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.