There’s no place like home…

I have been a bit homesick lately.

Not just for the home I grew up in, but for a place in general.

It’s hard to explain.

I feel this yearning for home, but I am just quite sure where ‘home’ is.

I think the actual word is hiraeth, a Welsh word meaning a homesickness that can’t be translated. Whatever it is, I have felt it.

There’s the town I grew up in, just outside of Athens. A small, sleepy bedroom community that has blossomed over the years to a place proud of its roots and traditions as it reaches towards the future.

I spent the first 25 years of my life fighting like mad to get out of that town, only to have spent the better part of the last 15 trying fervently to get back.

I miss it.

I miss my family that lives there.

I miss the friends I have known since I was just a few years old, and all the memories we made.

And I miss my home.

There was nothing fancy about the home I grew up in, nothing remarkable.

It was a simple brick house that my grandfather turned into a duplex, for lack of a better explanation, for my Mama and I so they could help take care of me.

It didn’t have anything special about it like the homes of my friends. No huge closets, no basement where people could gather, not even a bathroom with a garden tub.

It was pretty boring and something I was not exactly proud of growing up because it was not as nice as my friends.

But there was something special about it. Something that made me feel safe and secure.

I can remember how the screen door would slam shut behind me when I would enter through the door on Granny’s side of the house. I can still smell the aroma of fried chicken and biscuits wafting from the kitchen or the welcomed scent of her homemade chocolate pound cake.

I can hear a Georgia game blaring from the den as my grandfather and uncle watched the game, can hear the swear words shaking the walls when we lost.

I can feel needles lost in couch cushions, still threaded as they find flesh through blue jeans when I sit down. I can see fabric strewn carefully about as Granny worked on yet another quilt.

I can see Mama’s favorite spot on the couch, where she would sit and do her crosswords, her home decorating magazines taking up precious coffee table real estate where her Diet Coke should have sat. Cats would appear briefly, only to scatter, as peering eyes would be spotted from around doors.

I can hear Mama complaining about the horrendous red, black and gold shag carpet that screamed the 70s. Even though it was beyond tacky, it was familiar and part of the mélange of home.

But that home is not even there anymore, sold with the accompanying land several years and in the process of a future development, torn down.

A lifelong friend told me she was looking for it as she and her husband drove to Athens and when she came upon the empty clearing, she burst into tears.

“So many of my childhood memories were there,” she wrote me.

Mine, too.

I have dreamed of that house, many, many times. Dreamed I have been back in there, talking to my family. Dreamed I was walking in the door, pulling down the drive way, or standing in the kitchen.

I told another friend this one day, saying wistfully I wasn’t sure why I dream about that place so much.

“Because home means more than just a house,” she said. “It is often where we feel safe and secure. Maybe that is why you dream about it? Did you feel safe there?”

I sure did. I was safe and loved and nurtured. I haven’t had that since I left.

And yet, it was something I refused to go back to when life fell apart.

Instead, I stayed in the other town I yearn for, the other place that feels like a home of sorts in my heart.

A place where I learned a lot about myself and for the first time, stood on my own two feet. I had to learn how to survive, even though I failed horribly.

In a lot of ways, it was the place I did my second growing up.

My child was born there.

A lot of the friends I made as an adult were there.

Some of the biggest leaps of faith were made there.

Some big mistakes were made there, too, but I’d like to believe the leaps of faith kind of made up for them.

But, it is not a place I visit very often. It involves going through Atlanta to get there and traffic causes me to have horrible panic attacks.

It is still a place I yearn for and get little pangs of nostalgia for from time to time.

I left that place and somehow, ended up in the mountains.

I love it here, I do; but that doesn’t negate the yearnings I have.

I asked Cole if here or anywhere near here had ever felt like home. He has grown up here and it is really the only place he has ever known. But did it feel like home in his heart?

He thought about my question, looking out the window at the passing scenery as we drove.

He was quite reflective in his response.

“I have always felt like where ever you and Dad are is home,” he began. “Where ever we are with our loved ones is home. It’s not a place or a building really; it’s more about family.”

