As I drove down Government Street in Mobile, Al last week under the canopy of live oaks which so defines this city, I found myself smiling, remembering when I was sixteen and learning to drive with my mother in the car. Because the city so treasures these trees, they’ve widened the major streets as far as they could without tearing them down, leaving very little room in the median. “Over to your left! Left! Left!” my mother would say repeatedly, convinced I was going to crash into those trees. And so I learned to hug the middle lanes, a practice I continue unreflectively, thirty five years later.
We are shaped powerfully by our hometowns, in smaller and larger ways. Arriving here in mid-June I was instantly reminded of the heat and humidity, which hits you like a wave that washes over you when you step out of the house. I am convinced that’s what causes everyone down here to slow down and be a little less concerned with punctuality, lest we arrive at our destinations on time but dripping in sweat. My wife, a veritable northerner from Montgomery, fussed at me the first three or four years of our marriage for being consistently 3-5 minutes “late” for things, and I would argue that five minutes was well within the margin of error in “coastal time,” but she eventually won that battle, and now we and our four children are practically O.C.D. , arriving five minutes early. That’s OK--we’re living here now, and I fully expect the pace of this place to win my wife over.
Though I grew up in Mobile, I spent a large portion of my summers near Point Clear with my good friend Vincent Ho, whose parents owned (and still own) a house and pier on the bay. Fishing, playing guitar, sailing, catching crabs, arguing and laughing--I have fond memories of those days. Now I will be living nearby, three decades after the fact, and it feels like a story in which the later chapters begin to enlighten the earlier ones, bringing the disparate parts into a whole.
My father is no longer with us. What weighs on me about that, apart from simply missing him, is I am now the oldest male of my family, the “heir apparent,” though I am keenly aware that I fall miles short of Dad on many fronts. Still, being here gives me the new opportunity to be the son to my mother, the big brother to my sister and her family, and to be connected to the family “hub” in a way that was impossible when I was living away these last three decades. I welcome the opportunity to reintegrate with them, with old friends, and with new ones I’ve not yet met. And I look forward to building my life here with my wife, tying her together with my past, and forging our futures together.
There is no place like home.