Thursday, November 17, 2005

South Carolina

I recently recorded a guest podcast about Francis Marion, one of South Carolina's greatest heroes of the American Revolution. It got me thinking about my home state and why I'm so in love with everything Carolina. I was born in North Carolina to children from great, big, country families. I was the first on my mom's side to get a college degree; the third on my dad's. I lived with my grandparents for a time as a child. They gardened, built things, sold things, fixed things, and rode motorcycles, all of which made them great fun and makers of mystery for a 4 year old child. I had a go-cart, a zip line that went from the shed up on the hill down to the house, and a red wagon. I'd hike for hours through the clay hills, claiming my own personal mountain on which to build my throne, sliding downhill through my own Indiana Jones adventures, bringing home piles of clay to mold into more pinch pots than anyone could ever need, and finding "pop rocks" to bust open so I could paint on the side porch with the colored dust inside. I had a pellet gun, a climbing tree, and a strawberry patch; and I hated the way okra prickled on my fingers when my Mema would make me pick dinner.

When I was 5, my mom was living in Myrtle Beach and working as a performer at The Lighthouse Christian Theme Park. While working there, she met an entertainer who also worked at the park. They fell in love, and were married four months after my fifth birthday. Since then, South Carolina has always been home. As a kid and teen, all I could see was what was lacking. In high school, I worked hard at losing my southern accent, and was always so pleased when people would say to me, "you're not from around here, are you?" I looked at Myrtle Beach-- South Carolina's most popular vacation destination-- and saw how small it was, and how lacking in real opportunity. I loved Columbia when I moved there for college, but felt that things would somehow be better if I lived somewhere less backwards, with bigger cities, a more sophisticated population, and more non-Southerners. When, as a young, single mother, I was offered a chance to relocate to central Florida to help start a nonprofit organization for children with autism, I jumped at the chance to get out... to try my wings somewhere bigger, somewhere higher.

Seven years later, in 2004, I was growing more and more dissatisfied with the life I had chased down. Florida was beautiful much in the way a brochure of a tropical resort is beautiful-- beautiful oceans, nice sunsets, fancy restaurants, and beautiful people with blonde hair and flawless fashion sense dining on street corners at fancy bistros-- all very two dimensional. I lived in 3 different cities during my time in Florida. Each one had Brady Bunch style buildings, no architecture (only stucco, and lots of it), and more people than not who knew nothing of kindness, compassion, integrity, or courtesy. There were no hills, few (if any) old beat up barns on the sides of the back roads in most parts of the state, and my children never got to see leaves change colors. You can just forget about snow, too. None of that, either. With all due respect to Florida-loving readers, the state of Florida was, to me, like a big, shady go-go dancer. Seductive and larger than life when you're looking from a distance and under the right lighting, but unstable, not-so-beautiful, and gaudy if you get too close.

So, in 2004, when the brunt of Florida's lack of ethics, sanity, and integrity was unleashed upon us full force and the opportunity came to move back to South Carolina, I was ready. I had experienced life outside of the Deep South, gotten it out of my system, and realized that greener grass does not a true home make. My husband, a Florida native who had fallen in love with South Carolina on our many visits here, had his bags packed before I could even ask. It was time, and it never could have been a more perfect time.

Moving back to South Carolina last year, I had an experience that few Carolinians get to have-- discovering the home state you never before appreciated as if for the first time. I'll never forget the way that my husband and I would marvel at every back road. Big, hilly fields of soybeans, or hay, or cotton lined every state road, and old, metal sheds and barns speckled the countryside as if they had fallen out of a painting and into every path that existed between my home and my dad's. The fall leaves were the most amazing thing I had ever seen, up against the backdrop of a cool, foggy morning, and Columbia had never had more character. Every now and then, our first winter back, I would run out the front door in my pajamas in the morning, just so I could really feel 22 degrees on bare feet and crisp cold on my nose. South Carolina's rich heritage, gorgeous old buildings, and peaceful simplicity were just what I needed to rebuild my heart. Together with my family, I had found in the place I once fought to escape so much of what I truly needed in my life. The last year has been a time for healing, and a time for simply appreciating God's perfect plan-- beauty, simplicity, and family. I'm at peace.

Self-reflection tends to be a hobby of mine; I'm well-aware of how much I idealize and romanticize the Deep South. I know its' history well, know its' landscape and people, and know that no matter where I go, I can't escape from myself. But for now, I choose to see where I am as a beautiful place God has prepared for me to rest in for a while, and I am thankful.

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