I believe home is an inner country much like Faulkner’s made-up county or Tolkien’s Middle Earth from which we never full depart but remain somehow frozen in time and space. As a word it is often embroidered, sometimes on samplers that are pasted on Whitman candy boxes. I guess you could then say that home is fattening. My mother always said she took the calories out of everything she cooked, but her range of comment to us four girls was anything from saying we looked like “one long gut” or with sidelong glance, the question: “Don’t you think those jeans are just a little too tight?” Home is, in other words, the stuff of therapy sessions in your later years.
I guess everybody wants another home, not the the physical structure or place but also the group of people. In my case, I just wanted people like everyone else in my small town–not the people like my Great Aunt Mildred, my grandaddy’s sister, who was a bag lady before such a thing seemed possible in South Carolina. David drove me home from school one day, and there walked my Great Aunt Mildred, her head a web of crosshairs, her clothes askew. He looked at me not knowing the connection and said, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly is to the bone.”
My grandmother made me suffer in another way. She would pick beans in the field with her blouse off. She’d lean down to snatch butter beans, and her breasts would form Playtexed mountain ranges while in the valley between, a rill of sweat ran. We were miles away from civilization, but in my adolescent brain that could only process things in the way they might make me appear, I was constantly on the look-out, hoping no one saw me with her.
Tuesday, I travel five hours to see my mother who doesn’t know herself but on a good day knows I’m one of her children. I cook things for her, and she asks questions like “Did I use to like that?”–still somehow aware that she had been a person with likes and dislikes, in fact, very pronounced ones. There was a time when my mother’s strength would embarass me to death. Now, I’m glad she gave me a legacy of strength in a time when women were anything but strong. And when I’m world-weary, I cross-stitch my current home with those overlying bright threads of that small town and those strong-willed women, and I think I’m happy that part of me will always reside in my childhood’s country.
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