A guest post about the Crimson Tide, Piggly Wiggly and how there’s no place like home by “The Sassy Belles” author Beth Albright.
They say you write what you know, and for me there is no truer statement. I know the Deep South. I have a love for it that pulses deep in my veins. My legacy is thick with my alma mater, the University of Alabama too, as my grandfather was the “voice” of the Crimson Tide in the 1950s. I am a Southerner to the bone, though I have lived all over the country.
The South is like nowhere else on Earth. I learned this lesson the hard way: by leaving. I have lived in New York City, Los Angeles California, and nearly everywhere in between. From both coasts, two of the Great Lakes, and the landlocked Midwest and even the deserts of Phoenix, I have called them all home over the last 30 years. And I stay in the perpetual suspended state of HOMESICK for Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I am in the middle of a lifelong love affair with Tuscaloosa.
When I was 10 years old, we moved to Oklahoma. And while I loved it there and made lifelong friends during my four years there, I was, even then, perpetually homesick, grieving away for my familiar surroundings of the misty liquid sunsets on the Warrior River and the rich history of The University of Alabama campus. Tuscaloosa is a pre-Civil War town, with much of the architecture dating long before the War Between The States. Old antebellum homes still stand watching over the city from one end of it to the other.
The kudzu creeps and crawls over everything standing still. Summers were miserable if you were measuring it by the humidity. With sticky skin and frizzy hair was the way I spent them. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Slow and happy and sweaty. Red cheeks coming in from long bike rides on half paved, half dirt roads, slamming screen doors and window unit air conditioners. And beauty pageants, complete with crowns and banners pinned from shoulder to hip across the front of your beaded gown. Tuscaloosa is made up of so many things, even when I’m not there I can see it feel it and taste it. So I wanted to be there. Writing was the way I could.
Life was easier in a small town down South. All the neighbors watched out for each other and everyone’s kids were like your own. The men are still chivalrous and the women still act like ladies, with makeup done to perfection and a string of pearls. That may be my favorite part — well next to the food!
The Deep South is special. It’s unique in all the most perfect ways. I feel I am an authority on this because I have been able to compare it to, well, almost everywhere. I actually left my soap opera, “Days of Our Lives” in Los Angeles as a principle character and drove across the country, pregnant, with morning sickness that lasted all day, to make sure my only baby was born at HOME … Tuscaloosa! In typical belle fashion, I didn’t pack light either. It took two cars! Halfway there, around El Paso, Texas, my husband actually had the nerve to say, “We really don’t HAVE to go have the baby in Alabama, do we?” I nearly burst into tears and called my mother — and a divorce lawyer — just as any Southern belle in a crisis does. Luckily, I calmed down by the time we crossed The Mighty Mississippi.
When I go home and see people at the famous Alabama Crimson Tide football games or in the Piggly Wiggly grocery store, they still say, “Well, hey there little Beth,” if they are my mother’s or grandmother’s old friends. That’s what they still call me although I am an ample grown woman. I love that they still call me that. It reminds me that they have known me all of my life — that they have been family friends forever and if I ever needed anything I need only to call and they would be there.
And speaking of Alabama football, you have never seen anything like Game Day in Tuscaloosa! The crowds under the largest tent city on the quad, everyone cooking out, the smell of barbequed pork in the air, the students dressed up in sundresses and bowties. You KNOW you’re in the South! And when Sweet Home Alabama is played over the loud speakers, everyone stops in their tracks and sings along. It’s a priceless feeling.
In Tuscaloosa, you can still sit out on a summer’s night and talk to your neighbors or on your front porch telling stories on a glider swing while a million lightening bugs glitter in the front yard under a gillion stars. And when someone ” has passed,” a line of traffic will form on your street of folks with covered dishes. You’ll have more pound cake and potato salad than you’ll know what to do with. And at least 30 boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Everyone who shows up on your doorstep to offer condolences will have a box of the delicious confections.
Tuscaloosa has its own special brand of Small Town America. It is in the heart of Dixie, being in Alabama. It is a classy place with mostly classy people. And Southern hospitality seems to have gotten its very definition from here. Every “Hey Y’all” and “fixin’ to” is inside my spirit, and when I am home it shines a little brighter.
When I come home, it’s like I never left. I am hugged and kissed and loved. I go out with my friends and see my mother and eat like I have been starving in a desert. I have. For the South … and its way. I love the slow way of life there. The closeness. The legacy I have and the friends that have known me forever and have my back no matter what.
When it came time to write, of course, I would write about the place I love most: my hometown in the Deep South. My heart is always in Dixie.
Maybe I can always go home, because truth be told, I never really left.
Photo Credits: Beth Albright by Brant Brogan and, from left, Albright with her mom Betty Spavins and friends Susan Sexton DePappa and Lynn Watts Zegarelli at Theatre Tuscaloosa during a performance of The Bear, a play about the life of legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant.
Beth Albright played the character of Mandy Cox on “Days of Our Lives” and is the author of a new trilogy of books about Southern belles. The first book in the series, “The Sassy Belles“, is one of our summer reading picks, and the second book, “Wedding Belles,” was recently released. Find out how you can win a copy of “The Sassy Belles” tomorrow during Literary Friday!