Happy birthday, Alabama … It’s been a while
Happy Birthday, Alabama . . . it’s been a while!
Born in 1976, I have always called myself a bicentennial baby. This year, however, the word, “bicentennial,” has new, awe-inspiring meaning to me. I find myself here in beautiful Demopolis, Alabama – The City of the People – getting ready to begin a three-year-long celebration of Alabama’s birthday. Not only am I thrilled to be back in Alabama after having lived on the west coast and in Europe for many years, I am finding my new role here, at the brink of the state’s bicentennial celebration more than a coincidence.
After graduating from Auburn University in 1999, I stayed in this state four more years before embarking on a decade-long tumultuous adventure that led me down cobble-stone streets, surrounded by ancient architecture and diverse culture. I was enraptured by my new “home.” Having only been in Europe a few months, I eagerly decided I was finally where I was meant to be. I could feel the shadows of the souls who walked the same paths each time I ventured out. There was something so satisfying in the array of fragrant bliss coming from the streets, even the sunshine could not melt it away. Was it the sweet older ladies hanging clothes to dry on the balconies of their flats, or the older gentlemen standing alongside barista after barista chatting and turning up espresso after espresso? Perhaps it was the children who ran along the alleys throwing caution to the wind. The winding countryside, the buildings still standing with visible scars of battles upon battles hundreds of years in the making, the orange orchards, the roundabouts, the open markets, and crystal blue Atlantic coast of Italy … it was all of these things and more that quenched my soul, though I never knew how profuse my thirst really was.
I was intrigued by the locals, the Italian families who welcomed me and my children with open arms and treated us like their own. I found myself often overcome with gratitude feeling as if I had a real family there though immensely missing my own back in Alabama. The hearts of compassion, the vitality among the elders, the work ethic, the rich history, the PEOPLE – I fell in love with the people. It was not until I moved back to the states in 2012 that I realized it was not Italy that held my heart but rather the quality of life experienced because of people, good and kind people. In June of 2015, my family and I moved to Demopolis and were welcomed by such good and kind people. We were embraced no differently than we had been abroad. We were welcomed by community members of all walks of life. We were finally “home,” and I was truly where I was supposed to be. I may never fully fathom why my path diverged so many times over the years, but I know I am a better person because I have lived a life I dreamed of only to wake and find myself living a life worth dreaming.
I challenge you, my dear friends, take some time to think about our town and its people. Everyone has a story. Our community is rich in history and houses some of the most fascinating memories ever cherished. As we begin our celebration of Alabama’s 200th birthday (officially on March 3), let us come together, honor those who have come before us, and make it our passion to create wonderful memories for our children and theirs.
Sweet home Alabama; I am so happy to see and love you again!
— Candace Dorriety is the executive director of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce. She may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.