Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Look Homeward Angel
I grew up a Southern girl who didn’t fit in the South. Other Southerners noticed this, too. From time to time, someone would tell me, “You don’t seem like you’re from here.”
The only option I could think of was being a Yankee, so I imagined that I would move to the Northeast. I didn’t think beyond the Mississippi River.
Seattle’s my home now. It felt like home the first day I visited here, as the April rain fell onto the watery city and grey skies felt like a low ceiling.
“This is a pritty [sic] city!” I kept exclaiming. Strange. I love the sun, and I love this city. For me at the age of 48, Seattle is home.
I moved away from North Carolina when I graduated from college in 1986, and I’ve never been tempted to move back. When I visit, however, I connect with it like a place that I have that mysterious soul-land connection to, a place that was once home.
On a recent trip to Western N.C., Ann and I land first in the Atlanta airport. Within minutes of entering the concourse, I overhear, “Yes, ma’am,” and “Yes ma’am” and “Yes, ma’am.” The sound of home.
I also hear a falsetto, “H-a-a-a-a-a-y” and think that maybe one of my mother’s sisters is here, but this Southerner’s just a soul-sister.
As Ann and I wait in line for dinner at Chili’s, the young woman behind me tells her father, “It’s been 22 days since I smoked my last cigarette.” I turn around and give her my menu in celebration.
Our friend Mahan, who was the minister in our Southern Baptist church when I was in college, picks us up at the Asheville airport. Though our plane is three hours late, Mahan greets us as if he has just arrived.
As we drift to sleep in our hostess Janice’s mother’s bed, we feel the mountain breeze and hear cicadas through the open window.
We visit my high school friend May and her family as well as her sister Kirin and Kirin’s family, who live about fifty yards from one another.
Kirin’s husband (and Mahan and Janice’s son) Mark is researching raising cattle so that he doesn’t have to mow their thirteen acres.
Mark tries to involve May’s husband Paul, and though Paul’s genial, he’s not sticking his toe in that pond.
Friday night, Ann and I rock in rocking chairs by the edge of the yard and watch fireflies, amber—and a few red—sparks that flit in the dusk.
The next morning, a wild turkey lands outside the window, but we don’t shoot it.
That night, Ann and I and May and Paul and their daughter Ella join my elementary school friend Heather and her family for have brick oven pizzas (cooked by Heather’s husband Michael in the brick oven that he built) and the adults drink the beer that Michael brewed using the hops that he grew by the driveway. These are modern Southern families.
We’re all connected, as Southerners are: Heather, May, Kirin and I grew up in the same church where Mahan, Mark’s dad, was later minister. May, Paul and I went to the same high school. Now the families’ girls Ella and Madelaine are best friends. That’s how it is in the South: generations of connections.
From time to time, a North Carolinian apologizes for North Carolina's recent vote to "preserve marriage as an institution between a man and a woman." These are Southerners, but they're not bigots. (I keep trying to tell my Pacific Northwest friends that the South is more complex than they realize.)
Sunday, Ann and I join Mahan and Janice for a Quaker meeting, (some things have changed), and then Ann drives the two of us to Brevard to visit my colleague Christine from when I first taught in Dallas, 26 years ago.
Though Christine’s a Texan and not a Southerner (there’s a difference), she too is Southernly (a new word) hospitable.
We eat and drink wine together, tour the artsy town, visit the graveyard angel of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, and visit Carl Sandburg’s plantation-style mansion (a funny place for a Socialist to live, but it is beautiful, so I can’t blame him…he has left behind over seventeen thousand books and a gazillion magazines).
We also hike through the lovely, rolling Smokey Mountains. (Wordsworth would have liked this hike by a gurgling stream and its waterfalls. Wordsworth would have found a home in the American South.)
As we fly away, Ann says to me, “You have a lot of nice friends.”
Why yes, I do, and did. They help me connect to my childhood home and to see that it is good.