You know, for whatever reason, I can’t suppress the confessional, autobiographical nature of this blog, as much as I’d like to pretend that it’s primarily about professional and intellectual issues. So be it. It’s both.
After spending Friday night and Saturday morning with my mom, I drove down to Columbus to visit my sister and her family. I had lunch on Sunday with most of my relatives on my dad’s side (minus my dad, who was still in Greece) in Columbus. Lima beans, jalapeno cornbread, squash, deviled eggs, potato salad, and fried chicken. Being a tree-hugging, bunny-loving vegetarian, I declined the chicken and devoured two helpings of everything else. Oh, and pound cake. And something called “blueberry crunch.” And, of course, sweet tea. And some leftover pizza. And some more of that blueberry crunch.
My sister and I did our once-every-few-years drive around Fort Benning, where our family lived for a couple of tours of duty in the early ’70s. I had a strange moment when I realized that the MP who checked our IDs as we drove on base was probably no more than half my age. This was not so much a realization of how old I am as it was a realization that when I go to the places where I used to live, I think of myself as being the age that I was when I lived there.
We drove by our former homes, and while about ten years ago we were surprised at how trashy the old neighborhoods looked, this time they looked much better. There’s actual grass in the yard instead of just dirt. The magnolia tree that grew next to our house at the bottom of Austin Loop is gone, however. Something that seems weird to me now, but which I had completely internalized as normal when I was a child, is the fact that there is a nameplate on the front of all the houses on base with not the name of the family who lives there but the name of the soldier who has been assigned that house. So, for example, when we were kids the nameplate would have read “Major Williams.” Geez, and I sometimes whine about the hierarchies inherent in academia. Imagine going home at the end of the day and seeing your position within that hierarchy plastered on the front of your house. And all of your neighbors are enmeshed as well. I don’t know how we didn’t all go crazy being so fully embedded in military life 24/7.
Edward A. White elementary school is still there. I went by a few years ago and talked with the principal, telling her about the time capsule we had buried in fourth grade, to be dug up at the turn of the century. She had had no idea what I was talking about but had been willing to give me a shovel and let me dig around out in front of the school.
Driving off base we went by my grandparents’ old house at 45 Ross Avenue, where they lived from before I was born until the late ’80s. If there is any building in the world that has a claim on being a place I would call “home” it is this address, for most of my life the one constant thing that I knew would always be there. We went there all the time when I was a small child. I went there for long weekends when I was in college. Now, if this blog were a novel, the following would considered a clunky and obvious metaphor. The house is empty, the yard is overgrown with knee-high grass and weeds, and the neighborhood has clearly taken a turn for the worse. But this blog is not a novel, and the dilapidated state of the house signifies nothing beyond the state of its own decay.
I came back to Newnan last night and helped my mom haul some stuff to Goodwill this morning, clearing out much of her garage. I bought her an iced cafe americano at the newly arrived Newnan Starbucks. Her reaction: “Hey! That’s really good!” I’m staying with my dad tonight and tomorrow, and tomorrow evening it’s on to Atlanta.