“Where’re you from?”
The answer always rolls easily off my lips.
Who could argue with that simple reply? The information is stored in countless files and probably on no less than a dozen government-issued computers.
But my answer sometimes earns a questioning or amused look.
While my birth certificate reads Philadelphia (yes, that’s Mississippi, not Pennsylvania, I patiently explain), in the style of many small-town southerners of my generation, my family moved to a big city in a neighboring state while I was not yet old enough to toddle off to school.
So why is it that a place where I spent less than 10 percent of my life and, indeed, the years when I was least concerned with my overall geographic location as long as it was within my mother’s reach, why is that the spot I consider home?
“…why is that the spot I consider home?”
I own a typical suburban house in a typical suburban neighborhood. It’s the third one I’ve owned and probably not the last. But in Mississippi, there’s a squat tin-roofed house that now belongs to my second cousin once removed, that will forever be home to me. The center section of the dogtrot divided house is held together with square, hand-hewn nails. The rest rambles casually with its uneven floors, dipping here, forming a small linoleum mountain there.
I’ve been told the main part of the house was built before the Civil War. A stagecoach trail once passed by the giant pecan tree that divides the road to the pasture from the road to the tractor shed. I don’t know what, if any, of this story is true.
What I do know is that my great-grandmother and my grandmother raised their families there. My mother’s heart never left this place. It was timeless and safe even when the world appeared uncertain and frightening.
There is proof of the passing years in photographs of the slow-growing English boxwood in front of the house but not much else ever seemed to change.
It’s where I played with the children of the sharecroppers and learned we had more in common than we had differences. Where I learned that you can go home again. Where I take my sons when I want them to understand that there is more to life than their current reality.
“…there’s more to life than current reality”
The chickens and dogs that once roamed the front yard exist now only in my imagination and in the stories I tell my boys. The porch swing is gone, but I still can feel the worn wooden porch under my bare feet. I can hear the squeak the chains made just as you swung all the way back and started your descent on a long, slow summer afternoon.
And in the midst of these memories, I’m back in Mississippi. All of my life is in front of me and all seems possible. Maybe that’s what home is all about.