Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I thrill to go back to the deep South still, 30 years after I moved hundreds of miles from home. There are so many reasons for this. Family of course. And the friends, some I've stayed close to since we were 5 years old.

But there is a visceral pull from the South that I do not experience anywhere else. It is a palpable, physical force. I feel it as I approach the airport, circling the vast farms that have survived development in the Tennessee River Valley. I love feeling the force from a train, but I get to do that only rarely.

So, my favorite way to re-enter the South is from a car. It gives me time to adjust. I'm never the one driving, of course. I love him for doing this, taking me there, 13 long, hard hours from Northern Virginia for Christmas.

We are old hands at it now, the three of us. This was no easy thing with a baby, a toddler, a whiny overly active boy under the age of 10. But now that D. is a teenager he sleeps a lot and just deals the rest of the way.

After a night in Chattanooga with old friends, C. and S., we get up and head out early. We laugh at the huge mega-stores selling fireworks at the Alabama-Tennessee border. And then they both just leave me be. We don't even discuss it, they both know.

Because with each mile inside Alabama, I become quieter. I relax, sink deeper into my seat. I stop hearing the radio. I don't hear my family talking to me or to each other. I am gone to them.

The hills are gentler over the border in Alabama. The old-growth trees stretch for miles. The grass glistens in the morning dew. And the water. Ponds, lakes, rivers stretching in every direction. North Alabama is covered in bodies of water.

The landscape draws in my eyes first, mile after mile. My body is so calm and so still that I lose the ability to speak. My eyes fill with tears. And then, unseen by others, my soul lifts from the seat. It slips from the car and drifts through the glass. I'm out.

I am floating, over glassy sheets of water that exist nowhere else on earth. Water that visits me in my dreams, lapping at the base of trees I knew so well in childhood. I am flying on the fingertips of clean, cold wind.

Alive again, kicking and running through the air, free. I am home. Thank you. I am home.


  1. This is very moving Glimmer, the way a place can be so important, particularly the place you call home. I'm glad you can get there.

  2. Wonderful post. You captured the spirit and soul of home, much as I feel when I return to Georgia. Often, when flying into Savannah, I am overwhelmed by the distinct smell of the low country, the salt marsh and its flavor that fills the head with memories. It's the most certain sign I'm home. Nice stuff.

  3. My mother took me to her hometown, Selma, in the mid-nineties. My first trip. I wasn't even born there but all the stories I had heard over the years, the names of places and then to see it face to, it was overwhelming! To hear the southern voices I just melted...I think everyone could benefit from a journey to the south.

  4. It really is true-there is no place like home. Nice post.

  5. Thank you, Ellen. I am glad my people are still "home." And it looks like they always will be. I hope I'm with them too, someday, within easy striking distance anyway.

    Rick: Your homeplace wins the award for MOST evocative of all. I can read a "Midnight in the Garden..." and start a Frogmore stew to boil and suddenly I'm from the low country too. In my mind. At least we get to visit!

    Ellen: Oh my goodness, Selma! That's as southern as it gets, right there, deep in magnolia country (well, Savannah too, of course). Mayor Smitherman, those deep accents. You were in it, for sure. People say television has changed the South and made it like every other place. And in some surface ways that's true. In cities and towns with strip malls and Wal-Marts, etc.

    But when you get beyond that, it is NOT the same. At all. You need to stay a bit. And hopefully someone to show you the good stuff.

  6. I know that feeling of place and home. It is a recognition in the very bone and blood. You wrote about it beautifully and your pictures are amazing.
    Thank-you. Welcome home. Whenever you are in the south, welcome home.

  7. While in the Selma I learned so much that made no sense to me at all. I have lived almost all my life in CA and this Southern deal was confusing. Right side of the tracks ~ wrong side of the tracks (or bridge!)...always thought it was just a saying but no they really say that. We couldn't eat there but we could eat over here. The Country Club is still the top of Caramel Cake. Oh yes, I did say Caramel Cake...yummy. I vow to write a book someday that will be about the South my mother came from.....

  8. Bon Bon! I cannot say how thrilled I am to "see" you here. Partly because I can't imagine how you managed it. I say this as someone with the same relative amount of computer skills, which are minimal. This is the surprise of the decade, you really know how to pull one, Bon.

