As happy as I was puttering around my new place, it’s two days before Christmas, so I had to pack up the car and go to Alabama. Being directionally impaired to the point of anxiety and not being a fan of interstate highways, I set the TomTom to find me a new backroads shortcut. Took me 6 years to learn the shortcut from my old place–that’s how bad I am. But TomTom–for whom my motto is TomTom: We Get You Close–kept planning routes that involved I-75, one of Georgia’s busiest and most crowded interstates. Barely out of my apartment complex’s entrance, I pulled over and searched Google Maps on my phone. The shortest route, as I knew in my heart, was a path through the lakes and mountains of my home state.

So, I proceed through unchartered (for me) territory, manually scrolling through directions on my phone and leaving TomTom on to catch up. This he did after two hours of replanning the route every half mile. “Turn around when possible. Turn around when possible.” Why do I put up with this from TomTom? Because, once adjusted, he is a rather pleasant and comforting travel buddy. Somewhere past Rome, Georgia, he gave up trying to route me along the interstate through Chattanooga (yes, Tennessee to get to Alabama from Georgia) and accepted that I was taking the backroads. With him on board, I breathed a little and sat back to enjoy the ride.

I started trying to remember a Christmas visit home when the sky was not dreary. It was today. A dreary sky over brown fields makes everything have a gray cast to it. It makes industrial stretches hewn into sides of mountains look more isolated and lonely looking. I passed historic marker signs pointing me to “historic downtown” Cartersville, then Rome, then Centre (“Crappie Capital of the World”), and I worried a little less about the grayness when I realized that the pretty little quaint signs of life were just off my backroads. Past Centre, near Weiss Lake, I noticed the flat farmland give way to huge bluffs around the lake and couldn’t help thinking this place with its water source and ready-dwelling places had been inhabited by the Cherokee people. The first people to fish from these waters had been collected and led along this very road on what we now know as the Trail of Tears. Another historical marker informs me. There is more to my Alabama than meets the eye.

Whenever I go home, I make a point to chat up (gab, we call it in Alabama) a chashier at a local gas station. No station in particular, no town in particular; in fact, I like to vary it up some. I do this because I like to hear what we sound like. When I talk to the woman who has just sold me gas and a Diet Mt. Dew, I catch the drawl again and keep going. Sometimes, I look around the store pretending to shop for sardines and crackers so that I can hear her gab with local men on their lunch break buying lunches so greasy that the white bags are spotted with the oil seeping through. Today she told one young fellow, “I know y’all ready to be gettin’ home. You have a merry Christmas.” Of course I can’t capture the resonant lilt of her voice. Can’t capture how it sounded like a smokey bell ringing out.

More on this later.

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