The next morning, I stepped out of my motel room and into the furnace of Monroeville in August. The Best Western is on Highway 21, which becomes Alabama Avenue. To reach the courthouse, according to the clerk at the motel, all we had to do was follow the road about five miles. It ended right at the town square. We passed an unremarkable stretch of auto parts places and assorted businesses. Next we came upon the Monroe County Hospital, up a short, steep hill to our left, then a strip mall with a Winn-Dixie supermarket, a Rite Aid, and a dollar store. That's about as far as I got into this book excerpt on Huffington Post before I had to get up and leave the room and sit quietly being sad. I've never even been to Monroeville. These roads are familiar, though, strips of commerce laid out across yellow fields. One corner down 82 was always overrun with giant sunflowers, not long before you found the Northport Walmart.
I'm wary of idealizing / idyllizing the South, seeing it as some simple place where people are all good neighbors—that's not how it was for me. I don't want time away to change that. But I had so many pockets of calmness, and long drives, and the heavy pollen on the breeze that wasn't enough to cool me. I had dread when it rained. I had the cows along the bike route and everyone I knew ending up in the same backyard on a Friday night. I had the intense green leaves of any 100-year-old magnolia, my snakes in the water. I had confrontation with a history, all the time, in the big white houses, in the biased rental codes. Bad roads. Wet winters.
It occurred to me I've been too busy here to take time to miss anything, and so the missing occurred to me all of a sudden, in a public place, mostly alone, memory jogged by someone else's words.