About Place

When I was in high school one of our poetry writing exercises was to write a Where I’m From poem modeled, I believe, after George Ella Lyon’s poem of the same title. I loved this exercise at the time, probably because it gave my 16-year-old voice an edge of highly coveted authority, but over the years it has stuck with me as something of a daily mental status update. I’ll pass something in the car, and my brain will automatically say, I am from the land where chicory and discarded wrappers tell their own stories on the sides of the road. These little quips ground me and comfort me, and importantly, never seem to leave me.

We traveled to North Carolina this weekend for Easter, something of an annual pilgrimage, to two of the farms that I really am from, and all weekend the little I Am From lines were popping up left and right in my mind. We all know what Easter does or doesn’t mean to us, but for me, this time of year is really about returning to something. We get excited to be going back to the farm, to the places that I tromped around on in cowboy boots as a child, to the place that we said I Do, to a little nook in Western North Carolina that you can look at every day and still get caught off guard by its beauty. Although we go many times throughout the year back to these places that have been home for us, there’s something about this time of year that carries a compelling reverence for the world anxiously blooming forward and simultaneously calling us back. Although we don’t live in North Carolina anymore, it holds our hearts firmly and wholly, and getting into its mountains is a lot like secretly bumping knees under a table with your first true love.

In an explanation of her original poem, George Ella  Lyon says, “Where I’m From grew out of my response to a poem from ‘Stories I Ain’t Told Nobody Yet’ (Orchard Books, 1989; Theater Communications Group, 1991) by my friend, Tennessee writer Jo Carson. All of the People Pieces, as Jo calls them, are based on things folks actually said, and number 22 begins, “I want to know when you get to be from a place. ”

I love this question. My rural heritage has taught me that I have no true rural heritage because I doubt we’ll ever be from somewhere until at least 4 generations of our people have entered and left the world there, but let’s remember that I’m nothing without my nostalgia, so I don’t think that I can bear to be metaphorically homeless simply because I have a measly first generation birthright to the part of the world that my family loves. Stubbornly then, this weekend I realized that I know that I am from something because I know where to go to find it, and I know what will be waiting for me when we get there. The land will change, and in one case may no longer be ours, the people will change, the parties will change, the relationships will change, but what will endure is knowing that I am who I am because of what I come from, and in that way, we will always be able to go back. That is, in my mind, when you get to be from a place.

I’m rattling on about all of this because I have chattered about Easter over the years and wanted to make sure that I’ve recorded that this tradition of our annual get-together is not about new dresses and dyed eggs, but it’s about my brave family opening up their home to all of us so that we can say, I Am From…

and so, so, so much more.

(those last 3 pictures were taken shamelessly from my Aunt Vicki, check her out!)

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