I haven't visited the fam since Christmas, which is probably the longest I've ever gone without seeing my parents, siblings and nephew. So I spent a total of fourteen (out of forty-eight) hours in the car with the dog who miraculously didn't vomit on the whole trip to spend the weekend at home in North Carolina.
Now, my dad is a man of relatively few words. When I call, we exchange a few words about the weather and Carolina basketball before he inevitably says, "Let me get your mother." When I went away to college, though, he wrote me a letter; tucked it into one of my boxes so I didn't find it for a few days. When I did, it was the most poignant, heartbreaking thing I still have ever read. In the end of that letter, he told me that whatever happened, I could always come home - that no matter what, the mountains would always take me back.
I think my dad knew that I wouldn't live at home again. I always had Big Plans. I was going to study French and live in Paris. Then, I was going study journalism and roam the globe telling stories. And on and on. My dreams involved leaving. It wasn't until I went to college, that I realized how much I had let slip through my fingers by wanting to leave so badly. I came home and wanted to soak up as much mountain living as I could - stories, recipes, songs and all the other things that make up the Appalachian Culture I tried so hard to leave behind.
You see, home for a mountain girl is very specific. You know I'm from the North Carolina Blue Ridge, but home is so much more than that. For me, home is on Griffith Branch, at the end of a narrow holler on the land where my great-grandparents raised my grandfather and his siblings. There are still so many places, like the old apple tree long ago split by blizzard snow, or the can house at the edge of our yard, where you can still see and feel their presence. I am as much shaped by that piece of land as the hands that raised me.
I know we'll move a lot because of Chad's career- and that's exciting. I like the thrill of knowing we'll always be going somewhere new and discovering places I never thought I'd visit. Most of my Big Plans didn't pan out, but I've still retained a major case of Wanderlust. Eventually, I am sure we'll settle someplace for good, probably back in North Carolina. But even if we settle in a little town with lovely people for forty years, it just won't ever be home, because for me that will only ever be one place.
I've come to realize that Home is the ultimately the feeling and memories you carry with you in your heart when you are far away. Home is so much more than just a place. It takes just a moment, and I can recall the stickysweet smell of burley tobacco that burns your throat, the way fresh molasses taste straight out of the boiler, the lonesome whistle of a train as it rolls past the river a couple of miles away, the imaginary weight of a hoe in your hand as you move the earth.
I know that I'm romanticizing and waxing nostalgic, and a lot of people won't agree with me. I know not everyone grew up on an end-of-the-road farm, sheltered in many ways. For so many people, this place is repressive, and I can certainly understand why. The local economy sucks, drugs are becoming a bigger problem every day, and a few close-minded people can ruin all the good a place has to offer. But even with all that, my dad's right. The mountains will always be my home. But they don't need to take me back, because I never truly left. I carry them with me always.