Wednesday, August 20, 2008

My Childhood Home: For Olivia

Originally published July 2007, republished today with love, empathy, and a tremendous amount of hope for my sweet, beautiful, brilliant niece, Olivia.

I was ten going on eleven when my parents decided they'd suffered enough in the big city of Atlanta, cashed in their chips and moved "back home" to the real South, aka rural South Carolina. Never having lived anywhere else I could remember in my born days except suburban Atlanta (which is about as Southern as New Hampshire, truth be told), and, as stubborn and impervious-to-anyone-else's-good-ideas as any almost eleven-year-old was then, is now, and forever will be, I faced my parents' decision with the commensurate amount (a great big hairy huge ton) of pre-pubescent angst and trepidation. Oh, and fury. Let us not forget the fury.

The first days in our new town served to validate my fears and parent-centered resentment, as rural SC is a far cry from the big city in ever-so-many ways, not the least of which was that I couldn't understand much of what was said by th'natives. They wus all, "Who y'lak? Tahgers er Gamecocks?" (Being a dyed-in-the-wool Tahger fan from the git-go, Ah don't thank Ah'd e'em heard of a Gamecock yet. The Tiger and the Gamecock are the mascots of the two major football teams, er, colleges, in the state, by the way.) An' "Ya'll been ta Quaincy's fer supper yet? Hooooooooooo doggies 'ems good eatin'!" So, in addition to having left my BFFs Mary and Lynne, who shared my love for Lick 'Em Ades, Sean Cassidy and wearing tennis socks with the lil fluffy balls that matched our tops, I was also livin' in a FER'N Country where I din't speak tha language.

I was skeert.

However. There WAS my new house. And despite the freakish glowing orange carpet in the family room and the broken air conditioning in July, in South Carolina, (which reminds me of the fact that, not satisfied with dragging me from the cultured and refined city out to cow-patty-n'-ho-cake-ville, my mother had immediately set about the task of bringing me down from my citified high horse by dragging me to our new town's library each afternoon, whereupon she climbed up the wooden stairs to the loft, plopped and stretched herself bottom-out over the huge library clock - tick tock tick tock - on the cushioned bench along the railing that overlooked the entire first floor, and proceeded to TAKE A NICE LONG SNOOZE. Oh Heavens Above... the Humiliation!) the new house had a feature or two that took some of the sting out of becoming a hick. For example there were

My Bathroom - I shared it with my sister but it was ATTACHED to MY BEDROOM. And... it had TWO, people... TWO SINKS. And those sinks... were TURQUOISE. As was the tub. In there was also this COOL metal shelf that revolved and that you could actually turn so that it was COMPLETELY hidden inside the WALL. Oh the treasures I could hide in that thing!! This is the bathroom, coincidentally, that my NEW BFF Marie and I would hide away in, fill the sinks with water with a squirt of nail polish remover on top and LIGHT THE WHOLE THING ON FIRE. And the turquoise bathtub, which is still there, and still turquoise (she said proudly) is the same one in which my friend Angie and I played dentist with the olive green Waterpik, using a stainless steel mixing bowl on a footstool as the spit sink. Oh that bathroom saw some of my most creative moments.

My Bedroom - Which housed my wildly-coveted-and-anticipated CANOPY BED, a set of faux satin sheets so slippery I had to hold onto the headboard when I rolled over so I didn't fall out, and a closet big enough to hold all of my clothes, shoes, junk AND a secret hidden make-up vanity where I spent countless hours making myself beautiful in case Sean Cassidy or Michael Jackson should stumble upon me and fall in love.

My Dad's Desk - Which was built RIGHT INTO THE WALL, creating a little cubby where the chair went, under which was conveniently placed a heat/AC vent that was SHARED with the living room, affording me the ability to sit very discreetly and listen in on my sister's private conversations with her friends and the occasional young gentleman caller on the other side of the wall, but only inches from my inquisitive ear.

Oh Yes I Did!

The Huge Rocks in the Side-Yard - Which sadly eventually became the headstones of several beloved pets over the years, but started out as a perfect place for pre-teen brooding, daydreaming, sulking and secret-telling.

I brooded and sulked at my parents' complete lack of concern for my misery over being transplanted for a couple of months, until I looked up and realized that I was more at home in that house and in that town than I'd ever been in Atlanta. I'd made the best friends I'd ever had, and most of them are STILL my best friends, over 25 years later. I slept better in my new room, where the thick canopy of elderly oaks that nearly touched the roof above me blocked out every splinter of light in the night sky, creating the perfect foil for a thousand fireflies and the flashlights of neighborhood kids playing kick-the-can. I walked a mere block to my new school - one with teachers who made me feel welcome and important, and friends who didn't know much about Sean Cassidy but loved the Tahgers and even wore brilliant orange overhauls on Friday to attest to it! I celebrated my birthday late that summer with my new crew of girls - we danced on the wacky orange carpet to the music of Star Wars, using bananas for light sabers and giggling like we'd known one another forever. I realized now that I had a home filled with new memories, and the promise of a million more.

And now, when I go back to visit my parents in that same house, and I tuck Bean into my cozy old bed (the canopy's gone, but it's the same bed) after a hot bath in the turquoise tub, I am thankful for the move they made (and the moves they HAVEN'T made since then), and for the little town and the friends I made that continue to remind me who I really am, where I REALLY came from. In the quiet stillness of a hot summer afternoon, I can easily remember the feeling I had of safety, peace and belonging, lying on my canopy bed in my shady, cool bedroom, reading and thinking and planning. I can still smell Mom's steak and gravy cooking in the kitchen and hear the whistle of the afternoon train as it rolls through the heart of town. Those memories define me. My childhood. Home.

