Returning home pulls strongly on my heart strings. Hugging Mama, breathing in her perfume and the familiar powdery scent of her makeup. Her lilting voice, bright blue eyes, and favorite pink lipstick. I love being in her house, which stirs up nostalgia; the feathery-soft, weathered jade green sofa, the French twin beds from my childhood room, family portraits proudly keeping watch on the walls. How the sunlight falls into the dining room, highlighting the grain patterns on the wooden table, gleaming brightly as it reflects off of the silver bowl filled with red apples.
Portrait of MaryDana Knight (Mama)
There is comfort in knowing these spaces intimately, remembering the nooks where the dust hides, dents my toes recognize on the hardwood floors and which photos are attached to the fridge with yellowing tape because their magnets fell off long ago. I swelled with happiness, watching Mama read, bake, and play hide-and-seek with my little boy Ramsay, who tells me that he loves how Gran “always looks a little fancy!”
I happily embrace in bear hugs with childhood friends, family, and treasured college roommates. Sharing meals in the south are a feast, an elevated experience. My belly stays so full, I feel like I’ve been dining for days on a cruise ship. During communal lunches at our cousins’ house, we take leftovers out of the refrigerator and make sandwiches, share watermelon and pull up more chairs around the the kitchen island as neighbors and friends drop by. Dinner tables are elegantly set with candelabras, crystal, fine china and linens. There are prayers and toasts and clinking of glasses. Candles burn lower with flickering light as stories unfold and laughter tumbles out with ease.
Having coffee with Mama one morning, she brought out a cardboard box of memories. We perused family photographs from her childhood in the 1930’s: weddings, parties, prom photos. I take in the era’s details: big bows in girls’ hair, strands of pearls, lace collars, tweed coats, gloves, and fur stoles. Mama’s high school photo. Her as a little girl in Cuba at the Morro Castle. She opens a 1944 newspaper to the front page. Fine print in the corner reads “Price-Four Cents.” The bold headline: “Allies Repel Savage Germany Attacks near Rome.” What Mama remembers most, with the innocence of a child at the onset of the war, is that her favorite radio program did not come on.
Grandmother Mary VanBuren
In a black and white image, my grandmother looks festive on the SS Constitution ocean liner in the 1950’s. Next, we find a May 1965 Italian poster advertising “La Boheme, Citta di Marsala” with Mama’s name listed next to “Mimi” the lead soprano. At the bottom of the box is a faded,curling photo on which”1913″ is handwritten on the back. My great-grandfather waves to us from the back seat of a Cadillac with a running board. Such rich history, so many stories. I even discovered that Mama played tennis with John Wayne’s wife and Daddy had drinks with him during their stay in Columbus, Georgia for the filming of The Green Berets in 1968. Who knew?!
There were so many moments and scenes where I reminded myself to really be present, especially while cherishing the souls, sights, and freedoms we miss so dearly in Cairo.
- American flags flying proudly under clear blue skies.
- Beautiful green fields, manicured farm land and dense pine tree forests.
- The slowness of summer, long shadows and a sun that doesn’t set until long after cocktail hour.
- Close to midnight while quiet in bed, hearing the soulful sounds of distant freight trains.
- The unmistakable sweet southern scent of gardenias and magnolias.
- Squawking mocking birds, striking blue jays and popping red cardinals.
- Plump squirrels landing heavily on branches that bow below their weight.
- Statuesque antebellum houses, brick roads, and historic cottages.
- Inviting porches and beautiful gardens with topiaries and statues.
- Catching rain drops, the joy of puddles and calm of watching water trickle down windows.
- Children blowing bubbles, spinning and falling onto the soft grass with squeals of delight.
- The wonder and enthusiasm of sparklers and fireworks.
- Building Legos, sidewalk chalk art, finger painting and rinsing off with the garden hose.
- A joyful cycle of walking in bare feet, swimming pool play with friends, holding baby kittens, petting dogs, Slip n’ slide fun and soccer with cousins.
- Real belly laughs and shouts of fun discovery as the boys run with nets to catch glowing fireflies.
- Ice cream cones, playgrounds, music-making and make-believe.
- Evening walks around the neighborhood, sitting on benches and having heart-to-hearts.
- “Why do we go around the outside of the restaurant and not go in?” asks our 5 year old, who has never before experienced a drive-through, and refers to Wendy’s as “Lucy’s” for the rest of the trip.
- BBQ, BLT’s and pimento cheese sandwiches.
- While devouring the delicious buttery, sharp cheddar taste of Mama’s cheese straws, I savor the little sesame seeds sticking to my lips.
- Enjoying delicious, grilled steaks for lunch at the Big Eddy Club, an experience translated by Ramsay in his imagination as “eating camel at the Spaghetti Club.”
- Lingering by the Chattahoochee River, watching the sun set over the water and wishing I could stop time for just a little while.
I’m always delightfully surprised to make discoveries in a city I know so well: markets with live music and art, coffee shops, ambient restaurants and bakeries that have popped up while I’ve been gone. Modern playgrounds featuring water fountains, bongo drums and enormous chimes. Making new friends with a kindred spirit in yoga.
Getting ready to leave town, the hardship of goodbyes stirs up a mix of emotions; sadness and gladness. Many of Mama’s friends, whom I’ve known my whole life, are getting older. Will they be there the next time I come home? I will miss family gatherings, holidays, birthdays, funerals, and celebrating those important life moments with people dear to me. Pushing these thoughts away, I breathe deeply and fight the tears. Putting on my sunglasses as armor, I say silent prayers at Publix grocery store while buying snacks for the trip back. On the return flight to Cairo, I recall memories of a peaceful afternoon outdoors with friends. Although the heat was thick and muggy, the deck umbrella provided welcome shade as we sipped our wine. The cicadas’ loud, alternating crescendos echoed in the gorgeous quiet as small scurrying animals rustled through fallen leaves. I stared into the depths of the trees, mesmerized by the forest’s varied shades of green. Beautiful light streamed through the canopy.
Ramsay taps my arm on the plane to show me clouds and says “Mama, you seem hippo-tized.” I smile at him. A surge of emotions pulls on my heart strings, missing home already, but grateful for such wonderful memories.
Peace and Light,