Memories of Alabama

A while back, a memory came to me vividly — more so than most memories do. At the time, I was feeling homesick. I doubted what I was doing here in Amsterdam. I wanted to have a home. “Why do I keep leaving home?” I asked myself.

My memory was from my childhood: a boy, maybe eight or ten years old. I was with my grandparents and siblings on a summer day in South Sauty, Alabama. I went to Alabama in the summers to visit my grandparents, who spent years building and refining their historic log cabin on the banks of the Tennessee river.

It was late in the afternoon. Granddad had finished working a full day on the cabin. We all then loaded up into the open back of an antique and rusted blue GMC pickup. We carried with us big black inner tubes of old truck tires. Driving down to the lake and past the general store, we parked between two trees by a small wooden dock. In the distance beyond the water was Sand Mountain. The clouds looked broody, and gave a chill to the air, but not enough to keep us from swimming. The water was cool, and we commented on how the bottom of the lake felt exactly like peanut butter. We squished our toes deep into the brown mud like carrots into a JIF jar. And with the tops of our feet, we lifted the peanut butter to the surface, flinging it at whoever was closest. Grandmom and Granddad were busy with nothing else but watching us contently from the banks of the shore.

After an hour or two there, my grandfather called us back to underneath the trees, and the ritual ending of our swim would be initiated. Granddad, with his heavy football hands, grabbed and turned our heads to the side, and put some mysterious medicine drops into our ears to keep us from getting “swimmer’s ear” (or whatever ailment he would often worry of us of getting). Then, only somewhat dry, we piled back into the bed of the truck. We drove back up the country road, past the general store, up the hill with the trailer park on the right, past the Baptist church we visited Sundays and Wednesday nights on the top of the hill. Shirts off, I watched the wind blowing through my brother’s hair in the golden hour of the sun. Grandmom sat in the back too to make sure he didn’t cause too much trouble. We were all slightly squinting from the wind and sun in our eyes. Through the tall trees we turned onto an even smaller country road to find Chilcotin, where the cabin was.

On that short journey home, I remember myself being at complete and total peace with the world — not only with the world, but with my life. This memory, hidden away for so long, came back with every feeling still intact. Why now, more than two decades later? Was it merely the pure beauty of the memory as I longed for home? Was it thinking of my grandparents: Granddad, who passed away several years ago; Grandmom, who’s health is deteriorating? Talking with a couple friends later, I realized much of its reincarnation had to do with the desire of feeling at home in a place.

I’ve been thinking a lot about pictures recently. And having this vision reminded me why many of us take pictures: to keep our memories alive in our hearts. And this whole vision became more interesting to me when I thought of it in relation to a dream I had recently. In the dream I was on an old abandoned ship. It began sinking into the water, scaring me and making me anxious. But funny enough, I wasn’t feeling this way for my own safety, but for the one thing strapped around my neck: a camera. I was afraid my camera would be destroyed, not me. Then in an instant, I woke.

Of course in my typical, over-analytical way, I thought of it in relation to this rediscovered memory from Alabama. In the water of my youth, I had this great freedom and lightness, swimming with peanut butter mud in the summer’s breeze. There was a great joy and beauty being in that water. And now, there’s this pressure to achieve something, to capture something you always wanted to see, and feeling a weight of age in a foreign land. I want to dive freely again from that dock into that muddy water. I want to feel less anxious about the direction of my life, less anxious about finding “progress,” and more willing to be free, like I really am. I may need to let go of what I feel comfortable with, all that gives me security, and jump into a mirky water (camera and all). Not knowing what’s to come next, I need to jump in, and know that the presence of home is a gift that remains intact.

. . . .

This video of Hank Williams and the Carter family seemed appropriate to the memory, “I Saw The Light”


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