Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Back to the past

We spent much of our recent trip visiting our past: seeing family in Nashville and Birmingham, friends in Birmingham, and for Tony, a visit to the far distant past in his hometown of Livingston, Tenn., where he'd not set foot since 1977, and with former classmates and even a teacher he hadn't seen in -- oh, golly, we CAN'T be this old -- some 42 years.

It was a return to familiar climates, too, for both of us. I grew up in Springfield, Missouri, too far north to be classified as "southern" and yet Missouri was a border state in "THE WAR" (for Southerners, there was only one important war), so there are traces of Southern culture everywhere.

But it was green, the trees were not blue and scrub oaks but sycamores, maples, pin oaks, maple leaf oaks, pines. In Birmingham, kudzu swathed trees and hillsides in the tangled, large-leaved carpet. We had several thunderstorms and rainstorms throughout the week that freshened the air and didn't make us instantly think of fire danger. Yes, it was humid, moreso than here, but not really oppressive until the last day or so. The heat wasn't excessive. The nights were the soft, warm dark with choirs of frogs and cicadas dueling for loudest volume. It felt very familiar to us both.

Both Tennessee and Alabama have had a drought this year, and it's just been in the last month that rain has relieved it. We were told of recent terrible smoke from Florida wildfires blanketing the Birmingham area and causing asthma attacks by the score, dying lawns and restricted watering in both cities. Summer weather in the south usually includes a brief rainstorm every afternoon, so this was a very different weather pattern. We enjoyed our rains while we were there and the smell of the air after the storms.

We recalled summers of our pasts throughout the week, with sweat that drips down your back, your nose, and dampens your clothing instead of evaporating quickly as it does here. My already straight hair fell limply against my damp neck and forehead, and I remembered again why I almost always had short hair or got permanent waves in the summer. That part I don't miss.

For a few days, Tony was immersed in memories of people long dead, of boyhood in a small town, of high school and college classes and people and buildings and towns and highways that were no longer there, and by the time he came back to the hotel after an afternoon of visiting and talking with former classmates, he had a bit of the deer-in-the-headlights look about him. It's hard to reconcile all at once who you were with who you are, I think. Going back again won't be so difficult -- and we will go back again. It's a beautiful area.... real estate there is incredibly less expensive than anywhere in California, and there are wonderful lakes and rivers there too.

I thought often of my parents as my brother and I talked and laughed and listened to music and went different places, and I'll bet he did too. We ate one of Daddy's favorite meals -- "hotdish" -- which is a baked spaghetti-like casserole with tomatoes, peppers and onions, hamburger, and cheese. We visited the Country Music Hall of Fame which included a few video clips from "Ozark Jubilee," a TV show that originated in Springfield and to which we both remember going as children. That museum is incredible and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

There was more past in Birmingham, but that'll wait for another day.

It is in looking back that we can see how far we have come, how much we have learned about ourselves, and sometimes gain clarity about choices we made then that forever changed our paths. It is good to look back and remember, but gently, kindly, both for our loved ones and ourselves. We are shaped by where we came from, but it is not who we are now.

It was good to come home to this life, this reality, after living in all those memories for a week. I am grateful for the warmth and caring with which we were greeted by every single person we spent time with, and grateful for the love which has surrounded us in this journey through life. It is good to remember that constancy and to celebrate it.

I finished Jennifer Weiner's The Guy Not Taken, J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. and started Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey. Plus a bunch of local newspapers! A great reading vacation!

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