Authors: Sela Ward
To my siblings, Jenna, Berry, and Brock; my daddy, G. H.; and most of all to my mama—who showed me in heart, mind, and soul what a home truly was . . .
And to my children, Austin and Anabella, and to my husband, Howard, who show me every day and in every way what a home truly is . . .
Ask any Southern woman to tell you about herself,. . .
In my memories of childhood, time itself seems to. . .
When I look back on it now, through the crystal lens. . .
“Dowwn-towwn,” my teacher said.
Howard was as blasé about meeting me as I was about. . .
They say that once you marry and start a family,. . .
They say you can’t go home again,. . .
Now comes the hard part.
If I’d been able, I would have stayed in Mississippi. . .
My southbound train journey is just about complete.
This is a story about home.
It is the story of a girl raised in a gentle town in the Deep South, cradled by family and friends, worshiping Bear Bryant on Saturday night and Jesus Christ on Sunday morning, savoring sweet tea and porch swings, corn bread and courtesy and all the tender mercies of a Mississippi childhood.
That girl grew up and moved to the big city. Her destiny took her north to New York, and then west to southern California. She became a well-known actress, married a long, tall, handsome beau, and started a family.
And midway through her life’s journey, this girl who thought she had everything—me—began to realize what she’d been missing. Which is to say, the good, indeed irreplaceable, things I had left behind in the South.
Truth to tell, it wasn’t that I lacked these things; they have been in my heart and soul all my life. But in the busy-ness of my Hollywood life, I had forgotten them. And one day, it snuck up on me that I was well and truly homesick.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. So many of us have moved away from the modest place that was too small to hold our dreams, too quiet for the noise we were born to make. Yet for all the success we may have found in the big city (or sprawling suburb), we are discovering there is a cost.
We have strayed too far from the humble things that endure, and given short shrift to the rituals and traditions that give meaning and continuity to our lives.
These are things that you can’t buy at Pottery Barn, or manufacture with the advice of Martha Stewart. They are virtues forged in the hearth of a loving home, and which must be renewed from father to son, from mother to daughter, from age to age. Whether we have moved down the street or across the country from our birthplace, we have strayed too far from home.
And it’s time to turn back.
I’m not talking about moving back to our hometowns. For some people that can be an appealing option, but it’s one that is closed to many of us, and for most of us it wouldn’t necessarily be the right thing to do—after all, there was a reason we left in the first place. What I’m talking about is re-creating, wherever we now live, the best parts of home, either the home we had growing up, or the home we wished for. Home as a place of shelter and comfort, both physically and spiritually. Home as a well from which a family draws its emotional strength to face the challenges of the day and the hardships of a lifetime.
I want to tell you about my home—or homes, really, because as much as I love the South, there’s no denying that part of me is also at home in southern California, where I work and live with my husband and children most of the year. Still, though I’m not
the South most of the time, I am undeniably
the South. Its customs and ways have shaped me as sure as the great Mississippi formed the Delta. And it is to the South I always return when I need comfort, solace, and respite from the rigors of city life.
When I’m feeling burned out, thrown out of balance by life in Los Angeles, I think of the line from the old gospel song, sung throughout the South since forever: “Come home, come home, ye who are weary come home.” Well, I am weary, and I miss home. Here, then, is the story of a prodigal daughter who finally understood how much she loved her Southern home and needed it, to make sense of her life in parts unknown. “Home is where one starts from,” said T. S. Eliot. And, I am finding, where one ends up.
The train rocks gently as I write this, its rails carrying me back from Los Angeles to New Orleans to visit old friends and family. I find no comfort in flying these days. Instead I’m grateful for these forty hours of calm. In my mind, for just a moment, I’m back on the old Southerner line of my childhood days, taking that joyous forty-five-minute adventure from Meridian to Laurel, Mississippi, safe in knowing that my parents would be there to meet me when I arrived. I close my eyes and remember the crisp white tablecloths of the elegant dining car, the napkins and silver and small vase of flowers. Then I open them and through the window glimpse a small-town street in southeastern Arizona—pickup trucks and bucking-bronco café signs, a schoolkid running across the street, backpack in tow, beneath the green shade of a sycamore.
When we get to New Orleans, I will meet my sister, then begin the drive north to Meridian, my hometown. So many times I’ve made this trip since Mama’s health took a turn for the worse, but never have I needed it more than now. My heart is tender these days; I yearn for a string of lazy afternoons on the front porch of our farm cottage, a glass of sweet tea in my hand, with nothing to do but watch the dragonflies light on the nickel-silver surface of the pond, loll in the humid, earthy air, and let it draw the sweat to the surface of my skin. I need to hear the sound of a late-summer rain on a tin roof, and the sweet chorus of crickets and bullfrogs at sunset.
I need to draw closer. I need to be back among my family—to gather the older generations with the younger, all around the same hearth. I need to listen to funny stories about crazy old aunts, to hear the soft cadences of Southern voices, to taste my native-born accent in my mouth again, and to have the waitress at the Waffle House ask me if I want grits with that, honey.
Because I need all these things as I need the air that I breathe, I’m headed south once again. South, toward home.