Mountain Brook, one of a number of municipalities that comprise the greater Birmingham area, is an affluent, almost all-white community of about 22,000. I learned after only a few visits here that many people think if you live in Mountain Brook, you must be wealthy. Monetarily speaking, it is an upscale community. And there are a handful of individuals who are heirs to construction, insurance, and the great iron and steel fortunes that were made in the early 1900s. Steelmaking and the civil rights movement are the two historic characteristics Birmingham is known for worldwide. A few of these iron and steel heirs are truly wealthy in every sense of the word. But what I found is that the vast majority of Mountain Brook people are hardworking, two-income families just like us, who are good, solid, middle- to upper-middle-class Americans. My children and I were welcomed with open arms when we moved to Mountain Brook. And I was fortunate to get a great job at one of the elementary schools as a speech pathologist in a center for children with special needs. Wonderful friendships were cultivated with my colleagues there. Matt and Natalee made friends fast and fit right in. And the wives of Jug's group of close friends went out of their way to help us settle into our new community. We were off to a good start.
Natalee was entering the eighth grade when we moved to Mountain Brook in Birmingham. It was about this same time that she developed a true love affair with the movie The Wizard of Oz. She began to collect any and all memorabilia she could find pertaining to that movie including posters, a piggy bank, a clock, and even a little purse with Dorothy on it. Once she said that if she had to be stuck on an elevator with anyone, she hoped it would be Judy Garland! Natalee would continue adding to her special Oz collection all through high school.
From the time she was three years old, Natalee looked forward to her weekly dancing lessons. She loved to dance and continued working on her talent throughout her childhood. She was prepared to try out for the high-school theatrical dance team in Clinton. They called it a "show choir." When we moved to Birmingham, she set her sights on trying out for the dance team in her new town. This meant she had to learn a few new routines to be ready for the highly competitive Mountain Brook High School "Dorians." She spent her entire eighth-grade year preparing for the ninth-grade tryout. It was hard work, but that was not a new concept for her.
From the book Loving Natalee: A Mother's Testament of Hope and Faith by Beth Holloway. Reprinted with permission from HarperOne.