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Run 36: “You Can Come on Through”

May 13, 2012

Miles: 8?

Other runners: 3

I arrived in Huntsville almost a week ago, and I’ve been staying with an older couple in their big, beautiful house. At dinner the first night I asked my life’s most dreaded and necessary question: Do you have a lot of tornadoes around here? The man of the house laughed and in his booming Southern drawl shouted, “Gee-irl! [He has an amazing ability to transform one-syllable words into two.] This is tornado cuuuhntry!”

I looked around the house, built only a couple of years ago, and asked, “Where’s your basement?”

Another laugh. “Yeeah, ah guess we should’a put one in! We never did, though!”

A little bit later, he shouted, “Did Peee-am [Pam, his wife] tell you about the guns in my office? They’re loaded! We got a lot of coyotes around here!”

Tornadoes and loaded guns. And many more guns in a (securely-locked) storage shed, four motorcycles, two F-150 pick-ups, a Jeep and a big American flag on a pole in the front yard. We went for a drive on Monday together and another on Thursday, and I observed more supposedly-unsurprising aspects of Alabama: big trucks and beater trucks; lots of overweight people; trailers and tiny tilted homes with busted-up porches and trash in the yard; Confederate flags.

My anthropological sensibility hates a list like this, because it’s never so easy.

It’s never so easy, but I was still a little rattled that first night. Six days later and a run at Monte Sano State Park this afternoon, and I think finally get it.

First of all, the people I’m staying with are incredible. They bicker all the time, but one night I came in late and they were sitting at the computer in their pajamas, laughing and playing Scrabble. Long ago, he fell asleep at the movies on their first date, but then he won her over by flying her and her son over Huntsville on a sunny afternoon. (That’s according to her; he claims it was night. They both agree that she threw up when he banked suddenly and he had to cut out the carpet in the plane the next day). She was stunning with red hair and short shorts, and he was a loud, compact engineer/sky-diver with a dark beard. Forty-odd years later, they have four great kids and beautiful grandchildren, and this week they’ve shared stories, delicious food, and sensitive conversation with a generosity you can’t imagine.

Secondly, it is wicked beautiful out here, and there are as many nice homes and trim yards as there are shacks. Probably a lot more, but what does it matter, anyway?

Third, a fact: Alabama had Confederates AND Yankees. During the Civil War, the state’s Winston County opposed secession so much that it itself seceded from Alabama. Look it up.

Finally, not everyone is fat. Generalizations about health always make me very uncomfortable, as they diminish a lot of complicated truths about socio-economic status, education, heredity and so on. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Alabama is in a sense just like everywhere else, with problems and needs and beauty and and unexpected vistas. I found mine at Monte Sano State Park today, where after about 6 miles of rocky trail descents and flat stretches in a brilliant green hollow, I encountered two hikers on my cumbersome climb back up. I stopped, surprised. They quickly stepped to the side, and one said, “You can come on through! I don’t want you to lose your pace!” It was very kind, and I ran on, breathing loudly. (Or gasping, if we’re going to be really specific.) As I reached the sun and the breezes hit my face and a terrible rash began spreading across my knee from some poisonous plant I scraped up against earlier, I thought about that. I’ve never heard someone say, “You can come on through!” on a trail. Usually it’s just, “Hi. Go ahead.” But here, in a place as beautiful as anywhere else, it’s nice. It fits.

Signed,

Yankee from Wisconsin

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