Some places immediately feel like home and others never do. We lived in the South for about ten years and I loved many things about it. But I never truly felt that I belonged there. It almost seemed as if we were in a foreign country—a place that I had to learn to understand. While it eventually became familiar and comfortable, ultimately, it was not my country.
We are back in the South now and I again have that sense of dislocation. If I were to live here the rest of my life, I might—maybe—come to feel to that it was my place before I died. But getting there would be a process, not an instinctive, in-my-gut feeling of home.
Home or not, the South is intriguing. And it’s not bland. Barbeque, gumbo, mockingbirds, trains, complicated race relations, amazing writers, cotton, tobacco, collard greens, magnolias, gardenias, slow drawls, bible-belt religion, insects, tall pines, hot nights—it’s a far cry from Alaska. It’s easy to lump the whole region together as “the South,” but that’s like calling everything west of the Mississippi “the West.” Each southern state is unique and there are regional differences within each state.
We spent our first southern night in a Charlottesville, Virginia campground set in a patchwork of dense woods and open fields several miles from town. Unbeknownst to us, an aggressive search was underway for Hannah Graham, a student who disappeared from Charlottesville in September. A suspect in her disappearance (and that of other women) had recently been arrested in Texas and there was a very visible presence of police, helicopters, and a drone searching the area near the campground all evening. Apparently, they still have not found her. It makes me spitting mad and unspeakably sad.
On that somber note, we drove to our destination in North Carolina, to stay for a few weeks while we catch up on things and spend time with our daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. We headed into Raleigh soon after we arrived to check out Wide Open Bluegrass, a week-long festival in Raleigh sponsored by the IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association). The city did a nice job of incorporating the festival into the downtown, with multiple stages and roped off pedestrian areas. Although for anyone going about their daily business, it must have been a disruptive pain.
No one was jamming on the sidewalks or dancing by the stages. People politely set up their folding chairs in front of a stage and sat and listened. It was genteel, subdued, and a little grim and depressing, actually. Maybe they should scatter some children and liquor along the sidewalks to liven things up.
Our campground was about a half an hour drive to our daughter’s house, and we took several different routes, which gave us a good view of the area. It was typical North Carolina countryside. Not the Deep South, but definitely the South.
The cotton looked like it was ready to pick.
Tobacco was turning golden.
New subdivisions were carved out of old farms, creating a visual juxtaposition of old and new North Carolina.
Raleigh was booming with construction.
And the sleepy little towns continued to be sleepy.