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July 29, 2005

The end of August was always one of my favorite times of the year. I can remember being a child in Chattanooga, sitting on the back of my Poppy’s ’64 Ford, feeling the first touch of cool in the breeze. I could feel summer begin its gentle rush out of the air like the first leaf of fall in a slow moving stream. The end of August always meant it was time to scrub down the house and start packing away the bathing suits and pool toys. It was time to go shopping for school clothes and light sweaters to take to football games. The number of lightning bugs dwindled with each passing night – and I used to wonder if fireflies everywhere were saying goodbye to their mayonnaise jars and summer friends so they could begin their preparations for the fall – just like me.

A couple of decades later, I couldn’t find myself further away from that feeling. Here in Columbia, SC, the end of August feels like the pinnacle of summertime. It is an undescribable heat and humidity that does nothing but breed mosquitos and make me cranky. School started the first week of August, so there was no school shopping – and I won’t see a sweater for another two months. The boundary line between summer and fall is so blurred that I wonder what it’s like for children making the transition from vacation to school. Here, it feels no different than starting school on July 4th. Except maybe it’s hotter.

I am usually taking the angry voice when describing Columbia. It’s no secret that this city isn’t my favorite and that I am in a constant state of homesick. The irony is, though, Columbia hasn’t been bad to me. In fact, in some ways it’s been extremely good.

When I first moved to Columbia, I quickly learned that I had two new names – “Brian’s wife” and “that girl that Brian married.” I’ve always been a little more on the independent side, so a few months of that crap and I knew I had to suck it up and try to get a life. Enter the Junior League. I could honestly write a dissertation on the League and how I benefited from it – and it from me. Saving you from that torture, I will say this in summary – the Junior League of Columbia gave me a chance to prove to this community that I was a worthwhile leader and could stand on my own two feet. A few years after living here, the true moment of validation came when an aquaintance of mine introduced her friend to Brian by saying, “This is Margie’s husband.” We still laugh about it.

Columbia has also been the place where my two beautiful children were born. The doctors that took care of me during my pregnancies and especially the doctors, surgeons, and specialists that have been critical to my first child’s development are irreplacable to me. In fact, when I get the most down about being in Columbia, I remind myself of those doctors and what blessings they have been to us.

As good as those things are, the frustrations still outnumber them. I am frustrated by the weather, the choice of schools, my lack of strong friendships, the inability to move forward, and the general feeling of living in a box. I call Columbia a box because no one ever gets out. Even those that grow up and leave the city to go to college – 99% of them come back. It’s as if they don’t know how to do anything else. I was taught that I could go anywhere and do anything – in fact – I couldn’t WAIT to get out of Chattanooga and try something different. I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that one day, all I’d want to do is go back.

When I look in the mirror these days I don’t see the same little girl that grew up a block from the Tennessee border. I don’t see the long braids or ponytails. There are no ribbons to match my dress. I don’t climb trees or play my brown fisher price record player anymore – and Poppy’s ’64 Ford was gone shortly after we lost him in ’98. The person staring back at me has come far and endured much. She is a teacher, a community leader, a survivor, a wife, a mother. I fall asleep counting my blessings because I have so many for which to be thankful.

But still, at this time of year I like to close my eyes and hear my mom call me in for supper. And more than anything, I want to hop off the back of the truck, close up the tailgate, and run down the hill to my screened porch. Because before I was a a teacher, a community leader, a survivor, a wife, and a mother – I was just a little girl – pulling the ribbons out of her ponytails, running into the house, saying goodbye to the fireflies – as we all made our way back home.