Most everybody knows Southerners have a serious relationship with their plot of ground. The size of their patch has no relevance. If it belongs to them they will nurture their patch with absolute faith the patch will return the favor.
One of my friends is the 9th generation of her family to live in these parts. She didn't stray very far, bout 50 miles from "the family place". She and her husband went off to get educated she in Biology he in Business then, got jobs, "married up", and began their joint journey. They had identical ideas on how that was to be done. They used their "wedding money" for a down payment and bought 60 acres of rolling foothills with good water. They put in a three quarter mile long , wandering, two tread, packed clay driveway and lived in an old barn while they built their "homestead". As in, they built a room at a time with their own four hands. As they could afford it. As in no bank loan was ever secured to help them realize their dream. They "saved up" and added rooms that were paid for in full by the time they were finished. I'm told they built a bathroom before building the kitchen. (The stories of living in one room and visiting the outhouse in winter while pregnant are hilarious.)
Sounds like a long time past, but actually it was just the seventies. They were then, as they are now, utterly confident in their direction and their methodologies. I've heard her say more than once, "the land always comes first".
Before they started construction on the indoor plumbing, she started her garden.
Somewhere along the way she found her knowledge as a mere Master Gardener insufficient to her need so went back for a Masters in landscape design. Her garden is more inspiring than most public ones. Her daughter was married in that garden a few years back. Southern Living magazine sent there top photographic team. That wedding album is a visual feast.
Somewhere among the years they sectioned off a parcel of their land and got it approved as a cemetery . Her son is buried there. She is comforted by the knowledge that she, like her son, will become one with their patch of sacred Southern ground. To quote her, " I draw strength from my patch ".
Another of my friends is also a multi-generation "native" of these parts. She grew up in a family of eight kids. Her family over the years have given land grants to universities and had stadiums and other structures around the region named for them. She grew up spending summers at "the club" working on new dance steps and always pursuing her next tennis match. Her husband is one of the boys from the country club days who also prided himself on knowing all the new dances and was himself a fierce tennis player. They didn't date in high school or college. He came home after graduating and winning the state tennis championship to be beaten by her on the home court, at the club, in front of all their peers. What could they do but get married, produce four fine sons and live happily ever after?
She is a very lovely, extraordinarily gracious human being. She's traveled a good bit but proudly states she has never, ever, considered living anyplace other than "home". She's always worked because she enjoys doing so. She still plays fierce tennis. She has, and continues to this day, served on numerous boards for good causes both socially and professionally. I have never seen her be anything other than confident. Ever.
Her confidence does not stem from her financial security or her impeccable wardrobe or her successful marriage or her delightful sons or her wicked serve.
It comes from her sense of belonging to a place. That oneness with a place is her keystone. She is a person who will drive a good bit out of her way to visit a tree "she's known her whole life" so as to not miss seeing her friend, the tree , dressed out in full fall splendor.
I treasure these women and our friendships. I begrudge them not a single blessing but, truth to tell, I envy them. Well, to be accurate, I envy their sense of place.
I am one of those people who always thought I would belong to one place, but it wasn't to be. My family began moving when I was in elementary school. Before moving here, I had resided in one town for 17 years. That is the longest I've ever lived in one place. In that place I'd sunk my tap root pretty deep and the transplant to here didn't go very well.
My spirit nearly perished.
I was aided in this transition somewhat by my fine old house. It is situated in a very beautiful old Southern neighborhood with interesting architectural diversity. Grand ancient oaks, elms, and maples grace most of these properties. My views out the windows are of broad lawns, beautiful gardens and charming people walking their dogs. Our family is only the second to own this architect designed, war built house of 1943 vintage. The original owners hail from revered families in these parts with ancestors who served in the cabinets of various administrations and filled senate seats at state and national levels. Nice, give back to their community folks with a great sense of gratitude for their many blessings and much love for their fellow man. I still encounter people who say," Oh I know who you are, you live in the so and so's house." I like to think it's MY house, but around here it will always be known as the so and so's house.
I am grateful for my acre of so and so's Southern splendor.
I eventually learned to let go of the 17 year place and grab hold of this one. Which I now love. I have been claimed by the investment of self in this patch and I will hate the day I have to move away. I hope that day will never come.
My new fear is a changing America will also change my chances of ever having my forever place. That I will again be separated from my anchoring patch.
How am I to withstand the horrific changes to my country; to maintain perspective, if I have no sustaining retreat to buffer me from the bigger reality? If I have no place to claim me , to hold me securely, might I be redistributed?