This summer I had a profound sense of homecoming in Sweden. It was the first time as an adult that I had such a clear sense of belonging, of fitting, of getting to say, this is where I would want to be buried. It was uncanny, lovely and ever-so-fleeting. Ten days and I was flying back over the Atlantic to that edge town I live in, where I can go to IKEA for a Sweden fix, but I can also go to the “La Antioqueñita” bakery and have a pandebono, one of the essential foods of my childhood. Where my husband steers his boat up the New River; the place where a river town boy like he is, has somewhere to go when he needs perspective and relief. In that strange borderland space called Southeast Florida, Sherod and I have been able to serve, raise our daughter, and be married to each other for 16 years.
But after a life-time of living in in-between spaces, I struggle to ever say I’m home. I love our house and yet I’d sell it in a heart beat if I could. Maybe that’s because “home” has always been a promise for me. If I have felt like I lived at the edges, if there hasn’t been the perfect place for me, I’ve always told myself it was because I hadn’t found it yet. Each time I have moved, each new address that got claimed as mine, has given me an opportunity to reinvent and redefine the meaning of home so I could feel like I fit. By not ever allowing myself to say clearly and unequivocally, “this is my home” I’ve always left an escape hatch open for myself, a silent reassurance that I am not trapped or—perhaps more important—not too far out at the edges in the place where I live.
Being in Selma makes me stop and reconsider that notion, especially now, when Sherod’s retirement starts entering my line of vision. We’re staying with Cosby and Marsha and it’s a pretty straight shot from their house to Cedar Hills and my mother-in-law, a lovely 3 mile walk. I go by the old cemetery and I know that Sherod’s beloved grandmother, his Aunt Flossie, the uncle who died during WWII and whom Sherod was named after, are all buried there. When you get to visit your dead, you are home in a way that I am not. We sat in the dining room at lunch a while ago and I heard about Miss Callaway’s husband who had a white Cadillac in the late fifties—one of those with the fins. Mr. Callaway had put mud tires on his Cadillac and Sherod still remembers watching him drive his Cadillac in the cotton fields. As much as anything, when I’m here I rediscover that home is where the stories are and the people who remember enough to tell them.
Already in the 25th year of my marriage, knowing my spouse as I do, if I could wish anything for him, it would be this: 5 acres of land, preferably with a creek running through, old trees including long needle pines, some biddies, a mama hen and a rooster all full of himself. Certainly a duck or a goose—Sherod would love nothing more than to see a goose chasing an unsuspecting guest down the driveway. There’d be a vegetable garden with tomatoes you pick and make a ‘mater sandwich with while they’re still warm from the sun. An exuberant flower garden. A front porch, a nice big front porch with rocking chairs and two or three worthless dogs flopped down sleeping. This homestead would be right here, somewhere outside Selma, the place for Sherod to come back home to, Selma, where he could pick the story back up and write the remaining chapters for the next generation–the Kevins, Amys, Clays, Nellies, Piersons and Kens–to laughingly, lovingly–to tell about Uncle Sherod.
As for me, I’m trying it on for size. It is good that we have no immediate decision to make. How do a tumbleweed and an oak tree with roots that go down deep in search of the Alabama River figure out things like this?