07 pm
We used to travel through B’ham going to Tennessee. It was a city I said, “I would never live here,” every time we traveled through it. Never say never. We lived there for about five years while my husband preached for a church in Forestdale. It grows on a person because of convenience, and there’s good people everywhere. You learn not to get out during rush hours, morning and evening, but you’ll survive. Hopefully, like us you’ll find yourself living in the good old southern states once again. Yay, Geneva, AL!
Ruth Mitchell - March 16, 2022 2:22 pm
I can’t wait to read your comments after you live through a true weather event in Birmingham. Our weathermen determine our every move and action during such times. We become willingly hypnotized by James Spann, Jerry Tracy, et.al, who have probably saved more lives than antibiotics.
Samuel Jefferson Bayne - March 16, 2022 4:07 pm
Sean: Discovery is an adventure. There are many hidden wonders in The Ham, like B’ham’s “Five Points South” area – a little city within a city . . . The Summit of earlier days. Go eat at Jim and Nicks on “the Curve” in the old post office [I think]. Drive by Ramsay High School, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. I don’t live in B’ham anymore, but my heart’s still there and my bones will rest beneath her red clay dirt.
Dawn Ritz - March 16, 2022 4:28 pm
Yes, the Florida Gulf Coast is definitely thinking of you and missing you!!
Susie Flick - March 16, 2022 4:40 pm
Happy to hear you are “settling” in as much as possible….I can identify with it. I moved only 90 miles south here in IL to be near my first granddaughter (at 1 1/2 ) now 17 and another lovely grandgirl now 14. I wanted to be close to them and lett behind friends and family and a community. It is such a blessing to find your “tribes” in each part/interests of your life. I can say after living here for 16 years now, I am enjoying every minute. Happy settling in to you, Jamie and the pups!
LINDA G ARNOLD - March 16, 2022 4:49 pm
I can’t even imagine living in a big city. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE saltwater beaches. But I can’t afford to live there. So where do I live? On top of a really big hill surrounded by woods. Lake Lanier peeks through the trees during the winter. And even as I write this, the trees are doing their graceful, lazy dance in the breeze and the deer are busy crunching the corn we put out every morning and the birds are busy at the birdfeeder and my geriatric Huskies are snoozing in a small patch of sun. The only sound is that breeze rustling the leaves blanketing the ground and the birds calling to each other. Live in a big city? Just ain’t no way for this old girl!!
Crabby Cakes - March 16, 2022 4:50 pm
No, Sean, I don’t think you ever stop missing home. I’ve been away from my home for over 30 years now. I still long for the sights, sounds, smells and people. There’s no shame in missing home. Besides, if it was horrible back there, you probably wouldn’t miss it. You only miss what you love.
Krista - March 16, 2022 5:39 pm
I’m hereby inviting you to my next birthday party where I get to have real people from, like, outside of my house. Even though it may be in a nursing home. And even though nursing homes are truly strange places where you have to keep an eye on your dessert because a lot of unauthorized recreational food swapping goes on at those tables.
Linda Moon - March 16, 2022 7:19 pm
Barefoot outside or just white sox inside…either one works for me. My friends in Colorado would NEVER chew gluten-free granola, but they might politely say that Birmingham mountains don’t compare to theirs in Buena Vista, elevation 7,965 feet. Homesickness can come and go for people who’ve left a long-time home, and for readers who may have wondered why you left home, well…that’s none of our business. Maybe this will be a little tonic for you: I’m just proud and tickled pink you’re here! I’m proud and grateful just TO BE – – survivor of multiple malignancies. So don’t whine to me about growing older, Young Man!
Be well and happy and healthy here in your new home!
MAM - March 16, 2022 7:19 pm
I echo Linda G Arnold above. I do not want to live in a city ever again. When I was young, it was an adventure. But now that I’m older (I AM old, but not ready to agree to it!), I prefer living outside a small town, 8-15 minutes away from wherever I want or need to go. And yes, I’ve timed how long it takes to get to this place or that. Sean, you’ll do fine. Just talk to the person in front of and/or behind you in line at the grocery store or sitting next to you at church (yes, do find one!). Get acquainted with your neighbors. You’ll find good folks there, too. Keep the good memories from your hometown, but make new ones. A plaque, I once had, said: Bloom Where You’re Planted!
Diane Haley Toney - March 16, 2022 9:18 pm
In one of your earlier reads, you referenced Crestwood. My husband, I, and our two children lived in Birmingham ( Mountain Brook ) for two and a half years in the mid-seventies——and the children went to Crestwood Elementary. Great learning environment. We lived on Forrest Avenue, the ” poverty pocket ” of Mountain Brook. Met delightful people, listened to the piano player at The Club, enjoyed the spiritual life at St. Luke’s, and , generally, had a great journey there and back to small-town Lavonia.
T Harris - March 16, 2022 9:25 pm
Shawn . . . . A piece of advice from one who moved to Alabama before the earth’s crust had hardened……Avoid at all costs getting on one side or the other regarding being an Alabama fan or Auburn fan. You will be accosted by folks at the Post Office, the Driver License line or at one of the the gazillion Publix supermarket lines. Use the Jerry Clower approach and say “I ain’t got a dog in that fight”. Later, yow will thank me for it.
tracybham - March 16, 2022 9:29 pm
I am loving reading these posts about Birmingham. I have lived in California for 50 years but your posts are bringing up memories of my childhood in Birmingham. I left at age 23 and used to visit my parents every year or so but don’t get back there nowadays.
