In the summer of 1993, my family relocated from the major international metropolis of Frankfurt (really Bad Homburg), Germany, to the not-a-major-international-metropolis of Huntsville (really Madison), Ala. My father was in the Army at the time and was stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky. Since my dad had a year left until his military retirement, my parents decided that Huntsville was going to be the area where we settled down, with my father spending the week at Ft. Campbell and the weekends at home in Huntsville.
It is my understanding that in deciding where we’d live post-Germany, my parents wanted us to be both close enough and far enough from family at the same damn time: close enough for active family interactions but far enough for some distance from, well, too many active family interactions. Huntsville represented a nice medium. My dad’s family is about four hours south and my mother’s family is from Atlanta, which is about a 3 to 3 and a half-hour drive, depending on which of several routes you take.
My parents moved us to a suburb of Huntsville called Madison. In 1993, the Huntsville-area had about 300,000 people. The city of Madison, though? Had about 15,000. Remember, we’d just moved from Frankfurt, Germany, a city of, at the time, over a million folks in the area. To say that we were less than thrilled is the understatement of all time. At the end of the summer of 1993, my dad collected us in Atlanta from our other parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles, or whoever we were with, and drove us to Huntsville.
As legend has it, at least one of my sisters cried when we got there. As my father pulled to the corner of U.S. Highway 72 and Wall-Triana Highway, an intersection only a few seconds from our new home, we experienced what amounted to “the nothing” that we’d learned about in the movie The NeverEnding Story. To our youthful eyes and souls, we left the world to move to the country. There was no public transportation, something we’d been using independently since we were as young as 8 years old. Now, we were basically going nowhere. Ever. There were two malls, though one was so far in 1993 miles that it might as well have been in Tennessee. Madison? Our end of Madison had a Bruno’s grocery store and a Hardee’s. What the fuck is Hardee’s? I still ask myself that question today.
What Madison (and Huntsville, in general) also had were good schools, affordable, nice homes and ... grass? Shit, I don’t know. I hated it. And I didn’t hate it like folks who have a bad life hate the life they have; I hated it in the way that teenagers who have seen the world hate places that seemingly have nothing to do and no place to go. It was small. It was limiting. It didn’t have shit. Obviously, over time, those things mattered less—we made friends, high school wasn’t terrible and actually pretty cool for me, and we only had a few years there before heading off to college anyway.
By 1997, I was out for good. I moved away for college and never looked back. I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., for 17 years now. D.C. is home. It is where I’ve settled and where I’m very likely to be for a very long time. But you know what’s also happened since I’ve grown up? I actually appreciate Huntsville, Ala.
One summer a few years ago, I went back home for a visit. My parents still live there along with one of my sisters and my nephew. I sat on the front porch around 9 p.m. and heard ... nothing. Just the swish of cars driving by on the main road in front of my parents’ subdivision. And that shit was awesome. It was quiet. You could stretch out and chill. The air felt better and the days felt longer, like you could get more out of them. At home in D.C., it feels like there’s never enough time. In Alabama, I felt like I had extra time.
I viewed the area entirely differently. Every store I needed was there. There are movie theaters and entertainment venues. There’s even a Top Golf and Dave & Buster’s is coming. There are museums and outdoor spaces for families. The city itself, while still not a major metropolitan area, has grown to almost 500,000 people. Madison was, at one point, the fastest growing city in America with a population that now sits around 50,000.
As an adult, I look at the area and see everything I pretty much need with low crime and good schools and good weather and nice, affordable homes with peace and quiet if you want it and, all around, good living. As a kid, almost none of that impacted my view of the area, but as an adult, with some life and perspective under my belt, Huntsville is actually a really nice place. I always enjoy myself when I’m there. I used to say its a great place to be a little kid or be a settled-down adult but a terrible place to be a young, black professional. And that’s probably still true despite the efforts the city is making for nightlife and entertainment.
But for my value system in life, it’s a really nice place. Now, will I ever move back there? Hellus nous. There are simply not enough black people. I’ve spent the past 20-plus years of my life living in super black places. I think I’m gonna ride this blackness out and see where it takes me.
But as a city and a place to raise kids and live, and as an adult with new perspectives on life, Huntsville really ain’t that bad.