In Joe Versus the Volcano, Joe (Tom Hanks) walks into his dismal, windowless office, lifts his shoe, and, looking at the separating sole, laments, "I'm losin' my soul."
I feel like that sometimes when I sit to write about my childhood. I have trouble remembering the details. Everything is changing color like leaves in the fall. I fear the dull brown that comes after the dreamlike phase, and I'm afraid of the memories dropping to the ground, bit by bit, brittle slivers of organic matter with which I can do very little. The more I grasp, the more they disintegrate.
So I latch on to whatever incites memory. I love any song that even mentions "Tennessee" in the lyrics, like Dave Loggins Please Come to Boston and Brad Paisley's Southern Comfort Zone. Dixie Land, especially when played by my dad, makes me cry; I've left the land of cotton - it seems like forever.
Since leaving at 15, nearly 19 years ago now, I've never returned to my Tennessee home.
I'm grateful I at least dream about Tennessee every few months, but I want to laugh thinking about my gratitude for these bizarre, sad, or joyful returns to childhood. To examine it no one would understand why I miss life in that little square house on 98 acres where I grew up. It had a dank basement, one tiny bathroom, a woodstove poised, it seemed, to burn the house down on any convenient cold night. We had to battle cockroaches and brown recluses constantly, fumigating the house so often I'm surprised we didn't breed our own X Men. One year the water pump from the spring broke, and we hauled water from the creek in five gallon buckets up half our long lane for bathing and cleaning and spring water in milk jugs for drinking. We usually didn't have a washer or dryer and often hand washed clothes in the tub, ringing them by hand and hanging them outside to dry in warm weather, letting them drip all 'round the woodstove on winter days. Some school mornings, my mom dried our socks or jeans in the oven; they came out stiff but toasty.
Yes, I could just laugh recalling it! Wonder why I'm starting to cry, then?
I recently learned from Dad that my brother, my successful, travels-the-world-to-numerous-exotic-places big brother, misses Tennessee, too, wishes he could buy up that property where we used to fight, play, worry, laugh, love, cry, live. It surprised me. My big brother always seemed made for the ambition, energy and vibrancy of a major city, but he misses a plot of earth in Middle Tennessee.
He misses what I do, perhaps: the simplicity, neighbors who would loan you anything - even their pickup truck for a whole month, swims in the creek when the water warmed just (barely) enough, the walks down the lane to school every morning, the tree over the mailbox where we used to hang by our legs, swing and gaze across Spann Road, our old chicken coup turned fort, races in the cornfield and adventures in the woods, especially those December expeditions to get the tree.
Our humble country childhood made us, nourished us, and relinquished us to the wider world.
And however long I live in this vast city of the American Southwest and wherever I may travel from here, I know I'll be whistling Dixie, guarding the memories, dreaming of my Tennessee home.