I am of the South. I sprouted up, all pink and squirmy, out of red Georgia clay. Ate apple pie and drank Coca-Cola and sang Amazing Grace.
As a little pudgy girl with rosy cheeks and big, curious brown eyes, you could find me chasing fireflies at dusk. Poking holes in mason jars. Brimming with wonder at nature’s nightlight.
After supper, I’d lay on my back in our grassy front yard. Counting the stars. Hoping to catch one flying by. Flying on to oblivion.
Even if you tried, you couldn’t count the hours I wasted jumping on trampolines. Or swimming in the neighborhood pool. Or trying to dig to China.
I rode my lavender bike on make-believe trails through the backyard. I hunted four-leaf clovers. And made club houses out of empty refrigerator boxes.
I trampled through the creek in our backyard, looking for arrowheads, scared half to death of garden snakes and water spiders and southern boys.
Oh yes, the South runs through my veins.
I went to Sunday school. And learned to recite the books of the Bible. Genesis. Exodus. Leviticus. Numbers.
I wore curlers in my hair. Sponge rollers. Hot rollers. Curling irons. And everything in between.
My cousins were in beauty pageants. True southern belles with mascara on their lashes and Vaseline on their teeth before they ever had breasts or hips or a choice.
And that’s part of the South too.
The other part. The lonesome part. The part that won’t budge as the rest of the world spins on. Firmly rooted in pride and tradition. Arms folded crossly on her chest. Stubborn as an old mule.
The South isn’t all sunshine and swimming holes.
I have seen her darker side. Her demons. Her ghosts.
I have seen hatred and ignorance and long-lost souls. Anger and malice from hatchets not buried deep enough. Feuds not quite left behind.
I have met plenty of folks that never learned how to think for themselves. Never cared much about it either.
I have seen poverty. Trailer parks brimming with lawn chairs and empty beer bottles and McDonald’s wrappers and babies on the hip.
I have seen good men waste their lives to coal mines and poker tables and all-you-can-eat ribs and local bars.
Oh yes, the South has her own bleak, battered kind of underbelly. Sometimes that darkness is all I can see.
Until I remember the joy of a Sunday potluck after church. Or listening to my grandpa say grace.
Until I imagine the simple pleasure of picking fresh ripe figs. Pulling watermelons off the vine. A porch swing on a rainy day. A sprinkler party in the front yard.
And don’t forget about the fireflies. You can’t ever forget the fireflies.
I’ve seen big dreams lost to the small city. People, like me, who couldn’t quite escape. Moved away only to find that our roots are just anchors; we are tethered to the South.
But no one complains when they end up here. There’s still shade beneath the Georgia pines. And the waters of the Chattahoochee still flow murky and cold.
No, they don’t complain. They just pour themselves another glass of Country Time lemonade, find themselves a rocking chair.
And wait, and wait for the fireflies.