By Ellen Williams
In Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, Gerald O’Hara tells his daughter Scarlet: Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything, for tis the only thing in the world that lasts; and don’t you be forgetting it! It’s the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for---worth dying for.
The poet, Robert Frost, in his poem Death of the Hired Man, wrote this line: Home is the place where, when go, they have to take you in. I think Frost was saying that at our “home place,” we have unconditional acceptance, a strong sense of belonging.
One of the cultural differences between Southerners and those from other regions of the U.S. is our “sense of place”; an indefinable, yet undeniable bond to a plot of earth, we refer to as the “home place.” A country music song has the following line: Everybody had a place and places had a heart. And who can forget those boys from Fort Payne singing: Oh, my home’s in Alabama, no matter where I lay my head…..” Both these have “home place” as their theme.
Have you ever heard of Southerners retiring to places like Chicago or Cleveland or New York? No. Our roots are too deep in the soil of our “home place.” Snowbirds come south; but we sun birds stay put; we don’t migrate to other places to live out our retirement days. We know we’re already in the best place.
For some their “home place” might be an unpainted wood frame house at the end of a dusty country road; for others it could be a more affluent structure set on 640 acres; and I have had older people point out to me only a grove of trees and say, “That’s our home place. That’s where Papa built the house we were all raised in.” A spot of ground that will, as long as one remembers, be their “home place.”
Folks who move south from other regions don’t understand some of our customs associated with a “home place.” For example, if we’re not in church one Sunday, when we return we will surely be asked: “Didn’t see you in church last Sunday. Were you sick?” Outsiders may think our friend is being nosy; but we know better. Yes, at the “home place,” people may appear to “tend to our business,” but we are not offended. This is as much a part of our home-place culture, as always beginning conversations with: “How are you? How’s your mamanem (translated “mama and them?”)
At the “home place,” we grew up secure in the knowledge that if we needed the people down the road any time day or night, we had only to ask; in contrast to those who live in high rises and condos and “planned communities,” who don’t even know their neighbor next door or across the hall. Not only do we know our neighbors, we knew their granddaddy.
What is it, this drawing-and-holding power of “home place?” Maybe southern comedian, Jeff Foxworthy explained it best when he said: “It’s a Southern thing; you wouldn’t understand it.”