By Joey Kennedy
Sixty. I turn 60 years old this month. On March 28, I will have survived six decades. I have spent nearly four of those decades in Alabama and nearly three-and-a-half of those decades in Birmingham. Clearly, Alabama and Birmingham are my home. I could have moved and worked elsewhere, but I love Birmingham and what it offers.
Sixty. I really didn’t think I’d make it. From early in life, long before I moved to Alabama, my premonition was that I’d die at 38 years old. I don’t know why I had that disturbing premonition, and I’m glad it was wrong. But when I turned 38, and as my 39th birthday approached, I was nervous. I believe I took the day before my birthday off and stayed at home. Even my colleagues at the time were worried for me as my 38th year closed in on 39. Hey, the premonition was faulty, or maybe I’m living on borrowed time. I don’t worry about it anymore. And at 60, it’d be hard for me to be happier.
I get a discount at the movies and Publix on Wednesdays. Just for surviving.
More important, I share my life with Veronica, my wife of 36 years. I’m surrounded by wonderful friends and supporters. We have lots of dogs and a cat. We live in a cool house on Birmingham’s Southside, not far from UAB, where I’m an adjunct English instructor. I get to write for a living, something I’ve done mostly uninterrupted since before I was graduated from high school in Terrebonne Parish, La., in 1974. I’m so happy to write this monthly column for B-Metro, a fabulous magazine with a fabulous staff. I get to write a weekly opinion column for Alabama Political Reporter. My wife and I run a news and information website, Animal Advocates of Alabama. We are, indeed, animal advocates. Could it get better?
Sixty. Why are these “landmark” birthdays so notable? A dear friend, whom I see every week, was given a T-shirt when she turned 40. It said “(expletive) 40.” The bad word and the 40 creates an alliteration. One could have put the same expletive on a T-shirt for 50, as well; the alliteration lives. I don’t want to “(expletive) 60,” though, and the alliteration fails for 60, anyway. Maybe “60 sucks”? But it doesn’t.
Aren’t 14 and 27 and 38 and 44 and 59 landmark birthdays, too? We only live them one time. I’ll never be 59 again. Why doesn’t 59 get props? Because 60 hogs all the props.
This writing also marks the 12th column I’ve written for B-Metro. A full year’s worth, and the honor has been all mine.
I wouldn’t have minded living my entire 60 years in Birmingham. I could have witnessed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s nonviolent direct action marches here and grieved on the scene for the four little girls killed in the explosion at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. I could have watched from the beginning as the most segregated city in the nation transitioned into a city so much better. We still have our problems, yes, but Birmingham is being nationally recognized more often as a city light years away from water cannons and snarling dogs and more for its innovation and progress. We are right to honor the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement through the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Kelly Ingram Park. That it took us so long to do so publicly is sad, but we’re there now. As we move forward, we must never forget.
As an animal advocate, I’m proud Birmingham is such an animal-friendly city. Dog parks and real parks are everywhere. Red Mountain Park is amazing. Ruffner Mountain is an education. Railroad Park is expanding. The naysayers said it couldn’t be done. It was. Just across the street from Railroad Park is the new Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons, and a new Negro Southern League Museum. The naysayers said it couldn’t be done. It was. The old Pizitz department store building is being brought back to life downtown. The naysayers said it couldn’t be done. It is being done.
Maybe I’m blessed to see Birmingham from an “I’m-not-from-here” point of view. A disturbing characteristic in the area is the seemingly low self-esteem the natives have about their city. There are those who believe that if we try big things, we’ll fail. But that attitude, too, is fading.
More people are living in the city; old, historic buildings are being saved from the wrecking ball. Let us never repeat Terminal Station. We’re a city with plenty to do: We have lots of entertainment districts, many festivals, great theater, and some of the best craft-beer microbreweries and restaurants in the nation.
The most magnificent memories of my life were made in Birmingham, from when my newlywed wife and I first moved here in 1981, to winning the city’s first Pulitzer Prize with two colleagues in 1991. From earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UAB, to watching our little black pug Peerey perform in Birmingham Ballet’s The Muttcracker in December. From our weekly play dates with Jo Ellen O’Hara, to celebrating my 36th wedding anniversary with Veronica at Highlands Bar and Grill just last month.
I may not have lived in Birmingham for 60 years, but I’ve picked up at least 60 years’ worth of fond memories here. I can’t think of anywhere else I’d want to live. Any other people I’d want to live around. Any other life I’d want to live.
If I get a T-shirt for my birthday, I hope it says “60 is super.”