Homesickness seems to be the topic in my circle as of late. It has inspired me to explore my own feelings about home. While I’m given over to being reflective on a great many things, home is always a subject I try to avoid.
A friend’s theory goes that I have conflicted feelings about home, that I both love and hate it. I grew up with the guy. We’re like brothers, and he probably knows me better than anyone, so he might be right in his assessment— more with the hating it part. I struggle with any better feelings.
We come from an extremely rural area in the southeastern part of Kentucky. Places around where I’m from have at times made national news, and while my fellow natives often react in a hurt and bewildered way towards how they portray us, I personally find nothing incorrect in how they view us.
The thing I recall most about being a very young child is terror. My parents were not abusive towards me and my sisters— far from it. In fact, if you can picture The Dude (The Big Lebowski) married to Maria (The Sound of Music) you wouldn’t be far from an accurate portrait of my parents during those days.
The terror came from a hyperactive imagination directed at the ocean of woods that surrounded our home, surrounded everywhere. There could have been anything in those suckers Anything included giant icky spiders that could eat cows, goats, and especially little blonde boys.
I remember staying awake long past my bedtime on long summer nights, listening to ten billion feuding insects, wondering what was out there. My parents assured me that there was nothing to be afraid of, as parents do. I’ve told my own children the same lie, and while they make me want to believe it, it’s still a lie: nothing is okay. There is also plenty to be afraid of.
When I got old enough, my friends and myself would go crashing around in the same woods. That went a long way towards helping me conquer my fear of them. That, and when the outdoorsy males of my family decided to teach me how to hunt and track. Hunting was never something I enjoyed. I felt empowered by it yet empowered in a way I dimly recognized as maybe not being the best way. I had a knack for guns though. When you do something well it can be hard to give up, even if you hate it. I was finally able to kick hunting years later. It was just like a scene out of The Deer Hunter.
All of that was home though — miles of woods, creeks, waterfalls and streams, hunting and fishing, friend with whom I later engaged in all kinds of craziness with. There are small towns and then there are smaller towns. As Peter Gabriel once said “The place where I come from is a small town, they think so small, they use small words.” That’s where I’m from.
I once read a famous writer’s thoughts on growing up rural. He and I have similar memories of elementary school. Mom and dad both had good jobs, didn’t possess any financially crippling bad habits, so me and my sisters didn’t do without. Plenty of the other kids did. So many of them wore the same dirty clothes week to week. For so many of them, school lunch was the only meal they received during the course of the day. So many of them knew abuse and neglect on a deeply intimate level. I was fortunate in so many ways— I at least got to have a childhood.
As I got older, businesses in town started to fail. As a result, there was less to do. A couple of thousand idle and bored teenagers is an equation that adds up to all kinds of shit happening, and indeed it did. I covered my misspent youth in a previous post and have no intention of getting into all that again. It wasn’t just boredom that made us terrible. It played a big part, though.
There is a deleted scene from Blade Runner in which one of the replicants talks about being “homesick. With no where to go.” Whenever I return to where I grew up, I feel that way. There are more people I use to know gone, more people dead, and more people on dope who are the living dead. All the things that use to make it home for me just aren’t there anymore.
There was a small Baptist church that use to be located about a mile down the road from where we lived. I use to stand on the porch and listen to their singing— no musical accompaniment— a primitive chorus of vocals that use to rise up and make the hills sound haunted. That church burned down 14 years ago. The fire was probably the result of arson.
Gone are the great old characters that use to populate the area, many of them ala Mayberry. All of them were great storytellers. I use to sit at their feet and listen to stories about life in the coal camps, the Depression, the Great Wars, family histories and tall tales that were passed down for generations. Nobody has replaced them.
It’s hard going to place and feeling disconnected— in seeing a faint outline of the boy you once were and a world that no longer exists on top of things. Too hard. I no longer visit unless there is absolutely no way to get out of it. As far as home goes, I guess I’m searching for a new place to hang my hat.