I was born and raised in Alabama, the centermost southern state, the Heart of Dixie. Up until last August, I had lived there all my life. I hadn’t really considered my southern roots until we moved to Florida. I would say “y’all” and someone would repeat it back to me, not in a rude way, but more like a fun little wink, acknowledging something. I’d stretch out a word and then I’d hear it said back to me, in the same way. I’d always follow that echo with, “Is that really how I said it?” My southern accent isn’t something I get called out for often. It’s not very thick or very pronounced, and for the longest time I tried to hide it because I knew that the south had a history. Alabama is practically known for that one billboard that says “GO TO CHURCH OR THE DEVIL WILL GET YOU”, and many other things, mostly negative. I remember being nine or ten, when this girl who was selling books of some sort came by our house. She was from Colorado, or somewhere out west, and was surprised that people in Alabama had cars, shoes, nice homes, and clothes other than overalls. That was probably the moment when I first became a little bit embarrassed to tell people where I was from.
Over the last several years, I’ve learned to shake most of that off. I wish that my home state was more progressive, and had a less offensive history. But, I know that I can set myself apart from the negativity by just being myself, and still be a part of this beautiful state. In fact, since we moved back, I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud to be a part of it.
Every time I step foot outside, I feel drunk off of the Alabama air. It sounds completely crazy, but the air is so sweet and it smells so good, and there are so many different shades of green, and the southern charm is EVERYWHERE. Trey won’t stop exclaiming various phrases, “GOSH!” “%$#&!” “IT’S SO PRETTY!” “HOLY COW!” and letting out squeals and yells and sighs. He is so happy to be here, and even though he isn’t even originally from Alabama, it’s his home. He told me that Alabama looks good on me, and I believe him. On Easter, we went to my grandparents’ house, and I felt like I was swimming in southern culture, like it was a big pot of black-eyed peas with a side of cornbread. My whole family was there, and it was as if someone was giving me medicine that I had been trying to live without for nearly a year. Trey was so happy, and I think he smiled the whole way home that day. I spent the drive thinking about what it is that I love about this place so much. Why did the day feel so good? Why did I not feel sad all day long? Last week I found out that my grandfather, Papa has cancer. We don’t know how advanced it is yet, but we know enough to know that nothing is really going to get better. He and I had a few minutes alone together, and we were able to talk about it. He said that he isn’t in a hurry to go anywhere, and he knows that it’s going to get a lot worse. He said that Nanny is tired, and that they both expected something like this. I held his hands and he said that his hands are numb, his guess is arthritis, and that everything hurts. I asked if he could feel me holding his hands, and he said it mainly felt like pressure. I asked if it hurt his jaw when I hugged him earlier (he has cancer in his mouth), and he said that it didn’t. My eyes were teary, and I knew he could tell, but we spoke honestly and openly. He said that he is happy that I’m here, and happy that I can be around through the rest of it. He calls me Sadie, never Sarah. Always Sadie or Sadie May. Trey has said that my southern accent is at its height when I talk to my Papa. I don’t ever hear it, but he says that it’s more pronounced than it is when I talk to anyone else, anywhere else. I know that he is right. When I’m done talking to him, my mouth feels different. My jaw feels like it’s been working in a way that it normally doesn’t work, and it feels tired. I love it. It’s like his voice grabs onto mine, and changes it. I feel different when I’m talking to him, and afterwards. I feel lighter and everything seems easier. He is everything that it means to be a southern gentleman, and he is a brilliant man. He embodies everything that I love about the south, and he is one of the many reasons that I’m so happy to be home. I’m happy that my southern roots run deep, deep, deep, and that I have time to learn my Papa’s recipe for biscuits, and my Nanny’s recipe for chocolate gravy.
“Oh, Susanna, oh don’t you cry for me. I come from Alabama with a banjo on my knee.”