Alabama, Tennessee and Me

August 29, 2017

Writers’ Conference, Killer Nashville. Driving home to Florida from the Killer Nashville Mystery Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, I passed through Southern Alabama. It is a place rife with sharp contradictions. I passed through towns named Opp and Verbena. Along their main roads, I saw abandoned mobile homes, rusted farm machinery, and tumbled unpainted shacks. In the next mile, vintage two-story frame homes lined the road, their porches supported by white pillars. The houses might have aspired to–but obviously failed–to attain the size and quality of antebellum Southern plantations; nevertheless, they reminded me of another era of stability and genteel prosperity, the 1950’s.
The unoccupied landscape was another unworldly venue, the world of Kudzu, ruled by those creeping vines capable of engulfing every twig, every struggling plant, and climbing fifty-foot-tall pine trees. Kudzu vines blanketed some areas of the countryside, transforming them into huge waves, undulating seas of leafy green, more alien, more impenetrable and more forbidding than any jungle.
Then the eeriest experience of all. I passed through a landscape of newer homes, large and well-kept, set back from the road amid acre upon acre of cut grass. It was a gently swelling grassy veld, almost like a park.
Sensations overcame me, a sense of familiarity, of ownership but at the same time, of nostalgia. Was it deja vu? I knew that in this place, or another realm much like it, I was a better person living a better existence. I felt myself as that other person. Had I visited this setting in a dream or experienced it in another lifetime? Yearning and confused, I didn’t want to pass through it; I didn’t want to leave. When it lay behind me on the road, I struggled with the urge to turn the car and go back. If I did, would I return to that cherished reality? It haunted me, another life haunted me, for hours.

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