Home. That one little word conjures up emotions of love and comfort, warmth and security and an invaluable sense of belonging. Songs and poems have been written about it, wars have been fought over it and having a home to call your very own has been the epitome of the American Dream since our fore fathers first stepped foot on our soil. For most of us, home is not only a physical building of brick and mortar but an almost tangible memory; a place where we are instantly transported to by simply closing our eyes. The place I call home is not just the house that I grew up in but the town that I grew up in as well. I am a product of a sleepy little southern town and try as I might, I just can’t seem to escape it. It’s taken me twenty five years to accept the fact that, yes, home may be where the heart is, but Columbus, Mississippi doesn’t just have my heart, it has my soul as well. But last week when I met a man who instantly asked if I would be willing to move away from this town that I love and adore my immediate response was “Absolutely”. As the words left my lips I was immediately shocked and embarrassed and overwhelmed with a feeling of betrayal. I’ve been trying to get out of Columbus for as long as I can remember but now, after several years back in the town that raised me, I don’t know if I can imagine raising my daughter anywhere else. Opportunities in love and an ever evolving career may take me elsewhere but this is home for me; my roots are here and you can’t just pick up and move those. And I don’t know if I would want to. If home is truly “where the heart is” and your heart is being pulled in two different directions, which way do you go?
One of my favorite quotes in the entire world is by the great William Faulkner that proclaims: “To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.” My goodness, the brilliant simplicity and subtle power behind that statement blows me away every time. And if you’re from Mississippi, you know it’s 100% true. One of my dearest friends considers himself a Texas cowboy and constantly quotes Davey Crockett by saying: “You all may go to hell. And I will go to Texas.” There is just something about the place where you were raised that demands a sense of loyalty. The only thing that I can liken it to is the same sense of loyalty we Southerners have about family. While I may call my kin folk a bunch of crazy loud mouthed buffoons, the second you imply that my dear relatives are anything short of saintly angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus, I’m comin’ out swingin’. It’s the same thing with Columbus. While we all may bemoan our little town and pick fun every now and then, the moment any outsider, or dare I say it, a Yankee, suggests Columbus is some back woods redneck town where we all run around barefoot and marry our cousins, we are all immediately on the defense. While our town may not be a booming metropolis, its attributes don’t come in the form of steel and metal buildings. The thing that sets Columbus apart are its people: The gentlemen that still wear a suit and tie to church, the elderly lady wearing a big floppy hat planting tomatoes in her back yard, that distinctive southern drawl that we’re all blessed with (some more than others) and a genuine feeling of compassion for our neighbors. You can’t just pack those things in a suitcase and take them with you. When you’ve grown up around true Southern charm, how can anywhere else compare?
I moved to New York after my first year in college. I have a vivid memory of standing in the middle of a concrete park in the middle of July, wearing a sweater because it was below the humid 95 degrees I was accustomed to and hearing the squeal of tires as cab driver yelled and cursed in traffic. Just then someone in the group I was in asked “Do yous guys wanna grab a beer?” in an accent very different than the one I was used to. I was home within the week. I’ve moved away and come back a time or two since and each time find Columbus a little fonder than I last left it. The things that were important to me when I was younger aren’t so important anymore and what matters to me now is having a good, solid, loving, Christian environment to raise my daughter in. I have that here. If I had a checklist for my ideal city I needn’t look any further, my home town takes the prize time and time again.
Every year thousands of tourists flock to Columbus for the city’s annual Spring Pilgrimage where they visit the grand antebellum homes and tour Friendship Cemetery. But I wish they could also see the deepest parts of the so-called bad neighborhoods and the back winding roads of New Hope and Caledonia. I want them to eat fried chicken at Jones Café and Helen’s Kitchen, know the history (and the crazies) behind the Gilmer Inn, acquaint themselves with our small town politics and then sing from an old hymnal as they sit in a church pew that’s been there for a hundred years and will still be there after we’re all dead and gone. I want them to discover that Columbus isn’t just some sleepy little town; it’s a way of life that has a way of getting into your soul.
I think of leaving my hometown and then change my mind again; I almost feel as if I owe it to Columbus to stay here and nurture her, watch her grow just as she did me. While this column originally started out as a way to figure out my feelings on moving and my ties of devotion, it’s turned into more of a love letter to the town that I’m eternally grateful for; it and its people have molded me into the woman I am. And while that may not be something that I can carry in a suitcase, no matter where I go, it is something that I carry in my heart.0