‘You are not alone’

My Alabama Story | By Dolores Hydock

#MyAlabamaStory #AHAat50 | March 11, 2024

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Dolores Hydock. Photo by Hugh Hunter.

The 50th anniversary of the Alabama Humanities Alliance coincides with my own 50 years in Alabama. I grew up in Pennsylvania, went to school in Connecticut, and moved to Birmingham in 1974, right out of college, planning to stay for a year or two. I had no idea how Alabama would entwine itself around my heart and my life with the sweet strength of a honeysuckle vine.

After years of Yankee winters, I loved seeing yellow bells in February. I loved sitting on the front porch swing on warm summer nights, listening to a cicada serenade or watching flashes of lightning from a faraway storm. I loved the way the light changes as springtime approaches, and everything is suddenly green everywhere. I loved the cornbread and angel biscuits and lady peas (though I’m still struggling with boiled okra…). But mostly, I loved the people I met, who showed me I could be a storyteller.

Ellis Island. Photo by Robert Jones.

The story style I grew up with was nothing like the classic Southern style of “sittin’ on the porch, rockin’ and lyin’.” I grew up on the folk tales and fairytales that came to this country through Ellis Island, like my grandparents did. But the people I met in Alabama loved stories, all kinds of stories, and they didn’t ask me to tell stories their way, they invited me to tell my stories my way, and were open to it all: stories collected from real people, stories from history or literature, stories from life. People here know how to tell a story and — just as important — know how to listen to a story. There is a tradition here that savors the music of words and their power to entertain, inspire, and connect us to each other.

Stories are woven into the fabric of life here in Alabama. I meet storytellers from all over the country who are amazed at — and envious of — the quantity and variety of adult spoken-word programming available in Alabama. That includes AHA providing a roster of Road Scholars who speak on a wide range of topics; a network of public libraries that offer full calendars of programs not just for kids and teens, but for grown-ups, too; literary clubs, study clubs, and book clubs that bring people together for fellowship, yes, but also for programs — something to think and learn and talk about. My early experience of telling stories here — with the variety of places where I could tell a story and the openness with which my stories were received — encouraged me to broaden my own understanding of what stories are and what stories can do.

Two pine trees joined together by a branch.
Two pine trees joined together by a branch. Courtesy Alabama Department of Archives and History.

There is not just one single kind of human experience, but if we hear different stories from different voices across different moments in time, we can begin to sense the larger story of what it is to be human. I once heard a wise storyteller say, “All stories have the same message: You are not alone.”

The stories that I and AHA’s other Road Scholars tell have that message, too. The people who show up in our stories — whether from history, art, literature, or current events — all have something to tell us about who we are in our shared humanity. My hope for the next 50 years is that all kinds of stories, from all sorts of voices, will continue to find a home, as I did, in this beautiful state of Alabama.

 

Dolores Hydock is a storyteller and actress who lives in Birmingham. She has served as an AHA Road Scholar since 2003 and currently offers talks on more than a dozen different topics — from Ellis Island immigrant stories to the history and culture of Alabama’s Chandler Mountain community.  

Discover more essays from our My Alabama Story series, celebrating 50 years of storytelling and the Alabama Humanities Alliance.