One final descent to Birmingham

By Gary Lloyd

I always thought it was the steepest hill in the city because the rumble of overhead airplanes seemed to shake the leaves from the trees.

They were always on their descent into Birmingham, landing gear already deploying. I wrote about Austin Way in a book I published in 2017 and, six years later, it’s time to update that story.

Before my grandmother moved there, she had lived on 85th Street South, walking distance to the former Banks High School and Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. At some point during my childhood, she moved to Austin Way, to a smaller home with a distant view of the downtown lights. This home’s backyard did not have space for even a croquet match, but an open field across the street served as our baseball and football field at Thanksgiving.

My family kept the home after my grandmother moved to an assisted living community, but no one lived there until 2012, when I moved in. It became the first home for my wife, Jessica, and me. It’s where we drove after we got married, where I typed enough articles to earn carpal tunnel syndrome, where Jessica completed her master’s degree. It’s where I never quite fine-tuned my short game with a sand wedge and golf balls across the street, where I always stopped to stare at the airplanes. 

After a year in that house, we found a bigger one we could grow into, with four bedrooms and three bathrooms. We bought it, and teared up the day we moved. My grandmother’s house was two bedrooms and two bathrooms, with barely a yard to speak of, no neighbors younger than fifty, and the washer and dryer were crammed in our stifling one-car garage. But a house holds so much more than possessions and conveniences. It holds fudge and piano songs at Christmas, childhood sleepovers, fun birthdays and countless memories. There were many of those in that house.

A family friend lived there for a while, and he even had the bathrooms updated and new flooring put down in the kitchen. He moved out when my mother-in-law made the permanent move from Florida to Birmingham in 2016. She purchased the home and lived there until 2022.

The evening before the closing on the sale of the home, I brought my lawnmower over to cut the backyard one final time. It took five minutes, but I cut it on the 3.0 deck setting, then 2.0, and then 1.0. I had more on my to-do list that night, so I didn’t stay long after running over the grass three times, but I did walk in each room to just sort of remember the past.

I backed out of the driveway and stopped at the Austin Way street sign to take a couple photos. The white letters were cracking and the silver pole was half-brown with rust. I climbed back into my truck and turned left to head down the hill and out of the neighborhood. I heard a roar overhead and looked through my windshield to see an airplane making its way home to Birmingham.

One final descent.

Gary Lloyd is the author of six books and a contributing writer to the Cahaba Sun.

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