Thinking About Your Roots

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?

3 comments

  1. I enjoyed the visuals that came with your trip down memory lane. I haven’t been home in several years, but every time I do so, I’m struck by how different everything is. When I was a kid we used to ride our bicycles down the road, stopping to pick up discarded glass bottles on the way so we could turn them in for change. Then we’d buy candy and ride back home. Today, the roads are highways and there’s no way on earth I’d let my own kids attempt to ride a bicycle on them nowadays. If I go to my next high school reunion, it would be the 40th, and the first one I’ll attend. I doubt I’ll remember many of my classmates, and surely they won’t remember me either. This morning I woke up with tunes of songs my music class teacher insisted we learn… old songs from the WWII era I can barely remember. But I do remember hating having to sing them, haha. I think they were part of the repertoire because that’s what our grandparents would have enjoyed hearing us sing… something like Down the Road to Tripoli, The Easter Parade… anyway, I’m rambling. Have a wonderful weekend, Nancy!

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  2. Madison,
    Thanks for sharing your walk down memory lane. BTW, my tiny hometown was called Lee and the “larger” town where we shopped (ten miles down the road from the house) was also called Madison. Small, small world.

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  3. Thanks for telling us about how your hometown has changed. It’s hard to accept these changes, I think.

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