When I started this blog, I was going to write about my new favorite HGTV show, "Home Town." Ever since the Covid-19 virus turned our world upside down, the program originating from Laurel, Mississippi, a small town of just about 18,600 people almost 90 miles from Jackson, has become my feel-good show. "Home Town" calms me like a glass of hot milk before bed and reminds me of better times when political rancor and greed didn't dominate our lives and sabotage any chance of community.
But as often happens when writers begin a piece with an intention in mind, they find themselves on a completely different path. That is what happened to me. I thought this post would be about "Home Town"; instead, it became a piece about the south and why I've never chosen to live there, particularly in a small town like Laurel, Mississippi.
I'm a seventy-four-year-old progressive city gal who has had, I guess I can say, a mistrust of folks born and raised in the south. I've generalized that many people who choose to live below the Mason Dixon Line are anti-feminist, anti-liberal, anti-the arts, and anti just about anything I hold dear.
Okay, so call me as prejudiced as I imagine them to be. And you'd be right. I've visited Texas only once, and that was a business trip I couldn't avoid. I have family in Dallas whom I've only seen at funerals and bar mitzvahs, all up north.
When I was ten or eleven, my parents put me on a train to Memphis, Tennesse, to visit my twin cousins a few years older and their parents, Alan and Fagabeth. I remember feeling like such a "big" girl on that train all alone, though I held on tight to my stuffed dog with its collar and dog tag.
I don't remember the city of Memphis--the architecture, parks, schools. I do remember the crinoline skirts, western shirts with pearl buttons down the front, and cowgirl/boy shoes on the dining room table spread out in preparation for the next square dance event where Alan and Fay do si doed, promenaded, sashayed, and swung each other left and right. I was intrigued, but I'd already committed to Miss Fanny and her modern dance classes every Saturday afternoon.
More than the square dancing outfits, what I remember most were drinking fountains for colored and ones for whites, bathrooms for coloreds and ones for whites, swimming pools for coloreds and ones for whites. Colored? What did that mean, anyway? Who was colored? What color? Clearly, not white. Blue? Red? Green? When I asked my cousins, they looked at me as if I were the one from outer space. "Black," they said impatiently.
I didn't understand. We didn't have such divisions where I lived. I knew and loved "colored" people whom I'd known since I was a kid. (Yes, I realize now that they were cooks, nannies, seamstresses first for my grandparents, then for my family, but never once did I hear a racist word or comment.) Johnnie Mae baked the best chocolate cookies ever. Charity could sew circles around anyone else in town. But it wasn't her sewing; it was her spirit, sense of humor and, most importantly, her big hugs and kisses.
What I later learned was called segregation tore me apart. I was young and inexperienced but knew in my gut and in my heart that this was wrong. I cried all the way home from Memphis to Detroit. It took me a long time to recover. Actually, I'm not sure I ever have.
"Home Town" (which I'll blog about in a future post) has touched me in a way that few TV shows have--particularly shows on HGTV. I mean it's a channel dedicated to flipping and flopping, loving or losing, restoring or rotting. But there's something so genuine, joyous, and kind about the people who live in Laurel, Mississippi, that sometimes in my daydreams, I picture myself moving south.