To most Southerners, without question, they are the two sweetest, albeit four-letter words, in our language.
The mere mention of “Mama” or “home” will bring a smile to our lips and a warm tingle to our hearts. We are defined by those words and what they represent – the ones who raised us, and the place of that raising.
“I go back to the South, physically and in my memories, to remind myself who I am, for the South keeps me going,” once said the late Willie Morris, a native of Yazoo City, Mississippi.
I’m home now, the real home of my childhood, after a few years of chasing adventure in alien cities — and, yes, one was a non-Southern town and one, Washington, D.C. has a lot of non-Southern influence. Every Southerner should move from home in her lifetime and live abroad in the midst of un-Southernly sympathies and different interpretations of hospitality. If you thought home was sweet before you left, you’ll be in a diabetic coma from the sugary sweetness when you return.
I believe, sad to say, that you have to leave the South, albeit briefly, to really appreciate the magnitude of what we have in our blessed land.
During a newspaper interview recently, the reporter asked, “Why do you live in the town where you grew up? You can live anywhere you want and write from there. Why stay in a small Georgia town?”
Something about that question crawled my spine. “Are you saying that only writers who live in places like New York City can be successful?”
He began to stammer and I, never one to let a critic get a full sentence in, rolled right over him. “I can live wherever I want, unlike when I was a child and my parents made that decision. I choose to live in the land of my raising because the connection I have to this land and my people make me the storyteller I am.”
I can’t explain what it is about the land of our raising that imprisons us but Southerners are held in bondage to our native soil, whether it is the orange dust of Alabama, the rich black dirt of the Mississippi Delta or even the rich, red clay of Georgia. That ground wraps itself around our ankles like kudzu-covered shackles and holds us captive to that place called “home.”
Country singer Marty Stuart, a Philadelphia, Mississippi native, once explained that when he needed to center himself and find his true creativity that “I always go back to the dirt roads of Mississippi.”
Tink and I are admirers of Marty Stuart’s storytelling which is rooted in his love for Mississippi and the Southern roots of his raising. We saw a show of his recently and were enraptured by his music, his stories and the simple yet brilliant wisdom he possesses.
This I know: In the South, we do not possess the land. It is too strong and mighty of a force to be held by any deed holder. The land, instead, possesses us. Try, though we might, we cannot escape its hold.
When I returned to the land where I ran bare-footed, picked blackberries on dew-glistening summer mornings, read endless hours under that beloved maple tree and splashed happily in the creek’s cold water, I rediscovered the simplicity of my childhood. Memories of those days and the ones I love, comfort me often in these days that are now so hard.
Now I am plunked back down amidst the kudzu, blackberry bushes and maples trees of my childhood. Sometimes, I rock on the back porch to enjoy the quietness and just think on the days that have passed.
Truman Capote, the New Orleans-born, Alabama-raised writer, often said, “Every Southerner goes home sooner or later, even if it’s in a pine box.”
Thank goodness, I came home by car and didn’t wait for the pine box to bring me.
[Ronda Rich is a best-selling Southern author. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]