I got on my bicycle yesterday and rode thirty miles to the small town where I spent a large part of my childhood. Since I'm moving away from Alabama permanently I figured this would be my final opportunity to see my old home. That was not my only reason for going.
My mother recently passed away. Before she died, we had talked about writing a book together, sharing our experiences of adjusting to life in small town Alabama. Mom was from Canada so she stood out like a sore thumb. However, she made many friends in that small town over the years. There were a lot of memories that went to the grave with her. After all, I was only five when we left big city Baltimore for rural Alabama. I saw this as a final opportunity to summon long lost memories of the distant past.
I have struggled with my faith over the past few months, but a couple of events that occurred during this trip led me to believe someone was watching over me. Perhaps it was my mother's spirit. I felt it once before right after mom had died, a firm hand pressing against my leg in the middle of the night, like someone trying to wake me up from my slumber.
My first sign came as I took a detour off the main highway to visit my aunt's old house. My step-aunt is still alive-- she has Parkinson's and lives in a nursing home. The house was being renovated and sits abandoned. Next door was my other step-aunt and uncle's house. They died years ago. The two houses sat empty, but still looked like it did when I was a child. On the other side of my aunt's old house was a new house, built barely a year ago in what used to be a wooded area I played in and picked muscadine grapes. A man in a silver Rio was pulling out of the driveway of the new house.
I flagged this man down and asked him if anyone was currently staying in the house. He seemed a bit wary at first until I explained my relation with the woman who used to live in the house. I introduced myself and told him about my mother and my book. Coincidentally, he was heading to Decatur via Moulton so he would pass right by where I needed to go, and he offered to take me to my destination. After two long hours of bike riding, I was a little sore, so I accepted the lift.
Along the way, he asked me if I believed in God. I told him I was struggling because of recent events, including losing my mother. He asked me if I believe in angels. I told him since I was Catholic I believe in guardian angels. I also believe angels can take the form of regular people. He responded "You never know. I could be an angel in disguise for all you know." He dropped me off at my first destination, just up the street from the home I lived in for a quarter of my life. The guy was illiterate and could not remember his address but he drew me a map to his residence. He drew a very familiar map, a corner of two intersections that was very familiar to me. He lived just across the street from my first home after we moved to Alabama! Call it what you want-- a coincidence, divine intervention, a sign-- but I want to believe there was a reason for this meeting.
I visited many places I remember from my childhood-- both houses we lived in, the old pizza parlor where mom used to work (it is now a seafood restaurant), the car lot where my step-dad worked (abandoned but still standing), and a few of our favorite places to stop in town, some of which still stood.
My first house was abandoned years ago and it is set to be torn down. I went next door, and it turns out the same people have lived there for over 30 years, and they remembered me. They invited me inside and listened to my story. I found my second coincidence when they mentioned their son, who went to school with me, lives in Cincinnati, my home of seven years. Thankfully, on top of showing me hospitality, they were also the people keeping tabs on my old house. I was allowed the chance to enter my old house.
My old house was in shambles. However, I was still able to find my old room, and the great oak tree still beckoned to the open window. When I was a child, I tamed a squirrel who lived in the big oak tree, and he'd come in through the window and cuddle up next to me. A flood of memories returned, and for the first time in weeks, I felt peace.
I spent the day stopping at place after place and reliving the memories of my childhood. My third "sign" came when I stopped by the house I lived in for 8 years. There is a small wooded area near the house I lived in, and in those woods is a stream. My brother and I played in that stream. We even had a favorite spot we called "Sacred Rock." It was a large round sandstone rock that resembled an altar, hence the name. I had broken off a piece of that rock and placed it in a small plastic bag. The bag fell out of my pocket in the driveway of my old house. I didn't notice until I was a mile down the road that I lost it. I returned to my house to retrieve it when it dawned on me-- I forgot to scatter some of mom's remains here. I believe again this happened for a reason.
I returned just moments ago to write this entry. I'm tired and chances are I will be sore. After all, I spent roughly 16 hours and rode about 100 miles on a bicycle. However, I wouldn't have traded this trip for the world. I was able to fulfill a promise and a desire. I left a part of mom in the place that changed her life as well as mine.
I have a feeling mom knew her time was coming, and she left me this project. I have thought about why she left this to me. Now I see this project for what it was. This was mom's final gift to me. This gift is the one thing no one can ever take away from me-- not Brandi, not the criminal justice system, not the trolls, and not even a hateful, spiteful society. Mom wanted me to find the good memories and hold fast to them. For so many years, I've only looked at the negative aspects of my life-- after all, I'm still a registered individual, and the justice system and society are not kind on people with my label. However, when I rested last night, it was filled with the happier moments. Mom wanted to remind me of those moments. She knew I would figure out what to do with that gift. She knew I would not let this book die with her.
Somehow I think she's still watching over me.