Returning back home to Alabama
Over the years, after having lived in seven states, and two foreign countries, I’ve found the word '“home” to be relative. Sometimes, it’s where you grew up. Sometimes it’s where you lay your head every night. And sometimes it references where your ancestors are from.
As an African American who grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio, in the United States’ Midwest, I am a product of the Great Migration. After slavery, my ancestors migrated north from Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia. As a result, I have family from all over, many of whom I never met, as the distance made it hard for families to remain close.
Growing up, I was always told I had a large contingent of family in Alabama. They’re relatives of my maternal great grandmother. They were always mentioned but my family never said we’re going back to Alabama to see them. There was always this fear of heading back to Alabama. I met a few when they came to Cleveland when I was young. But this Alabama family mystified me. Even more so when I married my husband, an Alabama man. As fate would have it, I now visit Alabama frequently to see my in-laws.
So on this last trip, I said I needed to finally meet my Alabama family. I called cousin Alva, the one cousin who had been keeping up with me on social media and let her know I was coming. She’d been asking for years, always keeping the invitation open. I told her about two weeks before, a delightful surprise, which we’d later learn would be perfect timing.
My husband and I rented a car and drove to Montgomery. We picked her up and headed to Auburn to meet the rest of the family. We traveled to where my great grandmother lived and to the plantation where our ancestors toiled the land just outside of Auburn on Gold Hill.
In front of what used to be the Menifee plantation, according to cousin Alva
There was a massive antebellum home still sitting on the land that appeared to be in tip top shape. Some of the work barns and what appeared to be slave cabins were still there. It was an eerie sight but I wanted to see it so I could engrave in my memory where my family came from. I didn’t get to really know my great grandmother so the visit allowed me to learn so much more about her. We even went to the cemetery where more relatives are buried. I was shocked by how nice Auburn was and how they were building big new homes near where my family used to live. It made me wonder what would’ve happened if my family had stayed and not been run off by the lack of jobs.
We met some of my relatives who were gathering at one home and then we went to meet my cousin’s sister. In the hospital. An awkward first meeting but it’s better late than never. I learned we were members of the same sorority. And she got to FaceTime with my mom, who she used to visit as a little girl. Her daughter was my age and also a sorority sister. We took pictures as she fought for her life in the hospital bed. She was smiling at the thought that we came to see her. And Cousin Alva was grateful we brought her to Auburn to see her sister.
She was well enough to post on Facebook and fix her hair before she took the pictures. I thought she’d make it. But cousin Beverly was called home to the Lord a week later.
That just showed me how important it is to also allocate trips to see your family and make the effort to meet relatives you haven't met. Check on your older relatives. Make them smile as you share stories about all of your other trips and dreams. They don't live forever.