Last week we took a family vacation to the beautiful Florence, Italy. I’m lying. We drove two hours west to Florence, Alabama.

We did not vacation last year, and to make up for it I’d have rather gone to the beach this year. But what with it costing around 500 hundred big ones a night to stay even at the Best Western that week (I see now, the week after our vacation is over, that prices have gone back down), sleeping in the car would have been our only option. That is unless we wanted to come home without a pot to you know what in.

I was actually pretty happy with our decision to go to Florence. I did, after all, graduate from the University of North Alabama. I looked forward to revisiting all of my old haunts, and I planned out several fun things that I thought the kids would enjoy.

I wondered if everything would be different. But my apartment was still there in the same place, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, where I bought many a dinner, was still right where I left it on Pine Street.  And just down that same street, the view had not changed where I crossed the street to get to class and a police officer once yelled at me to use the crosswalk. (I never obeyed that order, and I suppose had Barney Fife been around I’d have been arrested for jay walking many times.)

I couldn’t work up the courage to trespass at Sweetwater Plantation again, but as we passed the Chevron on Florence Blvd. I could still see that gate out back that I passed through so many times as I trekked toward the driveway of the old mansion. We tried to visit the Forks of Cypress, but either I remembered incorrectly that you could see it from the road, or things were too grown up to see the remnants of the house

Salvation Army was still downtown, but I swear it moved down a storefront or two. Still, I was glad thinking back to all those early mornings when I parked in front, put my quarters in the meter and walked down the street to my English class.

The very nicest part of the vacation was taking a stroll across the little campus with Michael and the kids. The building where I had my English classes was as picturesque as it ever was. The place was pretty empty, so I snuck in the see the old room where I learned about things like linguistics and literature. I even visited the bathroom down the hall. It’s the little things, I guess.

I was disappointed that I could not retrace the steps I took to get from that building to the one where I had an art class. The campus was small, but I just couldn’t remember which way I had gone over a decade ago. It was a long walk back then, but I made it to that class on time all but once.

How I do miss school.

The nostalgia of being back in my college town was nice. But not vacation nice.

Everything I planned was closed. The lion wasn’t even out at UNA. The road to the dam was closed. The train and carousel in Tuscumbia were only open on the weekend. We had to settle for time at the swimming pool, but first we had to go to the store to find the kids some arm floats since we left their lifejackets at home. Unfortunately, there were none. We had to buy new lifejackets for $25 each. Needless to say, my thrifty soul was crushed because I had paid less than five bucks for both the ones we left at home. The real kicker is that the boy put the life jackets in a cabinet in the hotel, and we forgot to bring them home with us. Really it was worth the time at the pool though. We had it to ourselves and the kids had a blast.

I feel I should add that because of the pandemic we ate all of our meals in our room, and in case anyone is planning on doing the same I must give you the following advice: bring your own steak knives. It is hard to enjoy a nice steak when you’re sitting on a hotel floor trying to cut it up with a plastic knife.

Though I loved school there, I always hated living in Florence.  And, the first time we passed under the Tennessee Street sign last week I began to remember all those times when I longed for class to end on Friday so I could rush back home to Limrock for the weekend.

I started writing a song — I’m ready to be gone. Tennessee Street leads to home.

That’s all I’ve got so far, but I think it could be a real hit.

Danielle Wallingsford Kirkland is a former Sentinel staff writer and correspondent. She can be reached at danielle.w.kirkland@gmail.com.

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