I got excellent news yesterday. My dad DOES NOT have lung cancer. Yet, today, I'm still feeling sad, still feeling a little out of sorts. I should be jumping up and down, celebrating. So what is it that causes this heavy, dragging weight on my chest today?
I think it's the pull of home--those apron strings that I added elastic to as I moved almost 2,000 miles from where my family has lived since the 1700's. That South of contradictions that so many of us want to escape from while at the same time longing to throw our arms around it and give it some sugar. Under the neck, where the old lady sweat smell of our great-grandmother lingers. That cloyingly sweet, familiar smell of cherry pipe tobacco mixed with the musk of coondogs. Daddy's breath filled with eye-burning secondhand smoke of a Vantage cigarette tinged with yeasty Miller Lite. Watching Mom's hands with the blue dye of denim worn into the weave of adhesive tape that wrapped around her fingers as she sewed loop after loop of gold thread on back pockets. The feel of bare toes sinking into red mud so strong that it sucks at my feet to keep them from moving forward. The grit of soil that scraped my lips as I bit into a thick, sun-warmed strawberry just picked from the plant. The way my butt felt sitting in a perfectly curved apple tree branch, bark imprinting itself into my back as I read The Secret Garden.
This was childhood - the romanticized memory of it. Filled with people, places, sounds, tastes, fears, expectations, and not-quite-true truths. It's what I choose to keep of childhood that I draw my stories from, and not all those stories are true. Some of the stories I create are to show what it was; others are to tell what I wished it had been, and yet others are to smudge the truth to what I can bear to remember. It's the heart of the story that is usually the truth--even if it's just the truth I choose to believe.
I didn't leave my home because I didn't love it. In leaving my home, I think I found it, understood it, and actually valued it more. Thomas Wolfe's title says "You can't go home again." And that's true insofar as that it won't be the same place, time, and situation. Moreover, you won't be the same person. That's where the mistake is, isn't it? Expecting that memory of home to be frozen in time----to be the truth--where the definitions and boundaries of relationship and place and family are clearly defined. To go home, you have to accept that the people, place and yourself have changed. That the love of family doesn't necessarily mean that you know them anymore--they don't completely know you anymore either. So, we need to keep talking, keep telling stories, for in telling stories of what was, we better understand what is, and we can hope for and work towards what will be...could be.
So this week, I miss that place and those people so very much. Yet, if I still lived there, I would not be me; I would be a different form of me--the one I can't imagine, but that's another story.