“You’re from that dirty swamp water,” a used-to-be used to tell me. I’m sure he meant it to be endearing but it always got my Davis-Crawford-Hill-Barton pride up. I’m fiercely proud of where I’m from. It’s why I shout out Blueberry Hill, Brewton, The Dirty 30 and Lower Alabama whenever I can and would not want to be from anywhere else.
Lots of lives, free and otherwise, had to survive much more treacherous waters in crossing from the African continent or setting sail from England, Scotland and France to land in and leave or escape South Carolina, Texas and Louisiana to come through Central and South Alabama to meet precisely in Brewton, Alabama for me and mine to be here.
It is a place I am ashamed to say I spent a long time wanting to get away from, in favor of places with more to see, more to do, people who didn’t know my life story, who wouldn’t report my whereabouts to the nearest relative.
It’s the place I now know offered me the best preparation for going anywhere else. It’s the only place that has genuinely welcomed me home, first when I was young and foolish, then when I was older (and a little less so).
My heart breaks right now, for home. For Mobile, where proud, grand oaks older than time have been plucked from the earth, roots exposed. For Pensacola, submerged. For the people I love and for those of us from and tied to these places who know pieces of ourselves have been snatched up from their foundations.
Our roots ravaged.
That dirty water—from Murder Creek to Mobile Bay to the Great Gulf Coast—is our lifeblood. It’s where we get our strength from, our rhythm, our blues, our peace of mind. It’s where we are washed clean, and where we are nourished. I see my way clearest when I cast my line into its dark depths, and I am grounded by its sand, mud and clay under my feet. In my heart of hearts I am caught in its net somewhere under the Dolly Parton Bridge, even as I have been flung into the wide world from its Florabama shoreline.
Always will be.
Sally can’t wash us out.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, And through the rivers, they will not flood over you.” -Isaiah 43:2 a, b