Have a lot of songs on my mind lately, but those I’m most fixated on currently are the ones that get conjured up when I think of returning back down South to my hometown and my Grandma. So I’ll share a few of those now.
Beginning with “Thank God For Mama” by The Fantastic Violinaires (Feat. Robert Blair):
That’s how I feel about my Grandma. She raised me early on when my mother barely would. She did teach me how to pray and was the only one to do so, and she was there for my most formative years. Thank God she’s still with us, now in her mid-70s, and I get to go see her again finally in a couple weeks. Been away too long, longer than I’ve ever been. Grandma taught me so much about love and faith and holding out hope that without her I’d be completely lost in this world. She and Papa were amazing to me and I will remain forever indebted to their unconditional love and influence on my life.
Nothing in life is perfect, and no human being is perfect, but I remain grateful for the lucky breaks I’ve had in this respect and only wish I someday prove capable of living up to the potential they saw in me.
Another one I listen to pretty regularly and love from Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Comin’ Home”:
Sometimes the lyrics hit deeper than other times.
A few lyrics from that song:
… I don’t know why the thought came to me
But why I’m here I really can’t see, and now
I want to come home. It’s been so long since I’ve been away
And please, don’t blame me ’cause I’ve tried
I’ll be coming home soon to your love, to stay
Coming home to stay
Coming home to your love, mama
I’ve seen better days …
Feeling pretty chewed up these days. Not that this is the first time. Just looking for some solace, a soft place to land, somewhere to get my head on straight and my emotions under control. Missing a plot of land I originally identified as home, the only home I’ve ever truly accepted as where I belong, where I am safe from the worldly confusion and its demands. But then I tend to get down there and eventually grow restless each time and start pining to resume my journey up north, and always I leave and head back up here to try again, just as I will too once this trip comes to a close. It’s understood upfront. Just a temporary break to remind myself of who I am and where I come from and to take up time with those I love and who love me. Don’t we all need this from time to time? And aren’t we fortunate if we can find our way back there?
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Someday Never Comes” (w/my hometown footage):
First thing I remember was asking papa, why,
For there were many things I didn’t know.
And daddy always smiled and took me by the hand,
Saying, someday you’ll understand.
… When daddy went away, he said, try to be a man,
And someday you’ll understand.
Well, I’m here to tell you now, each and every mother’s son,
That you better learn it fast, you better learn it young,
‘Cause someday never comes. …
Probably means nothing to anybody else out there, but I appreciate capturing that footage of the downtown area where I come from. My hometown has a fairly high prisoner population due to them being sent down to work in our little city to avoid being sent up to the dreaded Parchman Penitentiary (a.k.a. Mississippi State Penitentiary), known as the oldest and most dilapidated maximum-security prison in the state. They come down and work in our town as laborers to get their sentences reduced and/or to avoid the outcome of being sent up-state for confinement. Recently I looked up demographic information on my hometown and saw that our prisoner population was much higher than the average in Mississippi, per capita. My Papa used to drive around the prisoners as one of the jobs he got when I was a teenager, and they’d go out and pick up fallen branches and litter and whatnot. (Notably, Papa was one of the few foremen who got out and worked alongside his charges in that ungodly heat, which garnered him great respect.) He’d sometimes pull into our gravel driveway with them all in tow and I’d be instructed to not speak to them, to never speak to the prisoners. Because that was their punishment, handed down from high legal authorities — they weren’t allowed to affiliate and interact with common townspeople and wound up being treated like ghosts among us. Kinda sad when I reflect back on it. Even many years later when I was down as an adult and turning over a stray dog to the local dog-catchers, an operation run by the prisoners, I recall asking one of them a question about the dog and Papa later snapping at me back in the truck for speaking to a prisoner. Just wasn’t allowed. Definitely an “us vs. them” situation despite us being poor ourselves. There’s always a hierarchy, no matter where you turn or how low you go. And such is life apparently.
Here’s one I heard on the jukebox a week ago at the local watering hole that I’ve heard many times but that for whatever reason took on new significance, “Mama, I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Osbourne:
That one seems to hit on how I feel about my home county. It’s not a place where I generally feel welcome, save for my Grandparents’ little lot. Their home is like an island within a constricting environment, one which my Papa resented very much as well. Very religious, bordering on fanaticism, catering to evangelicals, completely closed-minded to other faiths or—heaven forbid—a lack of faith in religions altogether. Never did I fit in there. Never even found a place in the whole state of Mississippi in the several cities I lived in where I felt at ease and accepted. Racial agitation remains and neither the blacks nor the whites know how to cope with folks of other ethnic backgrounds. Or at least they didn’t. Can’t say with certainty how things might’ve been changing within the last 10-15 years among the youngest age groups. Just know how it was on up to the year I moved away from my hometown for the last time when I was 17, in 1999 (moved out of the entire state for the last time in 2002). Only been back to visit since and tend to not interact too much with the locals when I’m down, preferring instead to observe them from a distance, not wishing to wind up given much grief after receiving enough of that in the past. They wind up being a bunch of memories to me, and not very many I recall as being pleasant.