    Bon Bon is not a stripper, even though the name might imply such. But a southern pal who likes to hide. She and Ms. Moon would be great friends. I just managed to open the mail, Bon, and I owe you a letter! Wow.

    And Ms. Moon, thank you, I learned some of that from you, writing about being home in the South. You have acclimated and absorbed it better than anybody else I know.

    Ellen: A woman from England told me a long time ago that she recognized much in the South from her country. Stiff upper lip, tea with mother's silver service, and definitely the class system, which indeed so many can't even imagine. But it is there, alright. The funny thing, though, is it did not exist in my hometown when I was growing up. There was a reverse class system, in fact. Which made it so unique. I thought all places were like that and then found out when I left... oh boy... big splash of cold water.

    Which is why I write so fondly about it today.

    You absolutely should write that book! Detail, detail, your emotions and hers, what you can. From the perspective of somebody who didn't live there but getting to discover it, finally. As my friend K. says, people love reading about the South. Especially Southerners!

  9. A lovely post, made me trail off in thoughts and memories. I still call the town I grew up in home, though I've lived away longer now than I lived there. It is where my people live, where my relatives are buried, where everything good and bad happened in my childhood. I ran from there the first chance I got, and all I ever wanted was to get away, and yet I feel the pull of that place in my bones. I've moved from the coast to the plains, from temperate to damn cold, and maybe that's part of it. I never fail to choke up with tears as the plane circles the airport to land. The water alone makes me emotional, the smell of the marshes, the familiar feel of the flat sandy soil, the loblolly pines and the holly trees, something about seeing them again makes me feel complete. But there is so much about my old hometown that is wrong, or gone, or sad, that being there is so hard for me, and I always count the days until I can get back to this life, and this house that is mine now. It is a tangled mess, one I don't really understand, though I'm beginning to piece it together. Thank you for sharing your homecoming with us. I like to think about you rising above, floating over the water. For me, the thing I must do is listen to the ocean. When I went back when my Dad died, I inexplicably drove alone to the shore, parked among the throngs of summer tourists and walked alone until the waves lapped at my knees and the sound of the surf drowned out even my thoughts. I filled my pockets with smooth stones, and breathed freely for the first time in days and I knew I would be all right and made my peace.
    It is time for me to go back, I think. I need to hear the surf and the wind and nothing else and reboot my soul a little bit. Thanks for helping me remember what it feels like to be there.
    Happy New Year, and welcome home!

  10. Sometimes going back home means just that, a visit. Because you are right, the things that drove you from that place are usually still there. Sometimes they're even worse.

    But I had two friends who discouraged me from going home when there was a possibility of it years ago. They were vehemently against it. You can't, you'll hate it, nothing has changed. Then, guess what, within a couple of years they BOTH had moved home. I really enjoyed hearing their rhapsodies about it, the warmth, the friendliness, etc. NOT.

    So I learned then to follow my own heart in these situations. And that is exactly what you are doing. And that's the right thing.

  11. brava!

    i m ..i dont know if i mentioned before ..have myself a past with the american south..tghe deep south..the dirty south...ith a city ..with some lil villages...with the empty country roads ..the humid air..the birds...the poeple..the roaring sun of the landscapes...when i was 16 i entered a plane and went to luoisianna the first was a long flight..i arrived so tired and every muscle in my body ached..but the moment my foot touched southern ground i was in love...

    thank you for that beautiful post...:-)

  12. Danielle, that just had to be. You are so devoted to reading Ms. Moon and me, I assumed you had fallen in love with the Deep South at a young age. And I love Louisiana too. The pull is such that K. and I, as 19-year-olds, left the dorm on a Sunday night in February for a short trip with one of her many suitors and ended up at Mardi Gras a few hours later. Then I flew to Jazz Festival every year for a while.

    But I love Cajun country best. Like you say, villages, swamps, country roads. Farmers speaking French in cafes, drinking delicious strong coffee from demi-tasse. Please write about it from your memories and let us read it. We would love it!

  13. This is lovely. I feel much the same way returning to Savannah. It is home to my heart.

    Go Bama!

    Happy New Year, Glimmer.

  14. I feel the same way about the South. I belong here. It makes me feel good to live where I do.

  15. SB, you and Rick Beene!Savannah is one of the world's wonders.

    Syd: South Carolina would be impossible to leave. Especially the water. You are lucky.