southern calling


It started after living across the country for about a year doing work with a campus ministry in Florida. Every six or seven months or so, I would get this deep-seated urge, and it would be like clockwork, like seasonal allergies or the day pitchers and catchers report (last Tuesday!)

The South is calling for me once again.

Wife and I were supposed to be starting to get ready for a trip to Memphis this Spring with our good friends Carrie and Andy, the latter whose blog I am more than happy to commend to you over on the right under the section titled ‘Hello, friends.’ Alas, our plans were dashed when we realized that we were doubling the size of our family.

Still, the urge is there. Wanderlust unfulfilled, and it eats at me.

A while back, I wrote in this space that I often found myself driving to work on US Route 60 and feeling the urge to keep driving and end up in Louisville, or parts beyond. That itch keeps coming back. Memphis, Louisville, the Carolinas, the Gulf, somewhere, anywhere in the South. Last time, it was fueled by an existential morass, this time, just because I want to take a vacation that doesn’t include going home. (No offense, Mom. I love coming home; it would just be nice to go somewhere else. Love you!)

So, last week, wife and I had breakfast at a national chain which prominently features Southern cuisine that is nearly ubiquitous on every major highway and byway in the country, where we were, by far, the youngest of the clientele in the room, when the calling hit me again. I even–with about 37% seriousness–asked wife if she wanted to drive to Louisville. She politely informed me that we could, but we’d have to be home by 9.

I know I’m not alone in my wanderlust; my cousin–whose floor is the preeminent feminist religious studies scholar known to mankind and ceiling is somewhere approaching our next global overlord–and I often have talked of our mutual wanderlust. She actually has been able to fulfill her wanderlust, time and again visiting the far reaches of the planet.

My ambitions are somewhat more muted: I just want some down home biscuits and [preferably red-eye] gravy and to be able to go to a juke joint or jazz club on a given Saturday night. And visit Rev. Al Green’s church.

We of Upper Midwestern American stock tend to be too practical for our own good. We tear down the past to make way for the future; after all, what good does that old building serve? It’s inefficient and we could most certainly do better. (Often fair points, admittedly.) The South has a different kind of cultural ethos: those buildings have a story, families have history, experiences are shared. It has a sense of place that the North tends to lack. I don’t know if that’s because it’s different, or because I tend to appreciate that kind of perspective–perhaps a bit of both. And, having lived there even for just under a year and needing to travel back home every few months, I’m probably ruined for life.

And, living here in Mecca, I find myself so close to it I often feel like [NERD ALERT!] Osgiliath in the shadow of Mordor, except Mordor in this case is someplace spewing awesome and where people actually want to go. So maybe not, but you get the idea.

Now that beans are on the way, and so many logistical and practical questions loom large, it will probably be a while before we’ll be able to fulfill my wanderlust and return to the South. At least then we’ll be able to share our love for the South with our children and hopefully get them raised right on blues, jazz, gospel and first generation rock and roll, teaching them the value of shared cultural experience and showing them the things and places that have shaped and helped us become the people their parents are, strangers in a strange land seeking to make the different familiar and the familiar different.

Don’t get me wrong, we are content to be where we are–though it can and often does drive me crazy–and plan on putting our roots down here. But that doesn’t change the fact that, every few months or so, I’ll see that eastbound lane and feel my brain fight my hands to keep the steering wheel headed in the right direction.

It is the right direction. Isn’t it?

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