Near the end of my novel If You Walk Long Enough, the female protagonist Angela tells her brother Reid, the main character, to “remember where you came from.”
Growing up in a rural setting, my grandmother often felt it necessary to remind me “to remember myself” —not to embarrass family—and to know where I came from. In other words, to act in such a manner as to be a credit to the whole family. In more country terms, grandmother would say “Do us proud.” The actions of one family member reflected on everyone, even down to the extended family of first and second cousins. The worse thing to be said of anyone, was to label them trash.
When young people graduated from high school or college and set off into the world, they were expected to earn an honest living and establish a family. The expectation of making the family proud was a given, a must do.
I revisited my home community for the 50th graduation class in 2012. Not only did I not remember most people, but most people did not remember me. My dad, once recognized as Farmer of the Year, and my mother, a history teacher for which the Mildred Almand History Award is named, languish only in select memories. My hometown has grown and moved into another era with urban style housing developments, chain restaurants, and strip malls. There is no there there any longer.
The old farmstead had been sold, its prolific fig trees cut down, the tobacco-curing barn razed, and the patchwork of crop and pastureland gone. Single crop production of agribusiness—no fences, no sheltering trees, no contours, no rotation—remain.
If You Walk Long Enough set in South Carolina, is laced with memories and societal norms from my home along the Florida-Georgia state line. Like Reid, I remember my place in the world and struggle to do right by my family. My mother’s expectations—accepting life with grace, showing kindness to others AND to animals, keeping a neat yard, and filling my days with productive work—have been my north star. Daddy’s expectations were different. Pull your own weight and keep your reputation clean.
I moved away from my rural home and have had the privilege of living in Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, and along the California coast. I have traveled to internationally and nationally. Nothing, however, beats a trip home. Or at least the memories of home.
What about you? Do you remember your roots?