For the 57 years that she lived in the North, my mother spoke longingly of a place in eastern North Carolina that she called Down Home. Down Home was alternately the farm where she'd once lived on Mill Pond Road in Lee's Mills Township, Washington County, or the larger stomping grounds of her youth that included parts of Tyrrell, Chowan, Edgecomb and Dare counties.
Not only geographical, Down Home was cultural. It was how they did things, what they believed, who they loved, who and what gave comfort and was embraced, who and what was rejected and devalued.
It was the overlay of my mother's sensibility, and like other children whose parents longed for a lost place -- its rooms and weather, foods and smells -- I adopted a thinner version of the mythical place that was so compelling, so wonderful. The place that I once believed kept her from being present for me, that she missed on Sunday mornings and holidays or when she was making spoon bread or a white peach pie, was a place I visited annually with my family for 18 years, and then rejected.
For reasons subtle and traumatic, personal and political, I could no longer connect with the people or places that she loved and called home for her 86 years, long after her mother, father, brother and childhood home were gone, all evidence of the life she once lived leveled, as if by a hurricane. All that was left were sepia and black and white photos.
This summer I'm going back to the place that used to be, and although I want to experience what it has become, my purpose will be to hunt and fish through records, finish building my family tree, excavate the deep past. Figure out who we were, what we did and didn't do. Who we loved, and who we hurt.
You are invited to join me in going Down Home.