When I read a Midwestern friend’s Facebook post about firing up the furnace in her house last winter, I thought: Heh. Heh-heh. So good to be in Atlanta.
This morning, sipping tea at my breakfast table, a book resting in my other hand, I watched a mosquito dancing against the outside of my window. He was the size of a puppy.
Since my return to a warm zip code almost two years ago, I’ve been reminded of a few Southern things I didn’t miss in the Midwest, like the bossiest weeds or the biggest insects. In Illinois, you would not have seen me dash through my sunroom, broom overhead, taking aim at a flying cockroach. “This is my house now,” I hissed. “Tell. Your. Friends.” The fact that I refer to him as a “flying cockroach” is a signal to anyone down here that I’m not a Georgia native, but an Alabama one. In Georgia as well as the Carolinas and beyond, those are “Palmetto bugs.” For several months after my arrival, I watched for the appearance of the mysterious Palmetto bug, thinking this would be a new form of insect-related plague instead of a familiar pest. As I told a friend from Ohio who’d reluctantly relocated to Atlanta about my initial confusion, I saw her eyes widen. “Oh, no,” she said. “You mean they FLY?” Oops. Welcome to the South.
You won’t find me kicking my garage door in the winter to relieve stress as well as to break the seal of ice locking it to the floor. Yes, I did that in Illinois. But I never chased a snake out of my garage there. (Once again a broom was my tool of choice, thanks to a family friend who told me about evicting a copperhead from hers. My Georgia visitor was not poisonous, but it was larger than I thought that variety could get. And I found it on a shelf. An upper shelf. This discovery was an unpleasant example of how knowing isn’t KNOWING. I knew they could climb. But seeing a reptile curled up among a few of my worldly possessions at an elevated height, well, it reminded me of how it felt to see a taxicab wreck when I was working in D.C. Until that moment, I could pretend that Washington cabbies had magical powers of protection as they ferried me from one meeting to another instead of holding my breath as one of them gave me his driving philosophy. “Don’t ever turn your head,” he said. “Then people know where you’re going and close the gap. I just move my eyes and then move!” But I digress, as storytellers sometimes do.)
Then again, although there were no snakes in my Illinois garage, I did have bats in my first house there. Note the alarming plurality of that term: bats. Maybe I’ll share that story one day.
“Home” is one of those extra-special, personal words which means different things to different people. I see a lot of Illinois tags in Atlanta, and no doubt many of those cars and trucks contain people as homesick as I once was.
However we define it, “home” doesn’t hand us a pair of rose-colored glasses. Our love of place – or people – gives us a bigger view, the flaws and the joys contained in the widest possible lens. And whether we’re living in a state of homesickness or homecoming, we can refresh our souls by remembering the beauty we found on arrival. The year I landed in Illinois, I experienced my first 17-inch snowfall. Nothing amplifies moonlight better than snow, and I can still appreciate how it glittered or sometimes crested like sand. The comforting sounds of salt trucks and huge snow plows clearing the roads. The way spring would stutter and hesitate before roaring into full bloom.
Midwestern friends, I toast you with my teacup. I miss you. The weight of a snow shovel, or the salt stains on my favorite pair of boots… not so much.