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Columns

June 18, 2009

This Wonderful Life: Welcome home, no matter where you are

It must be nice to spend your young life in a place where the physical and social landscape feels like home.



I grew up in the South, in a part of Florida that is securely under the buckle of the Bible Belt. Sure, there was all that drawling Southern charm, Spanish moss and porches in the old section of town laced with gingerbread and appointed with swings and rockers.



But if you pitted zealous obedience against openminded curiosity, obedience always emerged victorious. If you thought your opinions might run counter to the status quo, you didn’t speak too loudly in restaurants or let too many people know how you felt and thought.



Everyone was presumed Republican until proven Libertarian.



I never felt at home. This week, I was back in the South — not in my hometown, but in Richmond, Va., where my Aunt Vera lives. I haven’t been there since last year, when my grandmother suffered a double blow from a bout of shingles and then a stroke, and things looked bad. It was a most difficult trip — draining in the extreme. My grandmother survived that, only to die a couple months later.



In the South, stories often start out looking very cheery, only to take unexpectedly dark turns.



``I’ll always remember the Fourth of July picnic where Miss Marguerite brought that delicious peach pie and Clem’s oldest boy lost three fingers in a freak tug-a-war accident.’’ This trip doesn’t take a turn that dark.



Throughout my life, I have enjoyed visiting my Aunt Vera more than just about anything else.



When I was a little girl, her attic was a nirvana of dress-up possibilities. On one trip, she allowed me to wear her silver fox fur stole throughout the entire visit. My mother made me remove it at mealtimes, but I vaguely recall sleeping with the thing.

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