…we go. I’ve been in Montgomery, Alabama since Wednesday morning to visit my grandmother. That Montgomery is different than Portland might be the understatement of the year:
Hot weather and high humidity.
Bad coffee and no bike lanes (or sidewalks!).
Aging infrastructure and racism.
I may be a fish out of water, but I have loved my time here. It’s been 10 years since I paid a visit. My grandmother has always been willing to travel to see me in Chicago or Austin and I’ve not made time to make the long trip southeast. This was overdue, but perhaps just the right time to appreciate the differences and learn from the culture here. My grandmother recently moved into an “active seniors community” (nurses are available, but most residents are pretty happy rolling on their own) and staying with her has been an insightful look both at southern culture and the challenges that senior citizens face. To say the least I am humbled.
I love my grandmother, at 91 she is still lively and game for a good time. I had no clue this time together would be this much fun, or this valuable. I got off the plane in time to face a gigantic lunch of southern food on Wednesday, followed by a live band performance at her residence, a light supper (bad coffee and water only after the soul food lunch), and evening church.
Most of the people at church I still remembered from many childhood visits here and folks were frankly thrilled to see me.
I didn’t feel like I hit the groove though until Thursday morning. We took a tour of the Alabama justice building (home of the state supreme court), and the Civil Rights Memorial at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Arguably as moving as the Holocaust Memorial, I left with tears in my eyes and a renewed determination that our society will not truly be sustainable until we manage to treat all people with equality on all levels. I cannot more strongly recommend a visit. At the memorial fountain in front of the building I met a woman named Sara currently serving in the Marines. She was similarly overwhelmed, and suddenly my appreciation for her willingness to serve in our military rose above my general contempt for the military decisions made by our government. Before heading home we checked on tour times for the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr preached from 1954-1960. It was a morning of deep respect for many things.
(Surprisingly stunning architecture at the justice building)
(There’s a picture somewhere of me, here, 20 years ago)
(The King Memorial Dexter Avenue Baptist Church)
Thursday afternoon saw us running errands and playing dominos with some of the local residents. Funny how the rules change when most of the players have limited short term memory- hilarity ensued. Thursday we headed out to the Hyundai motor plant south of town a ways. I’ve toured a variety of manufacturing plants, but never a complete car assembly center. The scale was enormous, the technology was cutting edge, and the people were exceptionally friendly. Truly an amazing tour if you ever get a chance.
Today we headed back to the Dexter Avenue Church for a full tour, and again I was deeply mover by the depth and significance of the civil rights movement that started right here. Though I’m not attracted to formalized religion at the moment, the Spirit here is unmistakably powerful- kinda wish I could attend a Sunday service here.
(In front of Dr. King’s pulpit)
This afternoon I was the star attraction as I gave a scheduled talk for the residents of the retirement community showcasing my recent trip up Denali. Only a few people fell asleep! For the most part everyone was thrilled to see the photos and I had a blast giving the talk. I suspect volunteering to give my slideshow at other retirement communities could fill a charitable niche that my life has been missing lately. We polished off the evening with two rubbers of bridge and helped my grandmother make some new bridge partners. The rules in Dominos might have gotten a little sloppy but there was no nonsense in the bridge playing. I dished it out as well as I took it and had a blast.
(Average of 60 years of bridge playing each, time to bring the A game)
Safe to say it won’t take me another 10 years to get back here.
It is so good to see how all your bonding with the mountains helped prepare you to connect even more deeply with people you love. We certainly felt that in Chicago, dear son. So grateful to see your joy and courage and commitment to find where your multiple talents can be best used.
PS FYI Your grandmother lives in an ‘active seniors community’–assisted living means that they need daily care support, and some people there do hire nursing assistance but it is contracted outside the facility and is the exception rather than the rule. In addition to the quality of the place, the vitality of the folks there were a great selling point.
I remember your grandmother! Lovely woman! Glad to see she’s doing well and I’m sure she really enjoyed and appreciated your visit. Thanks for sharing!
My trip to Montgomery some 9 years ago left a deep impression on me and Lynley too, from southern hospitality, intoxicating humidity, antebellum architecture, strong echoes of segregation and of course our grandmother! So glad to have got there and I enjoyed reading your account. Keep it coming!
Greetings, Skander. This was my first reading of your blog. As Claire had assurred me, very well written. And he pictures complemented it perfectly. This heightens my anticipation of reading your Denali blog (I wasn’t aware of the crevass adventure) and anticipating what South America will be bringing. Wonderful to see you again.
Skander, it was so great to see you in Chicago – and to find your blog here. Loved browsing around and being drawn right into your adventures. Thank you for thinking out loud, giving your friends a chance to imagine, feel, and think with you about these things. I would have found a few tears in my eyes at the civil rights memorial and the Baptist church too – and frankly even seeing the joy you found being with your grandmother Ruthie! Here we look so hard to discover the meaning of life, and yet sometimes we find the courage and power of living right in front of us.
Beautifully told, beautifully lived. Thanks!