Summer, 1967

My Alabama Story | By Daniel Wallace

#MyAlabamaStory #AHAat50 | June 11, 2024

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First memory: Homewood, Alabama. Summer, 1967. I’m 8 years old. Whatever happened to me or around me between being born in 1959 and 1967 is lost to time. My three sisters and my mother are standing on the porch of our house, 1906 Mayfair Drive, waiting for my father. He’s called, apparently, and told my mother that he would be arriving home from work and that all of us should be outside to see him drive up. “He bought a new car,” my mother says. “He wants us to see it.”

She is not as impressed with the acquisition as he would have her be, I think. Could I have known that then, as an 8-year-old? It’s a stretch. But I feel like I did know that, that there was an imbalance between the intended effect and the effect he would achieve, and that this was a motif in their marriage, from the beginning of it to the end.

Daniel Wallace.

But she takes us all outside anyway. It’s hot, of course, the air is heavy and wet. The gnats cloud in front of my face like the blurry static of an old television set with bad reception.

My mother lights a Salem. Barrie, my younger sister, is standing in front of me, and Rangeley and Holly, my two older sisters, flank my mother. Everyone has dark brown hair except for Barrie, who is blond. Here we are, all of us waiting on the porch for my father to arrive in his brand-new car.

And arrive he does, leaning out the driver’s window of a sleek black Electra 225. He’s beaming. He waves, he honks. All of us run to the car and pile in. “Careful,” he says, laughing. “Careful!” All but my mother, that is, who is finishing her Salem. When she’s done with it, she sets it down in a concrete divot between two bricks and meanders to the car, slipping into the passenger side.

He turns to her. They lock eyes. And it’s so clear that this is not about him – the car, I mean – or about us, even though we’re all a part of it, his vision, to varying degrees. It’s for her, really. To him, it’s for her. Getting the car is another thing he’s doing to win the heart of the woman with whom he already has a mortgage and four kids.

“A deuce and a quarter,” he says, prompting a reaction he hoped would happen on its own.

She runs her fingers along the shiny black faux leather, soft and cool. “It’s nice, Dan,” she says. “Congratulations.”

That’s it. That’s all he gets. It’s nice. But she gets even less. Turns out the car is not what either of them was after all along.

Anyway, he drives us all around the block, and my parents were married for another twenty years.

After this first memory I have a lot of them. The world comes flooding in, and for the next 18 years until I leave for college most of my memories find their landscapes in Alabama: Homewood, Mountain Brook, Crestline, Avondale, Southside, Shelby County, Birmingham, Cullman, Montgomery, Gulf Shores. At this writing I’m just a few years shy of being half a century living away from Alabama, meaning I’ve had fifty years of life and stories and experiences that happened outside the Heart of Dixie. And yet almost every tale I’ve told takes place somewhere in Alabama. Even if I give the place another name, it’s always Alabama. It’s my permanent setting, my forever home.

Daniel Wallace’s most recent work, a 2023 memoir.

But the Alabama in my books doesn’t exist. The actual Alabama, the one you can visit, the one you can live in, or leave, the one you can hear about in the news, is a different animal altogether.

I vividly remember growing up believing that I was witnessing the end of a generational inheritance. That most of the bigots, the racists, all the know-nothings of the George Wallace variety – all those old people, you know – would have children, and those children would grow out of it. They would see the light. Embrace difference. Give everyone the same honest breaks. Stop using the Bible to justify hate. And just in general stop being ridiculous. Knowing what I knew then, seeing what I saw, how could they not?

But I was a kid. I didn’t know anything. A few months ago, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos created through in vitro fertilization and living in a freezer should be considered children. Really?

Really. Which is just to say that claiming a place, or being claimed by it, can be awkward. But it’s like family: it’s also beautiful. You make the best of it. It’s the only one you’ve got.


Daniel Wallace, a Birmingham native, is the author of six novels, two children’s books, countless short stories, and, most recently, a memoir, This Isn’t Going to End Well: The True Story of a Man I Thought I Knew. Wallace is a member of the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame and has received the Harper Lee Award for Alabama’s Distinguished Writer. He teaches writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he’s the J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English.