Like that one threat to burn down my Grandparents’ trailer (resulting in me being re-sent back up to the Midwest as a teen to live), or the preacherman who was instrumental in putting the final nails in the coffin of me leaving my religion at age 14, or the old man down the way from my school who tried taking liberties with me (who has since died of old age), or the perverted great-uncle who used to live across the street that I was frequently as a child warned to stay away from (and thankfully did my best), or the asshole principle of the high school who took a particular disliking to me during 10th grade for no good reason (as I’m told he did each year against some student for no real cause, he’s since finally been replaced), or the coach teaching biology class one year who started off letting us pupils know that somehow he felt teaching science was against God (who would have thought God disapproved of teaching photosynthesis?), or the football jocks and their attitude problems and yet how much they were allowed to get away with by adults and their peers alike, or how the label of “whore” was tossed around willy-nilly at any female appearing to step outside of traditional expectations, or how incredibly crappy the educational system was down there overall, or how any and all forms of entertainment for youths winding up shut down over time (blamed on the Baptist majority in that town), OR how so many were pretty poor to the point where any family with a little money could parade around like a big fish in a small pond and act like pricks, etc. Not my kind of place, in short. Too closed-minded. Too many rough memories there. Creates a conflicting situation for me there.
So I tend to stick with my Grandma while down and travel an hour or more away to larger cities when in the mood for entertainment. So it goes…
But there remain aspects of Southern culture that I continue to appreciate, long-dead as so much of it is. Including our fighting, rebellious, anti-authority spirit.
On that last note, Charlie Daniels’ “The South’s Gonna Do It (Again)”:
Adore that song.
Another I continue to love is The Band’s “The Night They Drove Dixie Down”:
How I wish the South had taken a different turn and become something better than it has. That remains a dream for me, to see its uprising in a new and surprising way.
And maybe I’m supposed to be one of the ones who helps resurrect it so far as my little sphere of influence goes. But I’m a hybrid by now, having now officially spent more of my life living in the Midwest than in the South. But Dixie still lives in my heart, this much I know, and I continue to pledge allegiance to its cause so far as independence is concerned. Can’t take that away from me.
But they sure did drive Dixie down. No joke. Really fucked her up, and the ol’ girl has been broken ever since. Thanks Industry. But I know that it couldn’t be helped, that Industry was poised to eclipse agrarian living and that this is just the way life rolls sometimes. Can’t revert back to the past, not that that’s a past I’ve ever known, nor is it a past my family members who did experience it wish to return to, but this all serves as a reminder of where humans came from and how we’ve escalated into “modernity.” What all has impacted us along the way, both pros and cons. And it opens up the question of where to go from here, what’s worth fighting for, what’s worth taking a firm stand on, where to place one’s stake and refuse to budge come hell or high water. Some are of the belief that we all should remain flexible, adaptable, but I’m not convinced we all can. Gonna require different kinds of people with no close knowledge of this past to accept to float with the tides as they’re prescripted today. The rest of us are like dead-weights according to the innovators of tomorrow, so it remains a question of how best to live out our lives in the face of that which we cannot fully accept and abide by. I continue hunting for answers on this and am plagued by the haunting feeling that the spoils will indeed go to the victors regardless of how much of a fight the relative minority is willing to put up. And so be it. Just because you ultimately lose doesn’t automatically mean that a cause isn’t worth fighting for. Such is human life. When has it ever been any different? High adaptability apparently is reserved for the few, not the many. Too much to adjust to. Too much conflict to reckon with. So it remains a question of how best to navigate forward from here…
And nobody knows. We all have our tribal myths we associate closest with, and they conflict. From the democratic aims to individualistic aims to ecologically-responsible aims, etc. And sometimes they even conflict within the individual, as they do with me. I don’t know much. Just looking forward to going home and taking time away from the game and hopefully get in better spirits so I can resume my place upon my perch so as to continue observing the rest of you, all whilst working toward getting my own shit together.