I got a fan email yesterday from a girl who currently lives in the small town in West Tennessee where I grew up. According to her myspace profile, she hates the town (as did I), loves Broadway (as did I), and can’t wait until she graduates from high school and has a chance to try to make it in New York (as did I). She asked me if I remembered a girl named Lee who was in school with me, and I wrote her back that yes, I remembered Lee. Turns out Lee is her MOTHER, and the whole thing blew my mind because I suppose that means if I had played my cards differently, this girl who was writing me a fan letter and reminding me so much of myself at that age could actually have been my daughter.
A few weeks earlier I got a Facebook message from a guy I knew in high school who was a couple years older than I was. He had lived in my neighborhood and my sister and I used to ride our bikes around the big circular driveway that led to his family’s house. Back in my high school days I thought he was too popular to know who I was, and I thought he was probably trouble anyway. So we were never really friends. But then one summer after I graduated, I was home, and he was home, and the older versions of ourselves seemed to have more in common than the younger versions of ourselves did. We hung out that summer and then went our separate ways again. Hearing from him this month has been super interesting, and thrilling in a deeply emotional way, as if the 14-year old girl in me was finally being acknowledged.
I don’t spend a lot of time talking about the South, or claiming my southern heritage, or waxing nostalgic about the place where I grew up. While I was there, I really hated it. I spent a lot of time in my room — and this was long before we all had computers and chatrooms and text messages to keep us from ever really being alone. I read books. I listened to music. I practiced the piano. I wrote in my journal. I made grandiose plans for what I was going to do when I finally got to New York. Or Europe. Or college. Or anywhere where the people “got” me and didn’t make me feel like an outsider for wanting the things that were as big as the things I wanted.
I did stay in the south for college, but my first job post-graduation was on the east coast and I didn’t look back for about fifteen years. But lately, I don’t know, I guess I’ve been kind of missing it. About two weeks ago I made a trip to New Orleans and visited some family down there, and I was struck with how familiar it all was — the accent, the food, the pace, the manners, the religion, the family, the scent of spring flowers in bloom — even though it hasn’t been my world for most of my adult life. I don’t really think I’m a Southerner anymore. But I’ll admit that I’m starting to understand its appeal. When I think about the things that I want for my own daughter, having a big circular driveway in the neighborhood and being able to spend the afternoon riding your bike around it doesn’t sound half bad.
PS Happy Birthday, Emily!