From the Vault: I Am From

I’ve decided, occasionally, to republish stuff I wrote in the past (either for blogs or other venues). I might do a little editing, but for the most part, I plan to keep them pretty much the way they were. I wrote this back in February 2007 when I was still living in Connecticut and had no idea that before the year was up I’d be living in Pennsylvania — where the honeysuckle also grows lush and thick. It was a response to a meme for which I was tagged and for which many people wrote beautiful responses. I really think it captures my feelings about North Carolina, what I loved about growing up there and also why I felt I had to leave. Roots are strong, though. These days, I’m more and more drawn to all the things I love about that state. (Apologies to those of you who have already read this. Perhaps you won’t mind rereading, and I’d love to hear your reactions this many years later.)

I Am From

I am from summers so hot and humid, the sheets stick to your body, and the fan just blows around hot air, but you can hear the cicadas and frogs and crickets loud and clear in their nighttime operas, and a swimming pool or the ocean in mid-July is never, ever too cold to just plunge right in without a second thought. The honeysuckle grows lush and thick along fences and over bushes; my nose forever will be so attuned to its scent. I can smell it long before I ever see it, and when I take my first whiff of some bubble bath meant to smell like honeysuckle it turns my stomach in its falsehood. I am from winters that never have enough snow, but when the snow comes, everyone stays home, and it’s like a holiday in which the traditional meal is hot chocolate and gingerbread, and snowmen guests arrive in tatty old scarves and hats, long noses turned orange rather than pink from the cold.

I am from traveling in a westerly direction to discover some of the most beautiful, soft rolling old mountains in the world. These mountains play dulcimers and banjos and go clogging well into the wee hours of the morning when the rising sun joins them to dance light off their blue ridges. Breakfast is fried eggs, sausage patties, grits with a puddle of yellow butter sitting in their center, and homemade biscuits dripping with butter and honey.

I am from traveling in an easterly direction to land upon miles of sandy white beaches, rough ocean waves rolling and smirking over the “graveyard of the Atlantic,” where ships’ skeletons provide homes for coral, colorful fish, and giant turtles, as well as plenty of fodder for folktales. The sand dunes stand up safe and tall, laughing at the ocean that tries but can’t reach them, colorful hang gliders running and jumping from their peaks to join the birds majestically soaring through the deep Carolina blue skies around them. Lunch is the best fried chicken ever, fresh-baked rolls, mashed potatoes smothered in butter, and tangy coleslaw speckled with black pepper.

I am from a place where long afternoons are spent down by the creek, barefoot and in shorts, wading around and catching tiny-clawed crawdads with nets made from wire hangers and old stockings, who are released immediately due to feelings of sorrow for taking them from their homes. I am from flying kites that stubbornly refuse to stay aloft, even though the wind seemed to be howling all night, in freshly-mown fields, blades of grass clinging to dewy legs. I am from dancing lessons in a studio below a general store where frozen cokes and candy bars await once the heinous lessons are done. Supper (never “dinner”) is pork chops and black-eyed peas and green beans cooked in fatback, and if I’m lucky, we might have chocolate or tapioca pudding for dessert.

I am from tobacco fields and cigarette factories and a downtown that smells like grape juice to a young child who doesn’t understand tobacco smells like that. I am from Moravian settlers who left their marks with sugar cake, cookies, and coffee. I am from drama schools and live theater and underwear mavens and small liberal arts colleges. I am from a very American place.

I am also from a place in which, to my horror, the “n” word is used and spoken, but where, mysteriously, blacks and whites actually work, socialize, interact with each other, and live in the same neighborhoods far better than they do where I currently live. I am from a place where, as one black friend of the family who moved north only to come back, once described it, “you hate us as a race, but you love us as people.” I am from a place where life might be much better if only everyone would admit to a legacy of unnatural and unfair prejudices. It’s a place where, contrary to popular belief elsewhere, 95% of the people are not “still fighting the Civil War,” but where many, many people are still fighting just to survive every day.

My hometown is so stiflingly close-minded and cliquish, I’m not going to be able to breathe if I don’t escape it, so I flee to a place where I’m sure I’ll find far more like-minded people. I am wrong, but not completely wrong. So, now my hometown is a place I’m learning to forgive for its stifling ways, but I don’t ever want to go back there to live.

I am from a place where people aren’t nearly as stupid and backwards as outsiders seem to think they are, but where everyone still has a lot to learn. But then, aren’t all places like that?

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4 thoughts on “From the Vault: I Am From

  1. Beautiful piece, Emily. Your roots are deep and meaningful and come through your writing like lasers. It reminds me of Wallace Stegner’s admonishment from Angle of Repose that we live too shallowly in too many places. As you know, we ourselves make the yearly trek from Florida to Connecticut for the summer. A couple of years ago I wrote in my blog that “as a nation we’ve become anchorless, a nomadic nation addicted to the so called ‘pleasures’ of travel. Even with gas at $4 plus a gallon, the roads were packed, the ‘rest stops’ jammed with those seeking burgers, fries, ice cream, pizza, and sodas…. I have no business wondering the where’s or why’s of this moving mass of humanity, as I am one of the rootless, but, in our case, trying to ‘go home’ again, to where we spent most of our lives in Connecticut. However, with each passing year, the ties to the past unravel more, and we are more strangers than natives, in spite of our love of the area. One does not put down roots in Florida to offset this loss it seems, as one’s neighbors are from someplace else, and they are wanderers as are you. Indeed, we live too shallowly in too many places.”

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