I grew up in Pell City. A city on the lake. A bedroom community for Birmingham. My mom grew up there. Her parents ran the Steakhouse when she was a little girl. People knew who they were. But we went to a small church in another town until I was in the 10th grade. We went to a tiny, Seventh-day Adventist church. We didn’t go to football games because of the Sabbath. We didn’t know many people beyond family and church. When I go to Pell City now, I remember working the Burger King drive-thru window, going to the Thrift Store (best in the world) and seeing my BMX friends jumping the embankment outside, trying to beat the red light at a certain intersection before school so I didn’t have to start back up a hill in the stick shift, visiting the old library and carrying out stacks and stacks of books.
Montevallo became my real hometown. I moved there for the tiny liberal arts college. Located in the geographical center of Alabama, I’ve always joked that all the loose nuts rolled there, made a home. It’s the sort of town you move to and never want to leave. It feels more home to me than any other place. I know the family that owns the grocery store. I love the produce guy there—he talks in a Hueytown southern accent that always struck me as lovely and effeminate in its drawl as if the folks there train their boys to sweet talk. I worked a hotdog stand Montevallo. I tried to elect its owner to the city council. I’ve walked every street hundreds of times. When I see McDonald’s, I think of JeRoe’s the deli that it replaced and the people that gathered there around the round table after work. I served them beer, usually Miller High Life, because it was a dollar. They sipped and gossiped and generally figured out the town or the world and set it right before heading home for supper. When I go back to Montevallo, I always run into someone I know, a former professor, a friend from college, one of the round table locals. That’s what is home in a hometown. Memories, sure. But that live connection makes it home. Someone, anyone, saying my name, calling out good to see you. It’s been nearly 20 years since I lived there. In that time, the round table moved from JeRoe’s Deli to Barnstormers Pizza to Eclipse Coffee as different establishments closed and opened. Eclipse Coffee closed a few months ago. I don’t know where the round table meets now. But I’m certain that it is there. I have no doubt I’ll find it. The seats may be all taken, but someone will drag a chair over and ask me if I want sit awhile.