One of my favorite authors, James Everett Kibler, has the consummate perception of localism; the single thing that I believe even Yankees have, though many act as if they don’t understand its basic concept. Fact is, many Southerners have lost its influence as many have left home to rally ‘round the cable-news actors and Washingtonian legerdemain handymen.
I read Our Fathers’ Fields, by Dr. Kibler, many years ago, and perhaps only a Southerner (though, as I said, perhaps even Yankees have part of their soul for such) can relate to a South Carolina homestead, whether or not he has been reared somewhere from Kentucky to Florida or Texas to Virginia. Its biography of an old family plantation brought to me the recollections of past years in Mississippi and family settings from Newton County (paternal side) to the Mississippi Delta (maternal side).
In a similar vein there was an old home in each–a house with memories and tradition — a place where family gathered for special events: Christmas, Thanksgiving, summertime gatherings, and reminiscences of much by and of all. All, is to say, localism is home, it is family with its concomitant history.
Dr. Kibler has also written two novels I have read: Memory’s Keep and Walking Toward Home. I recommend them to one and all who love home (as well as good writing). Some time back I wrote an essay for a small online publication. It is now posted on my own website and is about the family place in Newton county–Hickory, Mississippi, current population about 500. Back when I was a boy it was 776. I remember exactly because there was a sign as you entered the city limits via old Highway 80: Welcome to Hickory, Mississippi, The Little Town with a Big Heart, pop. 776.
It was from this remembrance that I had written the essay directing my venom at the monster interstate that had virtually crushed the life from localism. But within the pages of Walking Toward Home I recalled a passage that was a perfect fit for my essay. One of the characters, Kildee, had occasion to remark: “Guess the best thing dirt roads do…is they slow people down. The world’s too much in a hurry, and usually with no place to go. Everything flies by in a blur. And people get to where they don’t belong anywhere and ain’t from no place at all.”
I do not understand the rush to everywhere by everybody to see everything. The constant worry that we become energy independent, or that “our” infrastructure is qualified for some department of something or other to stamp approved. Can we have faster jets so we can get somewhere quicker so we can finish faster? The local becomes no more than a blur and that shadows home and family for many–and history. Industries build cars that can travel at 120 miles per hour but the highway speeds are set for no more than 75 mph in most cases. Laws are passed that mandate seatbelts be used so speed kills a bit less.
One of my most cherished times these days is when I leave the big-city racket that is Houston and travel to my son’s house in Log Cabin, Louisiana, where he has a house in the woods, complete with lightning bugs, free-roaming dogs, tree frogs, raccoons, deer and tall cypress trees (and water moccasins, of course). It was in this neck of the woods that my wife was born and brought up. My son fell in love with this area over the years and bought several acres and built his house and brought his wife here. When I visit, I sit on the porch listening to the night sounds in the evenings and smoke my pipe (hoping my second-hand smoke doesn’t waft 400 miles and kill some sissy back in Houston).
I hate to putrefy comments about family and home by drifting thoughts of the great national empire that so many cherish as “The Country.” But the fact is we just went through a horrible election process where people have so involved themselves in some grand democratic activity involving millions of people scattered over a third of a hemisphere that upon completion has many rioting and crying themselves to sleep over a liar and thief, and the rest believe, via some magic, that the winner, a god of wealth, will bring make America great again (whatever the hell that means). America is not local. Shares of it sometimes are, or at least used to be.
Throughout the past few months both the winner and the loser flew back and forth in huge jets visiting massive crowds never once caring how pitiful the campaign promises were or how pitiful the people had become in rushing to them at venues that were filled to overflow capacity with a few mullets carefully selected to stand in certain proportions behind them for camera alert. I wondered if these people even had homes, though I knew they must even if they had lost them. But I couldn’t imagine leaving it in order to listen to some rube lead a mob rally in order to sell me the idea that I must exercise my franchise (what an idiotic phrase) in his/her favor so he/she could do wonderful things for me in some gigantic landmass called, not locally, a nation.
I’m pretty sure neither of the candidates ever visited Red Oak, Alabama or Tunica, Mississippi or Livingston, Montana, or even some village in upstate New York (upstate New York is a suburb of New York City) and I’m also sure most people in those locales were content they hadn’t. The candidates were as happy as a couple of pigs in slop, racing around the big-city world they worship for votes, with their offers to build new highways or airports or any structure that is big, expensive and worldly-sounding. Again, a probable contentment for the people in Red Oak etc. to not have the tumultuous hullabaloo that goes with the traveling circuses that have become the so-called democratic process.
I like to think there are a few fellows still content to sit on the porch and smoke a pipe and not believe the fate of the world hangs in the balance over voting for one of a couple of sidewinders. My freedom is at home, with my family, not in some voting booth. Their home is everywhere and everything. But they can’t smoke there anymore and probably don’t offer to pray there. Ahh, a smoke ring…to hell with them. I am home free.