An ode to small towns


Emma Tanner, News Editor

When I tell people I grew up nestled right next to the Shoals, I am told I was lucky. I got to experience the music festivals and creativity firsthand! I didn’t have to move for college and live in cramped university housing. I had people I knew at UNA because I’d known them since we were in diapers. 

But the truth is I didn’t love it. I hated it.

To introduce you to my hometown, I grew up in Killen, Ala. Killen is the kind of town you drive through without stopping because there is not anything worthwhile to see. We have had the occasional tourist stop to take a picture of our apparently hilarious local pharmacy (for those curious, it’s called Killen Drugs… it’s phonetic humor). Killen is nothing more than a pit stop on the way to Florence, and I say this with love.

My main grievance came from the fact that I didn’t have an interesting background like the people I read about in books or watched on social media. My world was a handful of interconnecting streets and a run down supermarket. Fairly uninteresting. Our claim to fame is Arx Mortis, which was deemed one of USA Today’s “10 Best: Spookiest Haunted Houses in the USA.” It is a good haunted house, I will give them that much, but aside from the 50,000 square feet of entertainment it offers there isn’t much else to do in the little town. An honorable mention is the Miami Ice that was added last year. I’m very thankful I don’t have to drive 30 minutes to get my beloved Sno Cream.

Killen isn’t one of those towns where you have to hunt down the hidden gems. There aren’t any.

Allow me to clarify, I don’t loathe my hometown. I still live there! If I did truly hate it, I would have taken my housing scholarship and moved into a residence hall. However, my disdain for my small town festered into a disdain for anything having to do with north Alabama. I hated Florence. I hated Muscle Shoals. I even hated UNA. I was a teenager with very negative opinions on everything. Yes, I was a real joy to be around. My family would definitely agree.

I decided that, since I didn’t fit in with the people of my hometown, I was going to move away. The University of Alabama had offered me a good scholarship. Tuscaloosa had to be better than Florence by a long shot. However, when decision day came, I chose UNA. 

I couldn’t really put a finger on why I had chosen to stay in my hometown. Maybe because I was offered a better scholarship. Or perhaps it was the undeniable separation anxiety I had when away from my family. At the end of the day, the truth was that I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I had my grievances with my area, sure, but I couldn’t think of a version of myself away from it. 

College introduced me to an entirely new side of the Shoals. I found cafes I’d never even heard of before (if you’re ever looking for a great hot chocolate, by the way, Rivertown is the place to go). I fell in love with local music. I met new people and attended countless events. The Shoals has a crazy amount of things to offer and I didn’t even know about any of it! It gave me a severe case of FOMO. 

I know I talk about growing a lot, but when you’re on the cusp of your twenties, you reflect a lot. Quite a bit of my changed attitude can be attributed to maturing and growing as a person. Do I still find myself slipping up and saying I’m from Florence? Yes, but I’m changing every day. 

I’ve fallen in love with the broader Shoals, but maybe it’s time to centralize focus back to my hometown. I could share some of the abundant love I’ve given Florence with poor little Killen.