May 10, 2023
You know, you’ve always heard the saying. In fact, when I started writing these thoughts out, I tried my best to avoid the cliche, but it turns out that many cliches are actually such for a reason- because they’re true. And this one is no exception.
A couple weeks ago, I found myself longing for that sense of home. Life had thrown yet another knee-banging, trailer hitch to the shin, bed post to the pinkie toe kinda wrench my way. I needed to escape, even if just for a little while. I’d taken my couple of days to sulk in misery, but that wasn’t enough. I needed to be where “everybody knows your name.” (If you didn’t sing that to the tune of the Cheers theme song, please re-evaluate.)
Interestingly enough, as I sat on my couch and longed for that feeling home, I didn’t long for my hometown. I didn’t long for the same roads I could drive with my eyes closed in the county in which I’d spent approximately two-thirds of my 33 years. Rather, my heart yearned for northwest Louisiana. A place defined by parishes rather than counties- which I still to this day can’t get the hang of. A place where I’d spent the last seven years of my life rifled with some of my best and worst memories. A place that, despite holding some of my life’s toughest times, also hold’s some of my greatest friends- a correlation that I’m now realizing is far more direct than I’ve ever noticed before.
When I made this realization that my heart was still in the Arklatex, I actually felt a little bit guilty. Like I was forsaking the region of the Bible Belt that held my formative years and had created such a large portion of my identity. But just today, as I opened up my latest issue of Okra Magazine and began with the editor’s letter, could I reconcile that feeling of guilt and rest in the reassurance that home truly is where the heart is and that “heart” will be fluid over a lifetime.
You see, when I was in college at Auburn, driving back into my hometown was that feeling of peace and rest and familiarity. I’d play the game that I’ve long played where I made note of the first person I knew or vehicle I recognized and how far out of town they were- how far my reach of familiarity extended from the epicenter of “home.” When I moved back to Clarke County after college, those feelings of home flipped to be Auburn and the sign that I’d reached my feeling of home was quite literally the green illumination of “College St” on the exit ramp of I-85. And then, when my address transferred “out west” across the Mississippi, my game of “Who will I see first?” started about the time I exited off I-20 and began the trek across the Mississippi/Alabama state line. In fact, I think my personal best on distance in this self-created game was running into a precious lady from my teenage years in the Valero off 19 in Meridian, Mississippi – a whopping 73 miles from the city limits of my hometown. And now, with a lot of life changes in a short period of time, that pull to the feeling of familiarity draws me from my dwelling in the Palmetto State to the state of bayous, crawfish, casinos, and high crime rates.
Scott Speakes (Publisher) and Genie Gaither Jones (Editor-in-Chief) opened their Editor’s Letter of this quarter’s magazine saying, “What is home? For each of us its meaning is something different. And for most of us, it has likely changed as our circumstances in life have, also.” And I breathed a sigh of relief. “Returning to a place we love grounds us.” Maybe I haven’t actually forsaken my roots, but rather, like the transplant I’ve become, those roots have found different soils in which to thrive- first out of necessity then gradually acclimating to their surroundings to flourish in their new vessel called home.
Over the years, as my life took twists and turns that required or desired a new or different pot, so to speak, I’ve made the adjustment again and again. Acclimate out of necessity, flourish through sheer will and determination, long a little for a previous pot, and yet all the while knowing that my current one is where I need to be in the moment to grow. I’ve come to realize that maybe it’s a little less about the place, the pot, the home- whatever you want to call it. And maybe a little more about the other flowers in this garden of life – the people. The ones who nurture our souls and bring color and light into our lives. Our hearts.
“Home is where we have our roots.” My roots are scattered across the southeast these days and thusly, so are pieces of my heart and that ever-changing feeling of home.