And maybe that’s what I have felt along.

Not a connection to a home or a town but one that goes deeper to the soul.

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Heart attacks in football

There’s no crying in baseball – that’s what Tom Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan told one of the Rockford Peaches in a “League of Their Own.”

I don’t know that there’s crying in any sport unless there’s an injury, but football seems to bring about the most angst.

At least growing up in my house it did.

My grandfather was a die-hard Georgia fan and by die-hard, I mean that man nearly died at a dang Georgia game.

Granny and I had dropped him and my uncle Bobby off at the game and commenced to spend the afternoon in Athens, shopping at the shoe store and Rose’s, and the old gal even took me to lunch.

It was a big, big day for us and she was in a fairly good mood.

Until we went to pick up Pop and Bobby.

My uncle was helping my grandfather, who was hobbling, towards the car.

“What is wrong?” my grandmother demanded.

My uncle shook his head at her. He has always been the one who tried to make all these hot-tempered people he was surrounded by calm down; walking on water would probably be easier.

“Robert! What is wrong with you?” Granny’s reaction for anything was increasing her verbal volume. I am sure someone named Robert in South Carolina heard her.

“Mama, he got so upset when Georgia lost, I think he choked on his hot dog and it went down the wrong way. Just let him get easy, I think it’s stuck in his windpipe.”

Granny didn’t have a lot of sympathy for anyone. She looked at my grandfather’s ashen face and said, “I can’t believe you ‘bout choked to death on a dang hot dog because Georgia lost. It’s a game, Bob. A game. And what are you doing eat a hot dog? I thought the doctor told you to lay off them things.”

Granny continued her tirade all the way home as I sat in the backseat bouncing with my red and black paper pom-poms they always faithfully got me. There was no way my chubby and uncoordinated self would ever be a cheer leader, but they still gave me hope with those paper poms.

But Pop didn’t choke on a hot dog.

Pop had a heart attack.

A pretty massive heart attack.

But, he was also so stubborn he refused to go to the hospital until my Mama got home from work that night around midnight, stating firmly he was not leaving until he knew she was safe.

“You are as stubborn as a mule,” Granny said to him. Remember – she lacked sympathy at times.

“You need to get to the hospital before you die.”
“I ain’t gonna die,” he said. “I still got to get some roofs done before Christmas.”

Pop didn’t get those roofs done. He spent about a week in the hospital before he came home and when his doctor finally released him, he had stern orders: no more Georgia games.

My uncle called and cancelled their annual tickets for the next season before Pop got home.

“I haven’t smoked in years, I quit drinking decades ago and now this? No more football? What’s left for me to live for?” my grandfather wanted to know.

“Me?” I asked, sheepishly. “Granny? Mama? Bobby? Aren’t we more important than a football game?”

The thought of just having us did not comfort him. Heck, it may have made him feel worse – we’re a curious bunch of folks.

But he had been forbidden to darken Sanford stadium ever again. Doctors orders.

“Was it because it was Tech?” I whispered to my uncle.

He nodded. “That rivalry always gets him riled up. But he would have gotten pretty upset if it had been another team he hated.”

I was fascinated.

How can you hate a football team, especially when you don’t even know the people?
It was a bunch of grown men wearing tight britches while running after a ball. My son would later declare at the ripe old age of 5 that those people did not know how to share and say it was a pointless game.

“Like who?”

“Well, he doesn’t seem to mind Alabama. If anything, he seems to respect them. He mainly hates Tech when they play UGA; the rest of the time, he will pull for Tech because they are a state team.

“Florida is a big one. He is not a Florida fan. But maybe after Tech, his next big one is Auburn. He is not an Auburn fan at all.”

“Why?” I asked.

My uncle shrugged.
“Why does anyone get all worked up about a football game? It’s just something we like to do.”

My grandfather never went to another live football game again, but I saw him having grown up big man hissy fits over games in the den. The kind of fits that made the house shake and scared the cat.

And in case you didn’t know, the top ranked Georgia fell to Auburn this Saturday.

