Every family reunion is actually the same one you had last year.
It’s true, down to the order in which family shows up to the proposed gathering place and who takes responsibility for what. Who cooks, who serves, who helps clean, who plays ball, who manages the kids — all of that follows some order predetermined by age, marital status, and distance to older relatives. As you get older, you’re often assigned a task that sticks with you for a significant stage in your life. If your mother tells you to look after the younger kids, it’s easy to get saddled as the babysitter for the next five years.
That might sound boring, but it’s actually fantastic. Family reunions become less about logistics and more about family. The entire operation functions like a well-oiled machine. Since Southerners operate on an, “If it ain’t broke” policy, if you do a good job, plan on doing it again.
This shit is everywhere. Clothing, vehicles, guns, coffee mugs, notebook covers, shoelaces (SHOELACES!), mousepads, office chairs, cooking utensils. It’s literally everywhere, and there’s a huge demand for it, but past the jokes and jibes about out of place camouflage and the redneck hillbilly lifestyle, the same old seasonal patterns become exactly that: same ol’, same ol’.
But, believe it or not, the camo obsession is just another part of Alabama living. You know it’s true when you see it on designer clothing, or when it’s printed on equipment that was never designed to be taken into the woods. Camo is as much a part of Alabama heritage and culture as football and church on Sundays.
The football season lead-up.
Football is a religious observance in Alabama, but it’s a seasonal one. Unfortunately, because it’s so big, off-season updates are almost as big a deal as game coverage. Draft picks, practice games, head coach changes, and star player injuries make news headlines as the local media tries to drum up the pre-season suspense.
But you’ve gotta know that stuff, right? It’s all about anticipation! You’ve got fantasy football teams to build, and the state of affair in any major stadium could easily become dinner table gossip, as could replacing head coaches and stat predictions for next season. If the football news stopped with the last game of the season, you wouldn’t be able to boast so loudly that ‘Bama is going to dominate the field this year with their new linebackers and quarterback.
Dreaming of a White Christmas.
Your favorite meteorologist will show up on your local news station with their highly accurate and scientific-looking meteorological snow thermometer and chant, “Maybe, maybe, maybe,” but it’s not going to happen. It’s true that if you live in the South long enough, you might see snow once or twice, but a white Christmas?
Yeah, that’s probably not going to happen. But when snow actually comes Alabama, it’s pretty awesome. School and most employers shut down (sometimes, for days at a time), and everyone says their prayers. From kids to adults, everyone struggles to build a snowman — often a pitiful, knee-high creation of snow, slush, and dirt that requires all the snow in the medium-sized yard. It’s sad, but glorious at the same time.
Oh, and that snowman? He’s a puddle by noon.
There’s an overabundance of wildlife around here.
Bugs are everywhere. They’re loud, and most of them want to suck your blood. You’ve also got venomous snakes and spiders, fire ants, and your garden variety of bees, hornets, and wasps. Dangerous critters are a hazard of Alabama living, and they’re old news. Everyone deals with them in spectacularly different ways, from citronella candles and enormous bug zappers to slapping, scratching, and cursing five ways to Sunday.
Truth be told, there’s more than bugs out in them woods. You’ll find huge biodiversity in Alabama, from common deer and squirrels to endangered bats, mice, snails, mussels, turtles, and woodpeckers. You can’t really have one without the other, and the bugs are something everyone complains about. But without the same environment makes watching the bug zapper a family event, Alabama wouldn’t have so many rare and unique species.
Weather on the Xs.
Weather on the fives. Weather on the sevens. Weather on the nines. Here’s your weather report for the whole year: It’s hot, probably muggy, and if it rains, it’s going to be even more muggy and gross. This only changes for one or two weeks in February, when the temperature might be described as “nice” on a clear day.
But what people don’t see on the weather report is what goes on behind the scenes. Alabama weather is temperamental at best. What also provides the Weather on the Xs scenario is just the tip of a huge meteorological apparatus brought on by high-frequency thunderstorms, tornadic activity, and hurricanes. When something actually does go wrong and the news channels need to cover deadly weather, they have the resources to do it in no small part due to a weather-obsessed public.
You’ll find small towns dotted all over the state, usually sporting a variety of churches, one or two gas stations, and a supermarket of some kind. If the supermarket is a Wal-Mart, you won’t find many competitors inside the city limits.
While the rise of superstores hasn’t been great for local stores, it’s definitely forced towns and shop owners to be a little more creative. It’s hard for corporate chains to crowd out local landmarks and historic sites. You’ll find any number of mom and pop stores selling live bait and emergency camping supplies and specialty shirts near lakes, ponds, and outdoors attractions all over the state and bringing a little southern hospitality with them to boot.
Alabama has some pretty good colleges. Auburn and Alabama are at the top of the list if you’re planning on staying in-state. And they’re not bad schools, by any means, but hearing about them day in and day out from the time you’re old enough to wear a football jersey will eventually start to take its toll.
There’s no way to avoid it, so your enthusiasm will turn to jaded tolerance and back year over year as your team wins and loses, and the whole cycle starts all over again. When you’re just worn out and something like the 2013 Iron Bowl Kick Six happens, that enthusiasm comes roaring back. It’s the circle of life.
The history, and what it means.
Seriously, Alabama history has deep roots in culture as rich as the South is warm. It can get bland in school. State history, the Civil Rights Movement, the Civil War, slavery, and more than you want to know about peanut and cotton fields — you’ll find all of it in the Alabama history books. But you’ll hear about it from the time you’re in grade school, and growing up with it makes it sound like old news.
In fact, Alabama has been the epicenter of some incredible, historical moments that are often taken for granted. You can trace portions of the national identity back to Montgomery, Alabama, MLK, Rosa Parks, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the March on Washington. Alabama history isn’t something to be taken lightly.
All country music sounds the same after a while.
You can only listen to so many love song lyrics involving slamming screen doors, big trucks, and ridiculous romantic gestures before you start rolling your eyes. True enough, all those overtones about girls, whisky, revenge, and heartbreak may make something of a commentary on the small-town, Southern lifestyle.
The thing is, most of these things have a special place in the Heart of Dixie. Big, romantic gestures are a great way to woo a potential beloved. Huge trucks are great for hunting, and showing off. Plus, the amount of fishing tackle you need to really catch that brim can border on the ridiculous. And, of course, if you’ve experienced an Alabama summer, you know just how important a screen door is.
But if you really need a break from country tunes, might I suggest the pre-season lineup on your local sports channel? Or maybe Weather on the 5s?