One must always maintain one’s connection to the past and yet ceaselessly pull away from it. – Gaston Bachelard
Aren’t we all looking for home? For that one place that wraps us up in familiarity and nurture, a place that will ‘wait up for us’ and take us in? Exactly like we are? My search was long and winding, exciting and heart wrenching. I am headed into honest territory today, inspired by the writing of Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love and The Last America Man. Her writing is dazzling, and has me talkin’ honest. This is the story of how I came to be right here, in the Carolina Lowcountry, happy as that black clam my Gullah neighbor, Fred, claims only he knows how to dig for out there in the pluff mud.
The quote above is by the French philosopher, Gaston Bachelard, whose book The Poetics of Space explores home by talking about sea shells and turrets and our memories of childhood. He speaks of the irony of pulling away while staying rooted, which is no small feat. I am a grandmother now, a Nahna: lucky, thrilled, pinching myself happy at my blessing. I am also, deliriously and contentedly, home.
For what felt like forever, my driving desire was to get away from home, away from the Carolinas of my childhood, from tradition, from what I felt were narrow boundaries of propriety. As the third child in my family with four, I somehow had more permission to go, and as soon as I could get married legally, I did, the only way that I knew, then, to get outta town. I spent blue warm winters in the American tropics, where oranges and key limes grew in the yard, where exotic lizards as big as cats climbed in our backyard tree that bloomed with so many flowers in winter it looked like a giant orange umbrella. In subsequent years, hungry to taste and smell everything this world had to offer, I loved a Canadian photographer I met in Maine because he lived on a perch in Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia and could cook and set up camp, so I got to see Canada and Colorado under the stars. Another travelin’ man took me to dream islands: Martha’s vineyard, Maui, and Baja, that spit of California that in renegade fashion meanders into the Pacific. I made pilgrimage to Paris with a musician; and a travel writer, knowing my hunger, let me bring a brand new poet lover when cancellations opened at the last minute on his small tour to Italy, where we found a poem about lemons by Pablo Neruda posted on a wall in a lemon grove in Amalfi and where I found fragile hand blown, red, glass cherries to carry home on my lap to remind me of Venice, a place whose magic helped me to recognize the sheer power of one evocative place.
Mine was a rich and rewarding traveling life. Until I was stopped in my tracks. The sound of home was calling to me from a place whose fragrance and flavor echoed generations of my grandmothers and grandfathers and who lived where I do now. From those very traditions I shunned earlier in my life. I was ready to see, to embrace, to love the history and values that yes, are about continuity. But I see it all more clearly now for having gone away. I do not take it for granted and I am surely more flexible for all the challenges of change along the way. This history is fresh to me now; the traditions are my own.
Eudora Welty, the Pulitzer Prize winning Southern writer from Jackson Mississippi, wrote about knowing one place well. She lived and wrote all her life in the one house in a small town. Flannery O’Connor, whose work is also deeply dazzling, said to write about what you know, and she did just that, in Milledgeville Georgia, a small town (worth a pilgrimage). There is so very much to explore in this one very small place in the world, so rich in history, beauty, inspiration. Who knew that all I wanted was right here at home, all along? Ah, to have eyes to see and ears to hear! That is the blessing!