1. The Landscape. The metro area is made up of mountains, valleys, glens, rocky hills, bluffs, ridges, rivers and streams. There are no straight roads when you leave downtown. No street is similar to another. And there are trees everywhere to breathe in. The beauty can be breathtaking when you pull over the top of a hill or descend the first of the mountains stacked up before you.
2. My Birthplace. If I have a mind to, I can drive by St. Vincent’s with all its sisters and wonder which room I was ushered out into, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. My first home is only minutes away, around the corner from the tobacco shop. And down the street from there is the first church I ever spit up in. On top of this (literally above it, on the very mountain I now live on) is another home where my parent’s lived years before I was born. Around every corner (again literally) is the reminder I have a beginning. I have a history to be told.
3. My family. Almost all my family is here. I’ve a brother who lives about an hour away but even that feels close compared to before. We were ministry exiles, thrown by the call to wherever we could find a place that would pay enough to rub a few Lincolns together. But now we live about 3 football fields from the in-laws and a pleasant drive from my own parents. Two words: free babysitting. And birthday parties and gatherings for football games and holidays where you get to sleep in your own bed after the festivities.
4. The People. We get them. They get us. The language and experience is shared. We feel comfortable with these people, even the ones we don’t know all that well. And very few days go by on which we do not see a current friend while we are out. Or a friend from days long gone-by whose age and girth cannot mask the memories barely recognized.
5. The Rhythm. Since leaving for Seminary years ago, we have lived in a number of cities. And they all have a rhythm. The language, cuisine, social expectations, traffic, weather, cultural artifacts, shopping, the shared histories of the citizens – it all gives the town a rhythm. And we have felt out of rhythm with each. And then we moved here. And before our feet fell from the moving truck to the hallowed ground of home, we were holding hearts within our chest beating in time. Like a divinely designed atomic clock we have stayed in rhythm and pray to God to continue till these hearts no longer beat.
6. The Food. Yeah, we have five star restaurants that get some serious press. But I want a Harley from Mr. P’s Butcher shop and Deli. And Mongolian Beef from New China in Bluff Park. I crave a Gyro from The Purple Onion. And I’ve been eating Milo’s Burgers and fish from The Fish Market since I was a kid. I’ve eaten at Surin West almost as many times since moving back as I did in all the years previous. These are special places for me. The sights and smells – sometimes I cannot tell if I love the food for itself or the nostalgia that wells up in me when eating it.
7. The Weather. We get all four seasons here. The summers are hot but the nights can often be comfortable enough to enjoy even on into August. The feel of Fall is an echo of all that will come when perfection is ushered in to stay. The night air in Winter, hung lying still under the stars is magical and is my favorite time to go for a solitary stroll. Spring is about as fragrant and full of beauty as you could imagine with all it’s dogwoods and bradford pears, cherry and oak.
8. The Memories. Just below us lies the small lake where I asked Bethany to be my wife. We drive by the church we got married in often. We ate some late-night dessert on our first date at the IHOP just down the mountain. Our first apartment is not too far away. And memories of our childhood are everywhere. Movie theaters, malls, Krispy Kreme runs. Roads I used to drive while listening to Van Morrison for hours on end when gas was cheap and the windows stayed down. These memories are everywhere.
9. The Familiarity. When I was in High School, we would drive over to other areas of town and get lost. We’d just drive around and try to find our way out. Getting lost is impossible now. Even after being gone for over a decade, I know this city as well as any cabbie would. All the shortcuts are mine. The long scenic drives, I own them. I know where businesses and churches and all the best restaurants are still. I know the best places to go on Red Mountain to look out over the city. A lot of ’em I found while getting lost with Jonathan and Jeff and Teri.
10. The Missing. This is the hardest to explain to those who have never left. But part of my love for the place is once being away from it. Breathing a different air for so long has caused us to breathe this air so much more deeply. Missing it all and the satisfaction of the longing which sometimes haunted and sometimes hid makes our hometown of Birmingham all the more full of wonder.