GONE SOUTH: I-59, UNDERSTANDING
In my photograph at the center, the lines are coming in. I am not radiant. All around me are members of my Alabama family.
Clockwise from the upper left, that’s my son Edward and his family, his wife Lisa and daughters Sydney, Shannon, Savannah. They’re all wonderful; I know this. My son and I don’t agree politically, but I still love him. He’ll be out of the navy in two years; he’s served his time overseas. Bush won’t have a chance to kill him.
My brother Brooks sitting on his back porch. Okay, they call it a deck. He’s reading the paper as I try to figure out a borrowed camera. My brother and I don’t agree politically, but I still love him.
Beneath his photo is a photo of the house where I spent most of my childhood.
My father. I’ve written about him here before. He’s in his uniform, World War Two. The war destroyed our relationship. I didn’t understand that until after his death; I’m still mourning him; we didn’t agree politically, but still, I loved him.
That’s me in my McCallie Military School uniform, my senior picture. I just went to my 50th reunion; that’s why I was recently in the south.
My daughter Lanier. We are having one of our estrangements now; our estrangements should be catered. She lives in Florida; I’ll call her soon if I can figure out how to keep cool; I love her. She’s had it rough.
That’s a photo of my grandmother and Brooks and me. I’m sitting on the floor. My grandmother’s name was Birda. When I was visiting Brooks a few weeks ago he told me that he was not scowling in the photo, that he was squinting because of the bright lights needed to take interior photographs in 1950. My grandmother and I didn’t agree politically, but she was of a different time; and I loved her.
A photo of my first home. Once called the Little Brown House but now white and a real estate office, no one living there.
My brother Brad. It’s not a very good photo, but he’s sitting on a marble bench with his dog Girl. The bench is in the family plot in Gadsden’s Forrest Cemetery. My brother Brad and I don’t agree politically, but I still love him. Seeing him in this photo makes me love him even more. The photos of brothers Brooks and Brad have been placed at the greatest possible distance in this collage; their estrangement should be catered. I wish they would sit on that marble bench together, look out toward the site of Republic Steel and talk about our father and mother. They could even talk about me if it would help their relationship, call me an eco-lefty with vegetarian tendencies.
My mother. I have never written about her here. I don’t know how old she was in this photo. Before her marriage to my father probably. When she died I was a very successful drunk so I’m not sure that I ever mourned her properly. What does that mean, “mourned her properly”? Falling on the casket, moaning, tearing of hair. Would be my guess. Had I not been drinking and dulled…
That’s the famous dog Captain, a Scotty, a great dog who lives with my brother Brooks and his family. I’m philosophically opposed to purchasing dogs from breeders; I might even be philosophically opposed to purebred dogs. So many dogs in shelters. But I did meet Captain recently, and I must say that Captain is an extraordinary dog. (Captain and I disagree politically, but I still love him.) Vigilant and pampered. Vigilant in spite of being pampered. Three members of my brother's family singing to a dog; I heard it. We were all in the kitchen, vodka martinis all around. “We love you Captain, oh, yes we do…” Captain howled; I laughed. What a great meal that night. My sister-in-law Susan is a gourmet cook and was recently honored by the Junior League of Birmingham Alabama for a dessert recipe. “Chocolate mascarpone cheesecake with a truffle glaze.” First prize. I’m sorry that I don’t have her picture, sorrier that I don’t have the cheesecake.
That’s my Alabama family all around me. My photo is in the center of the collage. That is not radiance coming from me. It’s an understanding coming in. Driving down I-59 from Chattanooga and the reunion, I started my, Oh the green, look at the green, how I miss the green of Alabama…Just as I have for years, with each visit. But somewhere north of Gadsden, around Fort Payne, just as I was starting another chorus, I came to understand—it came to me just like that— that it was my family that I have missed all these years, not the green. Alabama gets cold and goes brown and then dark. Trees become silhouettes. Gray sky, winter. But, you know, family. Lines of warmth coming in.
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