Home Community Voices Good News & Good People: You Can’t Go Home Again

Good News & Good People: You Can’t Go Home Again

A column about life in the South by Dana Hairston Hof.

The author's son getting a hug from his great Grandfather.

Last weekend, I returned to my childhood hometown in Arkansas for the wedding of my brother and new sister-in-law. With three children in school in Gulf Breeze, I was limited to two days of driving and two days of wedding festivities that happened in a whirlwind. 

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I always get nostalgic when I return to the place that made me, but this time I was especially overcome. Before the ceremony began, I stood for a moment outside the red brick church, complete with a white steeple and arched, milky-opaque, stained glass windows. Guests began arriving and it was like Old Home Week. 

One after another, the faces of my childhood walked toward the double doors of the church. Of course, they were there to see my brother get married, but I gladly unwrapped their presence as a gift for myself as well. 

The slow, syrupy drawl of their dialect greeted me like a welcome wagon. There’s something medicinal about being in the presence of people from your childhood. These people know a part of you that your adult friends and acquaintances have never known. We share memories that only belong to us. There’s a special brand of affection from people who watched you grow and develop, during awkward and rebellious phases, and still light up when they see your face. 

If you’ve never had an older person say, “Come here and let me hug your neck,” you’re just plain missin’ out. As older generations go on to glory and our place on the life ladder gets a few rungs closer to heaven, I am more inclined to relish these tender moments with my elders. I believe a neck huggin’ would do all of us a world of good.

If you’re wise, when sweet people pour out genuine love, you’ll drink it up and let it heal parts of you that are empty, the parts that ache and long for the feeling of home. The thing about Southerners is that many of us have a deep sense of place. Having a sense of place means that you are bonded to or attribute deep meaning to the places and people of your life, especially from your childhood or formative years. 

Before the ceremony began, I looked over my shoulder from the second pew and teared up at the sea of familiar faces. Behind me were neighbors, Sunday school teachers, coaches, co-workers of my parents, and beloved cousins. Behind our family, like they’ve always been. Behind us…and for us. And we for them. 

When you’re younger, you don’t always think about the people that make up your community or shape you. But now that I’m older, I understand the connection we all share to a time and place in our collective personal history. Their direct and indirect presence has imprinted on me the way I suppose I have imprinted on them. Without them, I would not be me. Without one another, it would not be home.

How acutely I sense this place and time, but more so recognize the importance of good, salt-of-the-earth folks, of being a good neighbor, and of the role we share in creating a positive community. 

People who make a community home are anchored to and one with the land, and their faith, and deeply believe they belong to one another, no matter the differences. As strong as an oak, with deep roots and a vast canopy, the legacy left by these kinds of people shade and cover us for generations to come. I could not help but challenge myself with the question, “Who and what does your canopy give shade to?” 

Indeed, you can’t go home again – at least not in the same way every time. Home changes. We change. People die and others move away. Buildings are torn down and dirt roads are paved. 

But you can always take the things that make a home with you, even if your home is forever somewhere else. 

For me, it was and still is saying “hidee” to neighbors who you only ever see from your porch. It’s asking people how their Mama’s doin’. It’s sending soup to an ailing friend who didn’t ask for it. Home is pot roast on Sundays and a pitcher of sweet tea. It’s a Friday night football game. It’s goin’ to the funeral, the wedding, and the baby shower. It’s a raffle when a baby gets cancer. It’s the sound of a fiddle and a mandolin that will always remind me of my Grandpa. 

While the environment is different in Pensacola, with the sound of the Angels coming home or the beauty of the Gulf Coast, the people are just as good. And I’ve been here long enough now to say, I understand the connection we share to this time and place in our collective personal history. Your direct and indirect presence has imprinted on me, and I hope I have on you as well. Without you, I would not be me. And without one another, we would not be home. 

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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.