In the past year, a few things have caused me to ponder how I feel about where I grew up - Albany, Georgia (pronounced ALL-bee-ny, JAW-juh, locally,). Contrary to popular belief and assumption, Albany is nowhere near Atlanta, unless you're from a world where a three hour drive is close. For the longest time, I bought the hype that seems to exist in the media and circles around me: Be ashamed of where you grew up, unless it's a big city or something somone has heard of. What a crock that was! Anyway, back to the things that made me begin to question that: a tour of historic places with my Grandmother this summer, "Ray" (the movie about Ray Charles, a fellow Albanian), and the release of "Georgia," by Field Mob (fellow Monroe Comprehensive High School alumni) and Ludacris. I got to thinking: why is it that when people ask me where I'm from I answer, truthfully at least, in a tone that lacks any resemblance that I feel the least bit of fondness about where I'm from? Why do I care that some people ask me where Albany is? Have I really weighed the good and the bad about the place where I grew up? I had never really thought about it before. Now I do.
Albany has a rich history - with me as well as with a multitude of others. Aside from being the birthplace of Ray Charles, Albany is also the birthplace of Alice Coachman (who was the first African American woman to win Olympic gold), was a hotbed during the civil rights movement (hence, The Albany Movement), and for years before its foundation was the home of Creek Indians, which I credit as part of my heritage. Suffice it to say that for a city, Albany is no slouch. There are things that ran me away to the advantages of a big city, cheifly the fact that I couldn't go into any establishment with one of my black friends without getting stared at. Racial tension is one of the main reasons I left in 1994 and have only come back to visit. I can still feel the funk when I go back. Other factors are apathy among the citizenry and the domination of religious factions of the political process.
Still, I can't deny that there are some great people there now, and that grew up there just like I did and felt like leaving for some of the same reasons. My high school is a good example of a source of warmth I felt back home. Monroe wasn't your typical clique-ridden institution. The Braniacs and the band kids were the most popular, for example, and were pretty accepting and friendly to everyone. My class ('95, although I left early because I percieved that the cons of staying in Albany outweighed the pros), was among the friendliest, most tolerant, and most peaceful classes that went through that school. Everyone seemed to get along, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the classes after us followed suit. I didn't get to see how she recovered from the great Flood of 1994, but I could see in the faces of my classmates in the next year's yearbook that everything was allright. Myth after myth that my family tried to feed me about Monroe got debunked, and I loved it there.
There are many good folks that I remember who had faced adversities far worse than I ever knew. Red, an old blues guitarist, used to let me sit there for hours in his front yard and listen to him play and sing his aged heart out. He must've been at least sixty when I knew him, as this little misunderstood, scared, abused, and neglected white kid. He had been through the hellfire that Jim Crow brings and had fought his ass off in the struggles of the civil rights movement (not to mention the Chosin Reservoir in Korea), yet his voice filled my troubled heart with the purest of tranquility, and no matter how much the white folk in the trailer park would tell me to "stay away from that n***er," I'd keep going back, because he was my only solace in my chaotic world. He gave me something that no Southern Baptist church had to offer - soul - and shitpiles of it. That man taught me how to feel at a time when I habitually numbed myself. Let's not leave out Tyrone, a heavy-set redneck who understood why I would sneak off to Red's place. He liked Red's picking and crooning, too, and he'd take me to Shoney's (what Bob's Big Boy is called in the South) and make sure I was doing okay after we'd sit there at listen to ol' Red play. This is where I learned to appreciate how trials build character, as well as the importance of music.
My grandmother, man, that just goes without saying. She's an awesome woman. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be typing this for ya'll right now.
I remember raking the yard and dive-bombing the piles of leaves or pinestraw. I remember playing baseball, stickball, football, tag, frisbee, and much much more in the pecan groves near some of the places I lived. I remember those damned gnats. I can recall fishing right out of the river and swimming in the same. I remember collard greens, dumplings, butter beans, and roast at Granny's house. I remember a trip to a black church that was one of the most moving experiences of my life, as well as the neckbones, chitlins, and laughter at the dinner I went to afterwards. I remember how the fight against racism and religious dominance (sometimes against my own family) hardened me for other tough issues that I'd have to deal with later in life, and how going through being a tolerant, liberal, non-racist white kid who liked going to his predominatly black high school (all this in a small southern town) made Marine recruit training a cakewalk in comparison.
Yeah, when you dream of your home, you might consider smog, traffic, tall buildings, or celebrity spottings. I dream of pecan groves, pine trees, bonfires, and outdoor life. I dream of actually being able to see the stars in the sky. No, I'm not from Compton, Brooklyn, Southie, or Seattle. I'm not from Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, or San Francisco.
I'm from Albany, Georgia - a speck on the map and a nanocyte in general human knowledge, but in terms of memories and being part of my life it's the biggest place in the world to me. I'm afraid that I'll miss something in this post, in fact I know I will, but at least you folks will know and hopefully understand. This isn't just a phase. It's an epiphany. It's a realization.
And it's from the fibers of my soul.