Dusty Becker Allison - March 16, 2022 9:33 pm
Just so you know, I thought of you and Jamie often, when Florida was still home and you lived only an hour away. Of course, I still think of y’all, with you 4 hours away. That’s just how friends are.
Matthew H Iskra - March 16, 2022 10:08 pm
Living in the center of the Big Valley, in Sacramento, California, we don’t get such weather. We have a climate, not really the type of weather that folks in other states have. I have lived in a number of states and countries over their years and nothing makes me smile and just enjoy life as much as a good rainstorm. Perhaps it was my time not just in Sacramento, but in the desert towns of California like Barstow, Desert Hot Springs, and Amboy.
The rains in each place are different, with a different patina of sound. I’ve been in those echoing hills during rainstorms and in the flatlands – not Florida, but Mobile, Alabama. I’ve even been to many different foreign locations. The rain in Panama is so different than the rain in Okinawa, but both had the four-o’clock downpour. Like you said, Sean – the difference between a clarinet and a kazoo.
But nothing quite tops the dry rain I experienced in Desert Hot Springs. A thunderstorm worthy of the Gulf of Mexico, darkening the sky but never hitting the ground. I saw the tops of trucks and roofs get wet, drenched even, but from 0 to 8ft above the ground it was as dry as dust. Well, not dry – the humidity went from zero to oppressive.
The arroyos became rivers, dangerous and deadly. Rain is a foreign invader to the desert. But the desert bloomed after that, every wooden telephone or power pole becoming a chia pet of new growth courtesy of the woodpeckers, some exploding with the bird’s “generosity”. The cacti would grow swollen from the water they’d need for the rest of the year, budding rare blooms. Birds appeared by magic. Two weeks later it was all gone.
Rain. It’s the same everywhere, and everywhere it’s different.
Diane Haley Toney - March 16, 2022 10:18 pm
OOPS ! Crestline…………….Been a few years,
Karen Holderman - March 16, 2022 10:39 pm
Sean, I doubt you will have trouble meeting new friends. Enjoy your new adventure and make memories in your new town,
Mim - March 17, 2022 12:57 am
“The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind…”
George Culver - March 17, 2022 3:01 am
Sean — Brilliant take on AL rain. And Oh, Welcome to Alabama! For sure you will enrich us. Even though I commute 110 miles a day to run the Historic Ritz Theatre in Talladega, I love Greater Birmingham. Actually live in Homewood, but Red Mountain in just over the back wall of my condo. If not for the trees, Vulcan’s butt would be my direct view out the back door.
Besides hopefully firming up a Sean of the South booking at The Ritz soon (Jamie and I been talking, and pending the move to B’ham), I need to schedule a couple of “Scootaboots” with you guys, ie quick highlight tours of the greater environs. Use to give them all the time when friends would visit me when I lived in NYC. In my car, they’d see all from a fresh perspective in terms of local texture, as in both underview and overview — for sure no standard tourist stops. By the way, the word comes from my dad, who would say as I was getting ready to go out on a date or to do something with friends — “You goin’ out scootabootin’ tonight? Apparently it has British roots, as in the phrase ‘scout about’. Hello to your bride from me and look forward to touching base soon. Kind regards, George Culver ……..PS, speaking of mountains, y’all gotta go check out Cheaha State Park, AL’s tallest mountain Cheaha at about 2,750 feet. Great views, rustic cabins to rent, trails et al, about 20 miles from Talladega and built by Civilian Conservation Corp in 30s. Magnificent, pristine Alabama beauty.
Slimpicker - March 17, 2022 3:40 am
Sean, my. granny would say, “you’re all wet”, but what does she know. She’s never been to Abalama.
Dean - March 17, 2022 5:17 am
My wife and I enjoy your articles. Have you visited Guntersville, AL yet? Come for a visit sometime. We will take you out for some fishing and see some local sights.
Welcome to Alabama,
Kim Morris Ladoczky - March 17, 2022 5:12 pm
As native Floridian, who has never lived anywhere else, I understand. I miss you… “There’s no place like home, there’s no place home, there’s no place like home.” Maybe it doesn’t work with barefeet.
Kathy - March 18, 2022 2:17 pm
About the shoes, I rarely wear them. For church and shopping. About the friends, when I moved here from Ohio in 1985, I felt the same way. It was a major change. Making friends takes time. You know that. As for fitting in, it’s very overrated.
Kathie Kerr - March 20, 2022 4:22 am
Time to move on, friend. People move every day. I
Keloth Anne ♥️ - March 20, 2022 10:32 am
You are missed, too—and I know, before long, that will be home.
Eleanor Gourley - March 20, 2022 1:54 pm
Sean, you don’t know me but I am, friends with your friend Helen Andrews. I was an army brat. I am from New Orleans. There are no hills no rises. The city built a hill in Audubon Park so children would know what a hill looked like I married a.Birmingham boy. His parents lived on the top of Shades Mountain. We live in the mountains. Our mountains are older than the Rockies. We were here first. Welcome to Birmingham
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 27, 2022 11:02 pm