“Oh my land is like a wild goose,
It wanders all around and everywhere.”
Gram Parsons drawled this airy bit of nostalgia through my iPod on a flight from Penang to Kuala Lumpur and I was suddenly overtaken by a homesickness I’ve felt many times since leaving Georgia nearly eight years ago. In a half-sleep reverie I contemplated longleaf and loblolly pines that reach up to bulbous cumulous clouds. I tasted pulled pork sandwiches drenched in vinegar-based barbecue with steaming sides of Brunswick stew, sublimely sweet peaches, salty boiled peanuts that melt in your mouth like chocolate. And grits, that blessed delicacy colloquially known as Georgia Ice Cream, a versatile dish that, depending on the meal and the ingredients, can supplant cous-cous, rice, oatmeal and more. I thought of the long, flat stretch of Corridor Z that carried my family every summer past South Georgia’s cotton fields and peach orchards to St. Simons Island and Sea Island, both of which have long since given way to multimillion-dollar developments. The thrill of bourbon-soaked fall football Saturdays coursed through my synapses. I also thought of a wet heat, much like the one here, that envelops you like a loving but overbearing mother.
“Billboards and truckstops passed by the grievous angel.
Now I know just what I have to do.”
Nostalgia wafts through the mind like ether, bathing the brain in warm recollections, all the while dousing it with delusions about the past. I suppose it is with some cocktail of stoic pride and sheer necessity that I knock back this kind of sentiment. Thomas Wolfe’s admonition about going home usually holds true, but I’m not sure it’s axiomatic. The way I’ve previously read his comment, it’s an observation that you can’t hold time, space and circumstances constant. Even if you could, why would you? The three likely were never as good as you remembered them and, regardless, you’ve still grown older and, one hopes, wiser. Thus, you would be hopelessly out of place. It’s a pointless scenario to consider.
But a crisis in my family has taught me the contradiction implicit in Wolfe’s statement: You must go home again. Because circumstances don’t stay constant, you must tend to that garden of friends and family, clear the weeds (or kudzu, in my family's case) and renew the ties that bind. After a stretch that’s taken me through both Carolinas, from Tennessee to Texas and to California and back, I feel that obligation more strongly than ever in my life. I used to joke that, when God places his hand on you, it usually hurts like hell. Job, the Jews and Jesus Christ could all attest to this. But there’s a lot of growth that comes from pain, just as there’s a lot of wisdom that comes from taking stock of one’s ignorance. So I’ve been getting a fair dose of both phenomena as I approach my 30th year on earth and no doubt it's about damned time.