Sweet Home Alabama
Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay
So when we left Albuquerque, we didn't go anywhere near the freeway, except when we crossed I-40 going south on Wyoming. We followed state and county roads down to Roswell, not bothering with the aliens-crashed-here cash cow the place has created, and then east into Texas. We passed between Lubbock and Midland, not bothering with the long detour up to Muleshoe, which is 20 or 30 miles from Earth. We came close to the freeway again – though we didn't get on it – in Cisco, where we toured the restored Mobley Hotel, the first hotel Conrad Hilton ever owned. I'd wanted to see Cisco for a fair while, since a friend of ours, Yirmeyah Hudson, had been pastoring there before coming to Albuquerque.
Then we took a long leisurely curve up and around Ft. Worth and Dallas, making it a point to see the Red River, and Oklahoma on the other side. I'd lived in Dallas for a while back in the 80s, but just then I hadn't lost a form thing in the place. Besides, we've visited it already, and on that trip I'd shown Cecelia and Darlia all the places I remembered from living there.
We crossed into Arkansas at Texarkana, and took a route a bit south of east, passing through Searcy and Marianna – which reminded us of Leanna with the name, though not with the size of the place – and passed into Mississippi at Helena. Then we cut south, still sticking to the state highways and county roads, and getting onto dirt a fair portion of the time. We saw Indianola, and Yazoo City where I talked a bit about how screamingly funny Jerry Clower had been, and just because of the name made it a point to walk around for an hour or two in Little Yazoo. We headed east before striking I-20, the same freeway that runs by Cisco, and found that Philadelphia isn't the sole possession of Pennsylvania, for there it was in Neshoba County.
We took off then for Alabama, which wasn't far away. We deked and dived around, still on the side roads, making it a point to miss Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, though Cecelia went to school in the bigger city at the University of Alabama. We also missed Montgomery, though that's where Hank Williams was from, and wandered south and east to Leanna, just inside the northern line of Coffee County, a bit more than 20 miles from Enterprise.
We had in fact taken nearly two weeks on the road, not deliberately poking along but not caring whether we made 100 miles in a day, or 50, or 25, or even whether we drove at all. Some days we did indeed make three or four hundred miles, but at a few stops along the way we'd spent two or three days, and sometimes we'd put more miles on the odometer wandering around on section roads looking at farms or ranches or just pretty country than we ever made in actual forward progress. In fact, on two occasions we found ourselves at the end of the day actually a little bit west of where we'd started out, we'd gotten so entranced with the scenic route.
But at last, in the early afternoon, we were in Leanna, and we passed on through the town, with its business district occupying just three blocks along Main Street, and out to the eastern edge of town where Mama and Daddy live. To look at the house you'd never know that Daddy had been a sharecrop farmer until Cecelia was in her late 20s – the house may not technically be a mansion, but it's got two stories and a porch with square posts not quite big enough to qualify as pillars, and three spare bedrooms, and several acres of land which Mama and Daddy own outright – there's not a dime's worth of mortgage on the place. Cecelia bought it for them, with some help from Bella and Albert, and was putting more effort into paying it off than she was into paying off her own house – though she never missed a payment – when we met. I'd put my own money into paying off the house in Albuquerque, and with that out of the way Cecelia had been able to pour bucks into the Leanna place and paid that off quickly too.
I pulled into the driveway, which is gravel and runs up the left side of the house as you face it from the road – the west side – and becomes ordinary dirt as it curves around back to the barn. I pulled the Blazer off onto the grass to the left of the driveway, just about even with the porch, so that Daddy could get his truck in and out. Mama doesn't drive anymore, her eyes not being up to it, but Daddy's still driving the beat up old Dodge that he had when I first met him. If there's ever been a pickup truck that's more disreputable than my Chevy had been by the time I sold it for parts, it's Daddy's.
We got out, stretched, and walked toward the porch, not bothering to lock the doors – even right in town most people never do, it being safe to leave things open in that part of the world. We left the luggage in the back, and having climbed up the half dozen steps to the porch, opened the door and walked in – it's Cecelia's parents' house and therefore it's hers, as far as they're concerned, and by now it's mine and Darlia's too. Home has several meanings for me, and one of them is that big white house on the outskirts of Leanna, where – as we stepped into the living room – I could smell beans cooking back in the kitchen.
Before I met Cecelia I'd stay up till early morning, and then go to bed, and get up late – whenever I could, that is. When I worked actual jobs I of course had to be at work when they wanted me, and after I set up as a PI I had to be out investigating. The private investigator business gave me more leeway, of course, since a lot of the people you have to talk to in an investigation don't come out from under their rocks until afternoon or later, and the inheritance that allowed me to leave the police department and go out on my own also allowed me to work as much or as little as I pleased. But Cecelia convinced me that I'd find mornings much more tolerable if I got to bed at a decent hour, and while I'll never love mornings, I've come to value sufficient sleep.
But she grew up on a sharecrop farm, and gets up early every day even when she doesn't need to – and enjoys mornings too. And when we're in Leanna, I find myself getting up early too, if not as early as someone who's got to make a crop or go bankrupt.
The first morning we were there I was up and about by 7 in the morning, and carried my boots, with a pair of socks stuck in one of them, downstairs where I left them at the end of the sofa while I went back into the kitchen. Mama was there, with bacon in a skillet. I kissed her head – she's shorter than I am – and gave her a hug from behind. "How you doin' today?" I asked her.
"I was about to wash this ol' skillet," she said – she married a farmer and has worked "can see to cain't see" all her life. "You been in that bed way pas' time to be up."
I grinned. "I been up at dawn an' before, Mama – you know I worked cows oncet."
"Yeah, when you was a kid. An' you don't like eggs neither..."
"Nope – they're supposed to become chickens, not breakfast."
"Then set down an' eat this here bacon, an' I'll make you a mess o' waffles."
"Sounds good. Where's Daddy at?"