At the end of every year, I've found there is often one or two things that sum up those twelve months in retrospect. Sometimes the event is a little beyond my present state, giving me a glimpse into what is on the way. This past year was no different. In 2008 it wasn't my fun ride employment saga or my parent's health or even the reconnection with people I haven't seen for decades. No, for me it was an exhale long overdue, a recognition of something I have overlooked for decades, on purpose.
It was laid out before me like a tattered, black and white photograph, the sections unfolding with the chapters of a novel, Provinces of Night, by William Gay from Hohenwald, TN. The setting was not that unlike the rural south I left behind in 1995. In Gay's words I heard the melting drawl of a vernacular left behind, felt the wind on wild nights of my own that might have changed everything. It was all right there like a bloodline I was trying to deny. It was right there, making me admit my makeup, and it was in a written in a town considered hick even by hick standards. A moving novel from a place I had all but written off as, well, illiterate. Point made, south. Point made.
Page 248 and the young Fleming Bloodworth was still being offered the bottle by the weathered and dying, to make some tiny ammends to the fragile, or - almost forgiven - to get a rope around a bit of beauty and pull it down with them. A rabbit's foot for crossing over.
Page 248, that's about the time I caught myself starting to sink back into some relaxed, southern earth I figured left me a long time ago. Lord knows I did my best to strangle it. By all rights such a return ought to have happened after some survivable tragedy--a lost love, real destitution, busted locks or lips on the way back from some night out amongst 'em. I'm sure it happens that way to others, but when you're as sensitive as I am, it doesn't take that much. The Lord God whoever knows this and has seen fit to dole out my epiphanies in right and proper proportion.
So what is it that has come back? In short, the South. The southern earth welling up inside. It's a language, a tempo, a way of moving through the days very different from the way it happens up here in the north. I've discounted it all my life. But there's something there for me, for everyone I'd guess. It's a perspective that rests in valleys content to cradle the wind and rain, not brave it for old Scottish ballads and shitty landscape paintings over bad living room sofas. It's a language that can drink like my father did for a time, like I've heard his dad did before him, breaking jawbones just by looking at them. It's the sound of attics and spider basements, a crackle of energy that never seemed to wane, crack we can no longer afford. It's also a quiet desperation, like pulling a butt from the fire time and time again for one last taste of what's been bought and paid for.
On a summer night in 2008 this old piece of me tracked me down through the pages of a book and asked to come in. We started talking. We understood one another. I dare say we reached an agreement.
So at the start of this new year stop and think about what the last one has given you and what it has taken. Me? I found a little peace with my past.And I'm bringing it with me.