Seeing Shelby with new eyes

My family moved to Alabama when I was nine years old, much to my dismay at leaving behind everything I knew and loved in faraway St. Louis.

I grew up in North Shelby County and attended Oak Mountain schools, but somehow I took for granted the amazing area where I lived, worked and played.

Even when I searched for colleges almost three years ago, I thought I was ready to move on and leave Shelby County behind, despite the irreplaceable experiences it had given me as I grew up. When I moved to Tuscaloosa, I left almost without looking back.

Now that I’ve returned here to work, intern at the Reporter and live with my family, I realize that it’s taken me far too long to appreciate Shelby County for what it is.

Shelby County’s beauty presents itself in rolling green hills, blooming flowers and trees growing everywhere you can imagine.

I grew up playing softball at Heardmont Park, riding my bike up and down the streets in Meadowbrook, running around in the empty lot down the street from my house and swimming in the lake at Oak Mountain State Park.

Since I began working at the Reporter this summer, I’ve gotten to meet more of the county’s remarkable inhabitants — owners of local businesses, city and town officials, teachers and principals. I’ve gotten to know the great staff here at the Reporter, all of whom have devoted themselves to the county they serve.

My entire family lives in Illinois and Michigan, and my parents were born in suburbs of Chicago. Before I moved here, I’d never had certain essentially Southern experiences, like tasting sweet tea or realizing that football actually does matter.

Every day, you hear the familiar drawl of Southerners saying “y’all” and “fixin’ to.” In an elevator or at the grocery store, you can exchange pleasantries with someone you’ll probably never see again. Sometimes, you can go outside in January wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Kids here call me “ma’am” or “Miss Kelsey” even though I’m barely out of my teens.

Although it’s taken a long time, I realize how much I love Alabama, and Shelby County in particular. It’s the best place I could have grown up.