I was on the edge of my seat during the game – a game, mind you, I don’t really care about.

I may have even had a grown up big girl hissy fit, complete with the loud swearing. I did scare the pittie though, but she’s scared of her own shadow.

“Mama, are you OK?” Cole asked.

I nodded.

“You don’t look like it.”

I was fine.

But somewhere, outside of Athens, I am sure my grandfather was rolling over in his grave.

The Good Old Days (7/20/2016)

Growing up, Granny loved to tell me stories about what she called, “the good old days.”

Tales involving picking cotton, drawing water from a well, and all of her siblings having to share one bed during the winter to stay warm.

“This was the good old days?” I asked her once.

“Yes,” she was replied. “They was.”

That’s how Granny, talked too. She dropped out of school, maybe in third grade or so, to help work the fields. She didn’t speak proper grammar and didn’t care. It never stopped her from getting her point across.

Her stories included growing up in the Depression and how they survived. Huddling around the wood burning stove to stay warm, wearing clothes until threadbare, and never throwing anything away. She was a packrat of the highest caliber, because she grew up in poverty.

“What are you going to make with this?” I asked her once, moving a huge garbage bag containing fabric off the couch.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll make something. Don’t you worry about it. Clothes, curtains, quilts. It’ll get used.”

And it would, too.

The woman would wash and re-use aluminum foil and Ziploc bags and thought if someone was using thick Dixie plates at a dinner and threw them away, they were “just showing how high fa-lootin’ they was.” Dishes were not supposed to be disposable.

She told me about riding the bus to Plattsburg, New York, alone, to get to Pop. They had eloped, Granny lying to her mother that she was spending the night at a cousin’s house, and the next morning, my grandfather headed back to where ever he was stationed in the Army. Granny went back home to her mama and daddy, never breathing a word she was married until she announced she was heading north. Their wedding night was only their third date.

“How in the world could you let Pop go back up there and not go with him?” I asked.

“Back then, you did what you had to. He was in the Army and he had to save up money to get me a bus ticket,” was her no nonsense reply.

Those times, were not easy, nor were the years that followed and they made steel run through veins. She was resilient and tough.

“Why do you always talk about those times, Granny?” I asked her one day as she started up on one of her yarns for the umpteenth time.

“Because they was the good old days, Lit’l Un.”

Good? How in the world could she describe them as good?

All she told me about was how poor they were, how they struggled, how getting through the day was sometimes a miracle of itself.

“How was that good?” I wanted to know.

“It just was. If you was breathin’ and on the other side of the ground, it was good.”

Her stories were woven around my grandfather serving in World War II, my uncle in Viet Nam. Mama, she said, made her proud because she had a job that was in an office and didn’t have to do the labor she had.
“You never tell her you are proud of her,” I said to her once. “That may make her feel better, you know.”

Granny stuck her chin out, not one to be chastised for anything. “She don’t need to know if I am proud of her or not; I am and that’s all that cussed matters.”

After over 20 years of hearing her stories, I started to tune them out or make her change the conversation. “You’ve told me this already, old woman,” I’d tell her.

“Yeah, well you ain’t listened, old gal,” she said in return.

How I’d love to hear her old stories again. The only thing close to it I have is, thankfully, a DVD my beloved cousin, Dotty, made of her talking and telling some of her stories to them.

I miss her stories and more importantly, I miss her common sense about the things that happened in the world around us. Especially lately, I’ve yearned for her comfort, for her wisdom, and for her just declaring that things would be OK and we would survive – meaning all of us – because that was the only choice we had.

It seemed like her focus was always about surviving, just surviving one thing from the next. How in the world could she consider those ‘good old days?’

I asked her that one day.

The question actually struck her speechless for a moment. “One day, you’ll understand. It ain’t about the little petty problems or any of this other junk. It’s about the moment, and being with family and friends. Don’t matter how much money you got, that stuff’s fleeting. It mattered about how much love.”

She had the ones she loved around her.

Maybe it was the good old days after all.