Red dirt. Strip malls. New development. Pine trees. Pickup trucks. My parents retired to Sharpsburg, Georgia (from Mons, Belgium) about thirteen years ago. Sharpsburg is between the larger developments of Newnan (home to country music star Alan Jackson) and Peachtree City (a planned city that for a while was largely a bedroom community for Delta Airlines employees). Sharpsburg is just a few miles down the road from Senoia, which is where they filmed much of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. Two years ago my parents divorced, after almost forty years of marriage, so now my visits home involve the kind of complications that friends of mine have had to deal with for years. Who do I visit when? How do I navigate between one place and another?
My dad travels the world working for a philanthropic organization called Global Volunteers, and he’ll be home from Greece tomorrow night. Around the time of the divorce, my mom opened a metaphysical bookstore (what some might call a New Age bookstore) in Newnan. It’s the place to go for lectures on spirituality, meditation classes, reiki healing, palm reading, tarot reading, chakra consultation, books, incense, prayer beads, crystals, or just hanging out and talking.
I have a conflicted relationship with the state of Georgia. On the one hand, almost my entire family lives here. When I was a child, my family lived in Athens and Columbus for a number of years. I went to college here, and lived in Atlanta from 1985 to 1994. On the other hand, I was born on the other side of the country, in Seattle. And living now in Kansas City, I find myself missing Maryland more than Georgia.
The politics of the peach state are not exactly the most progressive in the country. To be fair, though, the civil rights movement had a strong foothold here. Martin Luther King was from Atlanta. Jimmy Carter, of course, is from Georgia, and there are not many who have done more for human rights in the last couple of decades. Millard Fuller’s Habitat for Humanity started here. There’s a strong LGBT community in Atlanta.
There’s an interesting tradition of art and music associated with this state. There are good colleges and universities here. Things are more integrated, racially speaking, than one might assume from the South’s stereotyped reputation. But people still say really stupid things about race, class, and sexuality. Well, name a place where that doesn’t happen, I guess.
In some ways it pains me not to live here, but when I did live here I never felt like I belonged, and there was more than a little pain associated with that feeling. Part of this is perhaps the legacy of growing up in a military family that moved every 2 or 3 years. You never belong anywhere. Yes, I know, break out the violins. After living in Maryland for a few years, it became easier to come back home (ha! see, I used the word “home”) to Georgia and not feel uncomfortable because I was no longer trying to fulfill some kind of (surely imagined on my part) state-wide expectation for behavior or attitude. How can an entire state make you feel comfortable or uncomfortable? I don’t know.
Still thinking this through.
Otis Redding. Little Richard. Allman Brothers. B-52s. REM. Outkast.
Flannery O’Connor. Alice Walker.
I belong to the South. I don’t belong in the South.
thanks for your well-put contribution to our collective agonizing about what it means to be (or not to be) from the south.
sort of reminds me of quentin compson’s closing mantra about the south in absalom, absalom!? “I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!” ok, quentin, if you say so…
Amen. Having grown up (and gone to college) in Louisiana, I find myself (mostly) defending the state when I’m not in it, and (mostly) criticizing it when I am. Because, like it or not, she’s my mama, and no one can criticize my mama but me.
There’s a scene in the Ferroll Sams trilogy about growing up in the South (Run With the Horseman, Whisper of the River and When all the World was Young) in which Our Hero packs up a shoebox of Georgia red clay to take with him as he goes off to WWII. He sprinkles a bit in his shoes everyday so that he can always be walking on Georgia soil. I’ve definitely still got some of that red earth in my shoes – so to speak – and always will. I love the South, mostly because I love my Grandma and Grandpa, who lived in Monticello, about an hour southeast of Atlanta. When she was younger, Grandma used to buy her shoes from Otis Redding’s daughter in Macon. Otis’ little girl had to sell shoes. I’ll have to write more about this in my own blog – I don’t want to take up too much space here, but suffice it to say that yeah, I’m conflicted too.
I’ll echo everyone else’s comments. I moved to Roswell, GA, a northern suburb of Atlanta when I was seven, and I felt many of the same conflicts you’ve described when I moved back to Atlanta to teach at Georgia Tech last fall. I was going to blog about this yesterday, but couldn’t quite put my ideas together.
Ah, I’ve obviously tapped into some kind of unexpressed blogging zeitgeist. Maybe this could be our next distributed writing project: just blog away and trackback to this entry and to each other as you go.
Just a thought.
Sincere thanks for all your responses.
I’ve been reading with interest George’s blogs about his trip to Atlanta (and not just because I appear as a major character). I was especially intrigued by his reflection on the transformations of Atlanta since he left during the “graduate…
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