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What I Didn’t See Before

gas station

My hometown is a little place along the Florida border of Alabama called Andalusia. My goal in life was always to leave that place and never look back. And for a long time, I was successful in doing just that. While visiting there this past week though, something changed. I kind of fell in love with the place.

I have a lot of bad memories from Andalusia – memories that aren’t exactly the type of thing I want to blog about in this space. (I’ve learned that doing so only hurts feelings and takes me to a very bad place mentally.) But on this trip, I didn’t look around and see those bad memories. I saw my kids there making GOOD memories. I saw riding dirt roads, catching critters, swimming in the creek, eating fried food and sipping sweet iced tea. I saw happy things and happy people.

I finally saw what I could never see before.

grammas front

The house in the photo above was my grandmother’s house at one time in Gantt. Her second husband died a while back, (maybe 20 years ago?) and the house and antiques inside were sold and auctioned to the highest bidder. After some ill-fated plans to renovate the home by its current owners, the home now sits in ruins. An old van sits on what used to be the front porch, and there’s trash and scrap metal piled all around it. Many of its leaded windows have been replaced by boards, and the structure is caving in.

grammas

My friend Justine at Sew Country Chick commented on my last post about Alabama that she imagined me sitting on a porch with a sewing machine and later photographing my creation while standing in the middle of a cotton field. I loved her vision! Looking at these pictures of Gramma’s old house makes me want to buy it and completely overhaul it to be exactly what she imagined, but I fear it is too far gone at this point. It makes me sad to know that on one of these visits, the old bones will be torn down.

lake house

The house above is where we stayed when we visited home. It has been in our family for a long time in one way or the other, but it’s been empty for the last few years. It’s a bit rustic, but it sits on the perfect quiet spot where armadillos are a common sight, and sounds of crickets and bullfrogs echo through the night. The lack of cell service was annoying but also a bit nice since I didn’t feel my iPhone was connected to my right hand for a few days.

I found myself thinking we could live there for a few weeks/months while looking for a house (or building one). But then reality struck – we could never live in a place with only a handful of restaurants and…ahem…no rock climbing gym (SCOTT!).

pier

It was nice though to take Harper out on this pier – the pier where I docked my waverunner so many times as a kid. Harper liked picking up “seashells” (mussels) and looking at the ducks that would frequently paddle by or dive underwater for a tasty dinner.

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As for the actual town of Andalusia, much of its old downtown sits in ruins, too. There has been some revival along East Three Notch Street but not much beyond that. Can’t you just imagine these old buildings being converted into boutiques, lofts and restaurants? Most of them are crumbling and overgrown with kudzu. But oh…so much potential.

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dirt road

This is the dirt road that leads to my Uncle’s house on Gantt Lake. Just past this tunnel of trees is a blueberry farm where you can take a basket and pick your own berries. How can you not love that?

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Suffice it to say the trip was bittersweet. I thought long and hard about what I would write about this visit, but honestly, nothing seemed quite right. So hopefully the pictures have done the talking for me, and you can see what I mean about both hating a place and also longing to go back there and make it what you imagine it to be.

I suppose the best memories are the ones we make up in our own minds, right?

  • Maris Olsen

    Very sweet post, Lauren. Thank you for sharing from your heart. I think “home” is always a mixture of feelings, because of course it cannot be all good. Glad that you can see the goodness now.

    • http://www.laurendahl.com/ Lauren Dahl

      Thank you so much, Maris!

  • Sally

    I wish I had the money to get your family home updated. I wish I had the power to make all your bad memories fade away completely. I wish I had the words to thank you for your kind generosity – the measurements will let me adjust patterns for ALL the grandkids!

    • http://www.laurendahl.com/ Lauren Dahl

      Sally, you are so sweet! Thank you for your kind words!

  • Justine

    Oh my Lauren. I want to buy it!! No seriously, maybe you could partnership with a family member? Is your husband able to move? I love living in the country so much. But you do miss a lot of things like culture, restaurants, etc. Even though I’m only an hour and 15 minutes from LA it may as well be Alabama here, it’s so different from LA.

    • http://www.laurendahl.com/ Lauren Dahl

      I wish…but unfortunately, it is not for sale and is surrounded by ratty old trailers and trash from the neighbors. It’s not such a pretty place anymore. It would be a ginormous money pit!

  • Mary Johnson

    Wow. I feel the same way about Andalusia. Robby and I were just discussing it. I have a lot of terrible memories there, and I always wanted to get away and never go back. But now I miss it and want to go home. There just aren’t a lot of potential (well paying) jobs for Robby and I to go back to. I loved this, very well written.

  • Debi Stuckey

    I spent most of my adult life trying to get far away from the cotton fields, red clay roads and not so pleasant memories of my childhood. Then one hot summer day, not so long ago, sitting on a four wheeler in the middle of the Sepulga River, I realized I would spend the rest of my life trying to get back. It was a spot in the Old Federal Highway that ran from Mobile to Atlanta. Its known locally as “Flat Rock” because it is the one flat place in the river where the stage coach could safely and easily cross the river. So many GOOD memories of my life came flooding back as I thought about all the time passed and how I didn’t realize at the time, there were far more good times than bad. I wish I could have made all your memories happy ones, but then, what would have prepared you for the life ahead??? Growing up, we must learn to live with hurt and disappointments and use them to make our future the best it can be.
    I know you will do this for your beautiful children.
    These pictures are beautifully done. You have such a good eye for the shots that capture the “feel” of the photo.

  • Juliette Bonnin Lanvers

    that was nice Lauren, we’ll have to talk about it. Bad memory are just that anyways. We are tourists now in our homeland…

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