We're here in the town I grew up in but haven't lived in since 1987. We arrived around 4:30pm this afternoon, and we're staying in a hotel in a retail/hotel part of town that didn't even exist when I lived here. It's all centered around a Wal-Mart Supercenter, natch.
Do I still consider this town "home"? Well, yes. And no.
So much of who I am and what I identify with is because of the 18 years I spent living here under the branches of these pines. But my grandparents are dead. My father is dead. My mother moved away in 2005. And there's simply no "home" here for me to come home to anymore. Sure, there are friends/distant relatives/in-laws I could stay with, but that's not the same. And yet, the tug on my heart and my soul that this beautiful, backward, isolated, conservative, segregated, fertile, mysterious land has is strong. It lives in my accent and my tastes. It taps me on my shoulder and reminds me who the Hell I am and where I came from if I ever dare begin to think I'm something special. It humbles me.
Damn it's frustrating.
I am also realizing that my only real occasions to venture up here in the future will be to attend family events of a holiday and/or death nature. BH's dad and brother/sister-in-law live here, so there will be birthdays, and Thanksgiving dinners, etc to attend. But then again, there are the elderly relatives (some of whom I barely know) on my father's side who all still live here and who, let's face it, have entered the darkening twilight of their years. That means that there will be funerals that I will come to over the coming years. Each one will seem like a futher distancing of me from what is supposed to be my "homeland". Strange and sad, but I suppose, inevitable.
And so it begins tomorrow.
Tomorrow I will say goodbye to my mother's youngest brother, Richard, as we lower his coffin into the red clay soil.
He had just turned 11 years old when his oldest sister (my mom) gave birth to me--her only child. Suddenly, he was an eleven year old uncle--a responsibility he took VERY seriously, by the way. He was always the clown and the playmate to me. And when I was old enough to recognize him as "Uncle Richard", he was a teenager, so naturally, I thought he was the coolest mo-fo on the planet. He was tall--like REALLY tall--especially from a little girl's perspective. And with very little prompting, he would lift me up, effortlessly, and make me "fly" every time I saw him.
By the time I was five, he'd firmly cemented his place in my heart as "One Of My Favorite People Ever". And he never lost that title. As I saw him grow into a man and become the father to three beautiful and amazing children; as I saw him always fight for what was right for his children and be strong for them even when that meant him sacrificing in untold ways; as I saw him endlessly proud of the young adults his children had become; and finally, as I saw him fight like hell against a cancer that was inexplicably stronger than he was, I realized: Not only was he one of my favorite people ever, there were SO many OTHER people who loved him just as much as I did. They also got to see and love the Richard that I knew. He also made them proud and made them laugh and just made them richer through his friendship and warmth. What a cool fucking guy... and I was related to him.
Rest in peace, my sweet Uncle. You will never be forgotten by those who were lucky enough to know you. I'll see you on the other side.