Sunday, November 29, 2009

Clay County, Life's Bounty

I was born and raised in Atlanta.. for the first ten years anyway. The state I've lived the longest in? Alabama. Throughout my entire life, I have traveled the state known as the "heart of dixie"- moved away, moved back, and moved away again. But I've always called it home.

My parents were high school sweethearts in Ohatchee, Alabama- the homecoming queen and the center of the football team (not quite as romantic as being able to say the quarterback, but still worth mentioning). Dad met Mom when the 3rd graders were asked to go read to the 1st graders. Mom was his "student" and he thought she was cute. What isn't cute about a first grader? But I guess it was love at first sight for Dad. He asked her out when he was 14 and she was 12, and then kissed her on the school bus. The rest is history. Or is it? I believe that sometimes in life, things don't actually become history. They get weaved into our makeup and come back to haunt us from time to time.

They sought out a new beginning, at 18 and 20, respectively. They set up house one state over, in Georgia (which must have seemed exotic to them at the time). Dad went to school at Southern Tech and they both worked nights at a photo developing shop. When I was one year old they bought a house in a newly-developed neighborhood and we lived there until Dad was transferred to Huntsville, Alabama 9 years later.

While living in Atlanta, I too thought Alabama was exotic simply because it wasn't Georgia. I would claim it as if it were mine- when in reality I only went there a handful of times in a year to visit my grandparents. But for some reason, because my parents and grandparents were born there, I felt like it owned me. And when we moved there, it just seemed right. I knew I would never live in Atlanta again. It had just been a pitstop along my parents' journey together. A means to and end. A detour.

They settled in Decatur, Alabama and have lived there ever since. The only problem is, they're never there. On weekends and in between business trips, they head off to a little spot on the Alabama map that we don't even call by its city. Clay County... life's bounty.

Situated about 30 minutes south of I-20, it might be the most convenient place on earth, geographically at least. From there, you can reach Auburn (our alma mater and Justin's hometown), Birmingham and Atlanta within an hour and a half. But it's not convenience that we're after. It would be more likely to fall in love with this place if you're already in love with inconvenience. That's what you get in the country... but that's part of its appeal.

Clay County feels like home even if you're only there on weekends. It's a place where your alarm system is leaning next to your bed- fully loaded and ready to defend. Your dogs sleep with you in the small cabin built by a father's hands (and a little help from the locals). There's always enough food on the stove, in case an unexpected visitor stops in, and most often does. When there's not enough to share you do it anyway and eat less. Christmas trees are cut, not bought. There are stories told by real-log fireplaces, like the one about the man who "was so sorry he had to dig his own grave." In Clay County you discover that a pot of potatoes boiling sounds just like someone driving up the dirt road and you're not sure which outcome you'd rather have. The doors are always open, but the house isn't always clean. When a man needs help, he gets help. When a woman is home alone, the man stays outside. When a loved one dies, a tree gets planted. When a friend gets cancer you buy the things he needs to sell, even if you don't need them. When a Soldier goes overseas the men sit around and talk about the wars they fought, until he comes home and they can hear about his.

The Piggly Wiggly is twenty minutes up the road, and you have to drive 30 miles just to buy beer, but it's that inconvenience that appeals to those with an old soul- those who enjoy the leisurely pace, the unexpected, and the journey you take when you have to work a little for what you get. If this is foreign to you, then hop in your car right now and head to the spot between Lineville and Cragford. You might have to stop and ask for directions. But what's the fun in getting there if you already knew where you were going?