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  1. Love your blog. If I just had more time in the day .......but I have bookmarked yours and intend to eventually read it all. And I tagged you on mine.

  2. I love this entry just as much now as I did the first time. I feel like I was there, taking an actual tour with you. And I loooove the name Olivia! :)

  3. I love your blog and read it regularly (although I've never commented). But, being from Atlanta, I have to disagree with your comment about our lack of being Southern. There is a very deep Southern heritage here in our city and we are most proud of it.

  4. Dear Anonymous:

    Oh dear! I'm so sorry to have offended you. I am proud of Atlanta's Southern heritage as well, and lived there for nearly two decades, (I lived there until I was 11 and then went back when I was in my mid-twenties and we just moved out of Atlanta to Chicago 2 years ago) all over the city. When I say that Atlanta is not very Southern, I'm comparing it to my own experiences living other places in the South, places where pretty much everyone around me'd lived there, and their families before them, for generations. Atlanta, at least in my experience, plays the urban home to many, many people transplanted from all over the country (and all over the world), and thus is becoming a bit of a mini-melting pot of different cultures and influences. Does the city still managed retain a healthy dose of its stately Southern grace? You bet it does. Are we proud of that? Oh heck yeah, we are. But the contrast between Atlanta and the rural Southern town we moved to was pretty drastic, and we didn't run across many Michiganders or Californians there like we very frequently did in the Big City. That's all. Forgive my penchant for overstatement - that's a weakness of mine, I fully admit. (Bows humbly and offers you a sweet-smelling magnolia blossom as a token of my esteem for you and our fair city.)

  5. Did you post this for Owl Haven's meme on childhood homes? I think this was the post that introduced me to your Fried Okra

  6. Do you still watch the Tigers play??

  7. Curious minds want to know .... Where did you live in SC? I am a transplant to SC from VA some 23 years ago and the pictures you paint with this story (Tigers, Gamecocks, and even the "whistle of the afternoon train) makes me feel as though I could be living in your old backyard. Feel free to email ( the answer if you'd rather not yell it out loud on your blog ... I'm just simply curious. Love love love reading your post!! You know how to tell a story!

  8. Ah sho luuuv may sum a d'em Quaincy's yaist rolls. ('Cepp mahn came frum Awwburn, Alabahma.)
    (And I didn't grow up there. I went to college there. But really, I grew up there if you think about how much growing you do when you are in college).

  9. Oh my goodness...I'm not sure how I found your blog, but I have been checking it for about 2 weeks and I just Luh-uh-uv it! I have eaten many a fried okra in my day (yes the best are the home-made ones and the little black burned parts ARE a necessity) as well as corn-pones, various "greens," fried sweet potato patties, taters-n-onions, and also the "non-fried" staples like sliced tomatoes and cucumbers. I read somewhere that "only in the South" are fresh tomato slices with just some salt considered a "side dish!" LOL!!! My husband is a "transplant" from Seattle, Washington, though he has settled quite nicely into the groove down here. He has picked up on some traditions, though he still finds a lot of them "wierd." You know, how sweet tea is only "real" if it's brewed and the shugah added when it's still hot?

    I am personally a "garnet and black" kinda girl and I really REALLY can relate to your neighbors Palmetto car decal...I have one myself that reads "Carolina Girl" on the back of my Suburban!

    Lastly, I grew up in rural Carolina too and only recently moved to the big city in the middle of the State. (I say "recently" but it was about 12 yrs ago...time flies.) To me, my "home" is here, but I still go to my mom's (AKA "back home" as I refer to it) and there are not one but TWO famously colored bathrooms still alive and is an AVOCADO green and the other a "Honey mustard" yellow! Bathing my babies in the yellow tub and then taking a glass of tea outside and watching fireflies and listening to tree-chiggers STILL takes me back to the days of my youth! (we do have them here too, but for some reason they are sorta "different."

    You describe the South so beautifully, I just LOVE reading your words. I can even kinda "hear" you when you write in "owah thick sowthern drawl..." (I can't wite it as well as you obviously but I sure can READ it. LOL)

    I have an email entitled "Southern Women" if you'd like's humorous AND true and one of the few emails that has been in my inbox for quite awhile b/c I can't bring myself to delete it. I'll have to send it to you if I can locate your email address!

    Bless your heart for being so far, far from home but still carrying it with you!

    Go Cocks!

  10. Amanda -

    I think we've gotten to watch a handful of Clemson games since we moved up here. If the Tigers do as well this year as they're supposed to do I may get to see more. They don't televise many SEC/ACC games up here except for the very top teams. Go Tigers! ;)

  11. My friend moved last year to Lake Murray (from Murray Street here in Whitefish Bay)

    She loves it! I now see why.

  12. Ahhhhhh.....Sean Cassidy. It's been many, many years since I've heard that name! But, oh, he was so very cute! The orange carpet...well, mine was red shag carpet. Star Wars...all of this dates me badly! Great memories of my childhood brought back! Thank you.

  13. I loved your post! I want to do something like this for my son. I was a writing major in college and I remember writing all those details about my childhood home but god knows where that document is now.

    By the way, stop by my blog tomorrow because you've been mentioned by my Friday Featured Blog blogger, CanCan of Mom Most Traveled. The post will be up at midnight tonight.