Monday, April 2, 2012

Born Here, Been There: American, East Coast & Southern

Over the last several years the same Feng Shui consultant has told me twice, in no uncertain terms, that there is no hope for our house that can be bought by charms or rearranging of pillow placements and that the best thing for us to do is to move, preferably yesterday. Both times I’ve agreed with her. There’s baggage here, ghosts, my parent’s past and my own, not to mention structural and aesthetic repairs that seem to be well beyond our scope. But, much as my mind is made up to get out of dodge for a full 24 hours after she leaves, we stay. 

It’s as if she’s told me to step out of the quicksand. She’s right; I just can’t seem to do it.

Mulling over my plight with a friend I heard myself say, “I’m just not like all these white Westend women!” Maybe because she’s from California the truth was more obvious to her. “But you ARE a white Westend woman!” she said. It was an epiphany. Not having an excess of national, regional, cultural, house or any other kind of pride, my geographic identity is something I’ve wrestled with most of my life.  

At the predominantly African American elementary school I attended in Church Hill, there was little I could do to hide the fact that I was white and Jewish—especially after my mother’s classroom Hanukah presentation. But after being transferred, I didn’t feel like I fit in any better at the almost entirely white conservative school in my own neighborhood where I was the only kid who didn’t vote for Ronald Reagan in our class mock election.

At school in New York, one had to dig deep to unearth my southern roots. Southerners were backwards, redneck racists who spent all their time reenacting Civil War battles-- if they weren’t too busy eating grits. I was busy eating grits, but if I’d been in the Civil War, I would have gone Union. Likewise on the dude ranch in Colorado, I was loath to admit my East Coast origins. Easterners were neurotic academic snobs who didn’t know how to brew a decent cup of cowboy coffee or saddle a horse. I had to learn both the hard way. Living in Italy, I did my best to disguise the fact that I was American. Americans wore fluorescent visors, ugly fanny packs and brayed like donkeys in the museums and churches meant to honor the dead. My ruse was successful until I opened my mouth, effectively butchering the native tongue of Dante and Boccaccio in a single espresso order. 

But I have a feeling if I’d moved to Mars I would also have tried to refute my humanity.

As hard as I tried to leave my American, East Coast, Southern roots behind, they pulled me back, not only to Richmond, but to the house I grew up in. Maybe my mother buried my placenta in the backyard. Maybe the souls of the cats we’ve put to rest out by the fence line steal our breath while we sleep. Maybe I accidentally married my house when I married my husband. Maybe I’m trying to straighten out my childhood by raising my own child in my old bedroom.

Whatever the reason, I’ve not only ceased trying to divorce myself from my hometown, I’ve fallen in love with it, too. Just as one can’t get to know everything about another person in a single lifetime, the city where I’m from will always offer more to discover. Even though a trip to the grocery store can be like attending my own high school reunion, Richmond has more interesting neighborhoods and quirky personalities than a dysfunctional family has alcoholic uncles. My definition of love has always been wide, but coming back to stay has allowed it to grow deep. The castles I build in the sky might spring from quicksand, but at least I’m finally proud to say they’re mine.  

1 comment:

  1. So if I read you correctly, you're shopping around for a new house, and/or possibly leaving town?