I went to visit my mom this week.
By a surprising act of Providence, my Aunt Melba and her son, my cousin, Eric, had come up to visit from Fort Walton Beach, FL on the same day.
When mom, my brother and I get together, we tell stories and have a few laughs. Most of the time, we re-tell a handful of the best ones and when you mix in other relatives, they always take on a new twist, eliciting a whole new, fresh batch of arguably accurate comments. We had a great time and every time what’s left of the family gets together, I can’t help but wonder how many more of these informal reunions we’ll have.
My youngest son, Adam and his wife, Laura were planning on meeting up with us with their two-year-old twins. My mom, their great-grandmother, has only seen them once so she was looking forward to laying eyes and hands on them again. But, as two-year-olds are prone to do, they came down with some kind of bug – one that came with a temperature and all kinds of running things– and were forced to postpone their trip.
I went on anyway. The next few months are busy with lots of concerts all over the place and I just had to seize the moment and see the fam.
I wrote in my book “Turning Into Dad” . . .
“They say you can never go home again. I wonder if you can ever really leave.”
Wherever you go and whatever you do, history is baggage that goes with you – the quirks and kinks that have been woven into you over the course of your lifetime. I guess the more you try to deny some of the less than sophisticated stuff or shake off the less than noble elements of the unique fabric that is you, the more pronounced it becomes.
Hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t remind me that I came from a small town in Louisiana, from uncomplicated, kind, hard-working people. I left when I was 17 and never returned to live anywhere nearby.
The town has declined a little. The main street shops are almost all gone. At one time, there were stores, offices and businesses of all kinds. My dad’s insurance office was there along with the cotton-buying office, the drugstore, a feed store, some type of five and dime, a bank, Mr. Roach’s dry goods (where I bought jeans – probably Lee or Levis . . . and shoes), a Western Auto (where I bought my first bike, my first baseball glove and the oil to break it in and my first Beatle record. Man, talk about variety) and a TV repair shop. That’s right, a TV repair shop. Back when TVs were repaired and not replaced.
Most of them are long gone.
At one time we had an ice cream stand in town and there was a Texaco gas station on the other side of the main highway. I’d pull into the Texaco to fill the tank when I first started driving – about $6 to fill ‘er up. There wasn’t much else across the highway as the railroad track occupied most of that real estate. And it stood to literally identify “the other side of the tracks.”
People just like us lived on the other side of the tracks. I really don’t know what the big deal was. Some were other races, some not. So?
Geez. . . there were some stupid things going on. Deep rooted, sensitive and firmly held but still just . . . childish and dumb.
The ice cream place had a “white” window and a “black” window. As a naïve child, the offspring of gentle, Christian parents that muted their inner convictions, their un-confessed embarrassment and unspoken confusion over the “rules” of living in the rural south in the 60s, I thought the “black” window was where you went to get chocolate ice cream and the “white” window was for vanilla. The movie theater closed when I was about ten and I remember it divided the races by levels. African Americans sat in the balcony, not on the floor level. I always thought the balcony would be the cooler place to sit.
Sometimes I think we’ve come a long way and then, I watch the news – something I’m doing less and less often – and I think “Nope, we haven’t come that far at all.”
My Aunt Melba commented on “how nice people are here.” She’s lived all over the place, the wife of my Uncle Lawrence, a WWII Air Force pilot, who passed years ago. Later, she married Hank, another military officer and she outlasted him, too. But she was so enamored by how kind the people of our hometown were and still are.
And they genuinely are kind. These that, along with me, persevered through the frightening and silly 60s and came out the other side have retained a gentle, southern politeness that’s easy to recognize and, more often than not, appreciated. Sure, some have held on tightly to their misplaced social convictions (and these are not unique to the south) but for the most part have taken on that kinder and gentler nature that one politician pined for.
Of course, there are always some holdouts.
On the way home, you pass through more than a few even smaller villages than mine. Most of them are in some state of decline, too. One town that will remain nameless for the sake of this story has been home to, what I can only imagine to be, a crusty old rebel who lives in a trailer that’s barely standing. As long as I can remember, I’ve been driving this road home, and the occupant has proudly displayed a confederate flag in the front yard. Wow, talk about holding out. I can’t say what this pride, this prejudice and hatred has done for the resident. I don’t have the faintest clue. But it never fails to make me scratch my head and ask myself “What the heck is going on?”
But a kinder nature can be the by-product of simply keeping things in perspective – the discipline to be unwilling to trade peace for prosperity, tranquility for acquisition, or contentment for status. The Sprit of God living in us regenerates that nature. We are all at different stages of letting Him show Himself in our thoughts, our speech and our actions but, by His grace, we’re not done yet.
So the old home place is in decline as is the old body. But it’s never too late to allow God to keep working His way through our ruble, cleaning out the places that stink, throwing out anything that needs to go no further and replacing it with the good, the priceless and the holy.